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That's a Good Question

Divine Inspiration: Unveiling the Origins and Authors of Scripture

April 14, 2024

Jon Delger


Logan Bailey

Oh hey everyone, welcome to That's a Good Question, a podcast of Peace Church and a part of Resound Media. You can find more great content for the Christian life and church leaders at That's a Good Question is a place where we answer questions about the Christian faith in plain language.

I'm John. I get to serve as a pastor at Peace Church as well as a part of this show. You can always submit questions at

And today I'm here with Pastor Logan.


And Mitch, our producer. Hey everybody. And we got some great questions today about how the Bible all came together. Here's our first question for today: "I'd be interested in additional resources to understand how the scriptures were put together or canonization. I've read some stuff over the years, but it was mostly about how well-documented the history was and the significant number of consistent manuscripts. But when a group sat down and chose what to include, what not to include, and in what order to include it in, how was that done? What criteria was there?"

I really like this question. I like how this questioner actually said a lot of things that I hope all the listeners understand and can assume as well, is that we use the word canonization to talk about the canon of scripture, the 66 books of canon that we have in scripture.

What's a canon? That's a wonderful question.

Mitchell, the producer with a computer. A loose canon.

Could you look up a technical definition of what we mean when we say canon? Oh, I thought you were calling me a canon. Like a loose cannon. What we call the canon of scripture would be the 66 books that we recognize as inspired word of God. There are other books that you could consider as Jewish literature or early church literature that we don't see as part of the canon of scripture. They're nice books to read. You can go read the book of Tobit. It's in what we call the Apocrypha. It's Jewish literature, but we wouldn't consider it inerrant, infallible scripture.

So yeah, is there a definition of canon? Yeah, from the Oxford Dictionary, it says, "a general rule, law, principle, or criterion by which something is judged." Yeah, the standard of what scripture is. Yeah, the law, I liked that word there too. Yeah, I think it's nice that they recognize that term and way of viewing it. I also liked this sentence, "I've read some stuff over the years, but it mostly was about how well-documented the history was and the significant number of consistent manuscripts that we have for scripture."

Those are two huge points I just don't want to skip over. The Bible is the most well-attested historical ancient document in existence by miles. It's laughable to consider that what we have as far as the Old and New Testament isn't accurate; it's the most accurate ancient document in existence by far. And then also in line with that, the significant number of consistent manuscripts, we have an incredible amount of manuscripts for both the Old and New Testament in various books, in different languages. If you do any ancient language study or an ancient document study, it's incredible. Yeah, how credible the documents are.

Yeah, and if you're going out to look to find those types of resources, there are plenty of them. I've got three or four books that could help spell those answers out. But specifically, I think they're trying to figure out how do we understand how the Bible was put together, really? Was it just a bunch of guys sitting in a room deciding this? I think that there are some common myths about this. I'd love to talk about those, maybe part of the reason why this was asked.

I think one of the myths is that a bunch of guys sat down in a room and picked out which books are the Bible. That's a great point. Like I mentioned the book of Tobit. It's a book that we do not consider a part of the canon of scripture. It's what we would call the Apocrypha. It's other books of Jewish literature that we don't recognize as a part of the canon. Yeah, you won't find it in our Bibles. That's a great example and other books like it of like, well, who decided that this wasn't? And who decided that Jude was or James was? That sort of thing. So this, yeah, I think it's a great question.

So why isn't Tobit part of the Bible? Well, let's talk about exactly what you just said: what are the parameters that all of the books in the Bible share and what are the things that a book like Tobit doesn't have?

Yeah. Actually I'll let you go. There's one very helpful thing I think of. Do you want to read that?

I do, but no, we're gonna come back to that. We've got a crazy assertion that somebody made that we'll come back to. But the first thing I wanted to say was I think it is a myth to think that how we got the Bible today was just a matter of a bunch of guys sitting in a room and choosing this one or that one. Now eventually church councils did come to the place where they had to say these are the 66 books of the canon, but what they were really doing is recognizing something that was already true at that point. They weren't deciding. They were just recognizing this is what the church has been doing now for quite a while. You go back to even the New Testament period itself, and you've got Peter talking about how Paul's books, assuming they are scripture, are really hard to understand.

