The Bible is the most popular book in history. It has been printed more than any other book since the invention of the printing press. Guinness records estimates that 2.5 billion Bibles were printed between 1815 and 1975, while The Economist estimates 100 million Bibles are printed annually, creating over 6 billion in print. The New Yorker magazine conservatively estimates that 25 million Bibles are sold annually in America alone; they also pointed out that in 2005 the number of Bibles sold in the U.S. alone was conservatively estimated at 25 million (Pepper).
The Bible is the Book of books. It contains everything we need to know for life and eternity. It is the wisdom of God and the mind of Christ between two covers. God’s Word is the means by which God instructs mankind because it contains everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). It is the source which contains knowledge for our understanding, advice that counsels us, food which feeds us, milk which nourishes us, honey that sweetens our lives, gold that enriches our lives, a sword that cuts our hearts, minds, and souls, a hammer that molds and shapes us, a lamp that leads and guides our paths, and a mirror to see ourselves as we are. The Bible is infallible, never failing, ever reviving, always relevant, and forever settled in heaven. We read the Bible to be wise, obey it to be saved, believe it to be happy, and proclaim it to be joyful. The Bible is unique because of its Author, wisdom, and message. The Psalmist praised God’s Word—the Bible—not only in Psalm 119 but also in declaring that God, Himself, magnified His Word even above His own name (138:2). There is no other book like the Bible, but how did we get the Bible? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?
Before answering these questions, it needs to be understood that the Bible does not begin with a twelve-step program to believing in God, nor does it provide a defense for God’s existence. The Bible simply begins by declaring, “In the beginning God.” At the very outset of the Bible, God’s existence and eternality are immediately established—God Is! Therefore, it is not the purpose of this presentation to prove God’s existence, or to prove that the Bible comes from God. God does exist and, therefore, the Bible is His revelation to mankind. The Bible is, indeed, the Word of God—the greatest book of all!
From God to Man—A Process
All of the content of the Bible is revelation. Revelation discloses what had been previously unknown. Quite simply, God revealed His Will, making known His thoughts, desires, and intentions to and for mankind. Without God revealing all of this, we would not ever know God intimately. We could not know how to have a relationship with Him, nor would we know of our lost condition and need for a Savior. The revelation of this content involved a process, and the process by which the content of the Bible was revealed is called inspiration. The Bible makes a clear distinction between revelation and inspiration:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:7-13).
Paul says he spoke of the “wisdom of God” which had been previously hidden. No one knew or understood because this “wisdom of God” was hidden from men (2:7-9). However, God would reveal these things, by the Holy Spirit, to the apostles (inspired men including Paul), which is the meaning of us in this passage (2:10). Then Paul says he took that revelation and made it known to the Corinthians (and others) through the power of the Spirit guiding him. Note that Paul said the things which were revealed to him, he spoke. Paul spoke by inspiration, the Holy Spirit giving him the exact words to speak (2:13). Therein lies the difference between revelation and inspiration.
According to Gaussen, “inspiration is that inexplicable power which the Divine Spirit aforetime, exercised upon the authors of Holy Scripture, to guide them even to the word which they have employed, and to preserve them from all error, as well as from any omission” (37).
Inspiration simply means that the Holy Spirit exercised supernatural power upon those who wrote the Bible, guiding them and giving them the exact words to write, in the way in which the Spirit wanted it expressed. In fact, every word in the Bible was given to the writers, by the Holy Spirit, and the teachings these authors wrote down contain the exact words, forms of words, and wording the Spirit desired, including tense, voice, mood, gender, and number of a word. The fact that a certain word in Scripture is found in the singular rather than the plural is all part of the Divine purpose and work. Everything in Scripture is there because God wanted it. Some refer to this as the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, meaning that every word (verbal) in the entire Bible (plenary) is Holy Scripture (inspiration). Of course, we should be careful not to confuse natural inspiration with “God-breathed” inspiration. Saying someone was inspired to write or say something is a result of being indirectly motivated by someone or something. Perhaps a writer draws inspiration from another source such as a person or an object. An artist may be inspired to paint a wonderful picture based upon some life experience. On the other hand, Bible inspiration always involved a direct or miraculous activity of God, providing men with supernatural guidance in speaking and writing for God.
