Dig Deeper: How Did We Get The Bible We Have Today?

The Bible you hold in your hands today, whether a physical or digital copy, may seem like a single piece of work. However, instead of a massive novel or a thick history textbook, the Bible is more like a scrapbook that contains news reports, letters from close friends, and emotional song lyrics. Who made the scrapbook? And where did all of these ‘scraps’ come from anyway?

What does “cannonisation” mean?

The word “canon” finds its origins in the Greek language, in which “kanōn” refers to a measuring rod. “Canonisation” means the recognition that a particular piece of writing was sacred, in that it gives the true laws and teachings of a religion.

The contents of our Bible were not randomly thrown together; rather, they went through a process of canonisation. Each text had to meet certain standards to be recognised by everyone as Scripture, that is, having the authority of God over the lives of believers. The text had to be consistent with (not contradict) other texts in the Bible, exemplify the kind of life that God wants his people to lead, have truly important things to say, and be relevant to the lives of people not just when it was written but everywhere and throughout time. It had to tell the truth.

The Old and New Testaments

For the Old Testament, the books of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) were recognised as Scripture the earliest, since they recorded the experiences of a people chosen by God and the laws He gave them through Moses. The rest of the books in the Old Testament were steadily added and used in worship before the canon was “closed” and no other texts were admitted into this exclusive list of books. By the time of Jesus, all the books in the Old Testament were recognised as Scripture. When Jesus and Paul mention Scripture, they were referring to the Old Testament.

For the New Testament, the process of canonisation was much shorter. The accounts in the Gospels and Acts and letters by the apostles or those very close to them were recognised and shared amongst believers, who agreed that the texts conveyed the truth about Jesus Christ and what it meant for them to call Him our Lord and Saviour, and also did not oppose previous teachings and laws in the Old Testament. The Christian faith was founded on these texts. Only when there was a major controversy over attempts to remove some books of the New Testament, did Christian leaders see the need to make the list official and declare the canon closed.

What next? 

All this took place over about a thousand years, but the whole Bible tells a consistent, coherent and dramatic story of God. Before you first read the Bible, what did you think about it? From the outside, it may have looked like a difficult book draped in religious fanfare and filled with empty words. But the more you read it, the more you will feel the weight of truth and ease your cynicism about the truth that it conveys. Take the leap and commit to reading the whole Bible!

Hannah Leung
Upon graduation, Hannah invested some money and a lot of time into picking up a new skill — sewing. She has since become her family's alteration master.

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