ARE THE RIGHT BOOKS IN THE BIBLE?
THE DOCTRINE OF CANONICITY
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." (Luke 21:33).
The Greek architects had an instrument that they used to measure various distances as they were designing and constructing a building. It was a straight rod with marks set into its side, much like our modern rulers.
"It had to be unbendable.
"It had to be dependable as to its straightness.
It was called a6"<T<. The word simply means "a ruler." From this came the idea of a body of truth or a rule of faith. The term itself is used by Paul in his epistle to the churches of Galatia.
"And those who will walk by this RULE, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." (Galatians 6:16).
This same word came to be used by Christians to describe those books which set the rule and standard of faith.
When we talk about canonizing someone, we speak of recognizing their authority. The Roman Church uses this term to confer sainthood. When the church speaks of "canon law" it refers to the infallible criteria by how things are to be measured.
THE CANON OF SCRIPTURES
When we speak of the Canon of Scripture, we are speaking of that collection of writings which constitute the authoritative and final norm or standard of faith and practice.
This means that we think of the Word of God as the measuring stick for our beliefs and for our lives. We use it to check our doctrine and our daily lifestyle.
"Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105).
How do we decide how we ought to live? By the instructions of the Word of God. Like a lamp to a darkened path, it shows the way in which we ought to walk if we are to avoid the pitfalls of life.
DEFINITION OF CANONICITY
Canonicity is the process by which the books of the Bible were gathered and collected so that they came to be regarded as the standard and norm for Christians. This means that canonicity refers to the church's recognition of the authority of the inspired writings.
Don't miss this! Canonicity does not MAKE a book into the word of God. Rather, canonicity is the process of RECOGNIZING that a book is the word of God.
The 66 books which make up our Bible are only a very small part of the many ancient documents that were written in ancient times and which have come down to us today.
How do we know that the books that we have are the Word of God? And how do we know that other books of antiquity are not also the Word of God? The answer is that only those books which were inspired by God - that is, which were God-breathed; only those books should be considered as canonical. This is the sole criteria for determining whether or not a book is to be considered a part of the Canon of Scriptures.
However, that brings us to the next question: How do I know if a book is inspired by God?
"How are we to determine if we have the right books in the Bible?
"What about the Apocrypha?
"Are there certain books in our Bible which should not be there?
"Are we missing some books?
"Are there certain signs for which we can look that indicate that a book is inspired?
There are the questions of canonicity.
THE CANONICITY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament was not written all at once or by a single author. In fact, there were at least 30 human authors involved in its writing and they worked over a period of more than a thousand years.
After all of the books which make up our Old Testament had been written, a second collection of books began to emerge. It became known as the "Apocrypha," meaning "hidden from."
There is a considerable amount of historical testimony to show that the books which make up our Old Testament (and not the Apocrypha) are indeed to be regarded as Scripture.
1. The Testimony of the Massoretic Text.
The Old Testament which we have is made up of 39 books. These were divided in the Hebrew Bible into three groups:
1 & 2 Samuel
1 & 2 Kings
SEPHER KAHUVIMBook of the Writings
Song of Solomon
1 & 2 Chronicles
According to Jewish tradition, these divisions were brought about by Ezra.
2. The Testimony of Jesus.
Jesus made allusion to this same division of the three groups when He spoke to His disciples after His resurrection.
"Now He said to them, `These are My words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.'" (Luke 24:44).
All of the Scriptures told of Christ. They all bore witness of Him. And now, we see Him bearing witness of them.
Don't miss this! Jesus bears testimony of this same three-fold division of the Old Testament Scriptures (the Psalms was the largest of the third group and often used as its title). Notice that Jesus also carefully avoided speaking of the Apocrypha. In doing so, He is showing that He substantiated the books which were commonly known to make up those Scriptures. At the same time, He never suggests that any other extant books ought to be added to the Scriptures.
3. The Testimony of the Septuagint.
The Septuagint was the translation of the Old Testament into Greek. During the reign of Ptolemy 2 Philadelpus (284-247 B.C.), the Library of Alexandria sponsored a translation of the Old Testament Scriptures into the Greek language of that day.
Tradition has it that seventy two Jewish elders were commissioned for the task. For this reason, the translation came to be called the SEPTUAGINTA, meaning "seventy."
They translated the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Later on, the Apocrypha was added to the translation. Not one of the books that we presently have in our Old Testament was left out.
4. The Testimony of the New Testament.
The New Testament is full of quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. These quotations are regularly treated as God's Word.
At the same time, there is not a single reference in the New Testament when the Apocrypha is quoted and referred to in the context of being God's Word.
