Where did the New Testament come from and why? (Who decided what books would be included?)

Dr. Jeffrey Seif TLV Scholars Leave a Comment

Paul said “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). He wasn’t referring to the New Testament, of course; for, it hadn’t been written yet, never mind assembled. The “Scripture” noted above was the Old Testament–an “inspired” collection often ignored, despite Paul’s pressing that they are “inspired” and are “useful for teaching.” So where did the New Testament come from and why? How did it become “Scripture,” as classically understood?

It has often been said” “necessity is the mother of invention.” Mindful of that, one might perhaps wonder:

What necessity stimulated the need to

  1. collect authoritative religious documents,
  2. develop a separate and additional set of Yeshua-related Scriptures,
  3. and attach the new documents to the older ones?

I’ll address these questions through a consideration of the New Testament’s principal author: Paul.

When Paul wrote his New Testament scripts he wasn’t even aware he was writing Scripture–never mind anticipating they’d be bound in a collection. For his part and in his mind, he was simply putting out fires by mail, dealing with various problems and possibilities in the congregations he’d established–and had since moved on from in his travels. Reports from and about the various faith communities he’d established prompted him to forever look back over his shoulder in order to: convince constituents of a point or two, exhort members every now and again, and sometimes rebuke folk outright for what they were doing or allowing in their faith and practice. The documents attest to an apostolic office at work, laying a religious foundation and giving voice to what it means to be an authentic believer in faith and practice.

The receiving communities kept and circulated copies of his writings. The esteemed writings were eventually gathered up and forged into a collection. Paul’s “necessity” was the need to articulate, clarify and firmly establish what it means to walk as a believer. This same necessity prompted the gathering of an eventual New Testament collection–replete with his writings and others.

The Old Testament is an arm and the New Testament is a hand attached to it. Together, they tell the story of God’s reaching down to humankind to give us a hand.Dr. Jeffrey Seif

In Paul’s day too many creepy ideas were creeping into the movement, prompting him to sometimes tender a sharp rebuke. While he and other Emissaries (Apostles) were living and breathing, they could lend their voices and bend their constituents to make proper theological choices. After their passing, the next question was: Who would speak after they died? The answer was simple: they would, even from their graves.

It has been said “the long arm of the pen reaches beyond the grave.” Though Paul–and the other Emissaries/Apostles–died years ago, they still maintain a voice in the land of the living, today. Their place in history was secured because their writings were collected in the second century AD/CE, thus insuring that the Apostolic office could continue to guide believers long past the passing of the official officers themselves. The collection was grafted into the Hebrew Scriptures, much like non-Jews were grafted into the olive tree. The Old Testament is an arm and the New Testament is a hand attached to it. Together, they tell the story of God’s reaching down to humankind to give us a hand.

About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Seif

Dr. Jeffrey Seif

Dr. Jeffrey Seif serves as the Project Manager and Chief Theologian of the Tree of Life Version Translation. A college teacher since 1989, he teaches adjunct at Christ for the Nations Institute and currently holds the title "University Distinguished Professor of Bible and Jewish Studies" at The King's University.​ Professor Seif has authored many books and has appeared on many television programs, teaching from and about the Middle East. Dr. Seif is a graduate of the North Texas Regional Police Academy (BCAPS), holds a Th.B. from Trinity and an M.T.S. and D.Min. from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX.

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