What is The bible & why’s it here?
Before I get into the depths of the Canon, I want to briefly examine what the Bible is as a whole, what is it? William Mounce, a translator for the NIV translation describes it as:
“The bible’s the revelation of the character and the will of God, it tells us who he is and how we can live in relationship with him… The bible starts in Eden and it ends in Eden so it’s all about living in relationship with him and what that looks like”William Mounce, Bible Translator, NIV – Film: The God Who Speaks.
Michael J Kruger, professor of Early Christianity states:
“The Bible is God’s written revelation to his people”.Michael J Kruger, Professor of Early Christianity, Reformed Theological Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks
It has revelatory meaning, the revealing of information about God previously not known before.
Apologist Frank Turek expresses the need for such a revelation rather than looking for it under rocks:
“You need God specifically in propositional language telling us certain facts about reality including himself. You can get some of those facts from nature, but you can’t get all of them. You can’t get that God is triune, you can’t get the plan of salvation from the stars, you can only get it from special revelation. So if we’re going to be saved and sanctified we. Need the scriptures”.Frank Turek, Apologist, CrossExamined.org – Film: The God Who Speaks
Not only is it information being revealed, and how we can commune with God, but also entails our value to those who hear such revelatory information. Alistair Begg, respected pastor of Parkside Church summarises it as follows:
“When we read the bible, we realise that is describing who we are and what we are. Unique in providing the only satisfying answer to the question of our human existence. It tells us why we’re here, where we’re going and why it matters”.Alistair Begg, Pastor, Parkside Church – Film: The God Who Speaks
So the text is in summary
- Revealed information about God’s people for them so they can know him and understand him
- This cannot be attained through pure observation of the natural world.
- This expresses our uniqueness, meaning, value and purpose of who we are
For more on inerrancy, see my essay/articles on this.
And so, for the church, this really is critical for our worldview as Jarvis Williams, Professor of New Testament Interpretation expresses: “The scriptures should dominate everything the church does. It shouldn’t be an aside to what the church does..it should be about advancing the message of scripture” [Jarvis Williams, Professor of New Testament interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks].
Uniqueness of the Bible
The Bible has a series of unique features and I’ve pulled a handful from the works of Sean & Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict that express just how immense the collection of the Bible as a whole really is.
Firstly the Bible is unique in its timespan. From the earliest book of the Bible to the final New Testament writing, this period spans a time period from as much as 1300 to 1500 years. In comparison to other literary and historical works the Bible is exceptional in that it was written and assembled over a vast number of generations.
Secondly, the Bible is unique in its geographical production. Unlike nearly all other literary works, the composition and transmission of the Old and New Testament books did not emerge from a homogeneous community located in a single area of the ancient world, quite the opposite. These works were written by people in areas as diverse as Rome in the Western side of the Empire, Egypt in the south, and Mesopotamia in the east. No other book can accredit such a history in such a way.
Third, the Bible is unique in its authorship. The Bible is as diverse in its authorship as it is in its production over an extensive period of time and with multiple geographical regions in which it originated. It has over 40 authors, and is edited and preserved by countless scribal schools and communities. The Bible preserves for us the writings of a varying personalities from wildly diverse social communities. In this book there are kings, fishermen as well as people of other social status’ such as a princes, trained philosophers, tax collectors, zealous Pharisees and so on.
Fourthly the Bible is unique in its literary genres and it’s wide usage of them compared to any other work. We have many literary genres such as historical, biographical, poetic, Wisdom, war genre etc. If you miss out on the literary style of the book, you can miss the main point. This combines with literary styles like narrative (43% of the Bible), poetry (33% of the Bible) and pros-discourse (24% poetry).
Fifth, The Bible is unique in its languages. The Bible is written in 3 different languages. Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and sometimes words from one language are amongst others (There are Aramaic sayings in the four gospels here and there).
Sixth, The bible is unique in its teachings. Not only is its historical background and development unique, but the Bibles message is also unique. This is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions and secular wordsmiths. Just a collection of some of these unique teachings would be the Trinity; incarnation and Atonement and it’s radical take on Faith vs works.
Seven, the Bible is unique in its impact. Clearly the Bible has influenced civilization more than any other literary working history. Some examples of this are in it’s unique circulation and translation of there being a once in every culture in every time to want to read this book; In its uniqueness in its Survival and resiliency with no other work written being so attacked, scrutinized, and persecuted as have the canonical books of the Bible. These are some, amongst a wide range of examples.
Eighth, The Bible is unique in its impact on Western civilization. It is influenced government and law and is very much, if we observe carefully, still the foundations for many of our governments today and our modern version of democracy. It has influenced art, literature and music because the Bible has been a fundamental source for nearly every genre of art and literature, and has provided inspiration for innumerable visionaries who have elated the artistic endeavour to its highest form. It has also influenced our societal norms and values. One glaring example where a theme from Christianity drastically changed a commonly held societal Norm that has existed in nearly every culture throughout history is that of slavery, the value of women and of children to name a few examples.
There are many more examples of when and where and how the Bible has positively impacted the course of human events and thinking, but these are sufficient to establish the unique presence the Bible brings to todays world and why I would go to such efforts to defend such a work. I think Professor Geisler captures the incredible works of Godin unity with man here:
“You have a book written by fourth authors, over 1,500+ years on dozens of different topics that have absolute unity, most of the people didn’t know each other. So it has amazing unity within great diversity that is best accounted for by deity”Norman Geisler, Professor of Theology and Apologetics, Southern Evangelical Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks.