To further understand what is meant by inspiration, Paul writes: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “Inspiration of God” is from the Greek word theopnuestos combines two words, theos meaning “God” and pneustos, from pneuma meaning “spirit” or “breath.” The Scriptures are literally “breathed out” or “spirited out” of the mouth God—“God breathed.” Packer writes: “theopneustos means ‘out-breathed’ rather than ‘in-breathed’ by God—Divinely expired, rather than inspired” (29). God “breathed out” “all Scripture” and all the words contained therein. Therefore, the inspiration of Scripture is directly connected to God’s authority, which is illustrated by, “What the Scriptures say, God says,” for they are one and the same with regards to authority.
Because the Bible is a product of God, the Scriptures are authoritative. This means that whatever God asserts in Scripture must be believed, whatever God enjoins in Scripture must be obeyed, and whatever God prohibits in Scripture must be avoided.
Although God used men to write the Scriptures, none of the words they wrote down originated with them. It is through inspiration that men of God were able to both speak and record in writing Divine words. While God provided these men the words to use, they were still able to write using their personalities, demeanor, backgrounds, perceptions, and experiences. Such is the miracle of inspiration. Of course, this is the point Peter makes when discussing this particular phenomenon: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Here we learn some things about the inspiration of Scripture. First, Peter emphatically declares that Scripture is not the product of man. Men did not and could not conceive of such a work; rather men were “moved by the Holy Ghost” in speaking and writing the words of God. Second there are some key words we need to consider. Peter (by the Spirit) uses the Greek word ou, which carries an absolute negative of possibility—“in no way” or “not ever.” The idea is that man could in no way (not ever) produce such a message as found in Scripture. Man could not perceive to conjure up such a message for mankind. Without having God’s supernatural help, it is impossible for men to do. Second, the verb phero means “to bear, carry along, convey, produce, bring forth, or bring along.” (The word image is like that of the wind blowing a boat along on the water.) No message was ever conveyed, borne, carried along, produced, and brought forth by an act of human will. Instead men were (phero) carried along, moved along, conveyed, brought forth by the Holy Spirit to speak from God. The Holy Spirit provided them the supernatural ability to speak and write words from God. Third, the Greek word apo comes before the word “God,” which means “out from God,” evincing the fact that the source of the words is God. God gave the words to the Spirit, who in turn gave the words to the holy men of God, directly guiding them as they spoke and wrote.
Finally, the passage stresses the passivity of man’s involvement even though they physically penned the words. God gave them through His Spirit! The Bible explains that David was inspired of God and his example also demonstrates the process involved with inspiration: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, And his word was in my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Luke confirms this activity saying: “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus” (Acts 1:16; cf. Psa. 41:9).
In writing his first epistle to the Thessalonians, concerning inspiration, Paul writes:
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (1 The. 2:13).
God chose selected men to speak and write. These men were miraculously and supernaturally guided and aided by the Holy Spirit to ensure there would be no errors or omissions when they either spoke God’s words or wrote those words down. In this manner, God—through the Holy Spirit—not only delivered His message to mankind but preserved it as well. The Scriptures are indeed God’s Word, and we can be assured of their authenticity, authority, and accuracy.
Bible Formation—Canonization And Transmission
Bible comes from the Greek word biblia, which is plural for “books” or documents written on papyrus. Scripture (which is synonymous with Bible) comes from the Greek word graphai, meaning “writings.” As we previously noted, all Scripture (the writings) are “God-breathed.”
