In the passing of time, the people opposing the authority of the Scriptures have brought up numerous accusations to the Bible, trying to discredit it. Some have stated that the Bible was not inspired in its entirety, and that it just contained the Word of God. Others have said that it was not its letter that is inspired, but that it becomes the Word of God just when it was used by the Spirit. Some others admit that the original manuscripts were inspired, but claim that since they are lost and we are in the possession only the copies of the copies, we can’t know with certainty what the originals said, the copies being corrupted in an unknown degree. And still others claim that the inspiration of the 66 books included in the Scripture has been declared by the official Church, which made a choice between the books that were to be promoted and those that were not to be promoted. Accordingly, we are indebted to the the official Church for the Bible we have, and using this Bible means to acknowledge the authority of the Church.
In order to fully trust the Scripture as being the Word of God, we have to know the answers to the claims of its critiques.
1. The Bible is not the Word of God, it only contains the Word.
This position upholds that not all the 66 books are inspired, but that they represent a mixture of divine revelation and human opinion. Who, then, makes a separation between these two? Who has the last word? Obviously, the man: he decides what is inspired and what is not, according to his own understanding and will. You don’t believe in miracles? Then, you can say that they are just the human interpretations for natural phenomena. You don’t believe in the the creation of the Universe in six literal days? Then you can say that Genesis 1-3 represents the myth of the Creation as Moses understood it. You don’t believe that God gave the Law to Moses? You can say that he inspired it from the Code of Hammurabi. But in this case there is one thing you can’t do: you can’t claim yourself a Christian and a child of God, for the Christian believes God as He revealed Himself in the Scriptures and believes His testimony about the Scriptures.
2. The Bible is not the Word of God, it only becomes the Word of God. The Bible is a common book, as all the rest of the books, but it becomes the Word of God when it is used by the Spirit and brings a spiritual benefit to its reader.
The main problem of this position is that the reader is considered as being static, and the Bible as dynamic, as being under transformation. The position of the Scripture is the opposite: the Word is static, the Bible does not change, it has been and still is inspired, and the man changes, becoming alive spiritually from dead, and what he previously considered as being a common book, then he sees as being inspired and spiritually useful.
3. The original manuscripts were, indeed, inspired by God, but they were lost and now we have access only to copies of their copies. It is obvious that in the process of copying mistakes have been done, that’s why we can’t say with certainty that what we possess today are, indeed, the inspired words of God.
Now, in the first sermon I answered to this statement and I showed that even if we do not possess the original manuscripts we can still be sure that what we have in our hands is the Word of God, as it was given to the prophets and the apostles. We will strengthen what we said then with a quote from Donald Macleod, a renowned contemporary Scottish Presbyterian:
Do not allow anyone to tell you that the text is confused. It is not! There are so many manuscripts extant that we know the exact text with a very high degree of certainty, and where we do not know with certainty, the doubt is seldom of a real theological importance. Actually, you could take the most “corrupted” manuscript and yet, what you have, is God’s Word. You could take the least criticized edition of the New Testament and it is God’s Word. And if you take an academic edition, you can know with an almost absolute certainty that you keep in your hands the exact words written by the apostles and the evangelists.
We need to mention one more thing concerning the copies of the originals. Neither Lord Jesus, nor the apostles had access to the originals. They only knew the copies of the originals and considered them as inspired Scriptures. Almost three quarters of the passages quoted by them are taken from a translation, the Septuagint (LXX) and that translation refers to the Scripture as being the Word of God. God has not promised that the original manuscripts would never pass, but that His Word, i.e., the contents of the manuscripts would last forever. God has not overseen the preserving of the original manuscripts, for in that case we could say He failed. He oversaw that His Word would stand to all attacks and would become the most spread book on Earth. His promise is being fulfilled by the copies of the manuscripts, not the original manuscripts.
