THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
I. “Lost Books of the Bible”?
1. Reason for this Study.
A. The Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God. Therefore, it is important to know just which books belong in the Bible and which books do not.
B. “Textual Criticism” is the science of studying ancient manuscripts in order to determine which words and verses are authentic. “Canonics” is the science of determining which whole or partial books are authentic, i.e, inspired.
C. The Bible itself lays down the principles for determining what is canonical. One important principle is in Rev. 22:18-19. We are told not to add to or subtract fromwhat God has spoken. Therefore, we should not add any books to the Bible nor should we subtract any. Both errors are equally wrong.
D. Matt. 24:35 tells us another important principle: “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” This applies to the Bible in whole and in part. Thus, God protects His Word in history as it is copied, recopied, translated and distributed. We call this “Providential Preservation.’
E. When we put these two principles together, we learn several things. First, there are no “Lost Books of the Bible.” God has not lost any. Second, we must be careful lest we reject what should be in the Bible, lest we attempt to cause His Word to pass away. Similarly, we should not add to the Bible lest we put words into God’s mouth. The Bible classes this as a lie (Pro. 30:6. Cf. Deut.4:2, 12:32).
2. Lost Books Mentioned in the Bible.
A. The Bible mentions a number of books, sometimes by name, which we do not have any more. There are no manuscripts or translations of any of them (though some clever scribes and publishers invented forgeries and gave some of them these names). Of course, none of them were inspired by God to be part of the “canon” (the Bible) – Neither the Jews nor the Christians have ever accepted them.
B. Sometimes a Biblical writer will quote from these books. Other times he just mentions them by name or description. This does not mean they are inspired. Paul quoted from Greek poets several times in the Bible, but nobody would suggest that he was saying that their writings belong in the Bible. See Acts 17:28, 1 Cor. 15:32, Tit. 1:12.
C. Most of these books were simply historical records, genealogies, royal archives, and court records. Others were evidently accounts of wars and battles, perhaps written by eyewitness generals or military scribes. Some of these may have been patriotic anthems or military marches.
1. Others were written by prophets sent by God. There is an important truth here. Nathan, for example, was a true prophet of God. Yet some of his written prophecies were not meant to be included in the Bible. This is similar to the principle that some of the prophets in the Bible spoke far more than they wrote, such as Elijah. They were inspired in one way when they prophesied, and inspired in a greater manner when they wrote their prophecies down. This “direct inspiration” gift of prophecy has ceased, or else parts of the Bible could still be written.
D. Below is a list of these lost books mentioned in the Bible:
(1) The Book of the Wars of the Lord.(Num. 21:14-15)
(2) The Book of Jasher. (Josh. 10:13, 2 Sam. 1:18)
(3) The Book of the Acts of Solomon. (I Kings 11:41)
(4) The Chronicles of Nathan the Prophet. (I Chron. 29:29, 2 Chron. 9:29)
(5) The Chronicles of Gad the Seer. (I Chron. 29:29)
(6) The Records of Iddo the Seer. (2 Chron. 12:15)
(7) The Annals of Jehu the Son of Hanani. (2 Chron. 20:34)
(8) The Book of Records. (Ezra 4:15)
(9) The Book of the Chronicles-of the Kings of Media and Persia. (Esther 2:23, 6:1, 10:2)
(10) The Prophecy of Ahijah the Silonite. (2 Chron. 9:29)
(11) The Visions of Iddo the Seer. (2 Chron. 9:29)
(12) The Chronicles of Samuel the Seer. (I Chron. 29:29)
(13) The Records of Shemaiah the Prophet. (2 Chron. 12:15)
(14) The Records of the Hozai. (2 Chron. 33:19) [“Hozai” means “seers”, prophets]
(15) The Writings of David, King of Israel. (2 Chron. 35:4) [This might include some of the Psalms, but implies that they were other sorts of writings.]
(16) The Writing of Solomon. (2 Chron. 35:4)
(17) The Proverbs, Songs and Biology of Solomon. (I Kings 4:32-33) [This may be the same as (16) above and may overlap with parts of the Bible books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. The text says these were spoken, but they may have been written down because they are numbered: 3000 proverbs, 1005 songs, plus messages on botany and zoology-; perhaps scientific or maybe proverbial, like in Proverbs.]
(18) Jeremiah’s Scroll. (Jer. 36) [Jer. 36 gives some quotes from it, but the rest was thrown in the fire.]
(19) Various unnamed books. (Ex. 17:14, Josh. 18:9, 1 Sam. 10:25, Esther 9:32) [Some of these may be among those listed above or maybe even part of Bible.]
(20) Paul’s Other Corinthian Epistles. (I Cor. 5:9, 11) [Scholars say I or 2.]
(21) Letters from the Corinthians to Paul. (I Cor. 7:1) [Scholars say I or 2.]
(22) The Epistle of the Laodiceans. (Col. 4:16) [Evidently a letter Paul wrote to the Church at nearby Laodecia, but the text says simply that they had it and not necessarily that it was written to them. Some scholars think it was a circular letter, possibly Ephesians. Some think it was Philemon. or even Hebrews]
(23) Pseudo-Pauline Epistles. (2 Thess. 2:2) [Definitely not I Thess.]