5. The Testimony of Josephus.
Josephus was a Jewish general who fought unsuccessfully against Rome in the days of the Jewish Revolt. He had heard of the Christians, but was not a Christian himself.
He was an extensive writer, both of the history of the Jews as well as of the things he had seen at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Writing a rebuttal to anti-Jewish propaganda in the latter part of the first century, Josephus describes the Hebrew canon of scripture which was recognized by the Jews.
"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine...(Contra Apion 1:8).
The same 39 books that we have in our Bible were condensed into the 22 books of the Hebrew Bible. For example, they had a single book of Samuel and of Kings and of Chronicles. The Minor Prophets were grouped together into a single book called the Twelve.
Notice that even in that day Josephus recognized that the various books of the Bible did not contradict each other. He goes on to group the books of the Scriptures into the three common divisions which we have described.
"...and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death... The prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life." (Contra Apion 1:8).
Josephus puts the number of books in the Hebrew Bible at 22 and divides them into the following categories:
(a) Moses (Torah).
(b) The Prophets (Nevi'im).
© Hymns & Precepts (Ketuvim).
The words of Josephus are important because they give us a point of view that is unbiased by Christianity. Specifically, he says that the Apocrypha did not have the same recognized authority because "there has not been an exact succession of prophets" since the time that the writing of the Scriptures ended.
According to Josephus, the test of authority for the Scriptures was that they were written by one who was recognized as a prophet. Who did the recognizing? The previous prophets!
But then, a day came when the last of the prophets had spoken. It was the prophet Malachi. He foretold that the Lord would come and that just prior to His coming He would be announced by Elijah. But that is not all. Notice what he has to say about the Apocrypha.
"It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes, very peculiarly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time." (Contra Apion 1:8).
Josephus rejects the Apocrypha because it had not been penned by a prophet and because there had been no line of prophets who spoke and who wrote the words of God.
6. The Testimony of the Apocrypha.
Several books of the Apocrypha make mention of the Law and the Prophets as a separate and distinct group of extant writings.
Many great teachings have been given to us through the Law and the Prophets and the others that followed them, and for these we should praise Israel for instruction and wisdom. Now, those who read the scriptures must not only themselves understand them, but must also as lovers of learning be able through the spoken and written word to help the outsiders. (Sirach 1:1).
Encouraging them from THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS, and reminding them also of the struggles they had won, he made them the more eager (2 Maccabees 15:9).
While he was still with you, he taught you THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS (4 Maccabees 18:10).
The books of the Old Testament never make reference to "the Law and the Prophets" in the manner that is found in either the New Testament or as in these books of the Apocrypha.
7. The Council of Jamnia.
After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., the Jews were scattered. The remnants of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, moved to the ancient city of Jamnia.
In 90 A.D. a Council was held at Jamnia under the direction of Rabbi Akiba. One of the items of discussion was the recognition of the Jewish writings which were to be reckoned as authoritative.
The result of this council was that the books which make up our present Old Testament were recognized to be the Word of God. Those additional writings, such as the Apocrypha, were rejected.
We must point out that this council did not ESTABLISH the canonicity of these books, but rather RECOGNIZED the books as being God's Word.
8. The Dead Sea Scrolls.
Along with many portions of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Dead Sea Scrolls also contained considerable writings of the Essene Community at Qumran. From an examination of these non-Biblical writings, it is a simple matter to determine that the Qumran Community held to essentially the same Old Testament Canon that we recognize today.
The threefold division that we saw in the Jewish tradition and in the writings of Josephus are absent in most of the Qumran literature. In its place is a twofold division of the Law and the Prophets.
The Manual of Discipline and the Zadokite Document refer to the Scriptures as "Moses and the Prophets." Does that mean they did not hold that the books making up the third portion of the Old Testament to be inspired? Not at all. They included these books in the general category of the "Prophets."
Jesus did the same thing when He spoke of "the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; 16:29; 16:31; 24:27), even when He was clearly referring to a passage from the Writings.
Quotations from the Old Testament are introduced by the formula, "It is written." This formula is not used for a single quote outside of the Old Testament.
THE CANONICITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
The church was born with a completed canon in her hands. The earliest church already recognized the Old Testament as their Scriptures. It was not until more than 10 years after the church had begun that the first of the New Testament books began to be written.
The New Testament books were written between 40-95 A.D. (it is my own personal view that it might have been completed prior to 70 A.D.). There were several different types of writing.
"Historical format (the Gospels and Acts).
"Letters to the churches and to individuals.
"The Apocalyptic format of Revelation.