The Bible is actually a library consisting of sixty-six documents or books. It is divided into two testaments—the Old Testament and New Testament. Testament means “covenant.” There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. The Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews. The New Testament was written primarily in Greek. A tiny portion of Aramaic is found in both testaments. All of these books were written by 40, inspired men over a period of approximately 1,600 years.
As God revealed His mind, and as inspired men wrote it down in the words of their language, they would do so on materials common for their time. These materials included, stone, clay, papyrus, animal skins, leather, vellum, and parchments. By the time of Christ in the first century, the Jews had divided the Old Testament into three sections, which today is known as “the Tanakh, from the first letters of the Hebrew Torah (the Law), Nevi’im (the Prophets) and Kethuvim (the Writings, which begin with the book of Psalms)” (Hulme). Jesus was familiar with this division and referred to the entire Old Testament in similar fashion: “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). In other words, the entire Old Testament testifies about Christ.
Sometimes the entire Old Testament is simply referred to as “the law”: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:34). Here Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 referring to it as “law.” The apostle Paul, similarly, refers to the entire Old Covenant as the “law” and finally, in allegorical fashion, as the “bondwoman” (Gal. 3:2-24; 4:24-31). Paul also referred to the Old Covenant as the “holy scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15). In fact, the entire Old Covenant (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) was referred to as the “oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2), and it is here we learn that God entrusted the Jews with the responsibility of preserving the Old Testament Scriptures.
Involved in the preservation of the Old Testament is what is called “Canonization” or the process of identifying and recognizing what books are sacred or Scripture and which books are not. Canon comes from the Hebrew word qaneh and the Greek word kanon, both meaning a rule, measurement, or a standard. “With respect to the Bible, it speaks of those books that met the standard and therefore were worthy of inclusion” (Beckwith 51). The New Testament acknowledges that the Jews had identified, codified, and established the canon of Old Testament Scripture long before the first century (Mat. 5:17-18; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16-17; 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23; Rom. 3:21). Moreover, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 demonstrated that the Old Testament contained in our modern Bibles were the same books contained in the Hebrew Bible of the Jews.
Moses gave the Jews instructions in identifying error and preserving Truth. Any teaching that was contrary to the already-accepted canon of Scripture at that time was to be rejected (Deu. 13:1-18). Furthermore, if there was no miraculous evidence in connection with the teaching, it was to be rejected as well (18:15-22).
Therefore, we know God preserved His message in the Old Testament Scriptures, safeguarding them through inspiration, aiding and guiding inspired speakers and writers. We know God preserved all the books of the Old Testament through the instrumentality of His chosen people, the Jews. The thirty-nine books of our modern Bibles are the identical contents of the Hebrew Bible. The Old Testament points to a time when it would be replaced with the New Testament:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant With the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers In the day that I took them by the hand To bring them out of the land of Egypt; Which my covenant they brake, Although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord (Jer. 31:31-32).
The Hebrews’ writer begins his treatise saying: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the preeminent spokesman for God, the One for whom the Old Testament prophets prepared (1 Pet. 1:10-12). The Hebrews’ writer contrasts the old revelation with the new revelation. God revealed Himself “in time past”—to the fathers in the prophets. He dealt directly with the fathers of each household during the Patriarchal period (Abraham—Gen. 12; Isaac—Gen. 26; Jacob—Gen. 28), and during the Mosaical period God expressed His will to men through prophets such as Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, et al.
This “time past” or old revelation came in differing proportions and made in different ways. As the prophet Isaiah said, “here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:10-13). The revelation of the past (Old Testament), came piece by piece—bit by bit, however “in these last days” (New Testament) God has spoken by His Son, Jesus Christ. In the transfiguration of Matthew 17 God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (17:5). Jesus Himself affirmed He was God’s spokesman (John 5:19; 12:49), which makes it necessary to heed His message:
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Heb. 2:1-4).
