How the Bible came to be is a fascinating story, albeit complicated. I shall herein attempt to present the facts of the origin and development of the Greatest Book of all as simply and briefly as possible.
The Bible did not just simply happen nor has it been preserved by accident or without effort. A complete study of our topic would necessitate a consideration of the making and writing of ancient books. Some of the earliest preserved examples of writings we are told were found in Egypt, consisting of inscriptions which appear to date back as far as 4000-5000 B.C. Research has now revealed that writing existed many centuries before Moses (some have argued that writing did not even exist in Moses’ day; therefore, the Bible is false). Ancient writing materials consisted of many things before our modern type book evolved. Stone (cp. Ten Commandments, Ex. 20), clay, wood, pottery, leather, and papyrus were commonly used at different periods as material upon which to write.
Leather (animal skins) was the primary material used by the Hebrews (“Old Testament”) and papyrus (plant material) appears to have been the material mainly used for the first writings of the New Testament. Papyrus rolls, as they were called, were often used. Such “rolls” were widespread by 500 B. C. Papyrus sheets were sometimes joined together (top and bottom), thus, the papyrus roll (average length appears to have been about 30 feet long and nine to ten inches wide, the writing was usually on one side, cp. an exception, Rev. 5: 1). This was often the “book” during this time period (see Rev. 5: 1). The Papyrus roll (so called because when not in use, it was rolled up) was simply laid down, usually on the floor or ground, and rolled out to be read. About 600 years later (ca. first or second century A.D.), the papyrus roll began to be replaced by what is known as the papyrus codex. The codex manuscript is what we know today as a book, papyrus sheets placed together in the form of a book, instead of a roll). Parchment (improved animal skins) was also used. Vellum (parchment) became popular in about 199 B. C. For about 1, 000 years parchment was commonly used in the making of some of the first copies of the original writings of the New Testament.
The birth of the Bible. We cannot assign an exact date or circumstance to the origin of the Bible. For a considerable time, God orally communicated with man (Patriarchal Age, Gen. 2-Ex. 20, about 2, 500 years). The first person mentioned in the Bible as writing down God’s communiqué was Moses, who lived about 1500 B. C. The Bible itself contributes six distinct writings to Moses (Ex. 17: 14; 24: 4; 34: 27, 28; Num. 33: 2; Deut. 31: 9, 24; 32: 1-43, cp. 31: 22). According to strict Jewish tradition, Moses is the author of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Some have scoffed at the idea that Moses who lived 1500 B. C. could have written about creation, seeing how creation was antecedent to Moses’ time. Herein, the Bible is set apart from all other writings – the Bible is inspired or God breathed (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). The very words were supplied to the men who wrote; hence, plenary inspiration (I Cor. 2: 13, I Pet. 1: 11, 2 Pet. 1: 21). The Bible also mentions writings by Joshua, Samuel, Jeremiah, and others (Josh. 24: 26; I Sam. 10: 25; Jere. 36: 2). The books of law came first, then the prophets, until it grew into the collection we now know as the Hebrew scriptures (“Old Testament”). Josephus, Jewish secular historian of the first century, indicated that the sacred Hebrew text was completed with Malachi (Against Apion 1. 8).
The New Testament also gradually came into being. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written during a span of about 50 years (50-100 A.D.). These books are letters penned by inspired men that were initially addressed to different churches (ex. Ephesians) and individuals (ex. 3 John). At the time of writing, these books were viewed as authoritative (I Thes. 5: 27, I Pet. 4: 11, I Cor. 4: 6, 14: 37). These letters were at first exchanged among the churches. Consider Paul’s language and instruction to the church at Colosse:
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Col. 4: 16, probably Ephesians, dm).
During the early years of the infant church, New Testament prophets and the apostles were invaluable in the determination of truth (Acts 15: 1-29, see vs. 28). Spiritual gifts such as the “discerning of spirits” were given to protect the early Christians from error until the New Testament was written and available (I Cor. 12: 10, 14: 29). God’s revelation to man was completed with the book of Revelation (ca. 96 A. D.). Hence, the faith has been “once delivered,” no additional revelations (Jude 3). All matters pertaining to life and godliness, God has provided (2 Pet. 1: 3). We have not received simply the “word of men” or “cunningly devised fables,” but “as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thes. 2: 13; 2 pet. 1: 16; I Thes. 2: 13). While the books comprising the Bible have been arranged by man (Genesis followed by Exodus, etc.), the books follow and flow, as a rule, in chronological order.
The Bible consists of two major divisions. These two primary divisions are the 39 books that constitute the Hebrew scriptures and the 27 books of the New Testament. Even though these books were written at different times and varying circumstances, they harmoniously compliment each other and constitute a whole. It has been aptly remarked that the Hebrew scriptures are the New Testament in prophecy and the New Testament is the Hebrew scriptures in fulfillment (Jere. 31: 31-34, cp. Heb. 8: 7-13). When one considers there were about 40 persons, many of whom from totally different backgrounds, and about 1500 and 50 years, respectively, consumed in the making of the Bible, the Bible truly bespeaks inspiration – a book beyond the scope of mere men.
The sixty-six books of the Bible have undergone careful scrutiny. The internal and external evidence regarding each of the books has been subjected to critical analysis unlike any other books before they are admitted into the sacred canon of scripture (click on “The Apocryhpa” to read more).
In closing, all the combined great books of all time do not even begin to compare to the contribution the Bible has made to mankind. Abraham Lincoln perhaps summed it up best when he wrote: “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.” (Related material is, “The Texts of the Bible” and “The Translation of the Bible.”)
Addendum: For your consideration, I shall provide a list of the sixty-six books of the Bible along with the attendant believed date and author. Below this material, you will find some interesting facts about the Bible as a book:
Keep in mind that the dates are approximate (and in a few cases may be subject to debate). However, it should give you a general overview.