Holy Scripture

Where does the Bible Come From?

General Background

Religious Literature

The religious literature of the Jewish people was first set to paper around 1000 BC. This was about 200 years after the Exodus from Egypt. The full complement of the Pentateuch, or first five books of scripture was set by the time of the Babylonian Exile, 500 BC.

Holy scribes throughout this period also set down the oral traditions of people in the form of other books. These we copied and circulated as learning tools for the scribes of the day. Throughout this time learned people and scribes collected anything of value historically or spiritually for the people.

The catalyst historical event for scripture is the separation of the Jewish nation into Judah and Israel. Due to the dispute over who should lead the Jewish people two rival kingdoms existed. The Assyrians conquered Israel and transplanted ALL its people with another race. This is the tragic “lost tribes” of Israel. Lost with them was all their religious literature.

The Jerusalem Scribes

King Hezekiah of Judah (722 BC) takes heed from this message from God to reform and brings the remaining people back to the faith of their ancestors. He institutes religious reforms including the collecting of all literature into a library in Jerusalem. Here he assigns the scribes to collate and collect this material for future generations. These scribes give us the FORM and CONTENT of the Pentateuch and historical writings we have today.

As time goes on the Prophets come and go and those that are accepted, usually after their death, have their words preserved. While these are written in the first person they are most likely compiled by followers and scribes.

Others generate, collect and distribute general spiritual documents called “Wisdom Literature” or the “Writings”.

Still in this period individual writings are used at the discretion of the teaching scholars. Works are condemned the same way. If you don’t like something you teach against it and destroy any copies you come across. If you find value in something you use the work and make additional copies to preserve it for the future.

Occupied Lands

Starting with the Babylonian Exile (570 BC) when the temple was destroyed there was even more variability in the use of “scripture”. By this time the Pentateuch was firmly established and used by all but with the destruction of the temple use of other works became even less controlled. This brought on the period of Apocalyptic literature as well.

The return from exile restored control to center but the occupation by the Greeks followed by the Romans again turned things to turmoil. Fundamentally, foreign occupation is viewed as punishment of Israel from God. This left open the door to religious movements to find the “truth” that God wanted from his People. They generated literature to support their views.

By the time of Christ there were AT LEAST three major groups (Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes) claiming to know God’s will for the chosen people and Christians became the fourth. Naturally, we believe Christ is the answer, but in Jewish circles the Pharisees won out.

By the start of the first century AD there are more than 60 SURVIVING documents in scriptural styles that are not included in our collection of scripture. We find many of these documents quoted as scripture in other books of the bible and more quoted and mentioned in books of the bible that we no longer have.

Christian Literature

As the Christians were forming their own sect within Judaism it was natural to continue this same process of creating literature to support the teaching. The new twist that Christians added was the open letter to a Church from a leader, or Epistle. This is NOT a traditional Jewish form of literature but a Greek one.

These are the earliest writings in the new testament. They are contemporary writings about what is happening in the newly formed Christian communities.

Again there are many more of these letters and Jewish style writings surviving than are included in the New Testament.

The Gospels and Acts are the Christian version of the historical chronicles in the Jewish scripture. Revelations is an example of a Christian Apocalypse.

The Official Canon

Council of Jamnia

The final cataclysmic event that solidified Judaism from these competing sects into one was the destruction of the temple by Rome in 70 AD. The Pharisees won out. As they attempted to restore a faith to the people they once again revisited what is in scripture. The readings from Scripture were now central to the weekly service, instead of the animal sacrifices of the destroyed temple.

They held a council of Rabbis in Jamnia (90 AD). Among other things they set the order of what is sacred scripture. At the time two versions of scripture existed as collections, one in Hebrew, one in Greek. The Greek version was collected in Alexandria and contained more books than the Hebrew one preserved in the Holy Land. They decided that only books that were originally written and preserved in Hebrew would be admitted. This was done in opposition to the influence of Greek culture against the Jews. And because of the widespread use of the Greek version by the breakaway sect of Christians.

