What is the Bible?

As I was investigating the reasons for my faith and finding that many of them did not hold up to scrutiny, it was inevitable that I started to research the source of everything I knew about Christianity–the bible. How did it get from the writings of Moses (supposedly) to a leather-bound book in English? At this point in my life, as a teenager, I still more or less assumed that scripture was written by one of the prophets, apostles, or disciples and that more or less anything they wrote was automatically part of the bible. I knew it wasn’t written as one book and that it had been collected over the centuries and translated from Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, but I didn’t yet appreciate the full scope of how the bible that I knew as a Protestant came to be.

I started with the Old Testament, thinking that Jewish scholars would have done a lot of the research already and I was correct. As I mentioned in my post on Noah and Moses, I knew that much of the Old Testament was written as allegory, poetry, instruction, and so on and that much of it was not literally true–nor intended to be taken as such. I was shocked to discover, however, that even some of the characters were not assumed to be real. Many Jewish (and as it turns out, Christian) scholars are unsure whether Moses was even a real historical figure.

So, if Moses may not have been real, who really wrote the Pentateuch? What about the other books of the Old Testament? It turns out that, for the most part, we simply don’t know. Even the best manuscripts usually don’t include author’s names so it is up to textual and contextual analysis to help us determine something about them. This article, called Who Wrote the Bible?, summarizes things extremely well.

I thought, well, the Old Testament is much older but surely by the time of the New Testament with Roman historians and Greek scholars across the ancient world we’ll have a much better sense of who wrote what. Again, that same article summarizes what I discovered again. We don’t know who wrote the gospels–only that it was almost certainly not the disciples for whom they were named since they were likely illiterate and even if they could write, it would have been Aramaic, not Greek. Compounding things further, some of the other books of the new testament that do have authors attributed to them are known to be forgeries.

At this point, I couldn’t be sure who wrote most of the bible but I could still try to accept that it was the inspired word of God… but should I?

As I’m sure many of you already know, the next thing I discovered was that the Bible I had was missing books that earlier versions used to include. Why? The early Catholic church, during the Council of Trent, argued, voted, and ultimately decided which books were to be considered scripture and which were not. When Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, he railed against the collection of books that are known as the Apocrypha and so the Protestant bible does not include them.

What books were left out and why?

Some books were left out because they were known to be forgeries or directly and obviously contradicted the books that most or all of the council agreed upon. Others were trickier. Some books didn’t seem to fit but were very popular in local congregations so they couldn’t be removed. Yet others seemed to fit but had some historical inaccuracies so they couldn’t be included. Again, it gets even more complicated–some individual books had smaller passages added or removed. The most famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) of these is the end of Mark 16.

Ultimately, there was not sufficient evidence that the bible I had in my hands was the complete, inerrant Word of God. With so many humans accidentally or intentionally adding, removing, and editing the books, even if there was an original source it was extremely unlikely that’s what I was holding now. If I couldn’t be sure that the bible was true and complete–what foundation could warrant my faith?

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