When the books in the New Testament were initially penned, I wonder if the writers knew they were the Holy Spirit-inspired authors of holy Scripture.
Like many things Spirit-inspired, I wonder if the act of picking up a pen or dictating a sentence to a scribe was simply a natural, dedicated, and focused part of their day. Surely Matthew and Luke and Paul didn’t start writing letters and researching history and documenting events thinking, “Someday this will be in a book sold worldwide as Holy Scripture.”
But God divinely worked in and through them to record and propagate what would become the New Testament.
So…How did we get the Bible? There were many books written about Christianity in the first centuries after Jesus. And the 27 New Testament books weren’t recognized as “canon” (from the Latin word for rule or standard), until AD 393. There is much more to that story than the scope of this post, but let’s do a thumbnail sketch:
In the second century AD, the apostles and those who learned directly from them had died. People were circulating books as being written by people using names of key biblical figures. To some, they were shared and read with the same authority as Paul’s epistles or Luke’s eye witness accounts.
To address this challenge, church leaders discussed and prayed and wrote and discussed some more. They wanted to affirm which writings were authoritative and inspired by the Holy Spirit. In his Easter letter of AD 367, a bishop named Athanasius listed the 27 books of the New Testament. Church councils at Hippo Regius (AD 397) later affirmed his list as the complete canon.
For more on how the Biblical canon was formed, the Museum of the Bible has this helpful clip.
Each of the books that became the New Testament fit these specific criteria:
• Written by an apostle or a close associate
• The writer was confirmed by acts of God
• The book told the truth about God
• The book came with the power of God
• It was accepted by the people of God
But as fascinating as it would be to jump down the rabbit hole of church history (and I highly recommend it), let’s make it personal. It struck me that we could take those same evaluation points used for determining the contents of the New Testament and apply it to our own lives as well. How does my life reflect those parameters?
- Do I learn from and befriend and encourage Christ’s disciples today?
- Am I confirmed by acts of God?
I can point to acts of God in my life and the lives of others, where God has confirmed His love and care for me and where He has protected and directed my day and circumstances.
- Do I tell the truth about God?
The key to telling the truth about God is spending time with Him and His Word.
- Do I come with the power of God?
As a follower of Jesus, whenever I enter a room I bring the Holy Spirit with me. Would others recognize that reality?
- Am I accepted by the people of God?
My worth is not based on others’ estimation or acceptance of me at all. However, Jesus lovers tend to recognize other Jesus lovers. Is that the case in my life as well? Am I a part of that communion of the saints?
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul clues us in to a beautiful truth: believers are living letters, designed to be known and read by all. “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
What story did your life write for those “reading” you yesterday? Last week? Last year? God is not done writing our story, which means that He can take any plot point, challenge, or failure in the past and weave it into a beautiful story of His own design and redemption. As we trust God to write our stories, we trust that He will do so with grace and love.
You are a letter from Christ delivered to your family, delivered to your workplace, delivered to your circle of influence. And once a book is printed and distributed, you never know who will read it.
We live in the hope that tomorrow’s page will be written with the love of an omnipotent King and loving Savior. There are ups, downs, heartbreaks, plot twists, and laugh-out-loud moments. But those who follow Jesus know the end of the story already—one day He will return in triumph to bring His beloved Church home. So until then: write on, dear friend!