Opinions on faith and life

The Bible Canon

2004-06-01

from http://www.bible-origin.com as of June 2004

When examining Bible origin, many of today’s liberal scholars look everywhere but the Bible. However, the Bible tells us that the origin of the Bible is God Himself. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read that all scripture is inspired by God. The Greek word used for inspiration is theopneustos , which means “God-breathed.” In 2 Peter 1:21, we understand that each writer was “carried along” by God. Therefore, God used each of the Bible’s 40 authors, including their diverse cultural backgrounds, personalities and positions, to deliver His divine Word to all mankind.

Bible Origin - The Word of God

It seems that the question of Bible origin turns on the truth of its divine inspiration. In Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39; and Hebrews 10:7, Jesus says that what was written about him in the Old Testament would come to pass. Romans 3:2 and Hebrews 5:12 refer to the Old Testament as the Word of God. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “ This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit.” This is confirmed in 2 Timothy 3:16. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul when referring to that which he had written says, “ ... you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God...” Peter speaks of the inspiration of Paul’s writings in 2 Peter 3:15-16, where he maintains that, “ ...Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters...” Earlier, in 2 Peter 1:21 Peter writes, “ For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along [moved] by the Holy Spirit.” And then finally in Revelation 22:18,19 the writer John, referring to the book of Revelation states, “...if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life...”.

“The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. However, it was not written by good men, because good men would not tell lies by saying ’Thus saith the Lord’; it was not written by bad men because they would not write about doing good duty, while condemning sin, and themselves to hell; thus, it must be written by divine inspiration.” (Charles Wesley, McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict , 1990:178).
Bible Origin - Authenticity of New Testament Scripture

2 Peter 3:16, the writer takes for granted that Paul’s letters were already considered inspired scripture on the same level as the Old Testament. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul joins an Old Testament reference and a New Testament reference and calls them both Scripture. The need for official canonization of the New Testament scriptures only came about because of certain heresies that were being spread throughout the church starting in the mid to late second century. For instance, Marcion created his own religion by only teaching from ten of Paul’s letters and certain portions of Luke. In addition, the Gnostics, especially in Alexandria, were introducing new “secrets” to the standard Christian doctrine, including new gospel accounts altogether.

For the church leaders in the mid second century, the four Gospels were baseline authority in their teachings. In about 170 AD, Irenaeus cited 23 of the 27 New Testament books, omitting only Philemon, James, 2 Peter and 3 John. The Muratorian fragment, written about the same time, attests to the widespread use of all the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 2 Peter. However, other church fathers had already cited those omitted books in various writings defending against Gnostic doctrines. The Codex Barococcio from 206 AD includes 64 of the 66 books of today’s Bible. Esther and Revelation were omitted, but they had already been declared as inspired scripture by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian and the Muratorian Canon. In 230 AD, Origen declared that all Christians acknowledged as scripture the four Gospels, Acts, the epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation.

By the early 300’s, all of the New Testament books were being used in the mainstream church body. In 367 AD, Athanasius formally circulated the Easter Letter that listed all 27 books as canonical. The Synod of Hippo (393 AD) and the third Synod of Carthage (397 AD) also recognized these 27 books as canonical. In addition, during this time, the highly influential church fathers Jerome (340-420 AD) and Augustine (354-430 AD) published their lists of 27 books, completing the New Testament.

It’s important to remember that the canon of the New Testament was not the result of any pronouncement by any official of the church or any organizational body. Rather, the canon was determined by the authoritative use of these books right from the start by the rapidly expanding church of the first and second centuries. The New Testament canon was merely a process of formal recognition of already recognized scripture, to defend against the various forms of Gnosticism and heresy that were starting to creep throughout the ever-expanding church.

My Comments

The Bible does quote external sources but that fact alone isn’t what makes them Scripture. It’s who is being quoted and why that matters. For example, in Paul’s speech to the Greeks on Mars Hill he quotes one of their poets. Does that mean that the Greek poet’s saying should be considered scripture? In the same way, should any other writing be considered scripture just because a NT writer quotes it?

Note on the canon and the Roman Catholic Church

The RCC didn’t originally consider the apocrypha scripture but later changed their minds, largely to justify a few specific dogmas that violate inspired scripture. Yet they have not thrown out any of the many scriptures that boldly contradict their teachings, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the RCC left out everything they didn’t like.

The Book of Enoch

This book has become popular recently and many feel it was wrongly excluded from the Bible canon. What is the difference between this book and others that were excluded?

The difference I see between Enoch and other non-canonical writings is that Enoch is specifically called a prophet in Jude 14. However, this is the only quote I’m aware of, which hardly justifies the entire Book of Enoch being considered scripture. After all, I’m sure other OT prophets said more than what was recorded, but only that which was spoken “in the name of the Lord” was considered scripture.

Similarly, the NT quotes another prophet named Agabus (Acts 11:28 and 21:10). Yet to my knowledge no books were written about or by him. If they had, should these writings have been added to the canon? His prophecies were acknowledged as being from the Lord, but no other records of Agabus are cited or called scripture.

Since Enoch was very ancient (the 7th from Adam) I would think the Jews would have preserved his “book” with the same care and devotion as all the other scriptures. Why was this book not given scriptural status by either the Jews or NT writers? Is it possible that the quote by Jude was the only prophecy Enoch made? Is it possible that the rest of the Book of Enoch was not spoken “in the name of the Lord”?

There is great danger in allowing another book into the canon. People will use any leverage they can to claim that God’s Word can be changed or updated. This opens the door to “modern day prophets”, visions, and all sorts of cultic claims. We are warned in Proverbs 30:6 to “not add to [God’s] words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar”. Paul said, “ But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9).

Bottom Line: The canon of Scripture is complete and final. It is the Word of God which cannot be altered, deleted, or augmented. It alone is our final authority. Other writings may be beneficial for understanding but are not authoritative scripture. I have often said that if a writing or saying agrees with the Bible we already have, I don’t need it; if it disagrees, I don’t accept it.