Have you ever considered - Where did the Bible Come from?
In the beginning, someone wrote something down.
That’s how we got the Bible. Some people wrote some things down. Obvious, right? And true. And absolutely important that we start there.
The Bible did not drop out of the sky; it was written by people.
Many of the stories in the Bible began as oral traditions, handed down from generation to generation until someone collected them, edited them, and actually wrote them down, sometimes hundreds of years later. That’s years and years of people sitting around fires and walking along hot dusty roads and gathering together in tents and homes and courtyards to hear and discuss and debate and adapt and change these stories, poems, letters, and accounts.
The people who wrote these books had lots of material to choose from.
There were countless stories floating around, tons of accounts being handed down, massive amounts of material to include. Or not include. In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, the author writes in chapter 11, As for the other events of Solomon’s reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? Well, yes, I guess they are—it’s just that we have no idea what the author is referring to! Interesting, the assumption on the author’s part that not only do we know this but also that we have access to these annals. Which we don’t.
We see something similar in the Gospel of John, where it’s written, Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. And then the book ends with this line: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. It’s as if the writer, just to wrap things up, adds, Oh yeah, I left a ton of stuff out.
The authors of the books of the Bible, then, weren’t just writing— they were selecting and editing and choosing and making decisions about what material and content furthered their purposes in writing and what didn’t.
The writer of the Gospel of Luke: I too decided to write an orderly account for you. . .
From the book of Esther: This is what happened . . .
Toward the end of the Gospel of John: These are written that you may believe . . .
There were points these writers wanted to make, things they wanted their readers to see, insights they wanted to share, stories they wanted to tell.
What these writers ultimately created was a library.
The Bible is a library of books, written by forty or so authors over roughly fifteen hundred years on three continents. This library is vast and diverse and covers a massive amount of ground. At various moments over the past several thousand years, people made decisions about what books became part of their Bible and what books were left out. People wrote the books that became the Bible and then other people decided that those books would or would not be included in the Bible. These people had meetings and discussions and developed criteria and had more meetings and discussions, and eventually they made decisions. Decisions about what the Bible even is.
It’s important to point out that these writers—and the people who decided whether or not to include their writings in the Bible—were real people living in real places at real times.
Their purposes in writing, then, were shaped by their times and places and contexts and psyches and personal histories and economies and politics and religion and technology and countless other factors. What does it tell us about the world Abraham lived in that when he’s told to offer his son as a sacrifice, he doesn’t ask for any instructions on how to do it? He sets out to do it as if it’s a natural thing for a god to ask.
The David-and-Goliath story starts with technology—the Philistines had a new kind of metal that the Israelites didn’t. The story is undergirded by that primal fear that comes when your neighbor has weapons that you don’t have. Like spears. Or guns. Or bombs.
The Roman Empire had a particular line from their military propaganda that began, There is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved. So when the apostle Peter used this phrase, there is no other name under heaven, he’s referring to something his readers would have understood. Real people, writing in real places, at real times, choosing to include some material, choosing to leave out other material.
And it turns out that what they wrote about was love and fear and debt and duty and doubt and anger and skepticism and hate and technology and shame and hope and betrayal—the very struggles and issues we’re still talking about thousands of years later. And that’s why it’s so important to not read it like it dropped out of the sky. Because in doing so, you miss the solidarity that comes from realizing that this is a profoundly human book.
Adapted from What Is the Bible: How An Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything By Rob Bell. Copyright ©2017 by Rob Bell, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers