A Case for the Bible, Part 8: How do we know the Bible has the right books?
This blog is part of a series. You can start the series by going back to the September 1, 2014 Introduction called A Case for Christianity: Why do we need one?
But the followers of Valentinus, putting away all fear, bring forward their own compositions and boast that they have more Gospels than really exist. Indeed their audacity has gone so far that they entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth. -Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses (3.11.9)
Over the last few blogs we have looked at just some of the massive evidence available for the reliability of the Bible and its transmission over the centuries. But how do we know the people before us got it right when they chose the final books? When I began my investigation into the Christian faith I was coming in as a skeptic who wanted to believe but who didn’t think the evidence would be that strong. When I ran into some literature on Apocryphal writings from the Old Testament era and Gnostic writings that claimed to be gospels authored by Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament era I really thought I had run into something that now showed the Bible hinged on preference instead of truth. Why were these books left out of the Bible? Who decided which ones to include in the Christian canon for the Bible? I didn’t give up at this point however, I kept on researching and what I found was basically simple, but I could have just given up and given in to relativism as so many have and so many do.
I’ll start with the Apocrypha (the word means hidden or doubtful) which are books that do not claim to be inspired by God and are not included in the Christian Canon of the Bible. Some of these books were included in the early manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate and are still in the Roman Catholic Bible today.
Why Protestants Say “No:
- Was not written by prophets of God (1 Mac. 9:27).
- Are dated during the four hundred year period of prophetic silence (the last Prophet before John the Baptist was Malachi).
- Was not confirmed by supernatural acts of God (Heb. 2:3-4).
- Was not accepted by the people of God (Judaism) as Scripture and were never included in the Hebrew Bible.
- Does not always tell the truth of God:
- on praying for the dead (2 Mac. 12:46)
- on working for salvation (Tobit 12:9)
- Was not accepted by Jesus the Son of God (Lk. 24:27).
- Was not accepted by the Apostles and the New Testament authors who never quoted from them.
- Was not accepted by the early Christian Church.
- Was rejected by Jerome, the great Catholic translator of the Word of God.
- Contain some absurdities and inconsistencies with the rest of the Biblical Canon.
However, there is a benefit to reading the Apocryphal books because some of them contain valuable historical information useful in understanding the period between the Old and New Testaments.
The Apocryphal books include…
- The Wisdom of Solomon (c. 30 B.C.)
- Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) (c. 132 B.C.)
- Tobit (c. 200 B.C.)
- Judith (c. 150 B.C.)
- *1 Esdras (c. 150-100 B.C.) [3 Esdras in Roman Catholic Bible]
- *2 Esdras (c. 100 A.D.) [4 Esdras in Roman Catholic Bible]
- 1 Maccabees (c. 110 B.C.)
- 2 Maccabees (c. 110-70 B.C.)
- Baruch (c. 150-50 B.C.)—Baruch 1-5 (Letter of Jeremiah [c. 300-100 B.C.])–Baruch 6
- Addition to Esther (c. 140-130 B.C.)
- Prayer of Azariah (c. 2nd or 1st cent B.C.)–Daniel 3:24-90
- Susanna (c. 2nd or 1st cent B.C.)–Daniel 13
- Bel and the Dragon (c. 100 B.C.)–Daniel 14
- *Prayer of Manasseh (c. 2nd or 1st cent B.C.)
(*Not in Catholic Bible)
What about the New Testament? There are hundreds of Gnostic gospels claiming to tell the truth about Jesus and the early first century. How can we decipher which books should have been included and which ones should have not? It actually turns out to be a very easy decision: THE EARLIEST CHRISTIANS DID NOT USE THEM!
Rejection of Non-Canonical New Testament Books:
The Gnostic gospels…
- Were written well into the 2nd and 3rd centuries by authors who were not primary eyewitnesses but who took the names of many of the apostles and disciples.
- Falsely claimed to be written by the apostles and their associates who were long dead, this makes them secondary not primary sources.
- Have no basis in primary evidence, cross-references to other Scripture, or confirmation from the 1st and 2nd century Churches.
- Contain false doctrine (Gnosticism, Asceticism, Docetism, Modalism, Adoptionism, etc.).
- Contain false miracle claims about Jesus’ infancy (cf. Jn. 2:11).
- Contain false or exaggerated claims and absurdities about Biblical events that are inconsistent with the early writings of the apostles and disciples of Jesus.
- Were unanimously rejected by The early Church Fathers.
- Were promoted by the heretic Marcion, about 140 AD, who actually helped confirm the present New Testament Canon by rejecting it in favor of these.
Some of the Gnostic Books include…
- Gospel of Thomas (early 2nd cent)
- Gospel of Peter (2nd cent)
- Protevangelium of James (late 2nd cent)
- Gospel of Philip (3rd cent)
- Gospel of Truth (2nd cent)
- Gospel of Mary (2nd cent)
- Gospel of Judas (late 2nd early 3rd cent)
How was the Bible canonized?
- The books of the Old Testament were canonized by Jewish tradition and Scribal transmission, and had long been used and accepted by the time of Jesus.
- The Masoretic text (c. 900 AD) that matches the Dead Sea Scrolls (c. BC 200-150) is the same text we have in the canon today.
- The Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament are the same (only the sequence of the books are different)
- All of the books were written before 100 A.D. (Col. 4:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16; 1 Tim. 5:18) and there was an almost immediate acceptance of these books by the earliest Christians.
- Manuscripts were quickly and widely dispersed as evidenced in lectionaries and quotations from the early Church Fathers we still have today.
- In the 1st and 2nd centuries the churches in Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus and Rome still possessed the autographs and manuscripts from the apostolic authors.
- By 120 A.D. virtually all of the New Testament was cited (all but a couple one chapter books).
- By 170 A.D. the complete New Testament was recognized by the Church Fathers.
- In 325 A.D. the council of Nicaea was convened to combat heresies, like Gnosticism, that were trying to creep into the Church.
- The main focus of the council of Nicaea was the deity of Jesus and not the actual canonization of the Bible, contrary to fictional books like the DaVinci Code.
- By the mid 4th century the Emperor Constantine had proclaimed Christianity as a legal religion and the New Testament was formally affirmed by the Church Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).
Here are the guidelines followed by the early Church Fathers to canonize the Bible:
1. Does it speak with God’s authority?
- Is it consistent with God’s teachings throughout history?
- Is there evidence of God’s Words and promises from Scripture? (Prophetic—”Thus says the LORD”)
2. Does it have the authentic stamp of God?
- The teachings must relate to truth and the truths of the Old Testament.
- Are the teachings consistent with the teachings of the prophets, Jesus and the Apostles
3. Does it impact us with the power of God?
- Were miracles evidenced based on these teachings?
- This was also based on the testimony of changed lives as evidenced in the lives of the believers.
4. Was it accepted by the people of God?
- The believers in the early church had lived by it.
- The teachings that were canonized were in common use in the first three centuries.
For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. –Psalm 119:89
Let me know what you think: If the writings of the Gnostic gospels were not primary sources and eyewitnesses did not author them should educational institutions hold them up as historically equal to the New Testament Gospels? With all the evidence for God’s Word being God’s Word—where will you stand on these issues?
Join us next week as we continue to examine evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
Over the next several blogs I am going to continue to present logical reasoning and sound scientific evidence not found in the public school textbooks.
Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus as Lord.
1 Peter 3:15