How Do We Know?

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the people of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the Koran, Christians are described as people of the book. Part of the reason for this distinction may be that the New Testament was the first text bound as a book. Books were cheaper to produce and more portable than scrolls, which continued to be used, for example, to record the Hebrew Bible. It is noteworthy that more New Testament texts have survived from ancient times than any other ancient manuscripts [1].

Athanasius suggested the twenty-seven books which now make up the New Testament in his Easter letter of AD 367 was later confirmed by the Council of Carthage in AD 397. The common denominator in these books is that their authors were known to have been an apostle or associated closely with an apostle of Jesus. Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome to prepare an authoritative translation of the Bible into Latin in AD 382 commonly known as the Vulgate (Evans 2005, 162). The Vulgate remained the authoritative Biblical text for the church until the time of the Reformation when the reformers began translating the Bible into common languages.

During the reformation Martin Luther, for example, translated the New Testament into German in 1522 and followed with an Old Testament translation in 1532 [2]. Luther kept the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, but followed the Masoretic (Hebrew Old Testament) rather than the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) in selecting books for the Old Testament [3]. The books left out became known as the Apocrypha. These books continue to distinguish the Catholic (Apocrypha included) from Protestant Bible translations (Apocrypha excluded) to this day. The list given below, which excludes the Apocrypha, is taken from the Westminster Confession:

OLD TESTAMENT
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

NEW TESTAMENT
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation

In our study of the Bible, Jesus’ attitude about scripture guides our thinking. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17–18).

The Law of Moses refers to the Law (first five books of the Bible) and the Prophets (the other books). The last book in the Old Testament to be written was likely Malachi which was written about four hundred years before the birth of Christ. The last book in the New Testament to be written was likely the book of Revelation which was written around 90 AD.

The Bible represents the work of many authors, yet its contents are uniquely consistent. This consistency adds weight to our belief that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

[1] The technical description is the Bible was the first publication to appear in widespread circulation as a codex (bound book) (Metzger and Ehrman 2005, 15). Stone (2010, 14) cites the existence of 5,500 partial or complete biblical manuscripts making it the only document from the ancient world with more than a few dozen copies.

[2] Luther completed the entire Bible in 1534 (Bainton 1995, 255).

[3] Luther translated the Apocrpha in 1534 but specifically said they were not canonical, just good to read (see: http://www.lstc.edu/gruber/luthers_bible/1534.php).

REFERENCES

Bainton, Roland H. 1995. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Penguin.

Evans, Craig A. 2005. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to Background Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Metzger, Bruce M. and Bart D. Ehrman. 2005. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stone, Larry. 2010. The Story of the Bible: The Fascinating History of Its Writing, Translation, and Effect on Civilization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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