Friday, December 27, 2013

Christian Apologetics Series 6: The Biblical Canon

There was a time when the church had to decide what books should be included in the canon of scriptures. As difficult as it is to conceive, their aim was to decipher what parts of scripture were divinely inspired. Obviously, this is not an easy task; thus, we should not be surprised to see disagreement among different denominations about the Biblical canon.

I'm not referring to different versions of the Bible (i.e. KJV vs. NIV). Instead I am discussing the idea that certain books of the Bible are included in some canons that are entirely omitted in others. How does one tell if a book is divinely inspired and should then be included in the Bible?

Old Testament Canon (The Hebrew Canon)

We know that Jesus often quoted from books we now call the Old Testament. What some might not know, however, was that the canonized Old Testament was already in place at that very time. 

Indeed the canon we use for the Old Testament is the Jewish canon/scripture that existed in Jesus' time. As Wayne Grudem says in his book, Systematic Theology
"In the New Testament, we have no record of any dispute between Jesus and the Jews over the extent of the canon. Apparently there was full agreement between Jesus and his disciples, on the one hand, and the Jewish leaders or Jewish people, on the other hand, that additions to the Old Testament canon had ceased after the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. This fact is confirmed by the quotations of Jesus and the New Testament authors from the Old Testament. According to one count, Jesus and the New Testament authors quote various parts of the Old Testament Scriptures as divinely authoritative over 295 times,but not once do they cite any statement from the books of the Apocrypha or any other writings as having divine authority. The absence of any such reference to other literature as divinely authoritative, and the extremely frequent reference to hundreds of places in the Old Testament as divinely authoritative, gives strong confirmation to the fact that the New Testament authors agreed that the established Old Testament canon, no more and no less, was to be taken as God’s very words."

If it was good enough for Jesus and his disciples, it's good enough for me.

Apocrypha's Introduction to Catholic Canon

We saw in our last quotation from Mr. Grudem that Jesus and his disciples throughout the entire New Testament never once quoted from the Apocrypha. This of course doesn't prove that the Apocrypha isn't inspired and shouldn't be a part of the canon, but it does raise some serious concerns.

The idea that the Apocrypha is divinely inspired is even more doubtful when you consider when it was added to canon. It was the Reformation. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others were challenging Catholic doctrines. Here the Roman Catholic Church declared that the Apocrypha was divinely inspired and now a part of the canon of Scriptures.

I'm not necessarily accusing the Catholic Church of "pretending" that the Apocrypha was divinely inspired because they needed support for their beliefs, but I have to admit the timing is a bit questionable.

Now of course, there had been much discussion of the Apocrypha before this point (some wanting it to be a part of the canon), but this was the first time that it was actually accepted as canonized. In the years past, it was widely viewed as a supplement, like we might view books by C.S. Lewis or R.C. Sproul today. It was never accepted as divinely inspired, even among the Catholic Church until such time as support for their doctrines was needed.

That just seems a little sketchy to me. Even if the intentions of the Catholic officials were entirely pure, it is so easy to let your own agenda cloud what God is trying to tell you. Considering that, I see no reason to add to the canon accepted at the time of Christ.

The New Testament Canon

The New Testament canon we have today is built upon the ideas developed  by the Apostles. The letters they wrote and the texts they preserved were included to further preserve them. That was the backbone of the New Testament canon.

Today, there is little debate over the books that should be included in the New Testament canon. For whatever reason, almost all sects and denominations can agree on the 27 books we call the New Testament. There were some questions initially about books such as James and Jude, but those concerns have drifted away. 

A Final Note

The faith that we can have in the canon of scripture we hold and read today is not a great testament to the brilliant works of men and their ability to determine what is inspired and what is not. No, indeed, it is a testament of God's faithful hand directing these men's decisions in regard to the Biblical canon. As Wayne Grudam writes in Systematic Theology, 
"Once again, God’s faithfulness to his people convinces us that there is nothing missing from Scripture that God thinks we need to know for obeying him and trusting him fully. The canon of Scripture today is exactly what God wanted it to be, and it will stay that way until Christ returns."

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