Why did we stop writing the Bible?

Pardon me if this one has been covered before, I still haven’t worked a subscription into my budget. Seriously though, why did we up and decide to stop adding to the Bible around 1900 years ago? It seems to me the Old Testament was a written history of the Jewish people that rabbis could use as a reference or precedent when faced with an ethical issue. The underlying principle being that by studying what we have done in the past we can make better decisions for what to do in the present and future. It seems like a pretty logical concept to me at least. It seems though we’re missing an official church record of the last third of our history. Whats the deal? Have the last 19 centuries been that inconsequential? Shouldn’t someone be keeping tabs on this sorta thing? Flame me or help me out, I’m open to anything.

When the texts were written, the authors didn’t know they were writing part of something called “The Bible.” The different books of the bible were originally separate works which were canonized by religious authorities. People continued to write and keep track of history, but no further works were added to the collection. It should also be noted that different denominations have variations in which books they consider part of the Bible.
More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Canon

I guess the next question might be why Christian churches have not been gradually incorporating more works into the Bible. My guess is that Christians consider that giving an account of the life and teachings of Jesus is the main purpose of the Bible, so no more books are necessary.

Think of the detail in the Old Testament - how could the trials and tribulations of all Christian groups all over the world be kept in one small book? It was possible then because the Hebrews that the O.T. is based on were a few small groups living in a very specific part of the world.

It’s a mixed bag for the answer, phantomshrek. Some denominations believe that God is still talking to humanity. And a few Christian denomina tions have collections of scripture they call The Bible that differ somewhat from the Protestant or the Roman Catholic Bibles.

See: Who wrote the Bible (Part 5)

Basically, the story is the same for both Jews and Christians, although in a different time frame. For Jews, there were lots and lots of scrolls being written in the period from (say) 200 BC through around 100 AD (after the destruction of the Temple.) Most of these purported to be divinely inspired, or the word of God, but they often contradicted or re-interpreted earlier texts. Some of the texts (like Maccabbees or Esther) were pretty much written in the style of Greek histories, with no direct mention of God. Thus, around the year 100 AD (I’m doing this from memory), a group of rabbis declared that THESE books were canonical and all else weren’t. Their main concern was (a) piety – a book that didn’t mention God at all was usually excluded (Esther was an exception) and (b) consistency with the main thoughts of other texts. They weren’t concerned about details, but about over-all consistency: that is, a text that said that Noah was in the ark for a month wouldn’t have been a problem (I’m making this up), but a text that said that it was OK to eat pig-meat would have been excluded.

Thus, the Jewish canon was closed so that everyone would be clear what was biblical and what wasn’t. Their decision was that revelation had been ended, there was nothing new to say. Some of the books they excluded have been long lost.

The early Christians faced much the same issues. Everyone and his uncle was writing their version of the story of Jesus. Consider the recently re-discovered “Gospel of Judas.” Each story had its own perspective, its own details, etc. They had to eliminate some as simply false, or they would have been stuck with more internal-contradictions than they were willing to deal with. Hence the Catholics declared the bible fixed and closed around 480 AD; the Greek Orthodox Church did ditto a little later.

Now, just because the Bible was closed doesn’t mean that canon law (for Christians) or rabbinic interpretations (for Jews) was fixed. The religions that accept moral and ritual laws imposed by the bible also accept the later interpretations of those laws.

Thus, for Catholics, Papal infallibility in spiritual matters is certainly NOT addressed in the bible; it’s part of later interpretation. For Jews, writings such as the Talmud and later rabbinic interpretations are ditto.

Diogenes and others will be upon this in a minute to make this more clear – but the bottom-line is in the case of the “New Testament” the process certainly didn’t stop 1900 years ago.

The earliest complete copies we have are from hundreds after this and remember the “official Bible” TM was stamped on the 27-book canon in the 4th century. Even after that translations differed – sometimes things were added purposely, sometimes accidentally – so that even today different translations/editions Bibles say different things. So I would say to the OP: We are still writing the Bible - because we will always go back to these differing copies and translate a word differently “more correctly” we would say, or say this 11th Translation is obviously closer to the original … and add it to the New Revised International Edition VIII. It is likely that this process will continue. Were you to read in Konine Greek an edition of the gospel of Mathew from the 10th Century, and a standard Wycliffe English version from 2000 & you would see we are still (re-)writing the Bible.

An excellent question, phantomshrek, and one I’ve been pondering myself of late. It would be interesting to see what the Gospel of Joan would contain, for example!

I think part of the problem is that there wasn’t a whole lot of literacy in the Christian World after the fall of Rome, at least by modern standards- and so there were comparatively fewer people writing for their views/interpretations to end up as part of the Bible.