(24) Other Written Gospels. (Luke 1:1-4) [Some scholars think Luke meant Matthew and Mark, others say it was the “Q” document, others say lost Gospels.]
(25) The Tradition of the Elders. (Matt. 15:2, 3, 6) [This later was written down by the Jewish religious leaders and called the Mishnah. It is possible that many of these traditions were written in part by the time of Jesus.]
(26) The Books and the Parchments. (2 Tim. 4:13) [Scholars make guesses: Paul’s personal Old Testament in Hebrew or Greek, copies of Paul’s own earlier letters, copies of inspired New Testament books by other Apostles, notes and logs, official Roman papers of citizenship such as passports, etc.]
3. Non-existent Books Not Mentioned in the Bible.
A. These are wild guesses invented by liberal pseudo-scholars. We have no manuscripts of these supposed books, nor even any direct reference to them anywhere in the Bible. Some are vaguely possible, the others assume errors in the Bible.
B. Among the many liberal non-existent books involved in the Bible are these:
(1) “J”. [The “Yahwist” of “Jehovist” Document allegedly used by an editor of the 5 Books of Moses. This book supposedly used the name “Yahweh” for God. This theory also accepts the next 3 non-existent books. It says that Moses didn’t write the books attributed to him, but they were rather composed by a later editor(s) who patched together these 4 documents and made 5 books. Such could not be true, for Jesus and the Apostles quote each of the 5 Books and attribute them to Moses. This “Documentary Hypothesis” rejects full Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, and therefore the Bible rejects it – and so do we.]
(2) “E”. [The 2nd document, this one used the Hebrew word “Elohim” for God and thus is named the “Elohist Document.”]
(3) “D”. [The 3rd document, this one makes up the bulk of Deuteronomy and thus has been called the “Deuteronomist Document.”]
(4) “P”. [The 4th document, this one was mainly composed of sacrificial material for the priests, and thus has been named the “Priestly Document.”]
(5) “Q”. [Liberals do the same with the 4 Gospels as they do with the 5 Books of Moses. They think that there was originally a “Source” document, a basic record of the saying of Jesus. “Q” is short for “Quelle”, or “Source.” They say that this “Q” is now lost, but some or all of the 4 Gospel writers had access to it when they wrote their Gospels. However, though there could conceivably have been such a document, none of the Gospels mentions it, except for Luke 1:1-4, which is probably a reference rather to Matthew and Mark. Liberals often say this “Q” material is what is common to the first 3 Gospels. Odd, but none of the Church Fathers mention it. Nor do any writers of Scripture. Those who believe in it usually cast doubt on the true authorship of the 4 Gospels in the Bible, alleging that they were simply the products of later editors. This is to deny the full Scripture inspiration.]
(6) “Ur-Marcus.” [Allegedly a first draft of the Gospel of Mark, by Mark or someone pretending to be Mark. Again, no manuscripts for this, though some suggest that the variations in Mark 16:9-20 are remnants of Ur-Marcus.]
(7) Proto-Luke.” [Allegedly a first draft of Luke’s Gospel by Luke or someone pretending to be Luke. Again, no manuscripts for it, mention of it, etc.]
(8) “Proto-Acts.” [Allegedly a first draft of the Acts of the Apostles, by Luke or someone pretending to be Luke. They say this would account for the variations in some of the manuscripts, such as the notorious Codex Bezae.]
(9) “Mary’s Infancy Notes.”[It has been suggested that Mary kept notes of the events surrounding Christ’s birth and later passed them on to Luke, etc. This is perhaps possible, but highly unlikely.]
(10) “Luke’s Travel Log.” [The theory says that Luke kept a log of the travels he did with Paul, and used this as a basis for writing Acts. Possible, but impossible to prove – no manuscripts, no mention of it in Acts or elsewhere.]
(11) “The Aramaic Gospel of Matthew.” [This theory says Matthew wrote his Gospel in Aramaic or Hebrew and then it was later translated into Greek by Matthew or some body else. After all, Matthew wrote to Jews, not Gentiles. Papias the early church father says Matthew wrote in Aramaic. Yet we do not have any manuscripts for it; other fathers are silent; and the language of Matthew shows similarity to Aramaic. Ttue, it could possibly be a translation, but it could also simply be the writings of a man for whom Aramaic was his first language and Greek his second – comparable to speaking English with a foreign accent. Some scholars propose a similar theory for the Book of Hebrews.]
4. Miscellaneous Pretenders to the Canon.
A. In later lessons we will discuss books like the Apocrypha, but let us mention in passing a few books which some people have sought to include in the Bible or have considered inspired in one way or another.
B. The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants. The Mormon cult accepts these as inspired and canonical. Mormon Bibles often have these 3 actually bound in with the OT and NT.
C. Science and Health, With A Key to the Scriptures. This is the book of Christian Science cult, written by Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy. They claim it is inspired.
