How and when was the Bible assembled?
“Scripture is like a pair of spectacles which dispels the darkness and gives us a clear view of God.” - John Calvin
The answer to this question is much more practical than most people assume. But, it does require some defining of terms.
First, when we are thinking of the “bible” we are typically thinking of what is called the “the canon” of scripture. These are the 66 books (Genesis -Revelation) that were written by divinely inspired human authors and referenced in sermons, read in quiet times and so on.
There is some complexity in determining which books made the cut as the Bible doesn’t have an exact list of what books go in and which don’t. The list we have today comes from Jewish rabbis, early Christians, scholars and of course the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians, we cling to the fact that the collection of books in the Bible are all chosen by God, without error and are useful for growing in our faith.
With that said, the Bible is really split into two sections - the Old Testament and the New Testament. The OT was pretty straightforward in its assembling, the NT had some more hoops the jump through.
Old Testament: The Old Testament, which spans from the book of Genesis all the way to Malachi, was assembled without much debate. The reason for this is because most Hebrew believers recognized the legitimacy of the writers as inspired and took their works at face value.
Actually, the Old Testament was pretty much good to go by the time Jesus arrived on Earth as he quotes from it numerous times (Matthew 12:7). And definitely was agreed upon before 300 AD or so.
There was definitely some debate around some writings called the Apocrypha (google it), but most scholars came to believe that they were just historical books - not inspired by God.
Old testament was pretty simple. The New Testament assembling has a little more action.
New Testament: The New Testament spans from Matthew to Revelation. It contains the narratives of Jesus and most of the great, pretty verses we like to post on social media. The process of picking books began very early on after Jesus’ resurrection. Letters of the Bible books we read today (Romans, Ephesians etc.) were circulating in the early churches and helping churches navigate their questions about the Faith.
But, with all of the circulation of inspired writings, there were of course instances of people writing letters that were either inaccurate or just straight up attempts at misleading early Christians. So, creating a canon (a clear collection of inspired books) was necessary.
There were a series of councils that happened from 170AD - 400AD that went about compiling a list of legitimate biblical texts and weeding out the ones that weren’t.
These were basically massive meetings with early Christian scholars who, through lots of prayer and thought, compiled what we know today as the Bible. These are the principles they used to vet those books. 1) Was the author close with Christ (like a disciple)? 2) Is the book accepted by the church at large? 3) Does the book match up with the rest of scripture? 4) Does the book’s values reflect the work of God?
And through those prayers and principles is how we ended up with the books we have today.
With all of that said, it is so important to remember that it was not a council, church or scholar that came up with the list - it was ultimately God who inspired those in positions of leadership at those functions to their conclusions.
The process of assembling the books was certainly not perfect. In fact, it was marred by human flaw - but our faithful God managed to bring about clarity and the best final product regardless.