By Paul Billington


Is our Bible the completed word of God? If so, how can we know that? There are many challenges to the idea that the Bible represents God’s completed revelation—it is suggested that other "scriptures" should be included. Some add what are called "apocryphal" books; others would claim that there are additional scriptures that are of equal authority—such as the Book of Mormon or the Koran. How can we correctly identify true scripture so that there can be certainty about what is authoritative?

Explanations Offered

Different people give different answers; and not always very satisfactory to the genuine enquirer. For example, most of those who are known generally as "born-again" Christians or "evangelicals" will say that the Holy Spirit has revealed to them that the Bible is God’s word. They just "know" what comprises true Scripture. Others however, are not as easily convinced by this.

The Roman Catholic approaches the questions of the inspiration of the Bible, and the canon of Scripture in much the same way. Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism (with Imprimatur of the Archbishop of Los Angeles) says: "Without the existence of the Church, we could not tell if the Bible were inspired...The Catholic believes in inspiration because the church tells him so—that is putting it bluntly—and that same church has the authority to interpret the inspired text" (page 126-7). Then, in answer to the question "What books constitute the Bible?" We are told: "Catholics can repair to the decisions of the church, most clearly formalized at Trent and at the fourth-century councils at Hippo and Carthage; these produced lists of books that are to be accepted as inspired on the authority of the infallible Church." (page 130). This is fine for those who accept that Church’s claim to infallibility and authority.

The answer of the scholarly ‘higher critic’ is that books became canonical through use, familiarity and eventually official recognition which gave them a "sacred" position in religious literature. In other words, the Bible evolved. This is a theory that can be accepted even by the atheist.

There is however another approach to the question—one that claims no personal revelation and presumes no human authority; yet it is more than a scholarly theory. This approach, which we will outline below, simply allows Scripture itself to supply the answer. Admittedly, this approach does require that we are willing to accept the Bible’s own statements as being true records written by those who were familiar with the process they describe.

Inspired Scripture

Readers will appreciate that although the inspiration of the Bible is a clearly related subject, it is not the topic here. This is a separate consideration. However, it should be stated that the present writer is firmly convinced that the scriptures of Moses, the prophets and apostles were entirely given by inspiration of God in the writers, and that consequently they are without error throughout, except such as may be due to errors arising from transcription or translation. This conviction rests upon a large variety of evidence gathered over many years. As stated, this topic requires separate consideration from the present issue.

Writings of Moses

We know that a collection of inspired writings termed "holy scriptures" were known and accepted by New Testament writers—2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 1:2. There can be no doubt that Jesus himself as well as the apostles regarded part of these holy scriptures as being from the pen of Moses even though being God’s word. For example, the commandment to honour father and mother is said to be "the commandment of God" in Matt. 15:6, yet in Mark 7:10 the saying is attributed to the word to Moses. The writings of Moses are clearly identified by Jesus several times, as for example in John 5:46-47. It is clear from these references that Jesus himself recognized the Jewish scriptures as including those writings of Moses.

In Luke 24:44 Jesus says; "...all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me." John then adds (verse 45) "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures."

The apostle John also includes "Moses and all the prophets" in the Scriptures—Luke 24:27.

Stephen, in his speech (Acts 7), makes the interesting statement that Moses was "with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us" (verses 37, 38). Also, in Romans 3:2 Paul says "unto them were committed the oracles of God".

Now in considering such references it is difficult to avoid the obvious conclusion that whilst the New Testament was as yet unwritten—or whilst it was in process of being written—a collection of sacred books was generally recognized by both the Jews and early Christians as "holy scripture". It is also clear that this canon of scripture was understood to include the writings of Moses and the prophets (and many of these prophets are named by New Testament writers) as well as the Psalms.

Recognition of God’s Word

There is ample evidence in the Old Testament that when God gave His word to the nation, it was instantly recognized as such. Certainly this was the case in the dramatic circumstances recorded in Exodus 19:9 and verses 16-19.

There were three discernable steps by which the nation of Israel received the oracles of God. First, God put His words into the mouth of His prophet—as is described in Deut 18:18. This would be subject to some form of verification at the time—as outlined for example in verses 21,22.

Secondly, and as described in Deuteronomy 31:9 an autograph copy was made by Moses and then delivered to the priests for safe keeping—see also verses 24-26. Thirdly, copies were made from the standard autograph held in the custody of the priests (Deut. 17:18).

This was the process whereby the writings of Moses were received by Israel. The same principle can be seen in the giving of other scriptures where the same procedure was followed. 1. God speaks through the prophet. 2. It was verified and given to the priests. 3. The priests give it to the King and nation.

Taking the "book of the law" (Joshua 1:8) as a pattern, we see that its initial recognition continued. It was re-affirmed by Joshua (1:8 and 23:6) and at other times in Israel’s history (1 Kings 2:3 and 2 Kings 22:8 and 16 are examples). Even in captivity we find Daniel expressing the conviction that "thy (God’s) law" is identifiable as "the law of Moses" (Daniel 9:11-13). It is God’s word.