Why did the Bible come into existence?
Some people, when delving into the textual history of the bible, have a crisis of faith based on how they’ve been raised. When some read how humanity had a part in the writing of the scriptures they see it as a scandal when really we should be amazed at how God involved us in its development. It’s the ultimate art of God working with humans in relationship on earth.
Endorsements within the text
But literally why and when did the writings of the Bible first begin? We have to start in the Old Testament for such information and with the figure of Moses.
“The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
Here In Exodus 17:8-14 we see the first signs within the text of recording history explicitly. Moses is commanded to make sure what happens is written down, recorded and shared. But why mention the recording of this? Well this is one of many occasions when God saves his people and he wants them to know and all through history to know that God cares for his people. The Old Testament also very much affirms oral traditions in meals as moments of remembrance such as Passover. These are associated with a great change in the destiny of the people of Israel in acts like alleviating of their suffering.
The firm mention second mention of written text in the Old Testament is Moses and the tablets
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
In Exodus 24:12 we see the second type of written recording. We first heard of historical events being recorded, here we here the first of the moral commandments being issued to the people of Israel and also an invitation into a covenant relationship with God. God is literally speaking to his creation to say to work with him rather than God just clicking his fingers like Thanos every time something wrong happens.
So if we think pragmatically, the Old Testament and the Biblical text in general came into existence because:
- God wanted to show how he rescued and formed his people
- To also invite those people into a covenant relationship with God
We see other occasions like this in the text but this time much later from Jeremiah 36
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord:“Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now. Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.”
So Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and while Jeremiah dictated all the words the Lord had spoken to him, Baruch wrote them on the scroll.
In this passage, Jeremiah is asked to collect everything he’s been writing for 25 years and write it formally down on a scroll. What is fascinating is you would’ve read the previous 35 chapters going along with it and here you see the real hard work Jeremiah having to work back with God as his supervisor making sure he cataloged what was important. Now if my pastor was asked to collect 25 years of sermons thats. A mammoth task! Jeremiah was wise enough to have a scribe, Baruch. Archaeologically, what’s amazing is we, through the process of archaeology, have uncovered the seal which says “Baruch, son of Nehemiah, the scribe for Jeremiah”. What’s more incredible, there is a fingerprint embedded in the corner! We quite literally have one of the biblical authors fingerprints!
So we have an example of authors collecting history and writing a timeline of events. For Jeremiah to do so, who would go through his decades of records and produce a concise history.
Sometimes, we see recognition of the authors within a text. In the wisdom books such as proverbs we see such suggestions. For example, the Proverbs are not the product of a single author.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of IsraelProverbs 1:1
Here the author is clearly named as Solomon (whether that be a scribe or himself is not clarified, but there is no need to mention the scribe at every occasion if the author chooses not to or bring it to focus).
17 Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; [context of the beginning of a letter]Proverbs 22:17
Here the saying is of the “Wise ones”. This could be depicted as a group of individuals or a single figure. It could be Solomon and others or an entirely new person.
These are more proverbs of Solomon, compiled by the men of Hezekiah king of JudahProverbs 25:1
Here we have an attribution to the men of Hezekiah, King of Judah
The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance.Proverbs 30:1
Now Agur definitely isn’t Solomon, this is many years after, suggesting the extent to which the proverbs span in their origin.
The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.Proverbs 31:1
Now here we know King Lemuel is writing what had been passed down through his mother.
This collection of writings that forms the wisdom proverbs began with Solomon and could have continued for hundreds of years until completion.
R.T. Beckwith, no friend of Evangelical Christianity nonetheless outlines his amazement at the history of the Biblical Canon: “
It is very striking that, over a period ranging from the second century B.C.E. To the first century C.E., so many writers of so many divergent groups (Palestinian, Hellenistic, Pharisaic, Essene, Christian) show such agreement about the canon of the Hebrew bible… None of these witnesses are concerned with asserting the authority of the books they mention, rather they all assume the Scripture’s authority, and go on to debate about their interpretation.”R.T. Beckwith, “The Formation of the Hebrew Bible”
Now with the New Testament, even critical scholars are ok with the majority of Paul’s letters even with their incredible standards to achieve to make them happy. But within his letters we learn something about the nature to which they are written. Paul reveals in a subtle word how he dictated is famous letter to the Romans
Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.Romans 16:21-24
I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.]
So, the secrets out, Paul had a scribe! And his name is Tertius! This should be no surprise anyway really, though Paul could write himself occasionally signing off his letters in his own hand as he was familiar with the value of authenticity and maybe even people trying to claim his name to create their own laws [2 Thessalonians 3:17]. This just further confirms the theory that the forming of scripture involving humanity and no divine book dropping from the ceiling (For more on this see the essay on inerrancy).
Within the text we can recognise that there be a willingness to write things down. This doesn’t mean every author needs to tell us that obviously, but it does indicate the means to which some were directly tasked and we have knowledge of. We see history recorded, moral teachings, wisdom literature passed on through many authors and even signs in the New Testament of the writing process which could’ve easily been predicted.