When Was the Bible Assembled?

The Old Testament Was Already Put Together by the Time of Jesus

ancient bible manuscripts
Ancient Bible manuscripts displayed at the "Book of Books" exhibition in Jerusalem. Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

Determining when the Bible was written poses challenges because it isn't a single book. It's a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors over more than 2,000 years.

So there are two ways to answer the question, "When was the Bible written?" The first is to identify the original dates for each of the Bible's 66 books. The second, the focus here is to describe how and when all 66 books were collected in a single volume.

The Short Answer

We can say with some certainty that the first widespread edition of the Bible was assembled by St. Jerome around A.D. 400. This manuscript included all 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament in the same language: Latin. This edition of the Bible is commonly referred to as The Vulgate.

Jerome wasn't the first to select all 66 books we know today as the Bible. He was the first to translate and compile everything into a single volume.

In the Beginning

The first step in assembling the Bible involves the 39 books of the Old Testament, also referred to as the Hebrew Bible. Beginning with Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Bible, these books were written over the centuries by prophets and leaders. By the time of Jesus and his disciples, the Hebrew Bible had already been established as 39 books. This was what Jesus meant when he referred to "the Scriptures."

After the early church was established, people such as Matthew started writing historical records of Jesus' life and ministry, which became known as the Gospels. Church leaders such as Paul and Peter wanted to provide direction for the churches they established, so they wrote letters that were circulated throughout congregations in different regions. We call these the Epistles.

A century after the launch of the church, hundreds of letters and books explained who Jesus was and what he did and how to live as his follower. It became clear that some of these writings weren't authentic. Church members began to ask which books should be followed and which ignored.​ 

Finishing the Process

Eventually, Christian church leaders worldwide gathered to answer major questions, including which books should be regarded as "Scripture." These gatherings included the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, which decided a book should be included in the Bible if it was:

  • Written by one of Jesus' disciples, someone who was a witness to Jesus' ministry, such as Peter, or someone who interviewed witnesses, such as Luke.
  • Written in the first century A.D., meaning that books written long after the events of Jesus' life and the first decades of the church weren't included.
  • Consistent with other portions of the Bible known to be valid, meaning the book couldn't contradict a trusted element of Scripture.

After a few decades of debate, these councils largely settled which books should be included in the Bible. A few years later, all were published by Jerome in a single volume.

By the time the first century A.D. ended, most of the church had agreed on which books should be considered Scripture. The earliest church members took guidance from the writings of Peter, Paul, Matthew, John, and others. The later councils and debates were largely useful in weeding out inferior books that claimed the same authority.