How the Heck Did We Get Our Bible?

Have you ever wondered why certain books are in the Bible and others aren’t? Why is the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, while The Shepherd of Hermas is not in the Bible? What makes one book more important than another?

If you read books like The Da Vinci Code, you might be led to think that the Bible was put together by power-hungry men who were out to create a book that would further their agenda for religious domination. Those writings that furthered their agenda made it into the Bible, while the writings that were counter to their agenda were banished. Or some sort of nonsense like that.

In his helpful book, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine, Gregg Allison explains how the church fathers determined which books were canonical (scripture) and which were not:

Two key criteria emerged to determine which writings to include in the canon: (1) apostolicity: Does this writing have an apostle for its author (e.g., Paul’s letters, the gospels of Matthew and John)? If not, is an apostle associated with this writing (e.g., Mark’s gospel records the account of the apostle Peter)? (2) antiquity: Has the church historically recognized the voice of God speaking to his people in this writing? Although equipped with these criteria, the church did not set out to determine the canon of Scripture as much as to recognize and affirm those authoritative, inspired writings that God intended for inclusion in his Word.

I find that really helpful. The early church fathers weren’t seeking to determine what got into the Bible and what didn’t, like editors putting together an edition of a magazine. Rather, they were simply seeking to recognize and affirm those writings that were clearly the word of God.

  • argle

    Absolutely. You can tell he's right because "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s" made it in, while gnostic heresies like the idea that women are equal and that people can have a personal relationship with god independent of the church were burned. Just because the church ruled Europe for a thousand years afterward doesn't mean their motives were less than pure!

    • http://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge @stephenaltrogge

      Hey Argle! I'm not exactly sure what you're talking about, because most of the gnostic heresies were centered on obtaining a secret knowledge and were banned from the canon of scripture because of their views on Jesus. The writings that made it into the Bible are actually very pro-women, and did much to promote the view of men and women as equal. It was actually some of the writings that were banned from the canon that had the view that women were not equal to men. Also, the Bible that we have is very clear that you can have a relationship with God independent of the church. The church may have taught the opposite, but it didn't get that teaching from the Bible.

  • Bob

    I love that picture of you and Joe and your dad. I always wondered what you guys wore when you go on your retreats. (what is that thing Joe and your dad are doing with their right hands? gang symbol?)

  • ruth

    @argle – I believe some of the other more appealing religions dominant at that time, and still existing in some areas today, offered the much more palatable idea that you can't know God(s) as he is incomprehensible, and that we should throw our women and children into the Ganges to appease them. I realize that Jesus's teaching on kindness and patience were quite controversial, and that through Him we have a hope to be reconciled to God, as were James's instructions to visit the poor and comfort the widow as proof of pure religion – that's why people were eaten by lions for professing belief in them. You're right – these verses probably made it in to the Bible because when the church sat down a few hundred years after it was written and recognized it as a valid, God breathed writing, they thought, with this power, they might be able to put the Medici's into the papacy (eleven or twelve centuries later). Sorry, but for as much bad as has come out of those who abuse and misunderstand the Bible, it has inspired millions and millions and millions of souls, who turn around and do good (not all of the time – we're human – but we try). I think it's the leadership that carries the biggest burden, and the biggest threat, of not letting the power of having influence over folk's lives (who are looking for guidance) go to their heads, and staying a true servant of God and His people. My personal opinion.

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