How did we get our Bible with 66 books?

Question: How were all the books in the Bible collected to make the Bible? Who decided which books would make up the Bible and how did they decide which ones to include?

Answer: I found this site ( to be quite acceptable as an explanation of the development of what we call the canon of Scripture. There may be more than you want to read here, but I would suggest that you at least read the Introduction to the Canon and Ancient Versions article. There are a number of helpful charts. There is an article further down by F. F. Bruce, who is considered a giant in New Testament studies.

Randall Johnson


2 thoughts on “How did we get our Bible with 66 books?

  1. I remember being told that there was a meeting of church leaders and they decided which books would be in each testament. If this is true, when/where was the meeting held? Were the church leaders asked or told to attend? By whom? I accept the auhenticity of the books in the Bible; I want to know when, and by whom, the books in the current Bile were chosen. I’m referring to the Protestant Bible.
    I don’t need/want to know how the authenticity of each book was decided. You have answered the question about how we got the Bible from your perspective as Pastors; you’ve defended the authenticity of each book from attack by skeptics. Many of us don’t doubt their authenticity. We want to know when/how the 66 books were decided on.

    • Here is a fairly good summary taken from Wikipedia (I have pieced together paragraphs to help you get the gist):

      Collections of related texts such as letters of the Apostle Paul (a major collection of which must have been made already by the early 2nd century) and the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (asserted by Irenaeus of Lyon in the late-2nd century as the Four Gospels) gradually were joined to other collections and single works in different combinations to form various Christian canons of Scripture. Over time, some disputed books, such as the Book of Revelation and the Minor Catholic Epistles were introduced into canons in which they were originally absent, and other works earlier held to be Scripture such as 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Diatessaron were excluded from the New Testament. Interestingly, although the Old Testament canon is not uniform within Christianity, with e.g. Roman Catholics, Protestants, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Slavic Orthodox Churches, and the Armenian Orthodox Church differing as to which books are included, the twenty-seven-book canon of the New Testament has, since at least Late Antiquity, been almost universally recognized within Christianity.

      The process of the canonization of the New Testament was complex and lengthy. It was characterized by a compilation of books that the apostolic tradition considered authoritative in worship and teaching, relevant to the historical situations in which they lived, and consonant with the Old Testament.

      The New Testament canon developed over many centuries. The 3rd century Church Father Origen was largely responsible for the collection of usage information regarding the texts which became the New Testament. The information used to create the late-4th-century Easter Letter, which declared accepted Christian writings, was probably based on the Ecclesiastical History [HE] of Eusebius of Caesarea, wherein he uses the information passed on to him by Origen to create both his list at HE 3:25 and Origen’s list at HE 6:25. Eusebius got his information about what texts were then accepted and what were then disputed, by the third-century churches throughout the known world, a great deal of which Origen knew of firsthand from his extensive travels, from the library and writings of Origen. In fact, Origen would have possibly included in his list of “inspired writings” other texts which were kept out by the likes of Eusebius, including the Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, and 1 Clement. Notwithstanding these facts, “Origen is not the originator of the idea of biblical canon, but he certainly gives the philosophical and literary-interpretative underpinnings for the whole notion.”

      On the question of NT Canon formation generally, New Testament scholar Lee Martin McDonald has written that:

      Although a number of Christians have thought that church councils determined what books were to be included in the biblical canons, a more accurate reflection of the matter is that the councils recognized or acknowledged those books that had already obtained prominence from usage among the various early Christian communities.

      Christian scholars assert that when these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, they were not defining something new, but instead “were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church”.

      Some synods of the 4th century published lists of canonical books (e.g. Hippo and Carthage). The existing 27-book canon of the New Testament was reconfirmed (for Roman Catholicism) in the 16th century with the Council of Trent (also called the Tridentine Council) of 1546, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for Eastern Orthodoxy. Although these councils did include statements about the canon, when it came to the New Testament they were only reaffirming the existing canon.

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