You've got interplay between the New Testament books, already talking about the Gospels, talking about Luke's Gospel. So the New Testament writers themselves in the first 50 years after Jesus' life and ministry are already seeing each other's writings as part of scripture.

And part of the really helpful thing is what you said: it's not them choosing, it's not them deciding, it's them recognizing this was inspired by the Holy Spirit. God meant this to be used for worship in our worship gatherings, to be seen as authoritative in the lives of a Christian. And so it's a recognition that God has inspired this document. And there are those that we would say are not inspired to that level of "should be used in worship." And the recognition is this has been used for Christians to worship God and to be an authority in our lives. So that's the really helpful thing, seeing it as a recognition, not a decision being made.

So what are the—real quick, just for the sake of—this is one of those things that I think it's really good for most Christians to maybe just kind of know these basic four things off the top of their heads. What are the four marks that make a book a part of the Bible?

Apostolic origin would be one of them, saying that these books need to have their basis in an apostle. Someone who saw Jesus, learned from Jesus, was commissioned by Jesus, or read by an apostle or the source is an apostle. You have Matthew and John, who are apostles of Jesus, disciples of Jesus, following Jesus, and then apostles in the church. Then you have Mark and Luke, who weren't apostles, but had a source with an apostle, whether it be Peter or Paul.

The origin goes back to apostles, right? Peter did an extensive search into the story of Christ and went back to the apostles or eyewitness accounts. The second one would be universal acceptance, commonly used, affirmed by many churches in the first century.

By the time we get to the 300s AD, when church councils are solidifying this, one of the marks that they use is: has it been universally accepted for the last two or three hundred years?

Were the church fathers quoting it as authoritative?

Absolutely. The third would be liturgical use. Is this helpful for the liturgy of the church or is it helpful for worship within the church?

Four would be consistent doctrine. Does the doctrine in these books fit with the rest of what we consider to be scripture? I've told people this: one of the things that has always helped me when I have any seasons of doubt or deep questions that I'm looking for answers to, is the severe consistency within scripture. Just the radical consistency and comprehensive nature of how one book was written hundreds of years prior to another book by a totally different person across the world from each other, and yet there's this incredible amount of consistency in doctrine and the vision of the world that they have.

So, well, real quick, I just want to—we just talked through the four marks real quick. So again, I said I think it's really good for Christians just to kind of know these off the top of their head a little bit. I think it's just one of those good things to remember.

So again, the four marks are it was either written by or connected to an apostle. It was universally accepted among the churches in that first early church period, the first century after the church. It was used in worship in churches. And fourth, it's consistent in doctrine. So I think just that's worth kind of remembering. Those are the four marks. That's why we, that's how we look at the books of the Bible and kind of evaluate them. We're recognizing those things.

And there are valuable documents that God's people have produced and can produce that are still good. They're just not necessarily those four things as inspired by scripture. Maybe hit all three of the four, right? But we just, you know, it has to hit the four, all four to be considered. So you could say the books in the Apocrypha, which the Roman Catholic Church, and I believe Eastern Orthodox Church, would say these are a second canon. We wouldn't recognize them as a second canon because they wouldn't be hitting all four of those marks. Those are books that were written by God's people in the past that are good stories, maybe historical accounts that we just wouldn't see as completely inerrant.

Valuable to read, but not inerrant, not authoritative.

And then you could look at, for the New Testament, you have things like the Didache, like an early church document that was written talking about how early churches, how their liturgical services went, different guidance in a Christian's life, and we see those as valuable, but they don't hit those four marks. And they weren't universally used. I guess you could go through the list, but valuable, not those four things, not scripture.

Yeah. So getting back to this question, how did this get put together? I mean, I think a common understanding is that a group of guys got together. I think one of the most common understandings is that we put together the New Testament at the Council of Nicaea, and there's a lot of kind of mystery, or there's maybe some questionable motives that people throw into that. And so what would be your response to something like that, that the Bible was put together kind of under scrupulous circumstances?

And you're saying that it was politically motivated and things like that.