The custodians of this word of God were the priests whose responsibility it was to pass it on to the people. The priest was "the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Mal 2:7) and it was his duty to "keep knowledge" and explain and give the sense of it to the nation—Nehemiah 8:8 (see R.V. marginal note).

Endorsement

We have already seen that Jesus and the New Testament writers recognized holy scripture (i.e. The Old Testament). This is important, for it establishes beyond doubt that at the dawn of the Christian religion there was a recognized Holy Bible. From Luke 24:44,45 we see that these scriptures consisted of the Law of Moses, the Prophets as well as Psalms. In fact it is possible for us to comb the New Testament for quotations from these Scriptures and to thus determine what was recognized and endorsed. It is also relevant to note how the New Testament writers understood the origin of these Scriptures.

In a reference to the Psalms, the apostle Peter says: "this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the holy spirit by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas..." (Acts 1:16). This view of the inspiration of Scripture harmonizes with what we saw earlier from Deuteronomy 18:18 "I will...put my words in his mouth." It is the same process exactly and shows how the apostles themselves understood it. The process is explained again by Peter in 2 Peter 1:21.

A Period of Silence

As the Old Testament neared completion, the prophets foretold that there would come a period of silence when no revelation would be given. In Amos 8:11-12 we read.

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it."

Again in Micah 3:6-7 it was written:

"Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision, and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God."

This period of silence is confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote in the first century A.D. It is particularly interesting that this writer was himself a priest and would have been conscious of Moses’ words recorded in Deuteronomy 4:2, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it." Had there been recognized Scriptures in existence after the prophets—such as the apocryphal books which some accept today—Josephus would not have been ignorant of them nor would he have excluded them.

The fact that the prophets themselves require a period of silence and that there is contemporary evidence commenting on it, shows the believer today that Old Testament Scripture closed with the prophets. Accepting the Apocryphal books which bridge this period between the prophets and the New Testament era would contradict the very requirements of Amos and Micah. That neither Jesus or the apostles ever refer to these apocryphal books is also highly significant. They do not have apostolic endorsement in the New Testament.

The New Testament

The pattern seen in the formation of the Old Testament is seen again when we come to the New. It was a very similar process. The apostles either penned or dictated the original autographs and they were given to the ecclesia where they were instantly recognized as Scripture.

In a typical assembly of believers there would be brethren who had a special gift, termed in 1 Cor. 12:10 the "discerning of spirits". These brethren would be able to "prove all things" (1 Thess. 5:21) and "try the spirits" of teachers for the benefit of all—1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2. Thus Paul could write in 1 Cor. 14:37.

"If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the command-ments of the Lord."

Thus would an ecclesia acknowledge certain writings as being scripture. As Paul comments to the assembly at Thessalonica:

"...ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God..."

There was endorsement from other apostles also. Peter acknowledges Paul’s epistles as being in the category of "other Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16). Jude endorses Peter’s epistle by a clear reference to it in his 17th and 18th verses (c/p 2 Peter 3:3). Thus, as with the Old Testament we find instant recognition of the New Testament Scriptures as soon as they were written. It required no Church councils and no gradual evolutionary process—it was recognized immediately.

The Gospels themselves would have been subject to a like process. They were accepted and in circulation very early as we can see from Luke 1:1-4 (and possibly Acts 10:37).

Another Period of Silence

Just as the completion of the Old Testament had been foreseen by the prophets, so also we see that spirit gifts would cease after the time of the apostles (1 Cor. 13:8-10). This fact, together with the warning from Jesus himself in Rev. 22:18-19, not to add anything further to this final prophecy, is reason enough to discount later writings such as the Koran.

Even during the lifetime of the apostles there were attempts to produce counterfeit letters in their name (2 Thess. 2:1-2). In those days believers were protected from these "false apostles" who were "transformed as the ministers of righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:15) by those who were gifted in the discernment of spirits. The attempts to mimic Scripture in after ages comes as no surprise therefore—yet we have the assurance that the eyes of the Lord are always upon His truth (Jer. 5:3) and that "The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge, and he overthroweth the words of the transgressor (Prov. 22:12).

The Word Preserved

Through His own providential care therefore, the God of heaven has seen to it that His word of truth has been preserved right down to these latter times. Isaiah the prophet was told:

"Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever"—Isa. 30:8.

Notice the marginal note to this verse in the K.J.V., it reads "...that it may be for the latter days". Not only have those very words been kept in circulation all down the ages, but they were also discovered in an ancient manuscript preserved in a cave near the Dead Sea in "the latter days"!

The Power that is able to preserve His word all down the long centuries surely has the power to keep it intact also. This we believe He has done—and partly by a built-in system of verification which believers in every age have been able to use for themselves. These principles involve the harmony of God’s word—that it does not in fact contain contradictions in its teaching. This test, which any believer may apply to teachings in either spoken or written form is expressed as follows by Isaiah (8:20):

"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

The same principle is given in the New Testament. The apostle writes: "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us: he that is not of God heareth not us . Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."—1 John 4:6. So any writing or statement claiming to be of equal authority with scripture must be in complete harmony with apostolic teaching. By applying this principle in testing claims to authority, believers have been able to discern the counterfeit and preserve intact the canon of holy scripture.

Behold: A Miracle, Thomas Newton


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