1. Apostolic Authorship.
Every book of the New Testament was either written by an apostle or by someone who had apostolic sanction.
"Mark was given his information by Peter.
"Luke was a disciple of Paul.
The word "apostle" come from a root meaning "to send." Apostolos is related to the inter-Testamental use of sheliach (a messenger). The emphasis was not so much on the fact of sending, but rather on the authority of the person who was to perform the task. The sheliach fully represents the one who sent him.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (John 13:20).
The apostles had authority to act in the name of Jesus. Their authority was a delegated authority.
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the APOSTLE and High Priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1).
Jesus was our Apostle. He was sent by God from heaven with AUTHORITY. Thus, when people received Paul, they received him "as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself" (Galatians 4:14). Ancronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23) and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25) are also referred to as apostles.
1 Corinthians 15:7 indicates a broader group known as the apostles that went beyond the Twelve.
The Jewish sheliach was a temporary status. The Christian Apostle seems to have been permanent. Thus while there is a similarity to the sheliach, there was also a difference.
These apostles were authorized representatives. They had authority, identifying them fully with the One who had commissioned them. They had a "power of attorney" with Christ.
The apostles themselves were given their authority by Jesus Christ, both to teach and to preach in His name. The early church fathers recognized that they themselves did not have this kind of authority.
"The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent from God, so then the apostles are sent from Christ." (Clement of Rome, 95 A.D.).
"I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments to you. They were apostles. I am but a condemned man." (Ignatius, 117 A.D.).
The testimony of all of the early church fathers is that the apostles were given their authority from Jesus Christ. Therefore, their writings were considered to be authoritative.
It was recognized by early Christians that all of the books of the New Testament were consistent with previous revelation. That is, when certain writings were seen to contradict prior Scriptures, it was obvious that they were not to be considered a part of the Canon.
3. Reception by the Churches.
a. Books which were initially questioned.
By 180 A.D. a total of 20 out of 27 of the New Testament documents were widely accepted as canonical. Only 7 were not. The issues were...
(4) Circulation (if you don't have a copy of a certain epistle or book, you aren't likely to accept it as authoritative).
The following books were accepted at this time as being on par with the Old Testament:
"13 epistles of Paul.
Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon bear witness to this list. During the next two centuries there was debate over the remaining seven books.
The Easter letter of Athenasius (written in 367) points to the accepting of all 27 books of the New Testament.
b. Factors which led to the recognition of the New Testament Canon.
(1) Heretics influenced the New Testament church to formalize an official canon.
One thing that gave rise to a greater recognition of the canonicity of the New Testament books was the rise of certain heretics who denied that certain of these books ought to be in the Bible.
Marcion published his own limited canon and thereby had a catalytic effect that drove the church to account for what it already had and accepted.
(2) The presence of other Christian writings.
Another factor that led to the recognition of a canon was the writing of many Christian books are letters. As Christianity grew and spread, believers began to write books and letters, outlining their beliefs and urging others to good works. We have letters which were written by many of the church fathers. The question arose as to whether they were to consider these new writings to be on par with the books of the New Testament.
(3) The coming of intense persecution.
The Roman emperor Diocletian (303 A.D.) passed a law that made it illegal to possess a Bible. This brought to light the question, "What books am I willing to die for? Will I die for the Gospel According to Thomas? What about Paul's Epistle to the Romans?"
All three of these aspects -- the rise of heretics, the existence of other Christian documents, and the persecutions against Christianity -- had the result of bringing about a series of church councils that publicly recognized the New Testament Canon.
4. Decisions of the Church Councils.
Council of Laodicea
Asked that only canonical books be read from the pulpit. All our books of the NT listed except for Revelation.
Council of Carthage
Recognized our present New Testament Canon including Revelation.
5. The Questioning of Certain Books.
Why were certain books questioned as regards to their canonicity?
6. Criteria Used by the Early Church.
The early church used the following criteria in determining the canonicity of the New Testament books.
a. Apostleship or association with the Apostles.
Not all of the writers of the New Testament were apostles, but all were written by people who were associated with the Apostles.
Hebrews was only accepted after Paul was adopted as the author. However, some of the New Testament books do not have apostles as authors.
b. Association with the apostles.
Not all of the books of the New Testament were written by apostles. Mark and Luke had close associations with Peter and with Paul and therefore were considered to be authoritative because of those associations.
Only the earliest documents of the church have been included. It was understood that God's revelatory work had ceased after that first generation had passed.
d. Public reading.
"I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren. (1 Thessalonians 5:27).
