In response to one of my posts here, I received a comment which says:
I’m interested to know where exactly you think the “Bible” comes from? How do we know “these” books are in it, and others are not? Who and what is responsible for determining that? Why and how can there be disagreements about this?
This is a fair question, and it is certainly one that I have asked and sought answers to many times in the past – both when I was busy being a devout atheist and after I became a believer in Christ. I will make an earnest attempt to answer the above-referenced questions with as much clarity as possible, but keep in mind that I am just a humble pilgrim on my own journey of faith and I am capable of error as much as anyone.
I will endeavor to avoid leading anyone astray, as it is my intention to help you develop and strengthen your own personal relationship with Jesus rather than cause you to stumble on your own path.
The question is actually four questions, and the second and third ones can be answered together in a single response. The question is “How do we know ‘these’ books are in [the Bible] and others are not, and who and what is responsible for determining that?”
The books included or excluded from the ‘finished’ Bible as we know it were compiled, curated, or determined – generally – by a group of individuals who ‘authorized’ that particular version of the Bible. There are many different versions of the Bible and some of them contain books that are not included in other versions (the Catholic version of the Bible, for example, has several books not included in the King James Version of the Bible).
In some cases, what is or is not included may be determined by the group, agency, or organization responsible for publishing a particular version of the Bible. An example of that would be The Message Bible (published in 2002), which is a version of the Bible ‘translated’ into simple English that is easy for a person of below average intelligence to comprehend (making it much easier to read than the King James Version).
Different Versions of the Bible
There is no single version of the Bible used universally as the accepted version of God’s word. Many religious denominations use a specific version (like the King James), while others have their own – or some variation of an existing version of the Bible.
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible was not actually compiled by King James of England. The Church of England had a group of forty seven advisors, scholars, priests, and other learned and highly regarded men (who were members of the Church of England) translate a previous version into English, select and approve the books chosen for inclusion, and present it for final authorization. The translation was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611. This translation was not known as the Authorized Version until the early 1800s, when that descriptor was added to the name of this version of the Bible.
The Coverdale Bible, compiled by Myles Coverdale, was the first complete Bible printed in English, and it was published in 1535. A 1539 printing of this Bible was the first officially approved (by the crown of England) English version of the complete Bible (Old and New Testaments). The New Testament of the Coverdale Bible was based on Tyndale’s translation, as was a small part of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch). Coverdale performed translation of the rest of the Old Testament himself, using German versions and the Latin Vulgate as sources.
Tyndale’s Bible, which is a misnomer because William Tyndale never compiled, translated, and published a complete version of the Bible, was the first English translation of the Bible (or parts thereof) that was produced from Hebrew and Greek texts. Tyndale had completed translation of the New Testament and approximately half of the Old Testament before he was executed. Tyndale performed his translations in the late 1520s and early 1530s, before being accused of heresy and killed (by strangulation and burning at the stake). His crime of heresy was because he expressed the wish to the Bishop of London to translate the Bible into English so that everyone would be able to read God’s word, rather than just theologians and priests. Tyndale’s Bible was an offront to the Roman Catholic Church because it challenged many of the Church’s established doctrines and – by giving access to God’s word to everyone – would have negated the Church’s position that only the Church (and its priests/bishops) could properly ‘interpret’ God’s word and act as intercessory agents between mankind and God.
The Latin Vulgate (often just called the Vulgate) is the only version of the Bible to have ever been officially approved by the Catholic Church. It was translated into Latin in the late 4th century and became the official version for the Catholic Church in the 16th century. The Clementine edition of the Vulgate of 1592 became the standard Bible text of the Roman Rite of the Roman Catholic Church and remained so until 1979 when the Nova Vulgata was promulgated (source: Wikipedia). The Council of Trent. held by the Catholic Church, determined in the mid-1500s which books were to be included in the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible.
The English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, published in 2001 in modern English, is a revision of the Revised Standard Version (published in 1952).
The International Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible has had the New Testament published in 2011 and has had the Old Testament translated (but not had their version published). This Bible is a collaborative effort between scholars, researchers, translators, and professors, with several parts of the translations coming from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible is an English translation of the Protestant Bible. It was originally published in 1978 and has been updated in 1984 and 2011. The purpose of this Bible was to produce a version that was written in the ‘common language of the American people.’ While the main group of translators for this version consisted of 15 scholars, the final finished version was the decade-long work of over 100 individuals.
There are many other versions of the Bible. A large number of them were the result of translations from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, while others came from much later and much more modern translations.
Who is responsible for determining what books are chosen for each different version of the Bible? The group, agency, organization, entity, or individual responsible for publishing the version is the ‘who’ that selected what books to include.
How do we know that these versions, book selections, and translations are official or authoritative or correct? Unless we can read and have access to the original texts, we don’t know. We make a leap of faith and let our belief in the word be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Where do I think the Bible comes from?
If you ask 100 different people this question, you will likely get at least a dozen different answers. Some people say the Bible was written by God, others say it is just an interesting book of fiction written by men, and yet others say that it was written by theologians of various time periods. The general consensus among Bible scholars is that it was written over a period of at least 1,500 years, with some parts of it written several centuries before the birth of Jesus.
According to scholars, the authors of the individual books of the Bible were from all walks of life – kings, tax collectors, poets, farmers, priests, and others – and that the texts created by these people were divinely inspired by God. In other words, they were writing about ‘religious’ subjects while under the influence of God through the Holy Spirit. This point of view (the scholars’ presumption) is the belief I hold regarding ‘where’ the Bible comes from.
Why and how can there be disagreements about all this?
That’s the easiest question of all to answer. No matter what the subject is, there can always be a disagreement if two or more people are present and discussing it. People can even argue about the color of the sky (sky blue, cerulean, robin’s egg blue, bright blue, milky blue, etc.) or which direction the sun rises from (east, slightly northeast, a bit more southerly than easterly, etc.). People are contrary about a lot of things, and religion is one of those subjects we are often cautioned against speaking of when attending a gathering of several other people – simply because it can (and does) stir up debate. Everyone has an opinion that usually differs from that of everyone else, sometimes simply for the sake of being argumentative.
Unless God himself personally appears and declares that he ‘instructed’ the writing of the Bible via the Holy Spirit, there WILL be disagreements about it. And perhaps there would still be even if he did appear and unequivocally inform of us of where the Bible comes from.
So – there’s my take on it. A bit more wordy than I had planned, but it should suffice to answer the original questions at the beginning of this post.
As always, seek your own understanding, meaning, and interpretation of the intention behind God’s word by reading it for yourself. Don’t believe others, because we are all only human, and none of us is more qualified to discern a revelation from God’s word meant for you other than you yourself.