How old is the Bible? That’s a complicated question. The Bible was written by multiple authors inspired by the Holy Spirit (“God-breathed”). Around forty people write the sixty-six books of the Bible over at least 1500 years. So, when asking how old the Bible is, we can answer the question in several ways:
- Whan was the oldest book of the Bible written?
- When was the Old Testament completed?
- When was the New Testament completed?
- When was the entire Bible accepted by the church as being completed?
Age of the Bible
The age of the entire Bible spans from when the first writer wrote the first book to when its last writer finished the most recent book. What’s the oldest book in the Bible? The two contenders are Genesis and Job.
Moses wrote the book of Genesis sometime between 970 to 836 BC, possibly based on earlier documents (see explanation in the next section).
When was Job written? The man Job probably lived at some time between the flood and the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Job describes creatures that may have been dinosaurs. It was before Moses established the priesthood because Job himself offered sacrifices like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did. Whoever authored the book of Job probably wrote it not long after his death. Job, probably the earliest book in the Bible, may have been written as early as 2000 BC.
The most recent books of the Bible are in the New Testament: 1, II, and III John and the Book of Revelation. The apostle John wrote these books from around 90 to 96 AD.
Thus, from beginning to end, it took about two millennia to write the Bible, so its most recent books are almost two thousand years old and the oldest book may be four thousand years old.
First five books of the Bible
The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They are sometimes called the Pentateuch, which means five books. The Bible calls these books the Law of Moses (Joshua 8:31). The Jews call these five books the Torah (teachings).
The Bible tells us that Moses wrote down the history of the exodus from Egypt and the laws and instructions God gave him (Exodus 17:14, 24:4, 34:27, Numbers 33:2, Joshua 8:31). These are the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Moses wrote those four books between the exodus from Egypt and his death forty years later.
The exodus was around 1446 BC (possible range between 1454 to 1320 BC). How do we know that date? 1 Kings 6:1 tells us that King Solomon laid the foundation for the new temple in the 4th year of his reign, which was 480 years after the Israelites came out of Egypt. When did Solomon come to the throne? Most scholars believe it was around 970-967 BC, but possibly as late as 836 BC, depending on how one calculates the Biblical chronology.
Thus, books 2 through 5 of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) were written during a forty-year span beginning at some point between 1454-1320.
But what about the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible? Who wrote it, and when? The ancient Jews always included Genesis with the other four books of the Torah. They called all five books “The Law of Moses” or “The Book of Moses” as the New Testament does. Yet, the events in Genesis happened hundreds of years before Moses lived. Did God divinely dictate the book of Genesis to Moses, or did Moses combine and edit earlier accounts?
Archeology informs us that the Sumerians and Akkadians used cuneiform writing long before Abraham was born. Abraham grew up in a wealthy family in the bustling Sumerian capital of Ur, probably the world’s largest city at that time, with about 65,000 people. Hundreds of cuneiform tablets dating back to Abraham’s day and much earlier show the Sumerians were writing law codes, epic poetry, and administrative records. Although the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it, Abraham probably knew how to write or could have employed a scribe.
The first man, Adam, was still alive for the first 243 years of Methuselah’s life (Genesis 5). Methuselah was Noah’s grandfather and lived to be 969 years old, dying in the year of the flood. The genealogies in Genesis 9 and 11 indicate that Noah was still alive for the first 50 years of Abraham’s life. This means we have a direct link of four people from creation to Abraham (Adam – Methuselah – Noah – Abraham), who could have passed down the Bible’s earliest history.
The accounts of creation, the fall, the flood, the tower of Babel, and the genealogies could have been passed down orally from Adam to Abraham and very possibly written down in Abraham’s time in the 1800s BC or even earlier.
The Hebrew word toledoth (translated as “account” or “generations”) appears in Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2 following key passages of history. It seems to be eleven separate accounts. This strongly suggests that Moses was working with written documents preserved by the patriarchs, especially since Genesis 5:1 says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”
When was the Old Testament written?
As mentioned above, what is probably the oldest book (Job) was written at an unknown time, but perhaps as early as 2000 BC.
The last book in the Bible to be written was probably Nehemiah around 424-400 BC.
When was the entire Old Testament accepted as being completed? This brings us to the canon, which means a collection of scripture given by God. By the time of Jesus, the Jewish priests had decided that the books we now have in the Old Testament were the canon – divine books from God. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus listed these books, saying no one has ventured to add or subtract from them.
When was the New Testament written?
As with the Old Testament, the New Testament was written over a period of years by many writers under inspiration from God. However, the period wasn’t as long – only around 50 years.
The earliest book to be written was probably the book of James, thought to be written between 44-49 AD, and Paul likely authored the book of Galatians between 49 to 50 AD. The last book to be written was probably Revelation, written by John between 94 to 96 AD.