4. The inspiration of the books of the Scriptures has been decreed by the Church in several decisions and councils, ending with the Council of Carthage, in 397 A.D. Therefore, the appeal to the authority of the Scriptures means to recognize the authority of the Church whice decided which book is inspired and which one is not.
In this part we will discuss about the canon of the Scriptures and about recognizing the books as inspired. The word “canon” comes from the Greek kanon, which means reed or instrument/ standard of measure. Hence, “canon” means norm or rule. The canon of Scriptures means the totality of the inspired books.
But how has it happened that these books came to be recognized by people as inspired?
The Old Testament
There was a time when there was no canon. God spoke to the patriarchs, but has not given them a written revelation. Our study deals with the written Word of God. How can we tell which books from the Old Testament are inspired? It used to be said that before the so-called Council of Iamnia (Iabneel, from Joshua, 15:11) that took place at the end of the first century A.D. there were no books recognized universally as being inspired. This opinion, which was very popular in the 20th century is now refuted as being unfounded. The quotation from Josephus Flavius which I mentioned in the first sermon shows that the Jews would recognize the 39 books of the Old Testament before the so-called Council. The truth is that there has been a progressive recognition of the books, as they were coming out from under the pen of the writers. Moses wrote the words of the law in a book (Deut. 31:9, 24-27). This is the Book of the Law spoken about in Joshua 1:8 and 23:6 – a writing considered inspired and authoritative as soon as it was written.
This was their Bible (see, also, II Kings 22:8-11 and Nehemiah 8:1-3). Many times the prophet that was about to write a new book would write an appendix to the book written before his. This means that they would conceive all the books as being just one writing, just one Scripture, not just as separated books. Joshua writes the last chapter of the Deuteronomy, then he continues adding to what had already been written. He writes in “the Book of the Law of God” (Joshua 24:26). The author of the book of Judges added to the book of Joshua the narrative of his death and burial (compare Joshua 24:29-31 with Judges 2:7-9). Samuel added to Judges-Ruth the genealogy from Ruth 4:17-22. II Chronicles ends with the same words that open the book of Ezra. This proves that the Old Testament is not a motley collection of texts, but that it is practically one text. Such a “passing on of the mantle” can be seen from the books of Samuel and Kings, which span over 500 years (1050-560 B.C.). They have been written by a succession of prophets.
The life of David, written in the books after Samuel, has been written by the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad (I Chr. 29:29). After David’s death, the history of the king continues with Solomon and is registered by Nathan, Ahijah and Iddo (II Chr. 9:29). The history of Roboam has been registered by the prophets Shemaiah and Iddo (II Chr. 12:15), of Abijah by Iddo (II Cr. 13:22), of Jehoshaphat by Jehu (II Cr. 20:34), and of Uzziah and Hezechiah by prophet Isaiah (II Cr. 26:22; 32:32). Then, how were accepted in the canon the books Samuel and Kings? They have been written by prophets accredited by God in the same way that Moses was accredited, Israel recognizing immediately that what these holy men were writing was God’s Word.
Jeremiah wrote his prophecies in a book (36:2) which was burnt by Jehoiachim (v. 23), and then God commanded Jeremiah to write them again and add other prophecies to them (v. 32).
In Jeremiah 26:18, he quotes a prophecy of Micah from Micah 3:12, recognizing this book as inspired, at less than 100 years from its writing. Daniel (Dan. 9:2), in his turn, quotes from Jeremiah’s prophecy (25:11-12), recognizing this book as inspired, 75 years after its writing. Jeremiah’s book is also quoted in II Chronicles 36:21 and in Ezrah 1:1.
This pattern shows the way the books have been accepted as inspired. The acceptance of the canon of the Old Testament in three phases (the Law – 400 B.C., the Prophets – 200 B.C. and the Writings – 90 A.D., at Iabne/Iamnia) is not true: the books have been accepted progressively, as they would come from under the pen of the authors.
In the time of Lord Jesus and the apostles, the Jews would recognise all the 39 books as being inspired…and these 39 only (see the quotation from Josephus Flavius). They would not recognize as inspired what today is called the Old Testament Apocrypha.
