< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: How the books of the Bible were chosen

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How the books of the Bible were chosen

In the early days after the ascension of Jesus, the Gospel, or Good News of the gift of salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus, was conveyed to the world through the preaching of the apostles. Men that Jesus had officially appointed as witnesses to Himself.

In John 14:26 Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would “remind you of everything I have said to you.” In John 16:13 and 15 He promised them that the Holy Spirit would “guide you into all truth" and would “take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

Basically the same thing is said in Matthew 16:17-19 and 28:19. In a unique way the Holy Spirit would bring Christ’s words back to the remembrance of the apostles so that they could be recorded with divine authority as God’s truth. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the church is built upon this foundation of apostles and prophets.

As time passed and the apostles spread out over the world – many people were so fascinated with Jesus they attempted to write about Him. (Luke 1:1)

As these other writings began to appear it was clear that a distinction had to be made as to what was merely the product of imagination and what was truly authoritative. The criterion of authority was that the true Gospels must conform completely to the oral teaching of the apostles themselves. By the end of the 1st century every book of the New Testament had been written, but not yet assembled into one book. The process of assembly was almost complete by the end of the 2nd century. Whenever it was certain that an apostle had written a book or authorized its writing, that book was deemed indispensable and included in Scripture.

The apostles had lived with Jesus; they had first hand knowledge of Him. They were men of impeccable authority who would consider it blasphemy to relate anything not thoroughly investigated or received directly from Him.

The next most authoritative writers were the men who knew the apostles well and were approved by them as reliable witnesses. Luke is an example.

Each of the 4 Gospels was written either to a different group of people or for a different purpose, which is why certain things might have been emphasized or pointed out in 1 but not another. For instance – John was the last of the 4 written. By then a lot of pagan philosophies had arisen. Paul talked about these in some of his letters. Hellenistic Christians, in their desire to appear intellectual attempted to relate Christ to current philosophical ideas. This threatened to undermine true faith in Christ: as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

John wrote his gospel to correct these tendencies and to show Christ was/IS the unique Son of God. John 20:31 says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Matthew, written about AD 60, gives special emphasis to Christ’s person – in view of past prophecies. He was writing mainly to the Jews who of course knew the Old Testament. He showed Jesus as King. Mark was full of action, anecdotes. He was the first gospel, written about AD 58 and the shortest. He wrote down Jesus’ words and the things He did. He showed Jesus as the obedient servant. Luke linked events with the names of governors and places – kind of putting Jesus into the part of history when He lived. He showed Jesus as the Ideal Son of Man and he interviewed many people including Jesus’ mother, and carefully documented it all.

The book of John was written about AD98 after a lifetime of meditative reflection on Christ by the man who was known to be a thinker and loved by Jesus.

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