By around 150 AD, the church accepted most of the 27 books in the New Testament as divinely given by God. And the New Testament writers even mention other parts of the New Testament as scripture. Peter spoke of Paul’s letters as scripture (2 Peter 3:16). Paul spoke of Luke’s Gospel as scripture (1 Timothy 5:18, referring to Luke 10:17). The 382 AD Council of Rome affirmed the 27 books we have today as the New Testament canon.
Is the Bible the oldest book in the world?
The Mesopotamians used a pictograph writing system for record-keeping, which developed into cuneiform. They began writing history and stories around 2300 BC.
The Eridu Genesis is a Sumerian account of the flood written around 2300 BC. It includes the ark with pairs of animals.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Mesopotamian legend that also refers to the flood, and clay tablets with parts of the story date to around 2100 BC.
As mentioned above, Moses probably collated and edited the book of Genesis based on earlier documents that may have been written around the same time as the Mesopotamian accounts. Also, we’re not sure when Job was written, but it could also have been around 2000 BC.
How does the Bible compare to other ancient documents?
Genesis’s beautiful and orderly creation account differs dramatically from the bizarre and macabre Babylonian creation story: the Enuma Elish. In the Babylonian version, the god Apsu and his wife Tiamat created all the other gods. But they were too noisy, so Apsu decided to kill them. But when the young god Enki heard this, he killed Apsu first. Tiamat vowed to destroy the gods herself, but Enki’s son Marduk, who had hurricane powers, blew her up, sliced her like a fish, and formed the sky and earth with her body.
Some liberal scholars say Moses essentially copied the Biblical laws from the law code of the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who ruled from 1792 to 1750 BC. How similar are they?
They have a few comparable laws – such as an “eye for an eye” regarding personal injury.
Some laws sound similar, but the punishment is much different. For instance, they both have a law about two men fighting, and one of them hits a pregnant woman. Hammurabi’s law said if the mother died, the daughter of the man who injured her would be killed. Moses’ law said the man himself had to die (Exodus 21:22-23). Moses also said: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)
Although both codes had a handful of similar laws, most of the Law of Moses regulated spiritual things, like not worshiping idols, the sacred festivals, and the priesthood. Hammurabi didn’t include anything of this nature. He had many laws regarding professions like physicians, barbers, and construction workers, which the Law of Moses says nothing about.
The importance of the Bible
The Bible is the most important book you could ever read. It provides eyewitness accounts of events that changed the world – such as Jesus’ death and resurrection, God giving the law to Moses, and the accounts of the apostles and the early church.
The Bible tells you everything you need to know about sin, how to be saved, and how to live a victorious life. The Bible tells us God’s will for our lives, such as taking the Gospel to all the world. It explains true holiness and how we must put on our spiritual armor to defeat the devil and his demons. It guides us through the decisions and challenges of life. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)
The Bible tells us about God’s nature, how and why He created us, and how and why He provided for our salvation. The Bible is “sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12).
How to read the Bible daily?
Sadly, many Christians rarely pick up a Bible or pull it up on their phone. Perhaps the only time is in church. Other Christians rely on a daily devotional with a Bible verse at the top and a paragraph or two about the verse. While there’s nothing wrong with devotionals, believers need in-depth Bible reading. If we only read a verse here or there, we aren’t seeing it in context, which matters a great deal in understanding the verse. And we probably miss about 80% of what’s in the Bible.
Thus, engaging in the daily systematic reading of the Scripture is vital. You might want to take advantage of “Read the Bible in a Year” plans, which are great for getting the whole picture, although they might be overwhelming for someone just starting out.
Here’s the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, which reads from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms or Gospels daily. You can pull this up on your phone with the scriptures for daily reading and choose which translation to use: https://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/mcheyne/next?version=NIV
Bible Hub’s “Read the Bible in a Year” plan has one chronological reading in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament for each day. You can read whatever version you want on your phone or other device: https://biblehub.com/reading/
If you want to go at a slower pace or do a more in-depth study, here are multiple options: https://www.ligonier.org/posts/bible-reading-plans
It’s essential to read the Bible from cover to cover regularly, whether it takes one year or several years. It’s also important to think about what you’re reading and meditate on it. Some people find journaling helpful for reflecting on what the passage means. As you read, ask questions like:
- What is this passage teaching me about the nature of God?
- What does the reading tell me about God’s will?
- Is there a command to follow? A sin I need to repent of?
- Is there a promise to claim?
- Are there instructions about my relationships with others?
- What does God want me to know? Do I need to change my thinking about something?
- How does this passage lead me in the worship of God? (Especially in the Psalms)
Although the Bible was written thousands of years ago, it is the most relevant book to what’s happening in your life and your world today that you will ever read. The Bible tells you what will happen in the future and how to prepare. It guides you in how to live now. It gives stories from the past to instruct and inspire. It teaches you everything you need to know about knowing God and making Him known!