What Books Belong in the Bible?

One question always raised by skeptics is whether or not the biblical texts can be trusted.  The idea is that since the writing of Scripture took place a long time after the events recorded, it is likely that errors crept in that change the original meaning of the texts.  Obviously, we do not have copies of the original manuscripts, so is it possible that our Bible has errors? This is a valid question to ask:  are there errors in the biblical texts that make them unreliable as a source for understanding about God and His purposes?

Before anything in the Bible was written down, people told stories about God and God’s relationship with the people we now read about in the Bible.  Eventually, as human societies in the Near East began to develop forms of writing that were easy to learn and use, people began to write down the stories, songs (psalms), and prophecies that would one day become a part of the Bible. This process took centuries.

Some critics have suggested that writing was invented long after events in the Hebrew Bible took place.  Therefore, how can we know that these events actually took place in the way they are portrayed in the Hebrew Bible?

Writing with symbols carved into stone tablets began around 3100 BC in Sumer. By 1500 BC writing had developed with an alphabet that made it possible to put writing on parchment.  This not only made writing easier, but more people could have access to what was written.

Scholars put Moses on the scene at about the same time writing on parchment began, around 1500 BC.  There is no reason to suppose that he could not read or write.

At first, Scripture was handed down in story form from generation to generation, father passing on stories to sons. This stage of passing on stories by word of mouth is known as the “oral tradition.”  With the development of language that could be written on parchment what had been transmitted orally began to be recorded in writing.  The earliest examples of Scriptures are in the Phoenician script around 1200 BC.  The texts were written on individual scrolls measuring ten inches wide by thirty feet long.

The Bible as Christians know it today did not begin as one large volume—with Old and New Testaments. It came into being as part of a selection process called “canonization.” The Greek word for “canon” can mean many things, such as “measuring rod” or “ruler.”

How did the collection of New Testament books come into being?  Faith tells us that the Holy Spirit who controlled the writing of the individual books also controlled the selection and collection of the individual books.  While this is true as a statement of faith, the process of determining what books were to be included in the New Testament was not a simple one.  Neither is it quite accurate to say that there was never any question about whether a book should be included in the New Testament.

We do not have original copies of any book in the Bible. Specialist scholars of many different faith traditions have worked over the past 100 years and continue to work on assuring we have a Bible that is as close to the original as possible. Their efforts have been published for other scholars to study.  Two of these sources for modern translators of the Bible are Biblia Hebraica (Old Testament) and Novum Testamentum Graece (New Testament).

Scripture fragments are continually being discovered and there are thousands of biblical texts to study and compare.  This process will continue so long as there are more ttets are discovered. There are some textual variations among all of these fragments and portions of books, but nothing has been discovered that puts into question any orthodox biblical teaching.

In spite of what those in popular culture may say, the New Testament books did not become authoritative because the Church or an emperor placed them on a canonical list.  The Church included these books because they were already thought to be divinely inspired and the result of apostolic authority, direct and indirect.  At least four criteria were used:

  • Was the writing the work of an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle?


  • Did the teaching of the work uphold the apostolic teachings maintained in the churches established by the apostles?


  • Was the work accepted as genuine by the greater part of the churches?  A fifth century AD writer put it this way: “What has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”


  • Was the work related to the Old Testament?  In other words, was the Old Testament referenced in the book?


In spite of the thousands of textual variations that have been found and the struggles of the early church to determine what writings were to be accepted, we can be assured that a modern translation of both the Old and New Testament are reliable and as close to the original documents that we can get at the present time.

There are scores of books covering this subject and I am listing four that are very readable for anyone who wants to have more information.

Karen Armstrong, The Bible.

  1. F. Bruce, et. al., The Origin of the Bible.
  2. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents.
  3. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture










What About a Christian Who Doubts?

