How was the Bible formed?

The Bible did not fall from the sky, but believers have written on behalf of God or about Him and about what happened to them. On itself this can act as prove that God exists. However, it can be said that humans can be mistaken, that they just gave their opinion or that they fantasized. Therefore, it’s important to understand how these writings were made. How did this happen?

By Marco van Putten

The name ‘Bible’ comes from the Greek Biblos – books. It thus is a collection of books. Nowadays a Bible is mostly issued in the language of a country. Thus, it is available in many modern languages. However, originally the Bible was only written in several ancient languages, in times in which the current languages did not exist. The Bible books were written by different writers who lived in all kinds of places. The books were made over a period of at least 1500 years. So, what a modern Bible in one language of the land may suggest (that the Bible originated in that way), is not so. But how did it then come to be?

Two ‘Testaments’
The Bible used in Christianity [1] contains two parts; the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT) [2]. This division is determined by Christianity (the church) based on the conviction that with the coming of the Lord Jesus a totally different situation has begun closing the previous one [3]. Some make a comparison with a testament that is used to record someone’s will after that person’s death (Hb 9:17). However, the NT is also called ‘testament’. Thus, some might draw the conclusion that it is also a record after someone’s death! But that is not so.
When it was decided to name the two main parts of the Bible ‘testaments’ the word ‘testament’ meant covenant. The two parts thus stand for the ‘Old Covenant’ (OC) and the ‘New Covenant’ (NC). The NC (LLC 22:20) is seen as replacing the OC (Hb 8:13) [4]. This expresses the previously mentioned wrong conviction of Christianity.

The ‘testaments’ are build up out of a selection of books made under the Old Covenant (for the OT) and under the New Covenant (for the NT). This was done firstly on the basis of personal testimony of its writer. Some books were accepted as representing God’s intention during the life of its writer of at least as a truthful record of acts of God or connected with these.

For example, it’s a fact that Moses wrote his five books himself (Ex 24:4) and God even charged him to do so (Ex 17:14). The Israelites that knew Moses also knew that he had written down God’s will and acts. Something similar applies to most prophets. This supports the argument that Bible books with a writer’s name attached to them were written during or shortly after the life of that writer.
Another criterion of selection was on content of the book. Several requirements were to be met, like the right representation of God and that it had to be in line with or connected to Bible books that were already accepted with certainty as books from or about God.

To the collection of book of God more and more books were added. Over time these books became damaged and had to be copied. A very sincere activity. Also, all kinds of people came claiming to represent God, but it was revealed that they were not. Still, these people wrote books and all kinds of scriptures. The official religious authorities were thus forced to reject many books and writings as false. Even when they were supposedly very old and lost scriptures from known prophets or men of God (apocrypha). Sometimes archeologists today find theses scriptures, but when translated it becomes obvious that they rightly rejected.

Frustrated about the fact that the fulfillment of prophecies and God’s promises did not happen, Israel was confronted with false messiahs [5]. They announced that God would make a difference in their days. Hence, this is how the religious authorities viewed the activities of the Lord Jesus (Mt 26:63; Lc 22:67). Therefore, these authorities saw themselves eventually forced to close their Bible (the OT) up (c.134). It was no longer allowed to add any new books to it [6].

Perhaps this also came about due to the fact that it became known that the followers of the Lord Jesus also had started to write their own religious books. Later these disciples also saw themselves in turn confronted with villains who started to write books which thought false doctrines. Some even claimed they were written by known apostles and evangelists (pseudepigrapha; 2 Th 2:2; Gal 6:11). The leaders of the followers of the Lord Jesus saw themselves forced to make a clear distinction between which writings were and which were not trustworthy. In that process they came to confirm the books that the Jewish religious authorities had recognized (OT). Later, the church determined that God no longer had commanded that religious books needed to be written (for the NT) [7]. In this way they hoped to safeguard that false teachers would continue to issue their writings. In this way the ‘Christian’ Bible (OT+NT) was formed in the year 367. The total of all selected Bible books was called ‘the canon’ (Greek, meaning ‘measuring stick’). Every other book was thereby called ‘apocrypha’ (Greek, meaning ‘put aside’/‘hidden’ (from the canon)) [8].

Original languages
Again, Bible books were originally written in different ancient languages. It is, for example, not known in which language the book Job originally was written. Probable in Semitic languages (different kinds of ancient Aramaic). Even in today’s Hebrew text the different forms of original languages has left traces in it. This shows how serious the copyists performed their work.
Whether Israel’s three patriarchs have written down their experiences with God is uncertain, but if they did (and probable they did) then they did so in their own version of Semitic language.
Despite that Moses was culturally seen more an Egyptian then a Hebrew (Ex 2:19), he most probable wrote his books in a language the Israelites spoke amongst each other; a mixed Levantine language (ancient or proto-Hebrew). When the Israelites finally had established their own kingdom, their language became increasingly enlarged and refined. The Bible books were translated [9] and multiplied (copied). This process repeated itself over time and the copyist used a more ‘modern’ Hebrew for it.