D. Divine Principle. Written by Sun Myung Moon. The Unification Church (the Moonies) considers it of equal inspiration to the Bible.
E. The Writings of Ellen G. White. The “prophetess” of Seventh-Day Adventism wrote many books. SDA denies they are as inspired as Scripture, but in other places quotes them as Scripture, appeals to them in the same way, and in many ways considers them to be true and inspired prophecies and infallible. Among her more important books: The Desire of Ages, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, Testimonies for the Church, Patriarchs and Prophets Prophets and Kings, and Steps to Christ. All totalled, her writings are several times the length of the Bible.
F. Papal Encyclicals and Ex Cathedra Pronouncements. The Roman Catholic Church says that Tradition and the infallible pronouncements of the Pope are in some ways equally inspired as the Bible.
G. The Decrees of the Church Councils. The Roman Catholic Church also places a high value on these, virtually equal to Scripture. The Eastern Orthodox Church does, too.
H. Creeds and Confessions of Faith are sometimes elevated so high that one can hardly see any difference between them and Scripture.
I. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, despite the name, refer to much more recent occult books on witchcraft and casting spells.
J. Pentecostal prophecies are sometimes accorded inspirational status. Most would deny this, saying that they are rather like the unwritten prophecies of Elijah or the written but lost prophecies of Nathan and Samuel, etc (see above). In other cases, however, these prophecies have been transcribed, published, and used along with the Bible. Sometimes they are even referred to as “the 29th Chapter of Acts”, and the like.
K. Mein Kampf was considered inspired by most hard-core Nazis, and many in the current pseudo-Christian Identity cult claim that Mein Kampf is as inspired by God as the Bible.
L. Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King. King wrote a letter to a newspaper editor; after its publication it spread far and wide and was republished and distributed many times. Oddly, a few extreme liberals called for recognition of it as inspired by God and wanted it to be included in the Bible. To the credit of most of King’s staff – and King himself – this was not taken too seriously.
M. Notes in certain study Bibles sometimes are unconsciously read as if they were inspired and part of the Bible itself. Of course, the authors usually deny it. The Catholic Church includes “authoritative” notes in almost all of their Bibles. Some Dispensationalists almost attribute infallibility to the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, unconsciously. It has been suggested that even some of the Puritans read the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible like this as well.
5. Bibliography on Canonics from an Evangelical Perspective.
A. Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press , 1988.
B. Harris, R. Laird. The Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957 (reprinted often).
C. Geisler,Norman; and Nix, William. General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968 (often reprinted).
D. Stonehouse, N.B. The Infallible Word. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1946 (reprinted often).
E. Bruce, F.F. The Books and the Parchments. Old Tappan: Revell, 1950 (and often).
F. Almost all O.T. Introductions have chapters on O.T. canon. I recommend those by E.J. Young, Gleason Archer and R.K. Harrison. For N.T., see Donald Guthrie, E.F. Harrison, and H.C. Thiessen.
THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
2. The Old Testament
2. Is the Apocrypha Part of the Old Testament?
A. The Apocrypha is by far the largest group of writings which is debated in relation to the canon. By looking at the reasons for and against its inclusion, we will note the major facts and factors which determine the O.T. canon.
B. There are some 13 or 14 books in the Apocrypha. The number varies even among those who say the Apocrypha is inspired. The numbering differs, for example, because some ‘books’ are really just additions to existing books of the O.T. There are 3 additions to the canonical book of Daniel, and at least one major addition to Esther. The 3 books of Maccabees are mainly historical records, containing most of the only information we have for the history of Israel between the O.T. and N.T. eras. Ecclesiasticus – not to be confused with the book of Ecclesiastes – and Wisdom of Solomon are both poetical. Actually, there is much good wisdom in them. But are they Scripture? No.
2. The Roman Catholic Case for Acceptance of the Apocrypha.
A. The Catholic Church is by far the largest group that accepts the books of the Apocrypha. The Greek Orthodox Church does as well, and a few minor ones, too. But Rome is representative of them all in the main arguments.
B. The first argument is this: The Apocrypha is in the Greek Septuagint, which was the Bible of the early Church. Therefore, this is the complete Old Testament.
C. The second argument: There is universal consent among the early Church Fathers on the canonicity of the Apocrypha. Since unanimous consent means revelation, God revealed to the Fathers that the Apocrypha was Scripture.
D. Third: Catholic tradition has always accepted the Apocrypha. Since God promised that the Catholic Church would never depart from the truth and that it alone would be the guardian and promoter of truth, this proves the Apocrypha is what the Catholic Church says it is. .
E. The Council of Trent (16th century) accepted the Apocrypha in no uncertain terms. Since the decrees of councils are binding, this proves the Apocrypha is canonical.
F. The books of the Apocrypha were written by Jews, not Gentiles or pagans. Also, they were written by pre-Christian Jews, not unbelieving Jews in the Christian era. Therefore, they belonged to the time when God still sent prophets to Israel the covenant nation, and some of these wrote the Apocrypha.