The Apocrypha have been written in the time between the writing of the two Testaments. They are illustrative for the tradition and the Jewish history after the return from the exile, but are not inspired. Today, the Orthodox and the Catholic Church accept these books (in the Orthodox Church there are 15 Apocrypha, and 8 in the Catholic Church). The Catholic Church declared them as divinely inspired in 1546, at the Council of Trent. But Lord Jesus, the apostles and the first Christians have not recognized them. They would quote 280 times directly from the OT, and if we add the references from certain verses, the number of quotations amounts to 850. All the books of the OT are quoted, except for the book of Esther, the Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, but there is no quotation from the Apocrypha.
Lord Jesus called Scripture only the 39 books (called more than 10 times “The Law and the Prophets”). The canon recognised by Him is registered in Luke 11:49-51 (reference to II Chr. 24:21), for the names mentioned there, Abel and Zechariah, represent the first and the last crime registered in the OT – for, according to the arrangement from the Hebrew canon, II Chronicles is the last book. This is an indirect testimony of the canonicity of the books that have not been quoted directly. Another indirect testimony is the reference to the whole OT as “Scriptures”, “Word of God” and “The Law and the Prophets”, for these references would include the three books mentioned above as well.
As a conclusion, all the 39 books of the OT had been accepted by the Jews as being inspired long before the writing of the NT, while the Apocrypha have not been included by them in the canon.
Lord Jesus and the apostles have recognised the 39 books of the OT as being inspired and authoritative while, on the other hand, rejected the Apocrypha, for they have not used them.
The NT refers to passages from the OT as being “Scripture”, “Word of God”, “God said”, “The Holy Spirit said”, “David, inspired by the Spirit, said”, etc. But when sources from out of the OT canon are quoted, they are never refered to in this way: e.g., Cleanthes, in Acts 17:28; Menander, in I Cor. 15:33; Epimenides, in Titus 1:12; I Enoch, in Jude 14-15.
The New Testament
So far, we have seen the inspiration and the authority of the first great division of our Bible, the Old Testament, with its 39 books. We also saw the reason for which we do not accept the Apocryphal writings as being inspired, as the Ortodox and the Catholic Churches claim. But what about the writings of the New Testament? Are the 27 books inspired? All the Christians recognize them as such, but the Jews reject them, because they present Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Answer: these books are inspired because they are consistent with the Old Testament as far as the fulfilled prophecies are concerned, as well as their doctrinal continuity and the revealing the same God, having the same attributes.
The early Gnostics and the later Manichaeists would reject the Old Testament and would accept only the Gospels and the writings of Paul, the apostle, together with other apocryphal works. Which ones were the inspired books and which ones were not? The NT Apocrypha are not inspired because they are not consistent with the OT and with the rest of the NT books. Many of them are pseudoepigrapha, that is, not being written by the ones that were claimed to be the authors. E.g.: “The Gospel according to Thomas”, “The Revelation according to Peter”.
In the first years after the Ascension of Christ, the church from Jerusalem and then the other churches have used the OT writings and the teachings of the apostles transmitted by word of mouth, either directly from them, or by those that had heard them. Then James writes the first Christian epistle, before 49 A.D., followed few years after by Paul, who writes The First and then The Second Thessalonians, between 50-54 A.D.
Around 56 A.D. Paul writes to the Corinthians. We are interested now in the passage of I Cor. 9:9, where he quotes Moses. The subject is debated again by Paul in I Timothy, written around 64 A.D. In I Timothy 5:18, he writes:
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain”, and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
The last quotation is not part of the OT, but it is from the Gospel according to Luke, 10:7. Luke wrote the Gospel around 63 A.D. What is to be inferred from here?