When the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, they had to start speaking Aramaic. This way they discovered the Babylonian alphabet, accepted that and translated and copied the Bible books in this new form of Hebrew. The prophets that worked during their exile spoke the official Aramaic and wrote parts of their books in this language of their conquerors. This can be found for example in the manuscripts of the book of Ezra.

In the time of the Lord Jesus Greek had become the official common language. But this was not the sole reason why the NT-books are written in Greek. Hence, the Israelites spoke a form of Aramaic [10]. Hebrew was the language of the priests and the Bible scribes, but they had to be able to speak Greek very well to work together with the occupiers of their Land. The NT-books are written in Greek [11], so that the teachings of the NC could easily spread in the Greek speaking parts of the Roman Empire. External mission became their focus.

When Christians later became less able to understand Greek, it was replaced by languages of the land. As missionary faith it was seen as top priority that the new believers could read the Bible books themselves.
The current generation is less concerned about the exact and earnest translation of the Bible, but is more concerned that everyone in their own situation is addressed and can understand it in one go (paraphrasing).

Manuscripts, Bibles and the (holy) language
In ancient times the OT was often revised and copied. During Israel’s first exile a new form of Bible (OT) was formed. After the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land the inhabitants of that Land appeared to still have old manuscripts of the books of Moses. But because they were unable to prove their ethnicity, the Israelites that had returned made them into outcast’s and called them ‘Samaritans’ (inhabitants of Samaria). Their manuscripts (the Samaritan Pentateuch) were rejected by them.
When the Israelites started to voluntarily disperse over the surrounding countries they wanted a translation of their Bible in Greek. Thus, the Septuagint originated. Many pious scribes rejected this ‘translation’, because to them Hebrew was the holy language and because they found considerable deviations and translation mistakes in the Septuagint [12].

During Israel’s second exile they translated their Bible or parts of it in the languages of the lands they stayed in. For example, in the contemporary Aramaic; the Targumim.
Due to the persecutions and the dispersion of the Israelites the need came up for one authorized OT. A group of scribes – the Masorites – were put on the task and thus a specific OT-manuscript was created [13] (between 556-1040 AD) which is used until today as the basis for the OT.
The discovery of old Bible manuscripts in the Dead-Sea area, like in the caves of Qumran, showed that over time quite some different OT-manuscripts existed. But it is remarkable that the differences that were found between the Masoretic manuscripts and those from Qumran appeared minimal. It seemed that the content of the Bible for ages was preserved and handed over unchanged.

Christianity put accessibility of the Bible for their missionary goal above all else. Still, the NT-books were at first only copied from original Greek, since that language was for a long time seen as holy. But due to the growing dominant role of Latin Christianity the NT-books eventually were translated into Latin (the Vulgate). After the fall of the Western-Roman empire (476) and Western-Europe became more and more German, the need came up for a Bible in a Germanic language. However, for the Roman church Latin remained for a very long time the holy language of the Bible. They ignored however that in the Eastern-Roman Empire, which lasted until 1453, Greek had remained the holy language of the Bible. However, in that empire the Bible was already available in Arabic and other languages. It took until the 14th century that in Western-Europe a Bible was issued in English and until the 16th century that it was issued in German. Until today this work of translating [14] the Bible goes on until everyone can read the Bible in their own language.


[1] The Bible used in Judaism contains only the books of the Old Testament. The Jewish Bible is called after its abbreviation TeNaCH. The letters represent Torah (books of Moses), the books of the main Prophets and (other) Scriptures.
[2] Judaism doesn’t recognize the classification of the Bible in ‘testaments’. Nowadays even Christians seriously doubt whether this classification and breaking up of the Bible in two separate parts is right and justified.
[3] This is a point of break-up with Judaism. Christian scholars however nowadays question this imagined ‘hard’ discontinuity.
[4] But that is something entirely different then Christianity replacing Israel! Since that’s impossible.
[5] Especially from the 2nd century BC forward.
[6] However, in Judaism this is only partly the case. Although no books can be added to the Tenach, still the rabbi’s (2nd century AD) from their beginning saw it necessary to compose all kinds of religious books, like the Misjnah, that have the same authority as the books of the OT.
[7] A rather dubious statement for a religion that is based on the ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there have been written until this day all kinds of books by God’s inspiration. God’s Spirit cannot be silenced by the church, although it is bending towards Biblicism (tunnel vision on the Bible).
[8] However, there is still no consensus on this issue within Christianity.
[9] Translating OT-books into the official Hebrew means ‘adjusting’ the original manuscripts. In order to translate one has to make choices while translating. Also, explanations and corrections were added to the Bible text (see for example Gn 26:33; 32:32).
[10] Probable a mixed language that was formed during the first exile. Just like Jiddisj is a mixed language of the second exile.
[11] However, mostly in awful Geek.
[12] Remarkable, some authors of the NT (especially Paul) chose the Septuagint when writing their books.
[13] The so-called ‘Masoretic text’ is not just the authorized version of only the OT. The Masoretes have sometimes altered and corrected the text and added information and explanation to it. For example, the signs for accentuation and vocalization.
[14] Christian scholars have, like the Jewish scribes, corrected, changed and added explanations unto the Bible during their work of translating and copying the Bible (see for example 1 Jh 5:7-8).