What Is the Composition of the Bible? Some people insist that the Bible has more than 66 books. Is that true?
The Bible we have today is a collection of the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. This collection of 66 books is known as the “canon” of Scripture. The term “canon” is derived from the Hebrew word קָנֶה(kaneh) which means “reed.” Reeds were often used as measuring rods, so the word “reed” came to mean “a criterion or standard.” Later, the word “canon” was used to refer to the 66 books of the Bible, which is the standard of faith (R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 327-328).
Other books excluded from the Canon are called the “Apocrypha,” which refers to the books that are not included in the Hebrew Bible. Now, let’s find out about the composition of the Bible and the meaning of the Apocrypha.
The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
The Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years by many authors—over 40, from Moses who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament to John the Apostle who wrote the last book of the New Testament. The authors of the Bible were also from diverse backgrounds; there were kings like David, shepherds like Amos, and many more.
The 66 books of the Bible were written in different specific historical situations and at different times. Nevertheless, they do not contradict each other, but every book in the Bible is consistent in its message. It is because God is the primary author of the Bible.
God inspired each and every author through the Holy Spirit to write the exact message He wanted recorded in the Bible, which is the only record of the Word of God Almighty.
Some people insist that the Bible was written by men’s wisdom, but it is utterly impossible for dozens of prophets to write consistently and coherently over such a long period of time. This proves that God Himself dictated His words to them to write the Bible for Him (2 Ti 3:16–17; 2 Pe 1:20–21).
The Old Testament
The 39 books of the Old Testament, which have been formally recognized as the official canon, are known to have been compiled in the time of Ezra around the 5th century B.C.
Historical records show that they were accepted into the Hebrew canon and used by the Jews around the 1st century A.D.
Jesus Himself confirmed the authority of the Old Testament; He quoted so many passages from the Old Testament to show us that the Bible is the word of God.
Then, has the Bible ever been changed over time? Many copies of the Old Testament were made and preserved by professional scribes. Its accuracy has already been proven as a result of comparing it with the manuscripts produced at different times. The Masoretic text and the Qumran text are good examples. The Hebrew Old Testament was copied and preserved by the Masoretes who were a group of Jewish scholars. The earliest complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament is the Masoretic text, which dates to around 900 A.D. The Qumran text is the biblical scrolls written around 100 B.C., almost a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript. The scrolls were found in Qumran Cave near the Dead Sea in 1947, hence the name Qumran scrolls. As a result of the comparison of the two texts, they were virtually identical. This shows that the manuscripts were made precisely and exactly the same as the original texts, and it is also solid proof that eliminates the possibility that changes were made to the Bible.
Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, said, “We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew from the day of his birth to regard them as decrees of God …” His words suggest that the original text of the Bible has been preserved accurately without going through any changes. When scribes copied the Scriptures, they would count the number of letters on each line to make sure they had not omitted even a single letter, and other scribes proofread the copy again. Thus, they made great efforts to preserve the original text.
The New Testament
The New Testament was compiled at the time of the early Church. As the apostles who had witnessed Jesus’ life and resurrection died one after another, there was an urgent need to write and preserve the words and deeds of Jesus. As a result, the Gospels started to be written by the apostles. The Gospels and the Epistles written in those days were made into manuscripts, which were read during every worship service in the early Church. The compilation of those writings is the New Testament.
The New Testament consists of the Gospels, which detail the life of Jesus, Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. In particular, the Epistles were written to saints to establish them in the faith. All the contents of the New Testament were authorized by the early Church that followed the examples of Jesus and the apostles.
The Apocrypha (from the Greek word apokryphos meaning hidden) are books excluded from the Canon of the Bible. Usually the Apocrypha refers to the 15 books that were written during a period of time after the days of the prophet Malachi (around 400 B.C.) before the coming of Jesus. They were never included in the Hebrew Old Testament.
When the Old Testament was later translated into Greek, the Apocryphal books were added to the Greek Septuagint (traditionally complied by 70 translators, from which this version got its name).
The moral tone of the Apocrypha is far below that of the Bible, and it also contains doctrines that contradict the Bible. For this reason, the Apocryphal books were never accepted as part of the traditional Jewish canon. Since they are of such inferior quality and have no historical value, they are also called “pseudepigraphal,” meaning “false writings.” Jesus never quoted from the Apocrypha when He preached.
The Roman Catholic Church officially accepted the Apocryphal books after St. Jerome, one of the bishops, translated into Latin the Bible along with the Apocrypha as an appendix around the 4th century. As the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha, the Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent (an ecumenical council held in three separate sessions for 18 years from 1545 to 1563 in Trento, Italy) and declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Bible. In this process, three of the fifteen Apocryphal books were excluded from the Catholic Bible. The Roman Catholics included 12 of the apocryphal books in their Bibles, except for the following three books: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh. This shows that even they themselves have admitted that there are problems in the Apocrypha.
Then, why has the Catholic Church belatedly declared the Apocrypha to be the Canon?
It is because they can rationalize their doctrines to some degree if they over interpret some parts of the Apocrypha. The Catholic Church has a lot of non-canonical doctrines.
The Apocrypha contains many passages which support some of their doctrines.
Another reason is because they intend to oppose the religious reformers who emphasize a Bible-centered faith, by damaging the absoluteness of the Bible.
Adding the Apocrypha to the Bible is an act of accepting different teachings and doctrines from those of the Bible, and it is a crafty scheme to make them equal to the teachings of the Bible if necessary. However, if they follow any doctrine or teaching which is not recorded in the Bible, no matter how plausible it may be, they can never be saved.
God has given us the Bible for our salvation. So, if we truly want to be saved, we should try to realize God’s will for our salvation by carefully studying the Bible, which was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, rather than thoughtlessly following the teachings which are not based on the Bible.
… But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Gal 1:6–8
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Rev 22:18–19
※ A list of the Apocrypha: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Player of Azariah and Song of the Three Children, Story of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees (A total 15 books). The Epistle of Jeremiah is incorporated as the final chapter of Baruch in most English editions of the Apocrypha. In this case, there are a total of 14 Apocryphal books.