How We Got the Bible

By Norton Herbst

The Bible is a very old and unusual book. Where did it come from? Discover answers here.

Millions of people around the globe put their faith in a collection of books called the Bible. They consider it to be the Word of God, endeavor to live by its standards, and fervently believe its stories. Indeed, even nonreligious people value the Bible’s accounts of ancient history and admire many of its moral teachings.

But how did we get the Bible? What are its origins? Who wrote and compiled its books? Did they have a hidden agenda? Perhaps they made up stories or covered up certain embarrassing facts as Dan Brown suggests in his novel The Da Vinci Code.

These are important questions to consider. It’s hard to trust anything we read without first knowing where it came from; in fact, we shouldn’t just blindly trust anything.

In the case of the Bible, we should remember that it is not really one book, but a collection of sixty-six different books written by numerous authors. Let’s explore how these books originated and eventually formed the Bible we have today.

The Old Testament

Israel emerged as a solidified nation in the ancient Near East when the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt and settled in the Promised Land of Canaan. During the course of their history, from about 1200 to 400 BCE, the Israelites produced and collected certain writings that were of great significance to their identity and faith.

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This literature includes historical documents that trace their origins as a people, the events their ancestors experienced, and how and why they understand themselves to have a unique relationship with the one true God. It also comprises the moral teachings and legal codes that governed Israel’s society, such as the Ten Commandments; poems, songs, and wisdom literature; and the recorded messages of prophets who guided and corrected the people.

Some of the original authors are known; some names have been lost to history. In all, twenty-four different books made up this collection of sacred Hebrew writings.

Before the time of Christ, this collection was translated from Hebrew into Greek—creating a version called the Septuagint—for the sake of Jews living outside Israel who were more familiar with the Greek language. In this way, they could remain linked to their Jewish identity.

By the time of Jesus’ ministry (about 28 CE), most Jews considered this written anthology to be authoritative for their faith. It came to be known as the Tanakh (also known as the Masoretic Text). Today it is also called the Hebrew Bible. Among Christians, it is known as the Old Testament.

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