It’s probably obvious, me being Christian pastor and all, that my theology and beliefs are based on what I learn from the Bible. I often feel like I need to remind readers of that in my posts. So there it is. I’m not making this stuff up on my own.
I’m not that smart.
So… where did the Bible come from? Did God FedEx it straight from heaven one day? Or did people go into strange trances in order to hear from God? If it is written by humans – who are all sinful – how do we know we got the right stuff?
Or as a kid from my youth work days once asked me, how do we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John weren’t just a group of trouble-makers who got away with it?
This post could get really long, really fast. In fact, there may need to be future posts about the Bible in and of itself. But for today, let’s address three areas:
We read in 2 Timothy 3.16, that all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. This sentence declares unequivocally that the entire Bible (all scripture) is God’s work. But most of the documents of the Bible have people’s names attributed to them: Moses, Isaiah, David, Mark, Paul, James, etc. What’s the deal?
The deal is, God spoke THROUGH the writers of scripture. It is God’s heart, will and voice that we read in the Bible. But God chose to reveal this heart, will, and voice to and through writers, who wrote to people in their context, in a language that could be understood.
And he did this through the power, presence and direction of his Holy Spirit (more on the Holy Spirit in a future post – and in worship on May 23).
Summary: Christians believe that God is the author of the Bible, that he conveyed the written word through the work of men, inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is mistakenly called a book. It is actually a collection of 66 documents (called books): history, poetry, prophecy, story, letters. These documents were written over a span of some 1500 years by a few dozen people. And yet, God in his infinite power and wisdom sovereignly saw to it that they all centered around one theme – his glory.
It’s for God’s glory that he created us, that he saved us, that he directs us, that he inspires us, that he disciplines us. God knows what he is doing with us, for us, and in us, and he has laid that out in his word. As such, and because the Bible is in fact God’s word, it is sometimes called the Canon.
Not cannon! Not something to be aimed at people who are “living in sin!” Canon means rule or norm. In other words, if you want to know what God has done and is doing; if you want to know how he reveals himself to you; if you want direction for living a life that honors and glorifies God – if you want to know anything about God – the Bible is your deal. It is the rule – or ruler – the measuring stick for what we can say and believe about God, and for how we are to live.
Summary: The Bible is a collection of 66 writings over a 1500-year period, which is God’s revealed will for his people in every time and place.
So, if the books of the Bible were written by men, how did people figure out which ones got in and which ones were left out? Keep in mind that there were other writings that also claimed to be inspired and also addressed the same issues as the books of our Bible.
The Old Testament canon was formed many years before Jesus and was held as scripture. Jesus held it and quoted it often as scripture, and as the saying goes, if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!
Regarding the 27 books of the New Testament (NT), the final decisions of which books to include were made in councils, gatherings of Christian leaders who met prayerfully to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. In these councils, three criteria were used to determine the canon.
A. Apostolic authorship or endorsement. In other words, for a book to be included in the New Testament, it had to have been written by someone who had direct contact with Jesus, or by someone who was verifiable by someone who did have that direct contact. This insured integrity of the writers.
B. Early recognition by the church. The canon wasn’t confirmed until the fourth century. So many challengers to the canon came along between the days of Jesus and the determining councils. One of the criterial used, then, was this: which books have we found trustworthy and authoritative since the beginning? What has been guiding us as Christians since the days of the disciples?
C. Harmonization with undisputed books. The writings now contained in the New Testament were written between 50-100 AD. From this time forward, there were certain books of the NT that were never doubted as scripture. But others were doubted and challenged. The councils wisely understood that scripture cannot contradict itself, so any book that did not agree with the truths taught in the earliest-accepted books could not qualify. Even today, antagonists wonder why some ‘deserving’ books aren’t in the Bible (see the DaVinci Code, for example). The primary answer is, they contradict the teachings of books that met the first two criteria above.
Summary: The 27 books of the New Testament were prayerfully determined by Christian leaders in councils, during the fourth century. Three vital criteria were used, in addition to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Christians can be confident that these – and only these – are the revealed word of God for those whom he has called and saved.