The Bible was written over a span of more than 1,000 years. 

The Old Testament 

Scholars are not entirely clear about how exactly the Old Testament came together. However, there is general agreement that it happened in a series of stages.

  • The first works to be collected together were the five books known as ‘the Law’ (as they contain a lot of legal material). These are now called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
  • Next ‘the Prophets’ collection was developed and added. This includes material about the lives and public pronouncements of both the prophets and kings of the Hebrew people.
  • Alongside these two, another set of books was being written, which became known as ‘the Writings’. This section contains a wide range of literature, from history books and temple songs to advice material and religious stories.

The New Testament 

The New Testament contains a collection of writings produced after Jesus Christ had died.

Most Christians agree that the New Testament is made up of 27 books – four Gospels, the book of Acts, 21 epistles and the book of Revelation. This list was settled on during the 4th century AD. However, 20 of the 27 had already been agreed upon by the end of the 2nd century AD.

There is some debate about how exactly the collection was compiled. In broad terms, it happened in a series of stages.

  • During the 1st century AD, a collection of Christian Scriptures made up of accounts of the life of Jesus and letters of the apostle Paul;
  • The 2nd century AD saw a collection develop called ‘Gospel and Apostle’. ‘The Gospel’ was four accounts of the life of Jesus known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. ‘Apostle’ was the collection of the letters written by Paul and, later, for writings by other apostles;
  • In the middle of the 2nd century AD, groups on the fringe of the Christian movement started to come up with their own gospels and letters. This forced the mainstream Church to define which works were part of the New Testament;
  • The first official list was insisted on at the Church Council of Carthage towards the end of the 3rd century AD – rather than at the Council of Nicaea, as is commonly thought.