Yeah, I mean, that's, I think, one of the criticisms of this. That somehow Constantine edited the manuscripts in his original languages and then also went back and edited all the manuscripts in Latin and Syriac and Coptic and somehow managed to change the text. Yeah. Yeah. What would you guys say to that when you hear that? That's where I just stick to the refrain that no, the church councils in the 300s are just recognizing what was already true.

They're just using those four marks and reflecting on the last couple hundred years of the church and saying, yeah, this has already been true. We're just going to write it down and solidify it in a church council.

Yeah. And I think solid, universal, used in worship, and consistent in doctrine. I think an important part, too, is that the Council of Nicaea did not touch the canon of scripture at all. Totally.

Right. So they couldn't have. You go back and look at the notes, and what they talked about was the person of Jesus. Yeah. It wasn't until later councils that we talked about any sort of canon.

Yeah, that theory I think is so baseless just because of the impossibility of that's 300 years of church history had it happened. It's longer than America has been a country. The amount of manuscripts that were produced in that timeframe is ridiculous to think that they could have...

So along those lines...

...changed things.

Let me read—here's a couple sentences written by a popular, a very popular Christian author, a very influential person. Who has some bad ideas. Yeah, who has some not-so-good ideas. So let me just read this and add to the conversation. So he says, "Supporting our faith with 'the Bible says'"—in quotes, quote-unquote, "'the Bible says'"—"communicates the foundation of our faith is the Bible." I would say it is. We'll keep going. "As we've discovered, it's not. Not unless there weren't any Christians until after the Bible was assembled in the fourth century. 'The Bible says,'" quote-unquote, "insinuates that the roots of our faith go no deeper than the fourth-century decision to combine first-century documents with the Jewish scriptures."

Yeah, so to summarize, his critique is saying that we as Christians shouldn't say as a basis for our faith, "Well, the Bible says it." Right. And he's saying that isn't valid because the Bible wasn't put together until 400 years after Jesus was. He's depending on that faulty theory that prior to the fourth century, there wasn't consensus on what scripture was.

Yeah. I think there's conversations going on because once that council happened, there was a much more kind of authoritative voice on the list. But the list was recognized and put together because they're saying, hey, we were recognizing these 66 books as set apart, as holy, as different because of those four parameters.

Yeah, I think if we're going to be charitable at all, in its form today with the 27 books in the New Testament, it wasn't really solidified until about 400 years after. You know, about 367, there was a letter that went out by Athanasius on Easter, not canonizing, but really offering the first complete set of books.

But that would be to say, and that's kind of where the charity runs out, but that would be to say that there wasn't scripture before that. And I think that's where this is a little bit silly. There being consensus across the globe of Christians, of the list, especially at a time where there wasn't necessarily Crossway and Zondervan publishing well-bound 66 books, right? Their being consensus is different than there being scripture at all. That the Lord has inspired words of men to be infallible and inherent, and those four things, apostolic, Christians reading that, using it in worship, it being beautifully consistent within itself. Scripture existed ever since God spoke through men and inspired. Let me pull up the verse just because one thing we would say about scripture is that it's self-attesting. It's not to mention that you've got the Old Testament.

Yeah, exactly.

Long before this. Second Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." According to that author we read, he would have us believe that faulty assumption that there wasn't a God-breathed scripture profitable for all these things, for the man of God to be complete and equipped for every good work, until the Council of Nicaea, which is ridiculous.

Yeah, I think one of the things that the question asker—I'd love to connect the dots just a little bit. So they say, you know, "I want to know more about why these books were put together, but all I can find is just that there were lots of books or there were lots of manuscripts" and all that kind of stuff. I think that is in itself a way to attest to the fact that scripture was around in the first century, that there were all of these letters being passed on, copied and passed on, copied, because we recognize them as scripture. And so there are books floating around the Mediterranean that we recognize as scripture early on. I mean, one of the cool things about the Bible's history is we can find things like the Ryland fragment that was found in Alexandria, Egypt. It's like a piece of paper the size of your hand from the book of John. Right. And it carbon dates to 100 AD, or yeah, 100 AD.

