How did we get the bible we have
today? Bible Study - Bible Charts and a collection of
In the beginning: People did not have
personal copies of the Bible until the nineteenth century.
Before the invention of printing, books were copied by hand
and were extremely expensive. Printed books did not become
inexpensive until quite recently. The public reading of the
scriptures is a feature of both the synagogue and the church
(1 Timothy 4:13); therefore, early Christians heard the
Bible read out loud to them during the service. Bible study
was mostly conducted in groups, though it was possible for
individuals to go to a nearby church or synagogue and
consult the scriptures themselves. In the first century, the
apostolic writings that the Church later adopted as the New
Testament were considered secondary to the oral teachings of
the apostles and their accredited representatives.
The Apocrypha consists of the material in the
Septuagint that does not appear in the Hebrew Bible.
Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and others use the
Apocrypha as a worship resource and as instruction in faith
and morals, but do not use it to formulate doctrine. The
Roman Catholic Church and the eastern churches use it as
part of the Old Testament. The Apocrypha contains the
history of the Maccabean revolt, which is vital to
understanding the political backdrop of the New Testament
and the origin of the Jewish holiday of Hanukah.
more details, see The Apocrypha and the Old Testament.
The word canon comes from the name of
a reed that grows straight enough that it can be used as a
measuring stick. Therefore, a canon is a standard or norm.
(The word ‘canon’ can also refer to a person.)
The by-laws of the ancient Church were called canons. (Many
modern churches still call their by-laws canons.) When we
speak of the canon of scripture, we mean the standard list
of books that are recognized by the Church as Holy
Scripture—or more specifically, the church by-law that
affirms that list.
Some people think that officials in
the ancient Church sat down and went through a stack of
writings, accepting some as part of the New Testament and
rejecting, banning, and suppressing others. That was not the
case. It was actually a process in which the Church defended
writings that were already in use as Scripture as they came
under attack. For example, when Marcion began a campaign to
exclude the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, they were in
already in use as Scripture. It wasn’t until then that the
Church needed to issue a formal statement that they are
indeed Scripture. Eventually it became necessary to issue a
list of canonical books, not to exclude the ones that
weren’t on the list, but to defend the ones that were.
The history of the canon does not tell you when a given
book of the New Testament first became Scripture. It tells
you when it first became necessary for the Church to defend
it as Scripture. The history of the canon is the history of
the defense, not the acceptance, of New Testament books.
The ancient Christian writings that are not part of the
canon today were never actually rejected; they were just
never accepted. The ancient Church was a persecuted minority
that was unable to ban or suppress books, but it did neglect
the books in which it had little interest. Some writings
were never widely accepted, because the ancient Church felt
they were heretical. For instance, the ancient Church never
had much interest in the Gospel of Thomas. Other ancient
Christian writings that never found their way into the New
Testament were still recognized as orthodox and were still
used authoritatively as we would use church by-laws or
devotional writings, but not as scripture. For example, the
Didache, the Apostolic Constitutions, the epistles of
Clement and Ignatius, various ancient liturgies, and the
Nicene Creed were all influential in ancient times and still
play a role in modern ecumenism.
The Nicene Creed,
though not scripture, is canonical, because it appears in
the canons of the first three ecumenical councils. It was
formulated at the first ecumenical council of Nicea in 325,
it was expanded at the second ecumenical council at
Constantinople in 381 to defend the deity of the Holy
Spirit, and it was made inalterable by local councils at the
third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431.
ecumenical councils never dealt with the New Testament
canon, because there was no need. Local or regional councils
were able to resolve any disputes about it.
The documentary hypothesis was
first advocated by Wellhausen in the nineteenth century. It
theorizes that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the
Bible) are composite documents. The constituent documents
are detected through literary analysis. The theoretical
component documents of the Pentateuch are called J, E, D,
and P. J is characterized by the use of Yahweh as God’s
name; E is characterized by the use of Elohim to refer to
God, D is essentially Deuteronomy, and P is characterized by
sacerdotal regulations, such as are found in Leviticus.
There is no physical evidence to back up the documentary
hypothesis; it is based solely on literary analysis. The
recent Book of J, which purports to be the J document of the
documentary hypothesis, is a literary reconstruction. You
can get more information about the Documentary Hypothesis.
