How the Bible came to be

The result: One holy book

The final form of the canonical text, or the Bible as we now have it is the result of a gradual process. The Christian confession is that in the books of the Old and New Testament, the churches possess one, holy Book. A high view of God’s providence also maintains that the process of canon formation happens under the sovereign guidance of the Holy Spirit. In other words, what this process produces is what God wanted his people to possess.

Contemporary believers can have historical confidence we have the “right” books in the Bible. Our study has provided an outline of the types of evidence that help answer critics of the canon and also help you see the strong foundation you have as a believer in the value, reliability, and authority of the Bible as a whole.

Scholars and historians have formed similar conclusions after examining this process.

For example, Carson and Moo summarize: “It is important to observe that, although there was no ecclesiastical machinery like the medieval papacy to enforce decisions, nevertheless the worldwide church almost universally came to accept the same 27 books. It was not so much that the church selected the canon as that the canon selected itself.” (Introduction to the New Testament, p.735)

Bruce Metzger also observes that “in the most basic sense, neither individuals nor councils created the canon; instead they came to recognize and acknowledge the self-authenticating quality of those writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church.” (The New Testament, p.276)

William Barclay articulates this point memorably by stating that “it is the simple truth to say that the New Testament books became canonical because no one could stop them doing so.” (Making of the Bible, p.78)

In other words, contemporary Christians have sufficient historical and theological grounds for trusting that the books currently in our English Bibles are what God intended believers to have, until He comes.

In terms of apologetics, our study of how the Bible came to be also can inform our understanding of the Bible as a whole. It can help you grapple with the big picture of the grand storyline of the Bible. Having worked through the basic lines of evidence for trusting in the reliability and authenticity of the biblical canon, readers are now left with the content of the canon itself.

What do you say about what the Bible says? How do you respond to the gospel message about Jesus, the long-awaited Christ who conquered sin and death and beckons you to forsake all others and follow him? What will be your refuge on the great and terrible day of the Lord?

In Acts 24, Paul gives a defense of himself before a Roman official. In his defense, Paul briefly summarizes the foundations of Christianity. As he states: “This I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God … that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:14-15) Paul’s gospel message about Jesus and the future is shaped by “everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.”

Because of this, for a believing community to flourish, it must be “a people of the Book,” the two-Testament witness to the risen Lord Jesus. A community of ideal readers of the biblical canon is pictured by the noble-minded Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Your study of the biblical canon can help you recognize the validity of this canonical collection. But, more importantly, it also can provide a pathway to begin to receive this word with eagerness and examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

Because the historical, hermeneutical, and theological characteristics of the Bible are intertwined and mutually reinforcing, the study of the biblical canon always has been located at the nerve center of the believing community’s foundational commitments.

Accordingly, the prayer of a biblical scholar must include, “May God bless the reading of his Word.”

This post is used with permission from Christian Apologist Ched Spellman. You can access more great posts like this one by visiting his blog

Published June 6, 2018