Belief in brief: The Bible

Friday, May 2, 2008 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 4:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — How did Christians decide what belonged in the Bible? The Bible on most American shelves is made up of 66 individual books — such as Psalms, Romans and Revelation — written by more than 40 authors over the course of thousands of years. The books of the Bible are divinely inspired, Christians say, but the chosen 66 are not the only books with this claim. The Catholic Bible includes 14 additional books; the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh, contains only 24 books. Why is there controversy, and how did the Protestant Church decide which books belonged in its Bible?

Choosing a standard

The Bible has two parts, the Old and New Testaments, separated by the pivotal point of Jesus’ birth. The New Testament, which includes the four Gospels and the writings of the Apostle Paul, was penned during the first century.

A “canon,” Latin for “rule” or “standard,” is a term for the writings that a certain group says belong in the Bible.

The Protestant Church chose its canon of 66 books — 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament — in 1885. Its Revised Version, as it is called, removed the 14 books known as the Apocrypha that many churches had accepted as Scripture for years. According to, Protestants rejected these extra books of the Old Testament, such as 1 and 2 Maccabees, since they were not part of the Hebrew Canon. The Hebrew Scriptures were the original translation and compilation of Scripture.

Divine inspiration

“To face the challenge of ‘heretical’ Christian groups, the early Christians set certain guidelines” to determine whether a text belonged in the Bible, said Nate DesRosiers, a professor in the religious studies department at MU.

DesRosiers said that early Christians had three main criteria to qualify a writing as “divinely inspired”: It must have a sufficient tradition of use, be linked to an apostle, and most importantly, mesh well with orthodox theology. The Old Testament was the source of orthodox theology, so new writings must not conflict with the original ones.

The Protestant Church based approval on the credibility of the writings rather than on the Church’s whims, said Leon Morris in his article, “Canon of the New Testament,” in The Encyclopedia of Christianity.

“The Church did not originate the Bible... (Any book) stands or falls because of its relationship to God, not to the Church,” Morris said.

Sources: Nate DesRosiers, “Canon of the New Testament,”

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