Have you ever wondered how the Bible came to be the Bible? Have you ever been asked how you know the modern Bible contains the correct books? By the end of this blog I hope the reader will be able to more intelligently respond do these types of questions. I hope that the reader will gain confidence in the reliability of Scripture and is driven to know it (therefore, Him) better.
To set the foundation, I will have to define a few things: “How do you know?”, presuppositions, Scripture, and Canon.
1. “How do you know?”: this question provides a great opportunity to show evidence, but it can also be a loaded question in which there is no satisfactory way meet the requirements of the questioner. For some, the evidence is never enough or the responses are never good enough. The reason why leads us into the next term.
2. Presuppositions: A presupposition is something that is assumed to be true apart from the influence of any evidence. For example, a person with the present position that God does not exist cannot possibly believe in the inspiration of Scripture. A person believing that God does exist can be confident that God would communicate with his creatures.
3. Scripture: Scripture is the term for a writing that is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16, Is. 44:7, Mt. 22:43). Jesus and the people around him understood Scripture as being the Hebrew Bible, Genesis through 2 Chronicles, which is all the same books as the standard Old Testament (Mt. 22:35).
4. Canon: is a term that literally means a measuring stick; the rule or law. Traditionally speaking, the Canon is the collection of writings that belong in the Bible. The Canon is all the writings determined as inspired, Scripture.
Most people think that books of the Bible were not canonized until the 300s AD. However, the Church Fathers and the early Christians have accepted most of the books in our current New Testament, from Clement in the late first century to Iraneus in 180 AD. In fact, nearly all of the New Testament can be rewritten solely using the quotations of early church fathers. So all of these books were used and considered Scripture long before their official organization in the fourth century.
Look what happens if we take Jesus as the authority in the determining of what Scripture is. Jesus referred to the Old Testament Scripture many times. He said “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). So God is able to protect His word, as it also says in Isaiah 40:8- “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.” Jesus quoted many books of Scripture including Deuteronomy (Matthew 4:4), Psalms (Matthew 4:6), Malachi (Matthew 11:10), Zechariah (Matthew 21:5), Jeremiah (Matthew 21:3) and Scripture in general (Matthew 26:4).
We also need to look at the way that Jesus authenticated what his chosen apostles would do before they did it. Jesus spent all night in prayer prior to choosing the 12 disciples, so you know it was a significant event. Jesus in John 10:27- “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Then in John 14:26 Jesus tells his disciples that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit- the Father will send Him in My name- will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” Jesus expounded on this idea again in John 16:12-14 saying “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” So Jesus carefully chose the men that could hear his voice, that would be led into all truth by the Holy Spirit, and thus declare Jesus’ will and heart after his departure from Earth. He also promised they would accurately speak forth words from the Holy Spirit and accurately recall the events of the Gospels. He also includes foretelling of future events, which is what John did with the book of Revelation. Jesus, as God in flesh, makes the best case for the entirety of Scripture.
Of course, it would be rather circular to say that Scripture is Scripture because Jesus said so in Scripture. Since Jesus claimed and fulfilled the works of the Messiah (Christ, Son of God, 2nd person of the Trinity), he had the authority to say what is true. But Jesus didn’t say so according to just one writing. There are 4 Gospels (along with many other eyewitnesses- Luke 1:2, 1 Cor. 15:3-8) that corroborate Jesus’ story. Jesus’ sayings and actions can be considered true and accurate because there are multiple authors of completely different styles.
It is worth mentioning the debate between Catholics and Protestants concerning canonization. Catholics believe that it was the church that made the Scriptures what they are. Protestants say that it is the Scripture that makes the church what it is (sola scriptura). I firmly take the stance that God revealed Scripture in order for his church to be brought in line with what it teaches, not the other way around. It was not the church that created the Canon, the church merely discovered, discerned, recognized, uncovered the Canon. Otherwise, you would have the nature of God being altered according to the whims and opinions of the people with the most influence, violating the teaching that His word is living and enduring (1 Peter 1:23). This is relativism and is clearly not the case.
There are at least 4 requirements that a writing must meet to be considered scriptural:
1. Inspiration: They must claim or have marks of inspiration. This means that they contain prophecy which does not fail (Deut. 18:22). The author must be called and anointed by God for writing (such as Ex. 34:27). The book may contain a claim of inspiration- as in the phrase “Thus saith the Lord”, which occurs 418 times (in the NASB). There are other marks of inspiration, such as prophetic pictures or divine knowledge/ wisdom.
2. Historical: The book must be written around the time of the events. It must not contain any deception, as the Gnostic Gospels do, which make false claims about the time it was written and who it was written by.
3. Accuracy: The book must be accurate in several areas. It must be consistent with previous revelation. It must not contradict logic. It must not contradict historical fact. It must not contradict scientific fact. It must not contradict philosophical fact.
4. Edifying: The writing must demonstrate that the believer can grow in the depth of their faith through reading it.
As Joshua was receiving his calling instructions from the Lord, Joshua was told (concerning just the 5 books of Moses at the time) “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night, so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.” (Joshua 1:8)
In probably the ultimate verse on the role of Scripture in our lives, Paul says “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Even though there are many other areas I could get into (such as certain non-canonical books), I will summarize here, letting you delve deeper wherever your motivation leads you. We have good reasons to be confident that when we pick up our Bibles that we are holding the appropriate books of Scripture. We should be motivated to know them so that we can know God, share his gospel, share in its wisdom, and give intelligent, accurate answers to anyone that would contradict truth.