V. THE RECOGNITION OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE
A. The Old Testament
1. The Pentateuch of Moses
Among the Old Testament writings, the Pentateuch has always been recognized by the Jews as being from God and having absolute and divine authority. This is because it was the written revelation of God to Moses, and was handed down through their ancestors. Although the Jews acknowledge that the whole Old Testament was from God, they gave the Pentateuch of Moses a very special position. In all the Jewish synagogues throughout the world today, there are at least two or three copies of the Pentateuch of Moses. They may not have the other books of the Old Testament, but they always have the Pentateuch. Incidentally, the Samaritans acknowledged only the Pentateuch of Moses. Of course the Samaritans’ religion is a distorted one, but this proves the authority of the Pentateuch of Moses among the ancient worshippers of God.
2. The Other Books
The other books in the Old Testament were gradually acknowledged by the people of God to be from God by virtue of their own value and authority. One author put it very well by saying, “There is no need to declare a tree by its name. It only needs to grow up gradually, to bloom, and to bear fruit; spontaneously men will recognize what kind of tree it is. In the same way, whether or not all the other books in the Old Testament were from God is best answered by the test of time; there is no need for any explicit declaration. The values and authority of the books spontaneously manifest themselves.” This is surely true. All the inspired writers among God’s people after the Pentateuch had their writings recognized as being from God through a long period of testing and through the identification of authority in them.
In approximately 457 B.C., the scribe Ezra compiled the Pentateuch of Moses and all the other authoritative writings commonly recognized among the people of God to become the various books in the Old Testament. (Nehemiah and Malachi were not included because they were not written yet.) The Jewish historian, Josephus, and other Gentile historians all verified this fact.
After Ezra there was a group of scribes among the Jews called “The Great Synagogue” who continued with this compiling and ascertaining work. In 400 B.C. they completed the compilation of all the books we have in the Old Testament today. However, in their work there were not thirty-nine books, but twenty-four books. We will speak about this later. Hence, by 400 B.C. the writing of the Old Testament was not only completed but was also acknowledged and recognized.
At any rate, by approximately 277 B.C. at the latest, when the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek was made, all the books of the Old Testament must have already been recognized.
B. The New Testament
1. The Gospels
The early churches frequently read the Gospels and the Old Testament during their meetings. Hence, the four Gospels were the earliest recognized books of the New Testament.
2. The Other Books
After the apostles passed away, there was some confusion due to the fact that some people wrote books in the names of the apostles. Therefore the leaders of the early churches, the so-called Fathers, collected all the books written by the apostles and put them together with the Gospels. Not long after Polycarp was martyred, the New Testament was viewed basically the same way among all the different churches. However, there were still disagreements as to whether or not the seven books of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation should be included. Since these books were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and have spiritual authority and value, after a long time of testing, in a council of the leaders of all the churches, these seven books were acknowledged to be part of the New Testament in A.D. 397, at Carthage in North Africa. The New Testament was recognized as having the same twenty-seven books as we have it today. Hence, by A.D. 397 at the Council at Carthage, the whole Bible, including both the Old and the New Testament, was recognized and acknowledged by God’s people.
(On Knowing the Bible, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)