Paul commanded that his epistle be read in the church. The problem with this is that the same instructions were given in Colossians 4:16 about a letter that Paul wrote to Laodicea - a letter which is NOT a part of the canon (see also 1 Corinthians 5:9).
e. Acceptance by the church.
Some epistles were not popular everywhere (like 2 Peter). This was especially true it the epistle had a limited audience.
Where does Scripture originate?
From the Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16).
In the Old Testament, the finger of God wrote on tablets of stone.
The "finger of God" was a reference to the Holy Spirit. We no longer have the word on Tablets of Stone. The Word is now written on the hearts of men.
And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:6).
But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Deuteronomy 30:14).
I delight to do Thy will, O my God;
Thy Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8).
The Law of the Lord is in his heart;
His steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:31).
"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah 31:33).
The apostles were to the church what a foundation is to its house. Their function took place during the period between the resurrection of Christ and His return.
But there is a warning here. The origin of the Canon is NOT the same as its reception by the church. The church did not create the Canon. The Canon created the church.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17).
It is the word of Christ which brings forth faith. And it is this faith which is brought forth by the word which leads to the building of the church.
The Existence of the Canon
The Recognition of the Canon
The church did not create the canon. The canon created and still creates the church. The origin of the canon is not the same as its reception by the church.
THE QUESTION OF THE APOCRYPHA
Both the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Church hold to the canonicity of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha. This is not to say that they have always held to the Apocrypha. No ecumenical council of church history ever recognized the canonicity of the Apocrypha until the Council of Trent in 1545, an obvious reaction to the Protestant Movement.
The word "Apocrypha" literally describes that which has been "hidden from sight." These "hidden books" were written after the time of the Maccabean Revolt.
1. The Makeup of the Apocrypha
The books of the Apocrypha were written during the 200 years prior to the birth of Christ. Nearly all of our copies of the Apocrypha are in Greek and most of it seems to have been originally penned in that language. They are made up of the following books.
Esdras (known as 3rd Esdras in the Vulgate which entitles Ezra and Nehemiah as 1&2 Esdras) relates the history of Israel from Josiah to Ezra. There is a 4th Esdras that was rejected at the Council of Trent.
Adventures of a Jewish family living in Assyria.
Story of Judith's rescue of the Jews from the hands of an Assyrian Army.
Additions to the book of Esther
A collection of Septuagint additions to the book of Esther.
Wisdom of Solomon
Collection of proverbs; the latter part of the book contrasts Israel versus Egypt.
Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Sirach)
A large collection of proverbs
Claims to be written by the servant of Jeremiah and consists of praises, prayers and promises.
Story of Susanna
Story of Susanna who is accused of immorality but rescued by Daniel in Babylon.
Song of the Three Children
Song of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo on the occasion of the fiery furnace.
Bel and the Dragon
Adventures of Daniel in refusing to worship the idol of Bel or a living dragon which he kills.
Prayer of Manasseh
King Manasseh in Babylon prays a prayer of repentance.
Historical narratives of the Jewish War for Independence.
In addition to the Apocrypha is a much larger list of books known as the Pseudepigrapha -- the "false writings." Many of these were works of fiction, supposedly written by such authors as Adam and Eve, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and many other famous persons of antiquity.
2. Their Internal Testimony.
Most of the books of the Apocrypha are written anonymously. There are two notable exceptions:
Of the other books, 1&2 Maccabees contain some of the most accurate history, although they make no claim at all to divine authority. In describing the cleansing of the Temple under Judas Maccabeas, we read the orders of Judas in which the stones of the altar should be put aside until a prophet should arise.
So they tore down the altar, 46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. (1 Maccabees 4:45-46).
The implication is that there was no prophet in the land in those days and no one who could proclaim the word of the Lord.
3. The Testimony of the Talmud.
The Talmud, consisting of the interpretations of the Jewish rabbis, states that after the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel (Tractate Sanhedrin).
The Greek Septuagint along with translations of the Hebrew Bible into Coptic, Etheopic and later Syriac all contained at least portions of the Apocrypha. Even the original King James Version of 1611 contained the Apocrypha.
4. The Testimony of the New Testament.
The New Testament abounds with quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. Yet quotations from the Apocrypha are notably lacking.
That is not to say that the New Testament writers were unfamiliar with the Apocrypha. They often quoted from the Septuagint and, as we have noted, the Septuagint did contain the Apocrypha. We can therefore conclude that the writers of the New Testament DELIBERATELY avoided quoting from the Apocrypha.
God has spoken. He has made His Word known to man. He has set forth His message in the writings of the Scriptures. And He has seen to it that His Word has been collected and recognized by His church.