The Bible, the sacred text revered by millions around the world, is a compilation of ancient writings that span thousands of years. In understanding how we got the Bible, it is essential to recognize the merging of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) with the teachings of Jesus and his appointed apostles (the New Testament).
Recording the Teachings of Jesus
The process of writing the New Testament involved apostles guided by the Holy Spirit. Their role was paramount in preserving and recording the teachings of Jesus. Through meticulous care, they ensured that his words were accurately transmitted to future generations. The disciples, including Matthew and John, actively participated in recording these teachings, which were later synthesized and organized into written documents that formed part of the New Testament. Consider the following three references to what these eyewitnesses saw and experienced:
- John: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24, NIV)
- Paul: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12, NIV)
- Peter: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18, NIV)
The preservation practices of the first-century Jewish community played a significant role in safeguarding the teachings of Jesus. The Jewish people held tremendous reverence for these teachings and diligently passed them down. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles compiled and consolidated these writings, incorporating them into the broader context of the Hebrew Bible.
“Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles compiled and consolidated these writings, incorporating them into the broader context of the Hebrew Bible.”
To fully grasp the magnitude of the scriptures, it is important to acknowledge the tradition of memorization in ancient Jewish culture. Unlike today’s reliance on written texts, the people of that time committed entire books to memory. This tradition ensured the accurate transmission of teachings from one generation to the next. The deep-rooted commitment to memorization strengthened the enduring impact of the teachings of Jesus and facilitated their dissemination throughout the early Christian community.
The Unity and Continuity of the Old and New Testaments
The teachings of Jesus accentuated the authority of the Hebrew Bible. He referenced and fulfilled the prophecies and promises contained within the Hebrew scriptures. In doing so, he established a connection between the Old Testament and the teachings he brought forth. The unity between the Old and New Testaments is evident in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus himself acknowledged the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament, bringing validation to its sacred nature (see Matthew 5:17-18; Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 12:24; Matthew 4:4; Luke 20:42-43; see also a more detailed explanation of Jesus’ view of the Old Testament here).
The New Testament serves not as a replacement but as a continuation and fulfillment of the promises and prophecies found in the Old Testament. Through Jesus’ teachings, the true meanings and interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures are unveiled.
“The New Testament serves not as a replacement but as a continuation and fulfillment of the promises and prophecies found in the Old Testament.”
Distinctive Practices: Jewish Cultural Elements and Gentile Believers
While certain ceremonial laws and practices, such as circumcision, dietary restrictions, Sabbath observance, and animal sacrifices, were specific to the Jewish people, the early Christians, guided by the Holy Spirit, recognized their fulfillment in Jesus. They concluded that these ceremonial aspects were not binding on Gentile believers. The moral principles of the Old Testament, rooted in timeless truths, continue to remain relevant, transcending cultural boundaries.
Sunday Worship and the New Covenant
Early Christians began meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus (see Acts 20:7). This tradition gradually took shape as a distinct Christian practice. It is important to note that this shift does not diminish the significance of the Sabbath or undermine the moral foundation of the Old Testament. Rather, it symbolizes the Christian emphasis on embracing the new covenant established by Jesus, while still recognizing the interconnectedness of the Old and New Testaments.
Divine Guidance in Compilation and Preservation
The compilation of the Bible and the preservation of its sacred texts were conducted under the watchful guidance of the Holy Spirit. Through divine inspiration, accuracy and authenticity were ensured. The unity and harmony within the Bible find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the interpretive key for understanding the entire Scripture. Though distinct cultural practices and regulations have been set aside, the moral principles imparted by the Old Testament continue to guide and shape the lives of believers in present times.
“The moral principles imparted by the Old Testament continue to guide and shape the lives of believers in present times.”
Understanding the journey of how we got the Bible reveals the divine orchestrations at work throughout history. The compilation of the sacred texts, guided by the Holy Spirit, showcases the transformative power and profound teachings of the Bible. It is a testament to the divine orchestration that led to the faithful preservation and consolidation of the teachings of Jesus and their integration with the Hebrew Bible.
As we engage with its rich and timeless texts, may we seek a deeper understanding of its message and allow it to shape and guide our lives. The Bible is a treasure that continues to impact and inspire countless individuals as they encounter the divine wisdom and love contained within its pages.
This article is based on a Scripture in Black and White podcast episode by Anthony Walker and Bobby Harrington called “How Did We Get the Bible, Part 2” (click here for the full episode). This article was made possible by church.tech.