Why are there only 66 books in the Bible?
A concise history of the books of the Bible.
The Bible consists of two parts: The Old Testament (OT) which has 39 books and the New Testament which has 27 books. The people of God (mainly the people of Israel), who lived before Jesus came to earth, agreed that the 39 books in the OT were the words of God, because many of the prophecies it contained were fulfilled before Jesus was born. They perceived that God spoke to them through the centuries in many ways. Jesus and Paul (the apostle) also accepted that the Torah (the first 5 books of the OT), the Prophets and the Psalms (Writings) were inspired by God and God’s true words (2 Timothy 3:16; Luke 24:27, 44).
The Greek Translation of the OT, called the Septuagint, written three centuries before Jesus was born, contained the books we have today in the OT. Jesus and the apostles never quoted from the “Apocryphal books”. The Apocryphal books were written after Malachi, the last book in our OT. Some churches have a high view of the Apocryphal books, but Jesus and the apostles certainly did not and never quoted from them. After Jesus rose from the dead, He referred to the Torah, the Prophets and Psalms as the Scriptures that testified about His miraculous life, death and resurrection (Luke 24:25-27, 44).
The same applies to the New Testament (NT). All the books in the NT were written while all, some or one of the 12 apostles of Jesus were still living. Many other books were written during the time of the early church and many of them contained truths about God and His will for humanity. But the early church didn’t believe they were in the same category (as authoritative) as the 27 books we have today in the NT. Only those books that were written while the apostles were still alive (in the apostolic tradition) or written by one of them, or written under the direction of one of them, were considered to be canonized (authorised) as Holy Scripture (God’s authoritative words).
This is so because the 12 apostles literally lived and walked with Jesus. They could check whether the words that had been written down were really God’s (or Jesus’) words. In other words, other books that were written in the early church period after all the apostles died were not considered to have the same value or authority as the ones, we find today in the NT. We call the Scriptures (books) of the Bible, canonical books. That means they serve as a yardstick, as “The yardstick” and “The measuring rod” and standard to measure truth from falsehood. They are God’s standards for justice and salvation, given for us to know the true God and His will for our lives.
The early church didn’t decide on their own authority to include these books as Holy Scripture, they merely recognized these books to be God’s words. These books had authority and authenticity in themselves. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, bore witness that these books are the true words of God given by God to guide and rule our lives. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide His people into the truth and remind the disciples of what He had told them while He lived with them on earth (John 14:26; John 16:13,14). Therefore, we believe the Holy Spirit led the early church (from about 33AD to 367AD) to compile the authoritative words of God found in the NT. The OT canon was already fixed at that time.
The early church, church leaders and church fathers agreed and believed that the 27 books we have today in the NT are God’s words and that these books are enough and sufficient to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15). In the year 367AD Athanasius, a church Father, compiled the list of 27 books we have in the NT today and it was widely accepted by the churches in the known world. They were led by the Holy Spirit to agree that the 66 books we have in the Bible today are the word of God and that these are sufficient for us to know God and to discern truth from falsehood. God gave his church (His people) the Spirit of Truth to enable them to recognize the true books He had given them (that were written by the hands of his apostles) about three centuries earlier (John 14:26; John 15:26, 27).
This recognition by the church took about three centuries because in those days churches were scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and most churches were persecuted because they were viewed as enemies of the state of the ruling Roman Empire. It was only after the church experienced peace during and after the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine that the churches were able to come together in different church councils and agree together which books of God were to be considered as canonical (authoritative). But even before the year 313 when Constantine became Emperor, most churches and church leaders agreed that the majority of the books in the present NT are God’s Holy and authoritative words.
So, God has preserved for us a Book to live by, to guide us, to direct us and to teach us His character and ways so that we can be united to Him in this life and for eternity. Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will never pass away”. Jesus also said, ‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17, 18).’ Jesus also said in John 10:35, ‘the Scriptures cannot be broken.”
Read: 2 Timothy 3:16; Luke 24:25-27, 44; John 14:26; John 16:13, 14; John 15:26, 27; 2 Timothy 3:15; Matthew 24:35; Matthew 5:17, 18; John 10:35.