G. Jesus and the Apostles followed the Jews in accepting the Apocrypha.
3. The Case Against Accepting the Apocrypha.
A. True, the Apocrypha is in the Septuagint, but it was not the only Greek version of the O.T. Some of the others rejected the Apocrypha. Moreover, the Septuagint as such was not the officially-sanctioned translation by the Sanhedrin in Israel, but was the product of Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, who spoke Greek more than Hebrew. Further, many of the other ancient translations rejected the Apocrypha. History shows that even the Alexandrian Jews didn’t consider the Apocrypha inspired; they put it in the Septuagint as a study aid. The great Alexandrian Jewish philosopher/exegete Philo did not accept the Apocrypha. Thus, inclusion in the Greek Septuagint did not mean inclusion in the Hebrew O.T.
B. The early Church Fathers after the time of the N.T. were anything but unanimous in their acceptance of the Apocrypha. Some accepted some of the Apocrypha, but even those who did differed among themselves – and all were in the small minority. Also, even those who tended to accept it wavered, such as Augustine. Rome places a high authority on Jerome, but even Jerome rejected the Apocrypha outright. Sure, he translated it for the Latin Vulgate translation, but only after considerable protestations [making him an early ‘Protestant’!]. He put it in as an appendix, a useful study aid, not as Scripture. Besides, we are not dependent on the Church Fathers, even if there were a supposed “unanimous consent”. They and we are equally dependent on Scripture. Jesus never promised revelation through them, nor did He promise unanimous consent.
C. As to the third argument, even Catholic tradition has not always accepted the Apocrypha. Most early fathers did not; some medieval theologians also. Besides,it tends to contradict the Word of God (see Matt. 15, Mark 7). Christ promised the indefectability of His Word (Matt. 24:35) and of His invisible flock (John 10:28), not of any one visible denomination. Rome’s acceptance of the Apocrypha is only another proof of her defection from the truth, not of indefectability.
D. The Council of Trent, summoned to curse the Reformation, occurred some 15 centuries after the end of the N. T. Even Rome says that it only accepted what was already officially accepted. Actually, Trent stressed the Apocrypha only to bolster certain heresies that could be found in Rome and the Apocrypha, but not in the O. T. and N. T. nor by the Reformed churches. Such heresies include praying for the dead, Purgatory, etc. And Scripture, not councils, is what binds us.
This is related to another Romanist claim concerning the Bible. Rome exalts herself above the Bible. It claims that the Church gave us the Bible, not the other way around. Therefore, the Church can also give us the Apocrypha. This whole idea is fundamentally wrong. Actually, the Bible gave us the Church, not the other way around. The Bible is the foundation (Matt. 7:24).
E. Next, it is true that the books of the Apocrypha were written by Jews during the inter-testimental era, but that does not prove inspiration. The Dead Sea Scrolls, much of the Pseudepigrapha, perhaps even some of the Targums, were also written by Jews before Christ. They are not inspired either.
F. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Jews ever accepted the Apocrypha, either before or after Christ. Yes, occasionally the rabbis quoted the Apocryphal books in the Talmuds, but very rarely so and never as Scripture. If you are familiar with the literary genre of the rabbinical writings, you’ll know that they quote dozens of rabbis and rabbinic books. They make a clear distinction regarding Scripture. Moreover, in these rabbinic books they often explicitly reject the Apocrypha.
We mentioned that Philo rejected it. Josephus is even more explicit in his rejection, and he had access to the “official” scrolls in the Temple. He gives a list of the officially accepted books, and it corresponds with the lists in other rabbinic books. About 150 AD, the Christian, Melito, also drew up a list of canonical books; he conferred with the Jewish leaders and gave the same list. And not even the Dead Sea Scrolls not the Pseudepigrapha accepted the Apocrypha.
Someone may say that the Sadduccees rejected the O. T. except for the Pentateuch. This is not quite accurate. More precisely, they placed more emphasis on the Pentateuch and quoted only Moses in their disputations. This is comparable to how some Christians tend to dwell on the 4 Gospels, without rejecting the rest of the N. T. So, historical facts prove that the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected it.
Now this is extremely significant and conclusive. Romans 3:2 says that Israel as covenant nation was “entrusted with the oracles of God” [the Bible]. Israel was providentially guided in the protection of the Hebrew Bible down to the time of the New Covenant, when the role of trust was given to the Church. This is the invisible Church in many lands and denominations, we add, not the Roman Catholic Church.
Now here is the crucial point: Jesus disagreed strongly with the Jewish view of Tradition, but not their view of the canon of the Hebrew Bible. If Jesus had disagreed, then He certainly would have said so and the 4 Gospel writers would have recorded it. Since they don’t and He didn’t, then it is sure that Jesus agreed with the Jews on what was canonical and inspired up to that time. This is a conclusive “Argument from lesser to greater”. If Jesus disagreed with them over Tradition, and Tradition is less important than canon and inspiration, then surely He would have rebuked them if He disagreed with them over canon. He didn’t. The silence is conclusive.
