The word “Bible” originally comes from the Latin “BIBLIA” which means “books.” This word, in turn, comes from the Greek “BIBLION,” which refers to “paper, papyrus, or a scroll.” The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books or letters, sort of like a mini “bibliotheca” (or library) in one volume!
As mentioned in a previous article, by the time the apostle Peter had written his second letter (around 67 AD), most, if not all, of Paul’s letters had already been written and distributed among the churches. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter clearly indicates that he regarded Paul’s writings as having the same importance as “other Scriptures.” This fact stands out even more when we consider that Paul was the writer of thirteen or fourteen books of the New Testament.
Paul himself refers to what he had written as “the Lord’s commandment” (1 Corinthians 14:37, NASB) and told the Christians in Thessalonica to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
In 1 Timothy 5:18, where Paul says, “The laborer deserves his wages,” he is actually citing Luke 10:7. What is even more impressive is that he calls what Luke wrote “Scripture,” thus putting it on the same level of importance as Deuteronomy 25:4. What all this means is that Luke’s gospel was already in circulation when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy (62-64 AD) and had already been recognized as the word of God!
The answer to our question as to which books should be regarded as “Scripture” also lies, at least in part, in the spiritual gifts that God gave to faithful Christians when the church was in its infancy (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). One of these gifts was the “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10), or the miraculous ability to distinguish between a true and false prophet. This would also apply to any letters or books written by such prophets. (Compare 1 John 2:20,27.)
It wasn’t necessary to wait until Pope Damasus’ commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible (c. 383 AD) in order to know which letters were of God which ones were false. Likewise, mankind didn’t have to wait until the Council of Trent (1545-1563 AD) in order to know which letters should be considered as inspired and which letters shouldn’t.
Before the New Testament had been completed, our omnipotent and loving God provided a way by which the early Christians could discern between true and false teaching. After its completion (c. 96 AD), one could “test the spirits” (or prophets) by comparing their teachings and/or writings with what had been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude, the eight inspired writers of the New Testament.
The apostle John wrote: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. … Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1,6).
In 2019 things have not changed. God still wants Christians to “test the spirits” by comparing all religious teachings with what has been written by the apostles and prophets of the first century.