A common term for the imputation of a
preconceived idea into scripture; the opposite of exegesis.
It is an invalid method. The difference is whether you are
going to the Bible to back up what you have already decided
to believe (eisegesis), or if you are going to the Bible for
guidance in deciding what you should believe (exegesis).
Epistle comes from the Latin word epistola,
which simply means a letter (as in written correspondence).
The epistles of the New Testament follow the form for
letters in the first century. Letters in those days did not
come in envelopes, so they began with the name of the
sender, followed by the name of the recipient, and then a
greeting. (The Epistle to the Hebrews lacks these features.)
After the body, the letter contained detailed greetings to
the recipients. Paul subtly reworded the usual greeting,
“greetings to you,” so that it read “grace to you.”
The analysis of scripture to discern its
meaning. It is a form of higher criticism. Historically,
there are three major exegetical methods, each of which
dates from the earliest times and each of which has its uses
Symbolic or Allegorical
This form of
Biblical interpretation is often used by the New Testament
to interpret the Old Testament: for example, Galatians
4:21-31, and most of Hebrews. In this category fall the use
of types and antitypes, or any method that finds a
consistent symbolism throughout scripture.
This form of Biblical
interpretation attempts to discern the meaning of the text
by examining the cultural, historical, sociological, and
linguistic context of the scripture.
method of Biblical interpretation deduces meaning from
assertions in different parts of the Bible.
exegetes characterize their exegetical method as literal,
which is actually a misnomer. Literalists commonly use
deductive reasoning, grammatical-historical data, and
symbolism in their interpretations. A more accurate term for
literal interpretation would be face-value interpretation.
Exegetical methods that have originated in modern times
include form criticism and redaction criticism.
Form criticism is a technique of higher
criticism that seeks the message of the New Testament by
analyzing the literary forms in which the message is given.
Within form criticism, the terms legend and myth have
specialized meanings: a legend is a historical account used
for didactic purposes; a myth is any pictorial
representation of an abstract truth.
English word gospel is the modern form of godspell, which
means good news. We use it to translate the Greek word
euangelion, which also literally means good news. In New
Testament times, an euangelion was a public proclamation
that a new king had conquered his enemies and had ascended
to the throne. The first four books of the New Testament are
gospels, because their primary purpose is to announce that
Jesus is Lord, to tell us how He ascended to His throne, and
to convince us to submit to His Lordship. The gospels,
though they contain historical facts, are not primarily
biographies, they are essentially press releases. In fact,
in John 21:25, John states outright that his book does not
contain complete information about Jesus’ life and deeds.
The term gospel therefore refers to any of the following:
Any written or oral proclamation that Jesus is the King
of the universe, including details about His triumphant
ascension to His throne.
One of the first four books of
the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
selection from one of the first four books of the New
Testament, read aloud in church as part of the synaxis, also
called the Service of the Word.
branch of theology that devises, evaluates, compares and
applies methods of interpreting the Bible. It also devises
criteria for determining which methods are appropriate in a
given circumstance or for a given passage. You can “do
hermeneutics” without actually interpreting a Bible passage,
because hermeneutics is the study of interpretation methods,
not the application of them.
Biblical scholarship can be divided into higher and lower
criticism. Higher criticism is the analysis and study of
scripture to determine its authorship, date of composition,
literary structure, or meaning. Most Bible study falls into
the category of higher criticism; anyone who has an opinion
on what the Bible means is technically a higher critic.
A lectionary is a schedule of Bible readings
that are used in worship throughout the year. The intent is
that the passages appointed for the day are to be read to
the congregation and that the sermon is to be based upon
them. The purpose of a lectionary is to assure that all
parts of the Bible are used in proportion to their relative
importance, and at the right time of year (that is,
resurrection stories at Easter, nativity stories at
Christmas, and so forth). Modern lectionaries contain only
the scripture citations, but ancient lectionaries contained
the complete text of the readings. Ancient lectionaries are
a major source of information for the scholars who
reconstruct the original text of the New Testament. Today,
most denominations that use a lectionary have agreed upon
the Common Lectionary, which is divided into two parts: the
Sunday Lectionary, which goes through the entire Bible in
three years, and the Daily Lectionary, which goes through
the entire Bible in two years. The concept of the lectionary
was inherited by Christianity from Judaism. You can get more
information about the lectionary.