Christian Councils

By the time of the council of Jamnia Christians were already a separate church and were primarily Greek speaking. When the Gospels and letters quote the scriptures they due so almost exclusively from the Greek version. Since no one knew Hebrew all they knew of the Jewish scriptures was the Greek version.

Further as time wore on some important differences in translation were found in the Greek version of scripture. The famous prophecy of Isaiah promising a Virgin will give birth is actually just a young woman in Hebrew. In many of the famous debates between Christians and Jews during this period Christians are taken to task for accepting such poor translations of the original works.

The patristic writers mostly quote from the Greek version and the Seventh Ecumenical council cites from the Greek only books as scripture. There were notable exceptions however. John of Damascus and Athanasius both adhered to the Hebrew scriptures exclusively.

Protestant Reformation

Officially, there was no listing for the Old Testament books in Christian churches. But the usage of the Greek version was largely undisputed until the time of the Protestant Reformation. One of the reforms was to adopt the Hebrew version of scripture. This forced the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to officially take a stand and they did so.

The council of Trent (1546) declared that the Greek version of the Jewish scripture was official for Roman Catholics and the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) did so for the Orthodox. Further, the Roman council of Trent declared that the Greek version was an inspired translation so that any differences that exist between Hebrew and Greek where they are in common they prefer the Greek.

Categories of Books


Every human endeavor comes with it’s own set of words and scripture study is no different. Some of the important ones follow:

Canon-From the Greek word for rod or measure meaning in scripture that which is authoritative for the group in question.

Deuterocanonical-From the Greek words second and rod or measure. This is the Roman designation for the works contained in the Greek but not in the Hebrew Jewish scripture. This emphasizes that they are indeed part of the “canon”.

Apocrypha-From the Greek word for hidden or to hide. In scripture these are works that we “hide” from the faithful because they are NOT authoritative i.e. not part of the canon. Catholics and the Orthodox use this term for works that are not in the Greek version of Jewish scripture. Protestants use this term for works in the Greek version but NOT in the Hebrew version. The works are “Hidden” from the main stream faithful because only the spiritually strong can understand them. But they are preserved as useful for instruction in many Protestant bibles.

Pseudepigrapha-From the Greek words false and writing. This is a Protestant designation for works that are not in either the Greek or Hebrew Jewish scriptures. Protestants hold them a notch below hidden and actually viewed as false and deceptive. The Greek books not in the Hebrew scriptures do hold some value for some Protestant denominations.

Where we all agree

The contents of the New Testament are undisputed. This was not always the case. The current list of 27 books was first written in its entirety in 367 by Athanasius. After much dispute with heretical sects and alternative books this list was accepted. But many on the list were opposed by prominent Church leaders.

“First must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles. After this must be reckoned the epistles of Paul. Next in order the extant first epistle of John and likewise the epistle of Peter must be maintained. To be placed after them, if it really seems proper, is the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings.

“Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the Evangelist or to another person of the same name.

Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called shepherd (Hermes), and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant the Epistle of Barnabas and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles (Didache); and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John-if it seems proper- which some, as I said, reject, but others class with the accepted books. And among these also some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews, with which those of the Hebrews that have accepted Christ are especially delighted. All these, however, may be reckoned among the disputed books.

We have felt to give this catalog in order that we might be able to know both these works and those that are cited by the heretics under the name of the apostles: for instance, such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them as well as the Acts of Andrew, John, and the other apostles, which no one belonging to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has deemed worthy of mention in his writings. Furthermore, the character and style is at variance with apostolic usage, and both the thoughts and the purpose of the things that are related in them are so completely out of accord with true Orthodoxy that they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore, they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious.” Eusebius of Caesarea, Bishop and Church Historian

When it came time to compile the list any work created after “Apostolic” times was automatically rejected. Many of the books generated in the second century were from Heretical sects. In order to cleanse the faithful of this Bishops demanded that books be from the period of the Apostles. Eventually, they demanded that they have and Apostolic author. But in fact many of the books in the New Testament under an Apostle’s name were written by a later follower.