Interestingly, Walter M. Miller’s book A Canticle For Leibowitz seems to imply that there are “new” books in the Bible by the time the third part of the book rolls around, set in the 32nd century or therabouts. It’s not explicitly stated (at least IIRC), but it was certainly the impression I came away with after reading it…

I suspect some denominations are more open to the idea of additions to the Bible than others, though…

OKMFDOA and C.K. have already pretty much nailed it. Nobody ever consciously set out to write a “Bible” in the first place. The process of Canonization, both in terms of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian “Old and New” Testaments was an attempt to close the door on which texts should be considered authoritative for those respective faiths and to spare themselves the headaches which could be caused (especially in the first couple of centuries of Christianity) by the endless proliferation of new texts which could vary wildly both in their theology and in their interpretations of prior texts (again, this was especially true for early Christianity).

Jimmmy is right that even the Canonical texts have still undergone alteration and redaction but the goal of canonization was to at least stop the addition of whole new texts which might contradict (sometimes quite radically) the core doctrines that both Rabbinical Judaism and the proto-orthodox Christian churches were trying to establish and preserve.

I guess the short answer to the OP is that new books are not added to the Bible is because that was exactly the point of canonizing a Bible.

I guess it should be mentioned that at least one prominent Christian church has added significantly to what they regard as Christian Canon, though (Book of Mormon).

I’d even consider adding the Koran to the list of books that the OP has not considered. Depending on what the OP meant by “we”, the Koran is yet another addition to the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition. The Koran doesn’t literally include any biblical texts, but it does retell many of the same stories. From the perspective of a Muslim, the Jewish and Christian sacred texts represent “corruptions” of the true message of God, and the Koran is the correct version.

Thanks for all the help but certain things still eat at me. For example even if you include the Koranic and Mormon texts, that still leaves over a thousand years of human history that apparently has no divine relevance whatsoever. Is God napping? Is he out to lunch? (Take that in the American or British context) Has he decided we’re not worth the trouble?
Further more lets look at the volume of the volumes in question. My copies of the cannonical Bible (NIV), the Book of Mormon, and the Holy Koran stand roughly six inches tall stacked. If you include the various Apocrypha maybe a solid foot. These are the books which are supposed to be the guiding reference for all humanity at least those who subscribe to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions.
My profession (helicopter maintnance) has its own “bible”. My book has dozens of volumes which, when stacked, stands roughly five to six feet high. Half again or more if you include references for inflight operations. How can one machine require six times the instructions and guidance than all of human existance?
I understand that trying to compile a religious history for the billion plus adherents of the Judeo-Christian faiths would be an enormous undertaking, but if it were important enough to start doing isn’t it someting we should maintain?
I realize I am ignorant in this regard, thats why I’m bringin it up. I hope someone can shed some light on it for me. Maybe someone in the faith will see things my way and start writing, compiling, and editing again. Maybe someone will impart a nugget of wisdom to help me understand why it’s not necessary. I’m open to your thoughts.

The theology is regarded as complete. The history is already chronicled.

You may be looking at this from a different perspective than most religions. The Scriptures are rarely considered technical manuals. They set out the principles of action with some demonstrative stories that reinforce or explain those principles rather than setting out the details to handle every possible action. Stick and Rudder is a substantially smaller work than the manual to identify every fastening and the torque pressures permitted to join them on an aircraft.

In one sense, you are right that religious people recognize the need to elaborate on more detailed instructions. In Judaism, these take the form of the Talmud, the Midrash, and other commentaries on Scripture. (Believe me, those are a whole lot thicker than six inches.) In Christianity, we have the commentaries of the Fathers of the Church (The Patristics), following which we have the declarations (and sometimes the minutes) of the Councils and some synods. The RCC, has, beyond that, Papal Bulls and Encyclicals. All these amount to walls stuffed with bookshelves.

However, what has been set aside as Scripture are the writings that were/are considered core teachings that would set forth the principles that could be applied to any later events or phenomena that were encountered. The Bible has nothing to say directly on stem cell research, but religious groups will look to the principles set forth in whatever core teachings they have and deduce what they believe God would have wanted. (Only those who believe that God “dictated” Scriptures–a fairly small, if vocal, group–believe that that is any different than the ways in which Scripture was written, originally.) People outside (the) religion will claim that the church is simply making it up as it goes along while people inside (the) religion will hold that that is the way that God works in the world. For that, there is no resolution.

