Could you please tell me how the Bible you currently have originally came into existence?  Since we know that some of the apostles did not even start to write until about 50 AD, about 20 years after Christ ascended to heaven, we know with certainty that the apostles went out and established churches without a Bible.  By the way, how did they do this without a Bible to define their beliefs for the first several centuries?

So, when and how did the Bible come into existence?  And to go even further, how do you know that the Bible really is the infallible and inspired written Word of God? 

Since you seem to use the Bible to define your doctrines, you must first know its history to make sure it really is what you claim it to be.

One of the things that defines modern man is a belief that he is superior in all aspects of those that came before.  It is possible for a modern person to know that there was a library in Alexandria and yet maintain a subconscious belief that men at that time period were ignorant and had to be spoon fed their knowledge in order to maintain what little knowledge that they had.  All of this can be held even though there were great philosophers of the time like Socrates, Confucius, and many others that we list as greatest thinkers of all times.  I can only imagine the amount of brain power that it would take to memorize what they memorized and to discover what they discovered.  So while they did not learn or teach in the current Western style, they were still great teachers.

Into that system of learning we hear of Apollos.  In Acts 18:24-28 we learn, "Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ."  This man is interesting to the topic at hand because the Holy Spirit is not given as the source of his knowledge.  He knew the Scriptures and was able to teach others about Jesus through those Scriptures.  That is quite a feat.  The only Scriptures that he could have had would have been the Old Testament.  There are few scholars today that would be able to preach Jesus accurately and convincingly from just the Old Testament. 

What it does show is that it was and is possible to understand who Jesus is from the Old Testament.  One essential thing that is not possible to learn from the Old Testament, evidently, was the command of Jesus to be baptized.  That is not that hard to remember, so it was easily added by Apollos.

Now into that time period was also given the gift of prophesy.  Prophesy was not meant to last forever, but as is explained in I Corinthians 13:9-10, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."  The "perfection" here is the fullness of the gospel of Christ.  When the gospel of Christ had been fully delivered, the imperfect (i.e., prophesy) disappears.  So Paul said that the gift of prophesy would be phased out when the complete word was made known. 

Long before the council at Carthage (circa 378 AD), there were copies floating around of all the various letters and books that would become the recognized Canon.  From what I understand, most books were accepted and used in all places since at least 100 AD. The other books, Hebrews, 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James and Revelation, were more debatable so it is likely that those were not as universally copied.  The relative merits of virtually every book had been debated and studied.  From the descriptions of the early church writers, there did not seem to be any lack of copies.  What possibly was lacking and which the Carthage council helped established was a formal consensus of what should and should not be included.  Given human nature for what it normally is, the fact that they reached a conclusion at all is probably a testament to the lack of real contenders.  If there was any real disagreement, there would have probably been a schism in the church.  There wasn't any such schism in that time period, so it is probably safe to say that they were pretty much in agreement on what was going to be included even before the council met.

So, what happened between the last prophet and the wide distribution of copies is hard to say.  We have no evidence that there was any time gap.  If John lived to around 100 AD as some claim and copies of the gospels and Pauline letters were in circulation at that time, then it would seem that there was no time in which the church was without guidance.  There could have been prophets that outlasted John.  It is also possible that all the books of the Bible were in wide circulation prior to John's death.  Without evidence to the contrary, I am left to assume that Paul's prophesy about the end of prophesy in I Corinthians 13 came true.

That leaves the question about the inspiration of the Scriptures. 

There are large books written that deal with the inspiration of the Scriptures and I would assume that you were not asking for the purpose of me writing a complete book on the subject.  Therefore, I will outline a basic answer.  The four main reasons that I have for believing the inspiration of the Scriptures are (1) because it says it is the inspired word of God,  (2) because of the diversity of authors and consistency of the message, (3) because no one could do the things claimed and not be from God, and (4) because so many men were willing to die based on its testimony.

(1) II Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," and II Peter 3:16 "He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."  Peter's comment that Paul's writings were part of the "rest of the Scriptures" is very telling.  If Paul's writings were part of the Scriptures, then wouldn't other works likely to be part of them too?

(2) The Bible was written by at least 40 men over the course of 1,500 years.  Later men were willing to quote the earlier men and treat the earlier writings as authoritative.  The early writing predict events of the later writers that all come true even though some obviously did not expect them to come true in the manner in which they came true.  It is hard to get 40 men to agree to write toward the same purpose and not come up with extreme differences in what they saw or heard.  Having it done by 40 men over a 1,500 year span is nothing short of extraordinary.

(3)  When you consider the incredible things that are claimed and there are no credible counter-claims, then it is truly remarkable.  Jesus rose from the dead.  The Scripture even tells that some tried to lie and say that it did not happen (Matthew 28:11-15), but what happened to that testimony?  They knew they were on shaky grounds because they would have to admit that they were sleeping on duty -- not a good thing to say as a Roman guard.  But there were more real miracles-- people who were healed of things that are not able to be healed in our day.  There were plenty of other writers in that day.  Plenty of reason to try to deny that those events happened.  Yet, very few writers of the time tried to attack Christianity by denying what had happened. 

(4) Men who knowingly tell lies are not usually willing to insist that their lie is the truth when threatened with a penalty of death by torture.  From all indications, all the apostles except John died a horrific death.  Yet, none recanted.  None had a last minute, "oh it was all a mistake."  No one wavered.  It is possible that some people will hold on to a lie to the very end due to pride or arrogance, but all?  In fact, most men would react just the opposite, they would be more willing to claim that the truth was a lie in order to avoid torture.  It is a strong testament that none wavered.

Darrell Hamilton

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding the Bible
Questions and Answers regarding Roman Catholicism