G. Another good argument is this: the Apocrypha is never quoted in the N.T. All books of the O.T. are quoted directly, except for Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Song, and Ecclesiates. This doesn’t prove they were non-inspired, no. Conversely, quoting an O.T. book with the formula “It is written” or the like was the seal of approval of its inspiration and canonicitity. But note that none of the Apocryphal books are ever quoted, much less with the formula. Sure, there are a few vague verbal similarities and possible indirect allusions, but these are not at all seals of approval. As for the 5 mentioned above, they belonged to the accepted Jewish canon, and so were accepted as canonical on that count.
H. Some parts of the Apocrypha even imply that the authors did not consider themselves to be inspired. For example, the author of Ecclesiasticus speaks three times of the Hebrew Bible in such a way that implies that he thought they were Scripture and prophetic, but his own were not. He wrote his only as useful literature.
I. Moreover, the Apocrypha often contradicts both the O.T. and N.T. Baruch contradicts Jeremiah’s chronology. Maccabees and Judith make historical and geographical errors. Some parts of Tobit justify deception and lying, and there is the notorious defence of divination of the entrails of a fish to exorcise demons mentioned in Tobit – a practice clearly condemned in Deut. 18:10. Now, since true Scripture is infallible and cannot contradict itself (John 10:35, 17:17), this shows that the books of the Apocrypha are not inspired.
J. Luke 11:51 and Matt. 23:35 refer to the martyrs’ blood from Abel to Zachariah. This was the Jewish way of saying “from first to last”, much as we now say “from Genesis to Revelation”. The rabbis often used this expression. Abel was the first recorded martyr (Gen. 4:1-15) and Zacariah the last (2 Chron. 24:41). It is important to realize that in the Jewish canon, 2 Chronicles was placed last in the scrolls, not Malachi. They realized that this signalled the end of the prophetic line until Messiah came. Thus, the Apocrypha was not prophetic.
K. There’s another conclusive argument: Luke 24:44. Sometimes Jesus referred to the whole O.T. as simply “the Law”; sometimes he said “the Law and the Prophets.” The was in keeping with the general practice among contemporary Judaism. But in Luke 24:44 Jesus was being theologically precise and so spoke of the Jewish 3-fold division of the O.T. He did not say, “the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Apocrypha”.
The divison was this: (1) The Torah (the 5 books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch); (2) The Nebihiim, or Prophets (Joshua, Judges, I & 2 Samuel, I & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 Minor Prophets combined as one); (3) The Kethubim, or Hagiographa, “holy writings” (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, I & 2 Chronicles). The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus mentions this division 3 times in a single paragraph, and it is found many times in other rabbinic writings of Christ’s day. Here’s the clincher: the Apocrypha was never considered part of any of these 3 divisions. It wasn’t even worthy to be considered a 4th division, for it was not ever considered Scripture. As said above, if Jesus had disagreed with the Jews over canon, here was the perfect place to say so. But He didn’t, for He did not accept the Apocrypha. Thus, we reject it because Jesus rejected it.
L. Lastly, there is the highest confirmation: the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Spirit always agree. Now, what is the ultimate reason why we accept the Bible as inspired? It is because the Holy Spirit testifies supernaturally through Scripture that these are the very words of God Himself (cf. I John 5:7, “The Spirit is the witness because the Spirit is the truth”). There was something spiritually self-authenticating about the Spirit’s prophecies through the prophets (cf. Ezek. 2:5, 33:33). Heb. 1:1-2 tells us that God spoke through the prophets in this way until the time of Jesus. We call this the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” It is not mystical feelings, but the Spirit in Scripture. The same Spirit that inspired the writers to write it down (2 Pet-. 1:21) also continues to speak through it and authenticate it. It is the same voice of the Shepherd that the sheep hear (John 10:4, 27).
Now, the Apocrypha does not have this self-authenticating internal testimony. It is a good imitation, but not good enough. Moreover, most of the Apocrypha doesn’t even claim to be inspired. The Pseudepigrapha and others usually do, and then it is immediately apparent that they are but false imitations of the true prophetic voice of the Spirit.
4. Inspiration Determines Canonicity.
A. As we have shown above, it all gets back to this basic principle: Inspiration determines canonicity. Ultimately we accept the O.T. without the Apocrypha because Christ said so. And the Spirit confirms this. These two fundamental witnesses greatly outweigh the puny, self-contradicting witnesses put forth by Rome in favor of the Apocrypha.
B. These very principles can be applied to other pretenders to the O.T. canon, such as the Pseudepigrapha. Let us say a few words about those specious books. Observe the following as mentioned above:
(1) The Jews never considered any of the Pseudepigrapha inspired, with the exception of only a few frauds and crazy cults not worth mentioning. Even the Church Fathers rejected these spurious books.
(2) Many parts of the Pseudepigrapha contain heresies condemned in the O.T. They also abound in even more historical errors than the Apocrypha.
(3) These books do not bear the self-authenticating voice of the Spirit.