Here we learn God spoke through Jesus and Jesus spoke to His apostles and inspired men, who not only spoke for God, but also wrote for God. Jesus told His disciples (apostles): “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13).
Christ would speak to His inspired men through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would guide them, teach them, and bring to their remembrance all things Jesus said to them while He was with them on earth (14:25-26). The Spirit would give them the very words God wanted spoken (Mat. 10:19-20). The truth of the Gospel of Christ, the New Covenant, which the apostles and inspired men spoke and wrote, was free from error (inerrant), as it was guided and aided by the Holy Spirit. This message was authoritative because Jesus had “all authority” (28:18—ASV).
In similar fashion to the Old Testament writers, the apostles and inspired men wrote down the words of God, creating Scripture. The early church made copies and shared them with each other (Col. 4:16). Therefore, the Christians of the first century would immediately recognize Scripture. The Thessalonians knew immediately that Paul’s writings were Scripture and the Word of God (1 The. 2:13). They were able to discern true documents from false ones. Miraculous gifts were granted to first century Christians as the Spirit willed (Heb. 2:4; 1 Cor. 12:11). Certain gifts, including that of prophecy and “discerning of spirits” (12:10; 14:29; 1 John 4:1) were exercised for purposes of determining which documents were truly Scripture or canonical (1 Cor. 14:37). Once an epistle was written, it was automatically regarded as Scripture or canonical. Therefore, we know and can be assured that all 27 books of the New Testament were accepted as God’s Word—and only these 27. While there are no “original” documents in existence, there are literally thousands of copies (these copies are now called manuscripts). In addition to trusting God in preserving His Word, we can also verify this preservation through historical means. Various men of the second, third, and fourth centuries made reference to the New Testament books:
Athanasius gives us our earliest list of the 27 books in the AD 367, while Origen (c AD 250) may have mentioned all of them a century earlier (though there is debate whether he named the book of Revelation as manuscripts differ on this point). Either way, the core of the New Testament was functioning as canon by the end of the second century as other evidence shows. At that time, Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon mention the core of the New Testament, noting the four gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles, I Peter, and I John. These were the books that had apostolic roots and that churches in many distinct regions were using. Origen, Irenaus, and the Muratorian Canon predate any church councils where some claim the canonical books were chosen. New Testament books were not chosen but recognized by their use over time in churches (Bock).
Furthermore, it has been said that the entire New Testament, with the exception of eleven verses, can be reconstructed from the writings of the early church or what has been termed the “Church Fathers.” Whether or not that is true, we do know that the early church did, indeed, quote the New Testament extensively. In many cases, while a direct quote was not provided, allusions to the New Testament saturate all of the early Christian writings. The index of New Testament references in Clement of Rome, Mathetes, Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus shows they all were familiar with nearly every canonical work.
We who trust in the Lord God Almighty are cognizant of His existence and are keenly aware of His mighty power. We know that the very same power exhibited in the creation of the universe is the very same power which sustains and preserves the powerful Word—“But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Pet. 1:25).
All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
Beckwith, R. T. “The Canon of the Old Testament.” The Origin of the Bible. Ed. Philip Wesley Comfort. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.
Bock, Darrell. “How Did We Get the Bible and Can We Trust It?” A God-Centered Worldview. 20 Oct. 2013. The Gospel Project. 31 Jan. 2014.
Gaussen, L. Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1841. 31 Jan. 2014.
Hulme, David. “The Law, the Prophets and the Writings” Part 1. The Book of Origins. Winter 2012 Issue. 31 Jan. 2014.
Packer, J. I. “The Inspiration of the Bible.” The Origin of the Bible. Ed. Philip Wesley Comfort. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992. 29.
Pepper, Ennis. 24 June. 2012. “Why The Bible Is The True Best Seller.” Now Think About It. 31 Jan. 2014.
Reprinted from The Bellview church of Christ Lectureship, Pensacola, Florida, 2014, Understanding the Will of the Lord, ed. Michael Hatcher.