Paul recognized the Gospel according to Luke as “Scripture”, having an authority equal with the writings of Moses;
This recognition took place very early: I Timothy was written about a year after the writing of the Gospel according to Luke. When Paul was writing to the Corinthians, he had just one authoritative source, the OT. But as soon as there a New Testament book appeared, he used it;
The using of the singular “Scripture” is an additional proof for the inspiration of the Gospel, for it shows its unity with the OT;
Paul’s testimony in favour of the inspiration of the Gospel according to Luke is an indirect proof in favour of the inspiration of the book of Acts of the Apostles, which is a continuance of the first book (Acts 1:1) and which was finished around the same time as I Timothy.
Another similar passage, but which covers more, is to be found in II Peter 3:15-16. Second Peter is a late epistle, written in 64-70 A.D. (in 66 A.D., more likely than not) when Paul had finished writing all his epistles. What do we learn from this statement of Peter’s?
Paul’s epistles are as inspired and have the same value as the OT writings;
The reference is made to “all Paul’s epistles”, not only to some of them;
Paul’s epistles, even if written to some churches and individuals from different areas of the Roman Empire, would circulate and were known both by Peter and by the churches from Asia Minor (I Pet. 1:1).
Jude, in vs. 17-18, quotes Peter’s saying from II Peter 3:3, testifying for the inspiration of this epistle. Besides, it is an indirect proof for the inspiration of his first epistle, for the second one is addressed to the same addressees as a confirmation of the first one (II Pet. 3:1).
These are the internal proofs we have regarding the inspiration of the NT books. Thus, we have direct testimonies for the inspiration of 15 books (Luke, the Pauline epistles and II Peter) and indirect for other two (Acts and I Peter). In addition to the placing the NT writings on a par with the OT writings, we have some more internal evidences:
1. The passages which speak about the authority of the apostles as being equal with the ones the OT prophets had.
Such a passage is II Peter 3:1-2. Peter compared his writings with the writings of the prophets. The accreditation of the apostles is equal with the prophets of old: II Peter 1:15-18; I John 1:1-2; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:2-4. Certain passages raise the apostles to a level superior to the prophets (I Cor. 12:28 and Eph. 4:11).
The apostles claimed to be divinely inspired (II Cor. 2:7-13) and were expecting the churches to receive their words and writings as the Word of God (I Cor. 14:37; I Tes. 2:13). John, too, in the Revelation 1:1-2 claims a divine origine of his writing.
2. The promises of Lord Jesus regarding the work of the Spirit in the apostles.
Christ promised the apostles the inspiration and the assistance of the Spirit (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:13). The work of the Spirit was not referring only to the protection from oblivion, but also to the additions to the teachings of Jesus.
3. The New Testament brings new revelations and a knowledge higher to the one revealed in the past ages (Romans 16:25-27 and Eph. 3:4, 5).
4. The books themselves claim authority. They are not books written by accident, that someone collected later, being fond of them. These letters have been written by the apostles as authoritative and have been collected on a purpose:
II Thes. 3:14 – this was the second epistle wrote by Paul. II Thes. 2:15;
II Thes. 3:17 – Paul was safeguarding his letters against the forgeries that began to be spread (II Thes. 2:2);
Col. 4:16 – a public reading in the churches (see in I Thes. 5:27). The reading of a letter in public was a sign of canonicity;
II Peter 1:15 – the authoritative message had to remain after the death of the apostle.
We can not expect that the NT would refer to the authority of its books as the OT refers to its own authority. In order to do that, the NT books had to be gathered in a distinct collection, which takes time. NT has been written in a much shorter period of time than OT (less than 60 years) for addressees located thousands of miles far from one another. That’s why the gathering of all the books of the NT in a canon recognized by all the Christian churches has not been realized during the writing of these books due to the simple fact that it had not been sufficient time to gather and multiply the copies to be sent to the churches spread all across the Empire. Yet, it is astonishing how much of the NT books would circulate even when the apostles were alive. The later epistles authenticate more than half of all the NT writings and 75% of the number of books available at that time (when Peter and Jude were writing, the five books of John had not been written yet).
