I was wondering if you could help me with this question I have. I know that in II Timothy 3:16 it says that all scripture is "God breathed and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". This is a wonderful thing, but I have a question about the Bible itself: I know the Bible was compiled over many many years by many different authors. I don't doubt that all the authors were filled with the Holy Spirit. However, who decided what books made up the Bible? For example, the New Testament includes a lot of Paul's letters or epistles. But of course not all his letters are included. Who decided that his letters would become part of the Bible? Don't get me wrong, I think that it is of the Lord that we can see Paul's writings, but how was it added to the Bible? I know some other religions that use the Bible have either added or taken away from the Word of God. Which one is "right" (I don't know if that's the right word here)?
Thank you sincerely for your help.
The process was more straight forward than you would expect. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4). There were two things presented as witnesses to what was to be included in the Bible -- something that had been going on for thousands of years.
First, just because a person claimed to be a prophet (someone who spoke the words of God), they weren't accepted without proof. Proof came in two forms.
"And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' - when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him" (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
If you read through the books of the Bible you will find that many of them contain statements concerning the future. Some are stated hundreds of years in advance but many deal with near-term events. God did this to prove which men were speaking His words and which were not. God's prophets' words always came true -- without fail. Those who saw that recognized this witness by God and retained the writings of these men. It didn't take a panel of men somewhere else convening hundreds of years later to figure out who was a prophet or not. People were able to see it for themselves immediately.
The Hebrew writer also points out that God also used the miraculous gifts to confirm that the speaker was a true prophet of God. As you go through both the Old and New Testament you will find numerous miraculous events mentioned. It was those events that also convinced the people of that time that these writings were works of a true prophet of God.
Second, there is the matter of consistent witness:
"If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' - which you have not known - 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
If a prophet is actually speaking the words of God, then what he teaches will always be consistent with what God has already revealed. Man might forget what he has said before, but not so with God. So when a person teaches something contrary to what has already been proven and accepted as God's word, then we know it is false. "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9).
Again, this wasn't done years after the fact. The words were examined and tested as they were presented. "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (I Thessalonians 2:13). What we have is the cumulation of writings people have always accepted as having come from God because the person who wrote was known to be a prophet of God and because his writings were consistent with the prior writings from God.
Even afterward we can examine this evidence. While we can't see and talk to the prophet directly, we can see the internal evidence. For example, the Bible is filled with cross-references between prophets. For example, Paul talks about the ministry of Peter in Galatians. Peter speaks of Paul's writings in II Peter. Paul refers to the establishment of the Lord's Supper in I Corinthians 11 and quotes the words of Luke. This is just one of many proofs internal to the Bible that tells us that each prophet confirms the work of other prophets.
There are also external proofs, not nearly as sure or important, but they also stand as evidence that the book we accept as God's word is the one that has stood the test of centuries of examination. The books that have been offered as additions have failed the test. Many surfaced supposedly hundreds of years after they were supposed to have been written (they lack the evidence of people knowing the prophet). You read through the contents and you find hundreds of points inconsistent with the accepted word of God. These false writings were rejected for good reason -- they were proven to be false.
But the other fact that must not be ignored is a recognition that God's hand has always been behind His word. "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because "All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever." Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you" (I Peter 1:22-25). There have been numerous attempts to eliminate the Bible, and yet it somehow continues to exist. I'm positive that it isn't coincidence. God has made sure that His Word remains and I have faith that it will remain through the end of time.
Thank you so much for your reply! This cleared up a lot of stuff for me. "There have been numerous attempts to eliminate the Bible, and yet it somehow continues to exist. I'm positive that it isn't coincidence. God has made sure that His Word remains and I have faith that it will remain through the end of time." Amen! God is sovereign!