October 28, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #1--The Bible

Why are their only 66 books in the Bible? How was that decided on? Were there more books that didn’t make the cut? Why does the Catholic Bible have more?

Great question! If we’re going to use the Bible as our guide, then it’s good to take a brief look at how we got it.

First, there was no official, “let’s all get together and figure this out” meeting, nor was there a list dropped out of the sky. In the 400 years before Jesus' birth and shortly after His death and resurrection, God’s people who were scattered all over the place began to get together and realize that all of the same books were being used and recognized as Scripture.

The Old Testament—In the 400 years or so between the last prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus, there grew a general recognition of which Old Testament writings were God’s Word and which writings were not. Among Rabbis and Jewish scholars there was essentially total agreement on 37 of the 39 books in the OT.

Luke 24:44—Jesus said to them, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms”

Sometime around 90 A.D. there was a council of Jewish rabbi’s that got together in a city called Jamnia and debated over Song of Songs (because it’s so steamy) and Ecclesiastes (because of the occasional use of sarcasm). Ultimately they let these books in, too, and saw them as being the Word of God. This was not a “decision” so much as it was a “recognition” of God’s Word. 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Timothy 3:16 refer to Scripture, and by this they mean the Old Testament.

The New Testament—By the end of the first century, there was common consent among the churches all over the middle east and eastern Europe about which writings were Scripture, though there wouldn’t be an "official" statement until the mid 4th century.

In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to Paul’s writings as “hard to understand and being distorted with the rest of Scriptures”. Clearly, he recognizes these writings as being on the same level as Scripture. We have writings of early church fathers as early as the 120’s that include the list of books considered a part of “the canon”, or Scripture. These include the four gospels, Paul’s letters, Revelation, and most of the rest of the New Testament. But, it wasn’t until a big controversy swept the Christian church in 325 A.D. that they actually took a serious look at what was God’s Word and what wasn’t. This controversy was over the divinity of Jesus and resulted in the Council of Nicaea in the same year. The only books in the New Testament today that were debated were Hebrews, (because we don’t know who wrote it), James (because if you read it wrong it seems to indicate that you can be saved by good works), Jude (because it references a book that was not a part of the Old Testament), and Revelation (because, well Revelation is just crazy!). Overwhelmingly, these books were recognized as Scripture.

After that council, a bishop of the church named Athenasius wrote a letter in 367 A.D. that detailed the 27 books of the NT. There were other false gospels and books written, but some of the writings of early church leaders clearly condemn them as heresy. For those of you who read The DaVinci Code, the author lays out a scenario where the emperor of Rome selected the books of the Bible as we know them today in an effort to consolidate his power; he also proposes that there were other gospels written by a group called the "gnostics" whose beliefs were ultimately condemned as heresy. These books include the gospels of Thomas, Judas, Mary, Peter and others, none of them written by the people whose names they contain. The story that he tells is really good fiction, but it’s bad history. It just didn’t happen that way.

There were 6 ways that the were agreed up when deciding if a book was Scripture

  1. Was it written by a prophet or an apostle? Most of the books are in this category.
  2. Was it written by someone associated with a recognized prophet or apostle? Luke was associated with Paul, Mark with Peter.
  3. Is it true? This is why the books that didn’t make it, well...didn't make it.
  4. Faithfulness to previously accepted writings. Is it consistent with the rest of Scritpure?
  5. Did Christ or another apostle confirm it? Jonah, Peter for Paul, Psalms, Moses...
  6. Church usage and recognition…did the Spirit bear witness in the hearts of believers?

John 16:12-14 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

Who is Jesus talking to here? Who will he guide into all truth?

We think it’s us, but it’s actually his disciples. The context is he is telling them that he’s going to be leaving them soon, and the Holy Spirit will tell them what they need to tell the folks. For that reason, we believe that when the last book was written, Revelation by the apostle John, that the Scripture (the canon) is closed. There was no more revelation by God through his Word after that.

But what about the Catholic bible which has more books?
In 1517, the Protestent revolution began because the Catholic church had become very corrupt and had added many things to the faith that were never in Scripture. The final straw was the selling of indulgences to get people out of hell and purgatory. In order to justify some of the teachings that had gotten away from the orignal 66 books, the church held the Council of Trent in 1546 that voted to recognize nine more books that contained some of the justification of their practices. Those books are now known as the Apochrypha, and they are some of the books that the original councils did not recognize as Scripture. So we don’t either.

That’s how we have 66 books that serve as the basis for our answers to this series. Coming tomorrow, we'll look at the age old question about Free Will vs. Predestination.

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