If the Bible was originally 66 separate books, who put them together and what criteria did they use? Also, on what basis was the sequence decided? Why are the books not in chronological order?
The Jews originally had the Torah written by Moses (that is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Then, other prophets and leaders of Israel wrote additional books. The books were divided into Law, History, Poetry/Wisdom, and the Prophets.
These books are now known as the Old Testament. The Jews had them compiled before Christ came. In fact, the books that the Jews have in their Hebrew Scriptures today are the same ones we use as Christians in the Old Testament, but we group the books differently.
Around 285 BC, Alexander the Great had the books of the Hebrew Scriptures collected and translated into Greek. The Greek translation, known as the Septuagint (LXX), was commonly known by the time Christ came.
The books that the Jews have in their Hebrew Scriptures today are the same ones we use as Christians in the Old Testament
In the Jewish version of the Scriptures, the 12 minor prophets are one book (called the Book of the Twelve). They also have Chronicles and Kings, whereas we have divided those books into 1 and 2 Chronicles, and 1 and 2 Kings. Finally, for them Ezra-Nehemiah is one book. Christians have divided these books differently in order to make it easier for people to access different parts of the Bible. However, the wording is all the same.
The Old Testament was compiled and accepted by the Jews as it is today before Jesus ever came into the world. If it needed changing, Jesus would have done that, but instead He too accepted it as accurate exactly as it was.
The New Testament books and letters were written by the apostles, or close associates of them, during the first century AD. The first person to recognise and compile the authoritative New Testament books was Irenaeus around 175 AD. However, before Irenaeus, other early church leaders recognised all the books of the New Testament, claiming that they were equal to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.
By the 300s AD, the Old and New Testaments were clearly identified for the Church. Specific criteria were used to determine which books could be accepted as authentic. The books had to be written without the use of a false name (for example, the Gospel of Barnabas was not written by Barnabas, hence it was rejected). The books had to be written by an apostle or by an associate of an apostle, they had to be in keeping with the beliefs of the church, and they had to be books that had been seen as authoritative since they were written.
Specific criteria were used to determine which books could be accepted as authentic
Over time, many books were written that were never meant to be included, usually under false names and usually much later in history (an example here is the Gospel of Thomas, written around 300 AD).
After the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church voted at the Council of Trent to include the Apocrypha books into their versions of the Bible (primarily to support their unbiblical doctrines), but Protestants stuck with the accepted canon of the early church.
The books in the New Testament are arranged in order of length and type. First the Gospels (arranged in the order that the early church leaders believed they were written in). Then the epistles and, finally, the Apocalyptic literature (namely Revelation) — which serves as a nice bookend to the story of God’s plan to redeem all of creation and humanity.
During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin translated a Bible into English known as the Geneva Bible. That was the first Bible to break books into chapters and verses. A short time later, when King James had the authorised English version commissioned, the translators re-worked the chapter and verse divisions into what we have in our Bibles today. Again, this was for ease of use when locating a passage.
The books of the Bible today are the same ones accepted by the Christians living in the first century AD. They are also translated based on the oldest and most reliable manuscripts in order to get the correct message to people in all languages all over the world.
Ultimately, God put the Bible together through the inspiration of the Spirit and through His providence.
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