The point of a scriptural canon is not to chronicle history but to define an authoritative guiding text (or set of texts) for use in understanding and following a given faith. The texts may include some history, but that history is supposed to be instructive. If it is believed that everything necessary to know about a faith is contained within the Canon then there is no reason to add more history to it. Any further history might be interesting, worth recording, and indeed IS recorded, but there just isn’t any reason to add it to canon if that canon is already believed to be theologically complete.

1.As the early Christians thought the Kingdom of God was just round the corner (as Jesus may have) - then there was no need or time to add anything.
2. The Catholic Church in the west had for hundreds of years a monopoly on written religious texts. It was not going to allow anything new that might threaten its position. It of course added its own loose “Talmud” in the various Papal encyclicals, cannons etc.
3. As an atheist the third point doesnt even need to be spelled out


sorry being a bit smart - as an atheist all religion is man made and hence not always amenable to rational analysis as the OP is hoping- not a GQ response

There is a branch of Christian thought that says (essentially) just that - that God’s will, as revealed in the Protestant canon, is complete and perfect; and therefore that he no longer speaks directly to his people. I thought it was part of the Dispensationalist doctrine, but can find no reference to it on the Wikipedia page.

Needless to say, this is not a view held by all Christians - many believe that they gain daily, personal revelation from God, some have been written down and published, others remain private. I doubt that any would dare to elevate their writings to the level of Biblical canon, and this is one of the main sticking points between “mainstream” Christianity and the LDS church.



…There are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

  • John 21:25

Not that smart. As written, it looks like “all region” is “an atheist” or “the third point” is “an atheist”.

*As an atheist the third point doesnt even need to be spelled out.
As an athetist, I believe that the third point doesn’t even need to be spelled out.

As an atheist, all religion is man made.
As an athetist, I believe that all all religion is made made.*

athetist? Is that a type of atheist?. Also I used “smart” in the perjorative sense. I suspect you are saying I should have used the words “I believe” in the sentences - life is too short especially on line - almost every sentence in the SD forums would need that in that case

Diogenes and tomndebb have given good responses. I’ve been thinking about why it seems “right” to me that the canon is closed, and I’m thinking that, rather than having one persuasive answer, several factors come together for me.

First, what do I look for in the Bible? Instruction and guidance are certainly there, and I take them seriously, but I take them seriously because I believe that the Bible is first of all a glimpse of a handful of “defining moments” in God’s relationship with humanity. Recognizing (and, for the moment, choosing not to address) issues of historicity, the Old Testament centers upon the defining moments of the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the life of God’s people in the Land, and the Exile and its aftermath. The New Testament centers upon Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the immediate aftermath. The claim I would affirm is that, in these moments, something qualitatively remarkable is happening. So I would not expect “more Bible” unless God had intervened again in a way comparable to the Incarnation and the resurrection of the dead. One reason I would not expect “more Bible” is that I do not see the Bible as primarily an instruction manual. It contains guidance; it does not reduce to guidance. (Some other forms of piety would indeed see the Bible as primarily “basic instructions”; I disagree with this assessment, on a rather fundamental level.)

Another perspective: theologians sometimes distinguish between “norma normans” (the “norm which critiques other norms”) and “norma normata” (the lesser norms which are themselves critiqued). So, I’d take quite seriously other analyses and accounts from Christian and Jewish history; but they’d all be “norma normata,” subject to cross-checking against the Bible.
For example, I draw a great deal of help from the writings of the Church Fathers (first four centuries of the Christian era) and from the 16th century Lutheran Confessions. I find them illuminating. I recognize a responsibility to them. But I would also submit them to a “reality check” against the Bible; and not vice versa.

A further point would be that, in our present state of division, writings which are seen as peculiarly illuminating in one community may not be thought of so highly in another. I greatly respect Luther’s Small Catechism; and, in the community I’m a part of, it has high status as a “norma normata.” In other communities it would be unknown. Historically, the canon of the New Testament arose from the growing recognition that across the Mediterranean world most Christian communities in practice agreed on which books they took to be authoritative. It was not imposed, but grew out of what communities were actually reading in worship. There’s very little since the Middle Ages which has that kind of cross-community status among Christians.

So in terms either of uniquely authoritative status or the way in which the text defines authentic Christian community, I don’t see any particular reason to expect supplements to the Bible.

That doesn’t in any way mean that other records are unimportant. Earlier posts list many which, in various communities, are of great importance indeed: the Talmud, the Rabbinic tradition, the canons of the Ecumenical Councils, the dogmas postulated by the Bishop of Rome. I’d add the creeds, the Confessional documents of different Protestant communities, catechisms, liturgies, familiar prayers, hymns … there’s rather a lot. The attempt to learn from the Bible and our experience continues. But I would see myself responsible to the Bible in a way qualitatively different from the way in which I respect these.