SPSE’s Dallas team often explains where the Bible itself came from. Many people had never thought about it.

The only Scriptures the first Christians had were from the Old Testament. The earliest book, though, of the New Testament (1 Thessalonians) wouldn’t be written for 20 years yet. So the Gospel spread by word of mouth — an amazingly accurate medium in non-literate cultures. St. Paul affirms oral tradition, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thes 2:15).

Then, some of St. Paul’s letters were recognized as Scripture themselves. For example, see 2 Peter 3:15–16. In following years, others wrote histories and letters to the various communities until hundreds of documents were in existence — some reliable, but many that were not.

Bishops, in authority over different communities, were charged with protecting the integrity of the Faith as it had been handed on to them. “If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus. … Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:6,16). Each bishop put together a canon, or list of books authorized to be read during celebrations of the Liturgy.

Although assembled independently, these canons turned out to be remarkably similar. Bishops made their decisions based on whether the books were written by an Apostle or directly reported the words of an Apostle, how often the book had been quoted by the Early Church Fathers, and how often the book had been used within the Sacred Liturgy by his brother bishops.

Then, in the early 4th century, Christianity was no longer illegal. So finally bishops could meet together without risking arrest and execution. Thus, beginning late in the 4th century, they met to debate the canon of the Bible. The current list of 73 books (46 Old Testament, 27 New) was decided at the Council of Rome, AD 382, presided over by Pope Damasus I, and confirmed by later councils.

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