(4) None of them are ever quoted as Scripture in the N.T. The only instance that has caused some concern is Jude 14, where Jude apparently quotes from the Book of Enoch (I Enoch, to be precise). But this doesn’t prove canonicity:
(A) Jude does not call it Scripture, say “It is written”, nor even mention the Book of Enoch. He simply says that Enoch said this. It is possible that he got the information straight from the Spirit by revelation.
(B) A few scholars think that Jude actually wrote before the so-called Book of Enoch. In other words, it has been suggested that Jude had direct revelation, and a later scribe built a whole book around that one statement. This was popular with other pseudepigraphic books. Thus, I Enoch would be quoting Jude, not the other way around. Another view says that a Christian simply added Jude’s words to the already-existing I Enoch. However, both are unlikely. Large fragments of I Enoch in Aramaic were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls – all of which were written before the Destruction of Jerusalem (and Qumran, site of the scrolls) in 70 AD. Jude almost certainly wrote after 70 AD.
(C) The answer is this: Jude was no more attributing inspiration and canonicity to I Enoch than Paul was attributing canonicity to Menander when he quoted this Greek poet in Acts 17.
The above facts should lay to rest for good any doubts you may have about the Apocrypha being canonical. Remember, to add to Scripture is dangerous.
THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
3. The New Testament
A. The English word ‘canon’ is a transliteration of two words which sound the same: QANEH (Hebrew) and KANON (Greek). The meaning is “rod, stick, measure”. This is the origin of the English word ‘cane’ also. When we speak of ‘the canon of Scripture’, we speak of Scripture as the measuring rod of all truth. The phrase also refers to the books which properly belong in the Bible – the inches, as it were, on the yardstick. Omit or add one, and the measure is that much shorter or longer.
B. The question of the N.T. canon differs slightly from that of the O.T. For one, Jesus upheld the Jewish canon, but what about after the time of Jesus? Is the N.T. canon still open until Christ returns a second time? Then there are differences between the 2 covenants and the 2 covenant peoples. Israel was a national lineage; the Church is not. Israel had a geographic center in Jerusalem; the Church does not. Then there was the change in language from Greek to Hebrew.
C. However, as we shall see, the Lord Jesus made provision for these changes. We do well to remember the principle of ‘Providential Preservation’. Christ’s Word will never pass away in whole or in part (Matt. 24:35). And as with the O.T. canon, so the principles governing what should be in the N.T. canon are given to us in the Bible itself. We accept certain books and reject others, not because any church says so, but because Christ laid down certain principles and promises regarding the Holy Spirit (who inspired the Bible). We take God’s Word for it.
2. Apostolicity is a Test of Canonicity.
A. Has it ever struck you odd that Jesus never wrote any books of the Bible Himself? Yet, He refers to it as His Word. This begins to unlock the riddle of the N.T. canon. The key is this: Christ wrote the N.T. indirectly through the Apostles. Charles Hodge sums up the principle like this:
“The principle on which the canon of the New Testament is determined is equally simple. Those books, and those only which can be proved to have been written by the apostles, or to have received their sanction, are to be recognized as of divine authority. The reason of this rule is obvious. The apostles were the duly authenticated messengers of Christ, of whom He said, ‘He that heareth you heareth Me.'(Luke 10:16)”
B. John 4:1-2 mentions this principle in another way. Jesus baptized, but not personally. His Apostles baptized on His behalf. In the O.T. there was a succession of inspired prophets who could write Scripture; in the N.T. there was a group of inspired Apostles who could write Scripture. One difference was that the O.T. prophets continued a long time before ending, while N.T. Apostles were a single group without succession. They ended with the death of John. Hence, Revelation was the last inspired book written by an Apostle, and the warning of Rev. 22:18-19 applies to itself and the whole N.T. and complete Bible. John was the last to die, according the Rev. 1 and John 21.
C. Of course, this inspiration applied only to them in their official capacity as Apostles. They were not inspired or infallible in everything they said or wrote, as is evident from Gal. 2:11 (where Paul rebuked Peter). Still, Gal. l and 2 make it clear that the Apostles, including Paul, were in complete agreement on what they taught as Apostles.
D. The 4 Gospels make it clear from the start that the Apostles were in a unique category, the ‘inner circle’ as it were. These were chosen to “be with” Christ in a unique way (cf. Mark 3:14, John 15:27). They alone were with Christ in the Upper Room (John 13-16). Now, in the Upper Room discourse Christ made them a special promise regarding how He would be “with” them after He left. He promised that the Holy Spirit would be with them in a unique way to guide them into the truth, reminding them of what He said and did when with them (John 14:26, 16:13-15). This harks back to John 2:22 and 12:16 for examples.
E. These verses are often mistakenly interpreted as applying to every Christian equally. Not so. The same is true with the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). The Apostles were special witnesses of the Resurrection (I Cor. 9, Acts 1); we can be witnesses only in a secondary sense. By the same standard, the Spirit is in and with us to guide and remind only in a secondary way. The primary promise had to do with the Apostles in the foundation of the Church and writing of the N.T. In one sense, Christ is the foundation (I Cor. 3:11). In another sense, the foundation is the Bible written by O.T. prophets and N.T. Apostles (Eph. 2:20).
