Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cliff Notes on Theology: Why are these Books in the Bible and not others?

by JM

A bigger Bible has to be a better Bible right; more books, a better Book? Just as we may desire our neighbor’s Escalade or our spouses generous helping at Chili’s, we might be tempted to covet a Roman Catholic’s Bible or the Jesus’ Seminar’s canon with there inclusion of Gnostic texts alleged to truly represent historic Christianity. In a moment of weakness, you may be tempted to protest out of covetousness, “that’s not fair, why do the Catholics get sixteen or so more books than we do!?!” “Why don’t we get the Gospel of Thomas!?!” May I submit that a bigger Bible isn’t a better Bible, but a worse Bible. Here are some Cliff Notes on the topic.

Why the 39 books of the Old Testament?

Both ancient Jews and modern Orthodox Jews have always affirmed the inspiration of the 39 books of the OT. As to the Apocrypha, many of these books are regarded the way in which we today view good books written by Christian authors: beneficial, but never inspired. It wasn’t until the Council of Trent (1546) that the Roman Catholic Church christened these books “inspired.” This was arguably born out of a desperate attempt to counter the Reformers whose critique was grounded by the set content of the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New rather than tradition and the church magisterium.

How do we know that the 39 books that presently make up our Old Testament are the right books and all the books? The process of collection and codification is more detailed than I care to get into here, so I’ll just refer you to works that answer this in a way deserving the space they dedicate to it. Let me offer a quick and easy answer so that you can get on with your day. Jesus is authoritative, and he seems to have affirmed the particular set of Old Testament books we have in our Protestant Bibles. The argument goes like this: 1) The Jews in Jesus time clearly regarded the 39 books of the OT as inspired and the Apocrypha as uninspired (cf., Flavius Josephus, Against Apion 1:8). 2) Jesus consistently uses catch phrases that were popular for this particular compilation of books, phrases like “Law and Prophets” (Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 22:40) and “Law, Prophets, and Writings.” When Jesus uses these phrases, he does so in ways that implies and confirms that they represented the entirety of the Old Testament canon. 3) Jesus refers to nearly all the Old Testament books and to no Apocryphal work. 4) Therefore, since Jesus affirms the canon accepted in his day (known as the “The Palestinian Canon” and consisted in the same books that Protestants have), so should we.

Why the 27 books of The New Testament?

I would follow a similar train of thought with the New Testament. (1) Jesus seems to predict and affirm the inclusion of more books into the Bible to be written by or under the influence of His apostles. (2) Jesus is authoritative and endorses the authority of these books prior to their production. (3) Therefore we should affirm the authority of these books after their production.

Jesus seems to have affirmed that there were a particular group of people who would serve as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20), partly because they would deliver God-inspired truths by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:5; John 14:25; 16:13) in the line and authority of Old Testament prophets (Matthew 23:29-36). For this reason, the apostles knew that they themselves wrote Scripture (1 Thess. 2:13), spoke of each other’s writings as Holy Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), and were regarded by the New Testament community as worthy of a devotion fit only for Scripture (Acts 2:42). Consequently, one important criteria used by early Christians for regarding a book as Scripture was apostolicity, that it (1) was written by an apostle (e.g. The gospel according to John), or (2) written by someone who knew and was endorsed by an apostle (e.g. Luke and Mark), (3) or displays overwhelming internal earmarks of apostolic connection regardless of questionable authorship (e.g. Hebrews). The rule of thumb established by Christ himself was, “If it’s apostolic, its authoritative because Christ vested the apostles with such authority.”

This is indirectly confirmed by the attempts of Gnostic writers of the 2nd and 3rd century who attempted to garner recognition for their writings by attributing them to apostles (such as “The Gospel of Thomas” and The Gospel of Philip”), which were and are recognized by those who are sane as forgeries penned well after the lives of the men alleged to be their authors.

In parting, keep in mind that the process by which both the Old and New Testament Church came to possess the canon was one in which they discovered it, not determined it. This process of discovery was itself overseen by the Holy Spirit, ensuring that the church would discover and recognize God’s divinely inspired Scriptures. No more and no less.

For greater depth, consider the articles hosted at the following page: HERE