The Bible is more than a random assortment of spiritual writings—it is a work of God. All Scripture is inspired or “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), the inerrant word breathed out by God through human instruments. But we might still wonder how the church came to recognize the specific collection of books that we now know as the Bible as God’s divinely inspired word.
The formation of the Bible occurred in three stages. The first stage was God’s direct involvement: He took the initiative to reveal Himself by word and deed. The writer of Hebrews points out that God used a variety of means to do this. In some cases, God spoke directly to His servants and at other times He spoke indirectly through human instruments who recorded His message. The capstone of this process of divine self-revelation came in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–2). These authors of Scripture who recorded these events wrote using their own particular vocabulary and style. They may even have relied on research and the writings of others (see Luke 1:1–4). Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they recorded only what God wanted to be included (2 Peter 1:21).
The second stage was publication. The books were copied, translated, and distributed. During this stage, the Holy Spirit worked to preserve and protect what had been originally recorded. The warning found in Revelation 22:18–19— not to add or take away from what had been written—reminded the early church how serious it was to preserve the original documents.
The third stage was recognition. This recognition took place over centuries, as God’s people acknowledged which books should be regarded as Scripture and as those books were gathered into the collection we now refer to as the Bible. God’s people relied upon the Holy Spirit to provide discernment that enabled them to recognize which books should be revered as Scripture.
The church accepted the 39 books of the Old Testament, the Bible used by Jesus and the Apostles. The remaining books, known as the New Testament, were affirmed as Scripture because of direct apostolic authorship, because they reflected what the Apostles taught, and because they had been attested to be God’s Word through use by the church as a whole. This collection of books is our only infallible guide for faith and life.