F. Notice how this comes out in the letters of the Apostles. They take special note of emphasizing their apostleship early in their letters (Gal. I is clearest). Peter identified himself as an Apostle, too (I Pet. 1:1, 2 Pet. 1:1), while John mentions that he was an eye-witness (I John 1) and directly inspired by God (Rev. 1:3, 22:18-19).
G. This is particularly evident in Paul. In 2 Thess. 2:15 he states that his apostolic authority applies to both his spoken and written words. In I Cor. 2:4-13 he more or less repeats Christ’s promise from John 14-16 regarding the Spirit at work in a special way through the Apostles – again, these words are often mistakenly applied to all Christians equally. In I Cor.7:6, 10 and 12 he applies this to a specific matter. He is not saying (as liberals think) that he might be wrong or non-authoritative; he is not stating a mere opinion. He is simply saying that he was quoting directly from what Christ said while He was on the Earth, in one case; while in the other, Christ did not directly speak on the matter, but is now speaking on it via the Holy Spirit in an Apostle, namely Paul. This is again done in 11:23 and 14:37. Paul considered his epistles to be inspired; therefore they should be read in churches together with the rest of the Scriptures (I Thess. 5:27, Col. 4:16).
H. This ‘Apostolic Principle’ applies directly to about half of the N.T. Peter, Paul, John, and Matthew (Levi) were all Apostles. But what about the rest? The ‘Apostolic Principle’ applies to them as well, but in an indirect way. It is this: it can be shown from the N.T. itself that these books were written by known associates of living Apostles, who thus sanctioned these books.
I. Luke wrote a Gospel and Acts (compare Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-4). Luke 1 makes it clear that Luke based his Gospel on Mark and Matthew. Moreover, we know that Luke was a working associate of Paul (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:11 and often in the middle chapters of Acts). Sometimes apostles used an amanuensis, or stenographer, to write down what they wanted said (cf. Rom. 16:22, 1 Pet. 5:12).
J. If one compares I Pet.5:13 and 2 Pet. 1:15-21, it is evident that Peter sanctioned Mark’s writing of the second Gospel. In fact, it is most likely that this was the first Gospel actually written. Moreover, Mark also worked with Paul (Col. 4:10, Acts 13:5, 15:37). This then accounts for Apostolic authority behind the 4 Gospels, either directly or indirectly.
K. As for the others: Jude was the brother of James and thus the half-brother of Jesus (compare Jude 1, James 1:1, Gal. 1:19, Matt. 13:55). Moreover, 23 verses in Jude are quotations from 2 Peter. This is enough to indicate that Jude was an Apostolic associate. Hebrews is anonymous. If Paul wrote it, the question is rendered moot. If Paul did not, it is evident that the author was among the early Apostolic band as an associate (cf. 2:3-4, 13:23). Some say he was Apollos, others Barnabas, others Luke, somebody has even suggested Mary! Lastly, James was half-brother of Jesus and Jude,and a recognized leader in the Church (Acts 15).
L. Finally, notice how various N.T. writers refer to each other. In 2 Pet. 3:15-16, Peter recognizes Paul’s epistles as “Scripture” alongside the O.T. In I Tim. 5:18, Paul quotes two “scriptures” Deut. 25:4 and Luke 10:7 (which may also be a quote from Matt. 10:10, though the exact wording is from Luke). Paul thus authorized Luke’s Gospel and Acts.
3. The Post-apostolic Fathers.
A. Only a brief outline can be given here. First, there were the “Apostolic Fathers”, though they should really be called the “Post-apostolic Fathers.” These wrote several short books of similar content to the N.T. Some are fragments (Papias). Some are anonymous (The Letter to Diognetus). The Shepherd of Hermas is a lengthy allegory similar to Pilgrim’s Progress. They do not contain any major heresies.
B. Several of these indicate that they knew one or more of the Apostles. Of course, much time had elapsed. Most of these Apostolic Fathers wrote between 90 and 150 AD. I Clement is probably the earliest (c. 95 AD). Do these qualify as “Apostolic associates”? No, for the Apostles had died by this time, so they did not get to authorize the writings of the “Apostolic Fathers”. This applies even to Clement, who may be the Clement mentioned in Phil.4:3.
C. Moreover, these writers sometimes deny inspiration or refer to the Apostles and other writers of Scripture as being in a qualitatively different class than themselves (so said Ignatius, Papias and Clement). If they were inspired, they would not have denied being inspired. Only the Shepherd of Hermas was ever seriously considered inspired by anyone, and this was the last of them to be written (c.150 AD, much later than the death of the Apostles). So, these were simply the first of the non-inspired writings of early Christians – and there would be hundreds in the centuries to come.