From the beginning of the second century we have few Christian writings whose authors were contemporaries with the apostles. These are Clement of Rome (96 A.D.), Ignatius (108 A.D.) and Polycarpus (110 A.D.). It is only Jude and II John that are not mentioned in these early writings.
Then, we have clues that the Christians have used very early codices (sheets of papyri sewn or glued at one of their end, which look similar to our books). This has facilitated the gathering and the using of more books in the same collection. Such collections of the Gospel and of Paul’s writings were in use in the first half of the 2nd century.
Therefore, the idea that the churches needed a longer period of time till they would recognize the inspirations and the authority of the 27 writings which make up the NT is completely wrong. David Nettleton states the correct view:
The writings of the apostles have been guarded by the Primary Church and have come to be the Bible of the Primary Church more through usage than by being voted for by a Council. Yet, as time would pass by and questions began to be raised, certain standards had to be set so that intelligent answers could be given to questions referring to the books of the Bible.
Discutions about a standard (canon) recognized unanimously lasted till the 4th century. The Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) is the one that recognizes all the 27 books of the NT as being inspired. Hence, the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches speak about the authority of the Church which approves or rejects the claim to inspiration. Their argument is addressed against the ones who believe “Sola Scriptura”, meaning that it is the official Church which decided what was “Scripture” and what was not. Roman Catholicism claims that the place where the faith is to be deposited is the Church, the Scripture being just an element of this place. The conclusion of its argument is that the authority of the Scripture derives from the authority of the Church, this latter one being superior.
But the issue is set erroneously on purpose, for it is not the Church that decided which books was inspired and which not: the Church only recognized the inspiration.
The role of the Church is not to settle which the books that make up the Scripture are. On the contrary, the books of the Scripture make paths for themselves by being used on a large scale and having their authority accepted generally, so that the role of the Church is to recognize that there are only some books decide which are the principles that the Church listens to and is faithful to – and this has as an effect the constituting of a canon, a close list of Scriptures with authority.” – D.A. Carson
„Therefore, if we want to try to find out when and how were the books of the New Testament read as authoritative testimonies of the Gospel, instead of asking ourselves when and how was the canon closed, we don’t have to return to the closed lists drawn by the Fathers, who appeared later, but to the using of the books of the New Testament in the writings of the first Fathers.” – D.A. Carson
Thus, it is the Scripture that is the supreme authority, not the Church. It is the Scripture that regulates the authority of the Church, and not vice-versa. The Scripture does not appeal to Church for authority, for it has its own authority. This is why it is more correct to speak about recognizing the canon than establishing it. The Scripture is a closed book which does not accept additions to it. God told us everything He wanted to tell us within the 66 books which make up the Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ and the New Covenant inaugurated by Him have been the end of the revealing of God, His final, ultimate word for the humankind.
If it were not a closed canon, the Scripture could not be the supreme authority, for a continuous revelation would mean an adding to the Scripture, an update. In the same time, if the revelation has not ceased, and if God continued to reveal Himself, then the Scripture were not sufficient for all we believe and do, but it would need completion. This is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church, as well as other modern groups from the restoring movement claim. For the Catholic Church, the Scripture is insufficient. It claims that the Tradition, the statements of the Pope ex cathedra, from the pulpit, the apparitions of the Holy Virgin and the personal revelations of some “saints” are as inspired as the Scriptures (e.g.: Margareta Maria Alacoque, in 1673-1675 claimed to have had a special revelation by which it is required the adoration of the heart of flesh of Jesus).
As for us, neither the Church, nor the Pope, nor the Councils, the Tradition, the revelations of Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Ellen White or any other modern prophet are authoritative for faith and practice. We declare the Scripture as having supreme authority in issues of faith and practice. We declare that God revealed in the Scripture all he wanted us to know as the doctrine and the practice are concerned, and that this revelation ceased with writing the book of Revelation.
When the Scripture speaks, God speaks, and our attitude should be:
“Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears!”