Look at the drawing “From Oral Tradition to Canon” as I try to explain how the Bible with its Old and New Testaments came into being.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament developed along similar lines. But the Old Testament took a much longer time to develop.
Both Testaments began as an oral tradition.
Many of the stories we find in the Old Testament were memorized, told, and retold by illiterate tribal storytellers for at least 1,000 years before they were put into writing. That means that these oral stories began some 4500 years ago.
After the Jewish people entered the Promised Land and after King David had defeated the Philistines, peace made it possible for the people to live in cities and towns. The old tribal system that existed before King David was beginning to fall apart. Their storytellers were beginning to die, and no new storytellers were coming along to replace them.
Because King David was concerned that these Bible stories would be lost forever, he hired scribes to travel into the countryside where the tribal storytellers lived. The scribes wrote down every story that the various storytellers knew about their people.
The process of putting these stories into written form began around the year 950 B.C. It took another 200 years for the Jewish people to collect, combine/merge, and piece together all existing stories into one story.
After this time period, we have additional books written for or by various prophets.
Canon refers to the books selected to be in the Bible. The Old Testament books had to be judged as to their truth and spiritual value. After the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Pharisees concentrated on collecting all known books. Then they held the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. to decide which books should be considered Jewish Holy Scripture and the books that form our Old Testament and their Torah or Hebrew Scripture.
New Testament writing began about 46 or 48 A.D. with the letters of Paul. Before Paul’s letters, the gospel message was oral. Very little was in a written format. The gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four gospels and was believed to have been written between 64 and 75 A.D. This time period includes the war and the destruction of the Temple. The gospel of John was the last one written. It could have been written as early as 90 A.D. and as late as 120 A.D.
Even though the process of developing the New Testament was much shorter and covered events that happened in less than 100 years (as compared to more than 2,000 years for the Old Testament), both the Old and New Testaments went through the same process from Oral Tradition to Written Form, then Collected and Edited to become Canon.
In 382 A.D., the Council of Rome vetted, accepted, and adopted the New Testament books in our Bible.
The New and Old Testaments are considered the Holy Scripture and Bible for the Christian Church.