The Bible is the most published book of all time. It is the best selling book of all time. It has broken so many records that it is not even counted anymore by most publishing companies. Have you ever wondered how the Bible went from papyrus scrolls to actual beautiful leather-bound books in our hands that we carry to church? Have you ever wondered if that book you hold in your palm that says “Holy Bible” is the original text that the Apostles and Prophets wrote? What is the process of publishing the Bible? I hope to answer these questions today.
The publishing process that the Bible has gone through has been a very extensive one. The process goes from revelation, inspiration, canon, preservation, transmission, and then closed canon. Check out the details below, and I believe that you will have more confidence that the Bible is something that you can trust as the actual Word of God.
God originally took the initiative to disclose or reveal himself to humankind (Hebrews 1:1). Sometimes God speaks through creation (Romans 1:18-20; Psalm 19:1-4), visions (Psalm 89:19; 2 Corinthians 12:1; Acts 26:19), or dreams (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 40:8; Matthew 1:20-23). However, the best, most understandable, and final revelation of God is the Bible. The Bible is an amazing revelation of God because it is His Word. As mentioned in a previous blog, over 2000 times, the Bible claims to be God’s Word.
The revelation of God was captured in the writings of Scripture through “inspiration.” God inspired the writers of the Bible. God breathed out his revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21) through the writers using their vocabulary & experiences to produce his own perfect Word.
Definition of Canon– a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.
The Bible is a canon. It is one book with one Divine Author, though it was written over a period of 1,600 years through the pens of almost 40 human writers. The Bible began with the creation account (Gen. 1-2), written by Moses around 1405 B.C., and extends to the eternity future accounts of Revelation, written by the apostle John about A.D. 95.
How do we know what supposed sacred writings were to be included in the canon of Scripture and which ones were to be excluded? Other books existed such as the gospel of Timothy, and the book of Enoch, for example. Or other collections of books such as the Apocrypha (14 books outside of the O.T. but written before Christ). These books are not considered as part of the canon. The question would be then what determined that a book was apart of the canon of the Bible? Consider the principles that the church used to identify a book to be a part of the canon.
Principles of Canonicity-
1. Writings have a recognised prophet or apostle as its author (or one associated with them as in the case of Mark, Luke, Hebrews, James & Jude).
2. Writings could not disagree with or contradict previous Scripture.
3. Writings had to have a consensus by the church as an inspired book.
Various councils in church history met to consider the canon, they did not vote for the canonicity of a book but instead recognised it if it had been in use and circulated for quite a while. So there was no conspiracy or political pushing to get a book added.
The Apocrypha (collection of 14 books) did not, for example, make it to be in the canon of Scripture. The Apocrypha is not cited by any New Testament writer, nor did Jesus affirm any of it as he recognised the Old Testament canon of his era (Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44).
Old Testament Formation-
The Old Testament contained the Apocrypha around 200-150 B.C., but once again, Christ and N.T. writers did not view it as legit. By Christ’s time, the O.T. cannon had been divided up into two lists of 22 or 24 books, each of which contained all the same material as the 39 books of our modern versions. In the 22 book canon, Jeremiah and Lamentations were considered as one, as were Judges and Ruth for example.
New Testament Formation-
The same three critical tests of canonicity that applied to the O.T. also applied to the N.T. In the case of Mark and Luke/Acts, the authors were considered to be, in effect, the penmen for Peter and Paul, respectively. Christ’s half brothers wrote James and Jude. While Hebrews is the only N.T. book whose authorship is unknown for sure, its content is so inline with both the O.T. and N.T., that the early church concluded an apostolic associate must have written it. The 27 books of the N.T. has been universally accepted since A.D. 350-400 as inspired by God.
Satan prime concern is to undermine the Bible. It started in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:4) and continued with Christ’s temptation in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 4:6-7). However, God has anticipated this and guarantees the preservation of Scripture (Isaiah 40:8). This means that no inspired Scripture has been lost in the past and still awaits rediscovery.
Since the Bible has frequently been translated into multiple languages and distributed throughout the world, how can we be sure that error has not crept in, even if it was unintentional? As Christianity spread, it is undoubtedly true that people desired to have the Bible in their own language which required translations from the original Hebrew and Aramaic languages of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. Not only did the work of translators provide an opportunity for error, but publication, which was initially done by hand-copying until the printing press arrived c. A.D. 1450, also afforded continual possibilities of error.
However, throughout the centuries people have practised “textual criticism,” a precise science that preserved, catalogues, evaluates and publishes biblical manuscripts from both the O.T. and N.T. Textual critics and other guardians of the Scripture have manuscripts from both the O.T. and N.T. from the centuries. The earliest Hebrew text for the O.T. dates back to around 10th century. When compared to the Greek translation of the Bible named the Septuagint, which was written around 200-150B.C, it is more than 99% the same. The less than 1% that is different does not change any significant doctrine in Scripture and is equivalent to spelling the word “colour” with a “u” as the British do or without a “u” as the Americans do.
Also, whenever we found the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1947 and 1956, the largest collections of historical manuscripts ever found, they still match the current Old Testament that we have. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back between 200-100 B.C. So, the textual criticism which looks at Scripture throughout the centuries shows that the Old Testament you have is the same as the one written initially.
The New Testament findings are even more decisive because a much larger amount of material is available for study. There are over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts that range from the whole testament to scraps of papyrus paper which contain as little as part of one verse. A few existing fragments date back to within 25– 50 years of the original writing. New Testament textual scholars have generally concluded that 99.99% of the original writings have been reclaimed. Of the remaining one-hundredth of one percent, there are no variants substantially affecting any Christian doctrine.
By this providential means, God has made good his promise to preserve the Scriptures (Isaiah 40:8). We can rest assured that there are translations available today which indeed are worthy of the title, The Word of God.
How do we know that God will not amend our current Bible with a 67th inspired book? Or, in other words, “Is the canon forever closed?” Scripture texts warn that no one should delete from or add to Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Prov. 30:6, Rev. 22:18-19). Therefore, the Bible is God’s final revelation of himself. Nothing more is to be added. Nobody’s words or thoughts are genuinely a new revelation of God himself; otherwise, they violate the warning scriptures above.