There were many works from the second century that do reflect Orthodox Christian thought. Many of these survive in collections referred to as the Apostolic Fathers.

Book Contents
I Clement Letter from the Bishop of Rome to the Church at Corinth (90 AD)
II Clement Letter on Repentance attributed to Clement of Rome (100-140 AD)
Ignatius to the Ephsians Ignatius of Antioch was the 2nd
Ignatius to the Magnesians Bishop of that city. These were
Ignatius to the Trallians written while on his way to Rome
Ignatius to the Romans for Martyrdom under Tragen
Ignatius to the Philadelphians between 98-117 AD. The emphasis
Ignatius to the Symrneans is on the unity of the church in the
Ignatius to Polycarp Bishop and the Eucharist.
Polycarp to Phillipi Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of John and knew other Apostles as well. He was filled with scripture and the letter is a near continuous web of scriptural quotations.
Martyrdom of Polycarp A description of Polycarp’s death for the Gospel (February 156)
The Shepherd of Hermas A work filled with visions and parables fill this account of the tensions between God’s standards for perfection and his mercy when we fall short
The letter of Barnabas There are two sections to the letter: An allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament; and an contrast between the way of light and the way of darkness.
The teaching of the twelve apostles (Didache) A collection of other documents and sayings put together between 120 and 180 AD contrasting the way of life and the way of death

Where things get complicated

The terminology mentioned above leads to some confusion in the collections and names for the Jewish scripture. Since Protestants use the same terms we do for different books and at the same time we call the same books by different names, things get confusing.

Orthodox & Catholic Scripture Protestant Apocrypha
Wisdom Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiasticus Sirach
Baruch Chapters 1-5 Baruch
Baruch Chapter 6 Letter of Jeremiah
Tobit Tobit
Judith Judith
Esther (10:4-16:24) Additions to Esther
I Maccabees I Maccabees
II Maccabees II Maccabees
Daniel Chapter 3:24-90 The Prayer of Azariah
Daniel Chapter 13 Susanna
Daniel Chapter 14 Bel and the Dragon
Orthodox & Catholic Apocrypha
The Prayer of Manasseh The Prayer of Manasseh
1 Esdras (also called 2nd Ezra or 3rd Ezra if the book of Nehimiah is labeled 1 Ezra) 1 Esdras (also called 2nd Ezra or 3rd Ezra if the book of Nehimiah is labeled 1 Ezra)
2 Esdras (also called 3ird Ezra or 4thimiah is labeled 1 Ezra) 2 Esdras (also called 3ird Ezra or 4thimiah is labeled 1 Ezra)
(what follows in this column are all Apocalyptic) Protestant Pseudepigrapha

(The legends, wisdom or O.T. expansions)

Apocalypse of Abraham Life of Adam and Eve
Apocalypse of Adam Ahiqar
Testament of Adam Letter of Aristeas
2 Baruch Aristeas the Exegete
3 Baruch 4 Baruch
Apocalypse of Daniel Aristobulus
Apocalypse of Elijah Artapanus
1 Enoch Cleodemus Malchus
2 Enoch More Psalms of David
3 Enoch Demetrius the Chronographer
Apocryphon of Ezekiel Eldad and Modad
Greek Apocalypse of Ezra Eupolemus
Questions of Ezra Pseudo-Eupolemus
Revelation of Ezra Ezekiel the Tragedian
Vision of Ezra Fragments of Pseudo-Greek Poets
Testament of Job Pseudo-Hecataeus
Testament of Moses Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers
Apocalypse of Sedrach Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
Treatis of Shem Ladder of Jacob
Sibylline Oracles Prayer of Jacob
Testament of Solomon Jannes and Jambres
Testaments of the Three Patriarchs Joseph and Aseneth
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs History of Joseph
Apocalypse of ephaniah Prayer of Joseph
3 Maccabees
4 Maccabees
Syriac Menander
Philo the Epic Poet
The lives of the Prophets
History of the Rechabites
Odes of Solomon
Psalms of Solomon

Originally Posted March 15, 2009
Last Revised on August 15, 2010