And it was wrapped on a mummy. It was thrown away. It had already been copied. And so it traveled from where John was in Ephesus, or right outside of Ephesus, all the way down to Alexandria, Egypt, and used and discarded to be put on a mummy by 180, which is kind of crazy. It's unprecedented. The Bible was being circulated. Scripture was being circulated. It wasn't until 400 years, or 367, that they put it all together in one place.

Yeah, do we want to mention any resources that they could read?

Yeah, you mentioned you have a few books. Why don't you mention one, and then let's go to the next question. One of the books that I found that's really good is called Scribes and Scripture by John Mead and Peter Gurry. It's published by Crossway. It's actually one of my former professors from Phoenix Seminary. Awesome book. I stole a lot of content for this podcast from it, but it would be a great one to see, and we'll put that in the show notes for people if they want to look it up.

I think just as a more readable one, Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter Williams.

Yeah, great book. It would be great. So just to connect the dots to repeat the question, we have the early manuscripts, well-attested, tons of them, very reliable historical documents, but how do we get the list of 66? And the answer is it was recognized early on because of its connection. Each book is a connection to an apostle, universally recognized, used in worship services, and consistent Orthodox doctrine within itself across the 66 books.

Yeah. All right, let's jump into the second question.

In the Old Testament, there are texts that record what the enemy of God's people said, even though no one from the Israelites would have heard them, and they give some examples here. How did the authors of the Bible know what they said if they weren't there?

It's a wonderful question. I read that and paused for a second and thought, this is a good question.

That's this whole podcast.

That's right.

That's a good question. We'll be right back after this break.

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I think it's similar to, you know, did Moses write, "and Moses was the humblest man on the face of the earth?" You know, I think it's similar to some of those questions. We've got parts of the Bible or about people recording their own deaths. You know, we know the first five books of the Old Testament were compiled by Moses, but there are parts that we look at and say, Moses couldn't have written that himself.

Unless he was a ghost. We do not think that Moses died and then came back and wrote. You are right. Thanks for saying. We don't believe that.

Yeah, so I think it points to the idea of editors and some fact-collecting, and maybe even what you call very early journalism, going on back in the day of going back and getting some witnesses and asking questions, and that's a great point. I think Moses's example is good. Moses wrote the Pentateuch, and then at the end of it, it says that Moses died. Clearly, Moses didn't write that.

You said editor is a word we would use. Someone came back, trusted it within the community that wrote that. We also have examples within Paul's letters where Paul is speaking and someone's writing for him, and there's times where someone will actually say that person's name. I don't have a reference on top of my head, but we have moments where frequently Paul says, I write this with my own hand, or I, Paul, at the end of a letter, meaning, well, that part he wrote with his own hand. And the rest of it he was saying, and someone was writing as he was speaking. Yeah, Siri.

Here we go. A transcriber. They brought up the idea of 1 Samuel 5 when the Ark was captured by the Philistines and brought back because it had caused some pretty bad, bad real-life consequences, I would say, of stealing something like that. I think you...

Which is where John said some journalism going on. There are editors, transcribers, and some journalism going on. There's oral tradition going on, and they're writing down what's being spoken about. We also have to understand that Old Testament Israel was not like America. It wasn't as big as America. It would be a smaller size. So when someone would take something like that and a phenomenon like this would happen, where they steal an ark and then all these supernatural things happen, word would spread. That's how news spread, through word.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So when we look at ancient Near East texts, we wouldn't say it has to meet our standard of journalism today. We need to have an eyewitness, like oral tradition, with a citation. Correct. Back then, oral tradition was a legitimate form of literature. I mean, in any old literature, we would say that that is legitimate, not just legitimate, but it is authoritative. We would say that this is credible.

That's the word I was looking for. That's a much better word. No, I think that's true. Oral tradition is a credible source for this. And there is, underneath scripture, there is an oral tradition of how did that get to that person, and how did Moses write this, or how did it? And it was because news was spreading. People were talking about these things. So the writer of this book didn't have to be there to hear these people say, oh, I got tumors from the Ark. And that's what we mean when we say there's some journalism going on. They are writing what is being attested through the oral stories and sharing. And that's OK. It doesn't take away from inerrancy at all.

