When we ask “who compiled the Bible” there are two answers which address this question. The first answer is—God. In the providence of God, He has preserved, revealed, and presented His word to us just as He wished. 2 Peter 1:20-21 declares that those who penned Scripture were “moved by the Holy Spirit.” Paul told Timothy that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Jesus declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
However, what we may be asking with such a question is, what was the process by which this inspiration came about? With respect to the Old Testament there were a few clear stages. First, God revealed Mosaic law to Moses, in the first five books of the Old Testament. Additional books of history, prophecy, and inspired poetry came later. By the time of Ezra, and the return from Babylonian captivity, most of the Old Testament was completed. This comprised three sections: The Law, The Prophets, and the Writings (the three groupings modern Jews still recognize). These three groups of Old Testament Scripture were accepted and viewed as Scripture by the time of the First Century. Jesus referred to the things written about Him “in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). His reference to “the Psalms” likely refers to the first book of the Jewish division called “the writings.” Since the days of the Protestant Reformation, the books of the Old Testament are arranged historically and according to type, but the books which make up the Old Testament are the same.
New Testament books were all penned in the first century by Apostles and Prophets of Jesus Christ. Second and Third century Christian writers quote from these texts, and even wrote commentaries on them. When Gnostic heresies began to arise and false texts were written we begin to see some early lists made which record what early Christians understood about the authority of New Testament texts. These lists affirmed what was accepted, they did not determine what was inspired.
When we go further, and ask the question “what defines Scripture,” again we are forced to consider two answers. First, God defines what Scripture is. He has promised that His word will be preserved. That does not mean that man’s freewill is overpowered so that the heretic can not promote falsehood, or the uncaring cannot disregard Scripture, but simply that God will not allow His word to perish. Peter declared, “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever" (1 Pet. 1:24-25). Yet, what we wonder is how man can distinguish between texts which were penned without inspiration, and the true word of God. How can we be assured that only inspired texts are in our Bibles or that some inspired text has not been left out?
To determine this a few questions can be asked. First, how have the texts in question been accepted historically? Do Biblical figures accept their authority? Do they quote from them? Do they appeal to their teaching? Obviously, these criteria would apply only to texts produced before the New Testament. Even so, how can we answer these questions? It is clear that Old Testament figures all accepted the Law of Moses. It is clear that the authors of Old Testament books claimed to write at the command of God. There is a body of books written after the Old Testament (but before the New Testament) called “The Apocrypha.” Are these texts inspired? While these were well known among the Jews, writers such as Josephus and Rabbinical writers make it clear they were not viewed as inspired. Jesus and New Testament writers do not quote from the Apocrypha, and even ancient religious scholars after the New Testament such as Jerome deny their inspiration. That demonstrates a broad acceptance of what comprised (and restricted) the books of the Old Testament.
What about the New Testament? While New Testament writers do not quote one another, they do assert their own inspiration and that of other New Testament writers. For example, Peter includes Paul’s writings in what he calls “Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). Paul claimed, “the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). If we are considering whether a text should be a part of the New Testament or not we must ask if the text itself makes these kinds of assertions. If the writer never claims inspiration, what reason would be have to think that the text is inspired? As mentioned above, the evidence from early Christian writers is quite compelling. We have a number of texts from the Second Century which have survived. Many of these quote New Testament books, and treat these as Scripture. That tells us that early Christians recognized that these texts were special. We also have a number of heretical texts which have survived. How can we determine if these should be included? First, in many cases it is clear exactly where these texts have borrowed passages from New Testament books word for word, and then added their own false ideas. For example, one called the Gospel of Thomas, claims that women can’t be saved unless they change and become like men. When a text offers such blatant diversions from the truth of the rest of Scripture it is a clear indication that it is not inspired. Finally, among early Christian writers, not only are New Testament books quoted, but heretical books are refuted. That establishes what was and was not broadly accepted among early Christians.
Kyle Pope 2010
To study this subject further, see our series “How We Got the Bible” at: http://www.olsenpark.com/SpecialStudies/HWGB.html