I think much of our “in your face” apologetics, as well as personal evangelism, is unhelpful for they do not deal with some of the real issues that can cause doubt.  To make things worse, when doubts arrive, friends are quick to condemn us for lack of faith or tell us we are sinning.  Doubts can be very real because they generally center on the basic relationship one has with God. I have a few general comments.

First, doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Unbelief is the opposite of faith.  Faith encompasses some doubt or it would not be faith.  Faith is not an intellectual exercise but a personal trust in the goodness and reliability of God to do what he promises to do.

Second, faith is a working hypothesis.  This is a position scientists take all the time.  The existence of black holes is a working hypothesis.  Evidence exists for black holes but they are not a provable fact at this point so that there is a law of black holes.  God, the Bible, salvation, etc. are all part of a large working religious hypothesis. Evidence for God exists, but the evidence is not provable fact.  We act upon our hypothesis as if it were true though not provable.

Three, we must admit that we could be wrong – our hypothesis may be wrong.  However, my Christian hypothesis answers more questions than any alternative I have considered.  Granted, I don’t know all the questions and all the alternatives that are available, but what I do points me to God.

Fourth, our atheist friends also have a working hypothesis and a faith.  They cannot disprove God any more than we can prove God.  Which hypothesis makes the most sense?  That is the basis upon which faith is built.  The atheist has a faith commitment to the scientific enterprise as the ultimate answer to life’s meaning.  I prefer making a faith commitment to God as the ultimate answer to life’s meaning. I have no quarrel with science per se or the scientific method, but making science or anything else less than God as an ultimate concern is building an idol that is the product of limited humanity.

Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion? – Part 2

A concept that is built into our psyche is the notion that we are autonomous.  We stand on our own two feet.  We can be anything we want to be.  We owe no one anything.  We can eat the forbidden fruit in our Garden of Eden without suffering consequences.  Our personalities are egocentric; everything revolves around the “I/Me.”

As we grow older we learn, sadly perhaps, that autonomy has its limits.  We encounter things that are unconditioned, things and people that do not allow us to set the conditions for our relationship to them. Parental rules are perhaps the earliest experience of the unconditioned.  Then, we have teachers and homework, other authority figures, traffic rules, a boss and workplace rules.  At some point along the road we marry and learn that family life has unconditioned elements for us.  Surprise, surprise, we demand certain conditions be met if we are to have a relation with this or that person or if we are going to participate in this or that activity.

Let’s put this in concrete terms.  Imagine a man 40-45 years old who is climbing the corporate ladder.  He wants to have a successful career, make enough salary to enjoy life and put something away for retirement.  However, the job has unconditioned elements that can determine his destiny.  He must follow certain procedures.  There are corporate documents he must know and abide by.  He must give all of himself to the task at hand. He gives obedience to the people who are mediators of the unconditioned. If he is to succeed, he must submit to the unconditioned of the corporate world.

For this man, and millions of others, the unconditioned requires a religious commitment.  Now, religion does not require a God or gods or the supernatural or a certain organization or specific devotional exercises.  According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a religion can be “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”  A religion can be “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.”

A religion does not require the supernatural or the observance of devotional activities related to a god or gods.  Every person experiences the unconditioned elements of human existence.  Accordingly, all people are religious because the unconditioned elements in life require a religious response.  The unconditioned demands our obedience.  It has it attendant “sacred” documents and prescribed rituals.  Much to our dismay, the unconditioned also extracts punishment for our disobedience.

The greatest unconditioned element in life is the reality of death.  We may choose how and when we die, but we have no choice about dying.  Others may die sooner or later than we.  Others may die a more prestigious death, but we all die.

We will always have some kind of religion.  We can’t do without it.  Whatever has ultimate control over our existence is the unconditioned.  We determine the content of our unconditioned.  So this becomes the question we all ask: what form of religion most adequately addresses my ultimate concerns and helps me to relate to the unconditioned elements in life?  I don’t have all the answers yet, but he content of the unconditioned for me is God as revealed in Jesus the Christ.  My devotional and relational response to the Unconditioned, God, defines who I am and who I strive to become.