A Brief History of the Bible: From Creation to Now
You’ve probably heard it said before that the Bible is God’s word. While that’s true, there’s more to the story. God’s word encompasses more than just the Bible. God’s word is everything that He has ever spoken, written, and inspired people to speak and write.
God has spoken through creation, in what is often referred to as “general revelation,” because it has been available to all people through all time. And, when the Spirit moves you to encourage someone, there is a sense in which your encouragement is a way of God speaking through you. When a pastor delivers a Spirit-led sermon, he is speaking God’s word. We have to be careful not to take this too far or out of context, but it is still a valid point. The word of God includes more than just the Bible.
I asked in my last article why we should believe the Bible is God’s word. My question now is, how did we get the Bible? To answer that question, I’ll begin by backing up and asking how we got God’s word in the first place.
The beginning of God’s word, as it relates to humans, is at the beginning of the Bible and the very beginning of time.
On page 1 of our Bibles, we find some variation of a simple phrase: “God said.” Simply by speaking, God created. This phenomenon is called God’s “word of power.” It’s easy to see why. His word is so powerful that it made the universe just by being spoken. The fact that God created everything by His word is affirmed in Genesis and Psalm 33:
“The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars, by the breath of his mouth.” (Ps. 33:6, CSB)
Not only did God speak all creation into existence, but the Bible also says that God sustains creation by that same word. Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus “sustains all things by his powerful word” (CSB). If you’ve been a Christian for long, you might nod your head at this and move on. But I want to emphasize here how fundamental God’s word is to our existence.
Think about the composition of your body. Your body is composed of organs. Those organs are made of cells, which are made of molecules, so on and so forth down to the subatomic particles. And the only reason that those subatomic particles continue to exist from one moment to another is that God’s word sustains them. If His word were not sustaining their existence every single second, they would cease to exist. You and all creation would vanish. So we see from creation that God’s word is mighty and fundamental to our lives.
After speaking all creation into existence, God speaks to His creation, Adam. He said, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” and later, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 1:28, 2:17, CSB). These words are the first recorded instances that God audibly spoke to humanity. And in them, we see an important aspect of God’s word: communicating His expectations. He told us what we should do (be fruitful) and what we should not do (eat from the tree). We must listen to God’s word to find His expectations for us.
In addition to speaking His expectations for us, God also writes down His expectations. When Moses went up to Mt. Sinai, God personally wrote His law on stone tablets (Ex. 31:18). This written law was just as binding as the law God spoke out loud to Adam. God didn’t say, “if anything I say contradicts these tablets, just go with whatever I said last.” God’s written word holds just as much authority as His spoken word, and the two don’t contradict. This is the antidote to abuses of what I mentioned above: Yes, people can speak God’s word. Yet, if someone claims to have a word from God, and they contradict God’s written word, they are just speaking from their authority, not God’s.
So far, I’ve talked about God’s word as powerful and authoritative, but I don’t want to lose sight of other fatherly aspects of God’s word.
God also encourages us by His word. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:7, CSB). God spoke these words to encourage His Son. It wasn’t just a “softening the blow” comment for whatever rebuke might come next, as we so often do with our earthly encouragements. It was simply for the Father to recognize what His Son had done by submitting to His will.
Paul wrote something similar about God’s word in Romans: “For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4, CSB). Therefore we should look to God’s word to find encouragement as well as expectations.
We should look to God’s word to find encouragement as well as expectations.
God speaks directly to humanity through His spoken and written word, but He also inspired people to speak and to write His words. This was the role of prophets. When God commissioned Ezekiel to speak to the Israelites in Babylon, the Lord said to him, “I am sending you to them, and you must say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says’” (Ez. 2:4, CSB). The prophets would bring God’s word to His people so that they would be corrected in their errors and encouraged in their faith.
But for the prophets’ words to be preserved beyond the moment they were spoken, someone had to record them. In the prophet Jeremiah’s case, a man named Baruch did the recording (Jer. 36:4). Scribes like Baruch would record the teacher’s words and compile their teachings into the books we have today. Even in the New Testament, teachers like the apostle Paul used scribes to record their words (Rom. 16:22). Without these scribes’ work of carefully writing the words of prophets and teachers, we would not have access to these teachings in the Bible.
These written words come down to us with tremendous authority.
The apostle Peter describes how these writings originated and how we should treat them:
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19-21, NIV).
These prophetic messages from God were written down and these writings were held to be “God-breathed.” Thus, these writings are authoritatively “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Though we’ve only briefly discussed the Bible itself, I hope you’ve seen through an examination of God’s word that:
- God’s word is powerful.
- God’s word is fundamental to our lives.
- God’s word sets His expectations for us.
- God’s word encourages us.
- Because the Bible is part of God’s word, all these things are true of the Bible.
In your next Bible study or personal reading time, allow these facts to inform your understanding of God’s word. Allow God, through this understanding, to affect you more deeply so that your study can be more prosperous, more fruitful, and glorify God all the more.
 The history and critiques of the preservation of these works is another matter altogether. How these varied compositions were compiled into a single work called the Bible is yet another matter. If you’re interested in pursuing these topics, I’d highly recommend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology for an accessible, thorough, and cross-referenced resource.