4. The Second to Fourth Centuries.
A. For much of this time, the Church suffered intense persecution. Debates occurred at times over what was N.T. canon, but these were confined to the sidelines. Virtually all agreed with the 27 we accept today. Marcion was a famous Gnostic in the mid-second century. He rejected everything except parts of Paul and Luke (he even rejected all the O.T.). This set a pattern – most of those who challenged the canon were heretics who wanted to add or subtract books.
B. Various lists appear in the writings of Church Fathers, agreeing for the most part. The Council of Carthage (397 AD) drew up a list of 27 N.T. books, and this settled it forever, except for the few remaining Gnostics. However, as we said earlier, canonocity is determined by inspiration, not by church councils. It was good that Carthage and others recognized the N.T. canon, but that is not why we do. We accept the 27 books because they were inspired.
5. Classes of Books in the First Few Centuries.
A. Several writers, especially Origen and Eusebius, drew up lists by categories. These explain the reasons why some books were recognized, others doubted.
B. The Homologoumena were the books which everyone except the rankest Gnostics accepted without question. These included the 4 Gospels, Acts, Paul’s epistles, I Peter and I John. Eusebius included Hebrews in Paul’s, Origen did not.
C. The Antilegomena were books disputed by a few persons and churches. These included Hebrews (in some places), James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Hebrews was questioned because it was anonymous. James was doubted by some because of its Jewish tone and stress on works. 2 Peter, because its literary style differed from I Peter. Jude, because it resembled 2 Peter so closely and because it cited material from the book of Enoch. 2 and 3 John, because they were so short, private, and not often quoted by Fathers. And Revelation because it was so apocalyptic in its visions.
D. The Notha were books like the apostolic Fathers – useful, not inspired. Lastly, the Forgeries, such as books of the N.T. Apocrypha.
6. The New Testament Apocrypha.
A. Even in Paul’s own day there were forged epistles claiming to be by Apostles or Apostolic associates (2 Thess. 2:2). These would greatly increase in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, making up what is known as the N.T. Apocrypha. Most are by Gnostics.
B. Only I or 2 were ever considered inspired, at least by non-Gnostics. Why do we reject them all? For the reasons above: most contradict the true N.T. books (and Scripture does not contradict itself), either in doctrine or history. Some make Christ only a man; others divine but not fully man. Several contain made-up stories of Jesus doing miracles as a boy (turning another boy into a goat, cursing another boy to wither and another to die, making clay pigeons fly – but John 2:11 says Christ’s first miracle was as an adult in Cana). Many of them are incomplete fragments or completely lost – contradicting the principle of Providential Preservation (Matt. 24:35). All the books of the N.T. are quoted in church fathers before 150 AD, but we have no trace of these others before that time. And they do not contain the self-authenticating testimony of the Holy Spirit. Occasionally more reputable Fathers, such as Tertullian, actually caught these forgers. One of them confessed that he did it “out of love for Paul.” Some love!
C. The same applies to the Nag Hammadi writings, which were all Gnostical. Moreover, most are fragments. Besides, they were lost until 1947, contra Providential Preservation. Lastly there is the”Gospel According to Barnabas” a 15th-century forgery by Islamic fanatics to make Jesus only a man and Mohammad the object of the prophecy about the coming of the Spirit. It is still in print in Pakistan.
7. Martin Luther’s Views.
A. Luther had some doubts about Hebrews (he said Apollos wrote it), Jude, Revelation and especially James. He seems to have wavered here, for he quoted them all as Scripture, even James. Yet he explicitly denied James in several places. Calling it “an epistle of straw”, he said: “I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove.” James, he thought, was too Jewish, contradicted Paul on justification by faith, quoted Peter ‘s epistles (and Acts says James died early, long before Peter wrote), and lacks literary structure.
B. Luther’s final principle for canonicity: “That which does not teach Christ is still not apostolic, even if it were the teaching of Peter or Paul. On the other hand, that which preaches Christ is apostolic even if Judas, Annas, Pilate or Herod did it.” But: Luther was wrong. James speaks of works as evidence of justification; Paul agrees and says good works do not produce justification. James 1:1, 2:1and 5:8 contain rich Christology. Its structure is a semi-commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. And James bears the witness of the Holy Spirit,
C. Lutherans have, unfortunately, tended to follow Luther in postulating a “canon within the canon” of the N.T. That is, they see Paul’s letters as most important, then the Gospels, then Acts and the rest. This is comparable to how the Sadduccees placed the Pentateuch above the Prophets and the Writings. However, since all 66 books of the Bible are inspired, little Esther is as inspired as big Paul.
8. Inspiration Determines Canonicity.
A. Just as Paul put an identifying mark in his own hand on all his epistles (Gal. 6:11, 2 Thess. 3:17), so the Holy Spirit places an indubidible mark on all the truly prophetic and apostolic writings of the Biblical canon.
B. The French Confession of 1559, which Calvin helped write, noted: “We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books.” The canon is closed; all Apostles are long dead; no more books are truly prophetic or apostolic; none others bear the Spirit’s testimony. Providential Protection prohibits others from being found (even the other Corinthian ones, I Cor. 5:9; or the Laodecian letter, Col. 4:16). We have what Christ promised and we need no others!