Right. Let's jump into the third question. This is a great one. Why are the books of the Bible ordered in the way that they are? For example, Nehemiah and the return to Jerusalem is before many of the accounts of the capture of Jerusalem. This is a good question too.

Yeah, totally.

Yeah, so going back to the Old Testament, I mean, the Jewish canon was the law, the prophets, and the writings, right? So that's the order they had it in. So you had the first five books of the Old Testament, and then the prophets, which was what we know today as the prophets, as well as some of the historical books. And then you had the writings, which is what we would call the wisdom literature, plus Ezra and Nehemiah. Was Ezra and Nehemiah part of the wisdom?

Yeah. That would be a more Jewish traditional way of organizing scripture in the Old Testament. And then there's some Christian traditions that would categorize it by Pentateuch, history, poetry, and prophets.

So there's different opinions at different times of, well, how do you categorize these things? Because, again, these are loose documents. They're not bound into one book necessarily. They're scrolls. There's a papyri or whatever that are just kind of out and about, and people would be like, "Hey, read me the letter of James," and then grab the letter of James and read it. We don't even have verse references for the Bible until the 1500s. So they're ordered differently. Those are not inspired, by the way. I don't know how many people actually know that.

Yeah, that's a great point. No, legitimately. It's the same with the order. Yeah, the order of the books, and the verse numbers, and the chapter numbers. Those are not inspired.

They're helpful. That came much later. Yeah, they're helpful. They're added, and they're organized in a certain way. But yeah, the inspired word is what was originally written. And then the order we put it in and the verse references that we add to it, they sometimes vary. And it's because they are not the inspired thing. The inspired thing is the original words that are written.

Yeah, so if your pastor is preaching through something and he stops with, you know, chapter 3, verse 15a, that's okay. Or it's really bad proof texting. That's either one or the other. No, I'm just kidding. But it's okay.

Well, I do sometimes appreciate when someone says, how come you didn't read to the end of the chapter, or how come you picked a passage that's half on one chapter and half in the other? Or in one verse, right? Yeah, it's because those verse numbers and chapter numbers, like you said, were added, and they're helpful, but they don't necessarily break up the text in the way that is right.

I mean, Paul's letters were ought to be read in one read-through. Yeah. I mean, who wants to sit down and just listen to the book of Romans be read through once? But that was what it was meant to be. It's just, let's listen to what Paul said to the Roman church.

Yeah. We're the Roman church. Read the whole book. Logan, if you read it to me, I'd sit down and listen to it any day. I love it.

So that ordering can be different, and the reason being, there's a reason behind it, like the later Christian tradition or the earlier Jewish tradition, the three categories of the four. The way I've always thought of the reason that we order it the way we do in our tradition is just because it's the historical account, and then everything flows out of that. It's basically the history and the interpretation.

Yeah, yeah. That's the way I thought of it.

Yeah, I mean, the major prophets and the minor prophets are not because the minor prophets were not ready for the big ones.

Smaller, yeah, not ready. They're smaller books.

Right, well, and in the Old Testament, the prophets are really the interpretation of the history of what's happened in the first five books of the Old Testament as well as in the history books. It's a reflection on that, it's a looking forward on it, it's an application of that, just interpreting the meaning behind all that's happening. Same thing with the New Testament letters, it's interpreting the meaning of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

I think too, like we're planning on studying Kings for the men's and women's Bible studies in the fall, and Kings, I mean, traditionally it's seen as kings, the book of kings. And we've gone back and we've said, well, there's first kings and second kings, just because if we don't do that, it's a really big book. Well, it was also how they broke it up because they ran out of scroll. Exactly. That's a great point.

Yeah. All on one scroll. Yeah. And it's the same for Samuel. We have first and second Samuel, but it's just Samuel. Any Old Testament book where there's first and second, it's because they couldn't fit on one strong long piece of paper.

Yep. Yeah. Well, hey, these are some great questions, really good practical questions, just about how the Bible came together and how we engage with it now. So hey, thanks everybody for asking.

Thanks for listening. So hey, thanks everybody for asking. Thanks for listening. Tune in next time.

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