Where Did the Bible Come From? Part 1

Where did the Bible come from?

The Bible is God’s Word written down in human language, so it is absolutely correct to say that the Bible comes from God. But the Bible did not magically drop out of the sky and into the lap of the pope. It is a single book, but it is also a library-comprised of several books like Genesis, Psalms, Romans, and Luke. And each of these books is a different type of book. Some are poems, some are letters, some are stories, and some are (and I have to be very careful about how I say this) mythology or “pre-philosophy philosophizing.” And these books were not written all at the same time like at some sort of ancient Biblical convention in Jerusalem. They were written over the course of several thousands of years. It is important to recognize the two major divisions of the Bible: The Old Testament and the New Testament. “Testament” is a latinized translation of the word “covenant.” It signifies the distinction between the Old Covenant that God made with the Hebrew people and the New Covenant made with Jesus.

When exactly were the books of the Old Testament written? That is a difficult question to answer. We have references to the books of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) throughout the Old Testament, but we have no manuscripts from that era that have survived. In fact, the oldest writings we have intact are from the Dead Sea Scrolls which date somewhere around the beginning of the 1st Century AD. But even these are copies, written centuries after many of these books were supposedly written. The Torah is attributed to Moses, the Psalms to David, and Wisdom to Solomon. But there is a question as to whether these are reliable attributions. One of the issues is that the above books that we have today may not be the exact same books that are being referenced. You see, the Babylonians and Romans were excellent at conquering and then destroying the nation of Israel, from their cities to their writings. This means that much of what could have been written may have been destroyed. A predominant theory is that much of what we call the Old Testament was probably written in the 6th-5th Century BC. And even some others were composed later, like the book of Daniel.

The formation of the Old Testament “canon” (which means the list of inspired books), took shape over several hundred years. It wasn’t until the first century AD that this thing we call the Old Testament took the form that is familiar to us today. The Pharisees (who were the teachers of the Law) finalized their scriptures, which they called the TANAK, around the year 70 AD. These include most of the books that we have in our Old Testament. In addition to these, we include the books that were part of something called the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. These included books that were not Hebrew in Origin, but only written in the Greek language. These books were then translated into Latin by St. Jerome in the 4th Century.

The New Testament canon was formed over a much shorter period of time. The Apostles and the witnesses spread throughout the world preaching the Good News about Jesus in the early 1st Century AD. Some began writing letters, like St. Paul. These epistles would be the earliest writings of the New Testament. The communities who received them would read from them at their regular gatherings and they would be treasured as foundational teachings of their Apostles. As the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly life were dying, especially through martyrdom, their testimonies were written down into the Gospels. There are several Gospels that were written throughout the first few centuries. But very early on, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were considered the authentic Apostolic witness to the life and teachings of Christ. But why did these books and not others make it into the Bible? Or another way to ask it: what does it mean that the Bible is inspired?

We will cover this in Part 2 of this series.

Copyright 2024, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

Leave a Reply

next post: God Who Offers Eternal Life

previous post: Immaculee Ilibagiza and Forgiveness