Shelf Life Book Review: Formation of the Bible

Elliot Ritzema

Formation of the Bible: the Story of the Church's Canon
Hendrickson, 2012

From the popularity of The Da Vinci Code to the works of Bart Ehrman, there is widespread interest in how the Bible took shape. Lee Martin McDonald has written several books on the formation of the Christian Bible, but this is his first attempt at an accessible introduction to the subject.


In the first chapter, McDonald sets the stage by discussing what the Bible is. He emphasizes, for example, that the Bible is a library of ancient books. The idea of a fixed canon was not something Christians inherited from the Jewish people, but rather one that emerged during the first Christian centuries. In the following chapters, he tells the story of how the canon took shape, beginning with the Old Testament and moving to the New Testament. He discusses the criteria the Church used to determine what would be included in the canon and the different canonical collections that emerged in various Christian traditions. He also addresses other subjects, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient manuscripts, and their influence in the formation of the Bible. Finally, he discusses what role church councils played in canon formation.

This book serves well as a short introduction to the issue of how the Bible came to be. While it is written with the beginner in mind, some of the discussions can be heady. McDonald does a good job at striking the balance between making a difficult subject accessible without oversimplifying.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4