All Biblical scholarship can be divided into higher and
lower criticism. Lower criticism is the study and analysis
of manuscript evidence to determine the original wording of
the original text of the scriptures. Lower criticism
produces the text that is used by translators.
New Testament is the term for the Christian
scriptures. Testament is the Latin word for will, as in last
will and testament; it translates the Greek word diatheke,
which means covenant. We use the word testament because
God’s covenant, like a will, is unilateral. The term comes
from 1 Corinthians 11:25, where Paul quotes Jesus as
proclaiming a new covenant from God. There are no variations
in the canon of the New Testament in Christendom. The
earliest extant list of New Testament books is contained in
Bishop St. Athanasius’ Easter Letter, which was issued in AD
Old Testament is the Christian
term for the Jewish scriptures. Testament is the Latin word
for will, as in last will and testament; it translates the
Greek word diatheke, which means covenant. We use the word
testament because God’s covenant, like a will, is
unilateral. The term comes from 2 Corinthians 3:14, where
Paul refers to the Hebrew scriptures as the old covenant. In
the first century—and in the preceding centuries—there were
two canons of scripture among the Jews.
The Palestinian canon is in Hebrew and Aramaic,
was used by Jews in Palestine. Modern Jews and most
Protestants accept only the Palestinian canon.
The Alexandrian canon appears in the
Septuagint, contains everything in the Palestinian canon,
plus a few additional books. We call the additional books
the apocrypha. The Septuagint was used by the very large
Greek-speaking Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, and by
Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire, who spoke Greek,
and who held their synagogue services in Greek. The early
Church inherited the Septuagint from the synagogue, and used
it so effectively in evangelism that the Jews eventually
disowned it. In the fourth century, St. Jerome, a biblical
scholar whom the bishop of Rome had commissioned to produce
a new Latin translation of the Bible, wanted to remove the
apocrypha from the Old Testament, thus abandoning the
Alexandrian canon for the Palestinian canon, but the Church
did not heed his advice. During the Reformation, Martin
Luther took up Jerome’s position. Today, the eastern
Churches and the Roman Catholic Church still recognize the
apocrypha as Scripture. Lutherans, Episcopalians, and
Methodists accept the apocrypha as a worship resource and
for instruction in faith and morals, but do not base any
doctrine upon it.
All Christian Bibles list the books of
the Old Testament in the order that they appear in the
Q is a hypothetical document which is
supposed to be the literary source for the three synoptic
gospels. (Q stands for Quelle, which means source in
German.) There is no physical evidence that Q ever existed;
the evidence is found solely in literary analysis.
Redaction criticism is a technique
of higher criticism that analyzes the New Testament
(particularly the gospels) to deduce the author’s intent or
viewpoint. Some redaction critics go so far as to deny any
historicity at all in the gospels.
Centuries before Christianity, there was a large Jewish
community in the Greek colony of Alexandria, Egypt. With the
permission and cooperation of the Temple in Jerusalem, they
translated the Jewish scriptures (our Old Testament) into
Greek for their own use. The translation is known as the
Septuagint, meaning seventy, because about 70 scholars
worked on it.
The Septuagint became the Bible for
Greek-speaking synagogues all over the Roman Empire and
became the Bible of the early Christian Church, which also
spoke Greek. When the New Testament quotes the Old
Testament, it quotes the Septuagint, not the Hebrew. The
Septuagint is more messianic than the Hebrew, and it backs
up Christian claims about Jesus very well. The Jews
eventually disowned the Septuagint.
contains additional material over and above the Hebrew
Bible. This additional material is called the Apocrypha.
In Christian Bibles, the Old Testament books appear in
Septuagint order—Law, History, Writings, and Prophecy. The
New Testament books are arranged in the same way—Gospels,
Acts, Letters, and Revelation.
The synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Synoptic
means with one eye, signifying that the synoptic gospels, as
opposed to the gospel according to John, tend to have the
same perspective on Jesus’ ministry. Starting Page >
Explanations > Top of this Page
by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins and his licensors. All rights
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