Friday, May 30, 2008

Why trust the Bible (2)

How was the Bible put together?

The idea of a canon or collection of texts constituting one text comes very early. Even from Moses coming down the mountain with the 10 Commandments and writing the first five books of the Bible. These books were then added to, as we see in Joshua 24:26 ‘Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God’ as well as 1 Samuel 10:25, 1 Chronicles 29:29 and Jeremiah 30:2. All these verses speak of words being written in a book, as commanded by the Lord, or laid up before the Lord. This idea is even more remarkable given the command given in Deut 4:2 ‘you shall not add to the word I command you’. In order to have disobeyed such a specific command the authors must have been sure that what they were writing was indeed from God. The collecting of separate texts, often kept together in scrolls continued until about 518BC when the prophets stopped and 435BC when Esther was written.

So why the near five hundred year gap between testaments? Well, given that God’s Word always records God’s redemptive work on behalf of His people, and since the end of Malachi points towards the belief that something was ending but that something new was on the horizon, it’s not that surprising that no words were given between Malachi and Jesus.
There was of course Jewish writing in between these times, but when we look at that, we actually see more evidence against their inclusion in the Bible. The author of 1 Maccabees can speak of distress of the Jews ‘such as not been seen since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.’ The historian Josephus spoke of the ‘failure of the exact succession of the prophets’ Other religious leaders said: after the latter prophets Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah had died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.’ So there is plenty of contemporary evidence against the inclusion of these writings, what we now call the apocrypha.

More tellingly, perhaps, there was no dispute between Jesus and the authorities of His day as to which books were in the canon and which weren’t. Jesus quotes the OT 295 times in the Gospels but not once from the apocrypha. The OT apocrypha was never really regarded in the same light as the OT itself, more a book of the church than books of the Bible. And, perhaps more tellingly for us, despite the existence of the apocrypha, the earliest post Christ list of the OT lists the books that we use today. Which is very encouraging.

So we can say no to the inclusion of the Old Testament apocrypha in the Bible for the following reasons:
1) They do not claim the same authority as the OT does.
2) Jesus does not regard them in the same light as He regards the OT
3) Neither do 1st century Jews
4) They contain teaching inconsistent with the rest of the OT, and historical and geographical errors.

What about the New Testament? Why did the Bible suddenly start again? It shouldn’t surprise us that when God sent His Son he would also send upon the Apostles the gift of scripture writing, and therefore easy to see why the NT is placed alongside the OT. God’s activity historically was always accompanied by scripture writing.

We’ve already spent time looking at whether we can call the NT scripture in the same way as the OT, and we’ve seen that the clear understanding of the authors was that we can do.
How were these books recognized as part of the canon? We must say recognized rather than decided upon.

It is the authority of the Apostles that means we recognize some books and not other. As we’re already seen, those books written by Apostles which the Apostles wanted preserved were recognized straight away as scripture as we see in 2 Peter 3: 1 Corinthians 14:37 and 2 Corinthians 13:3.

Details as to how the books not authored by Apostles came to be recognized is sketchy. They needed authorizing, and we assume that Luke and Acts were recognized early on because of Luke’s association with Paul, Mark was recognised because of his association with Peter. Jude because he was Jesus’ brother, and because of his association with James, who by that time was considered an Apostle (1 Cor 15:7 and Gal 1:19). Hebrews was recognized because of the intrinsic qualities of the book which convinced, and continue to convince believers that whoever the human author was the ultimate author must have been God.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the early church should be able to recognize what was divinely inspired and what wasn’t, if we consider that John 10:27 ‘my sheep hear my voice’ The books we now recognize as the NT were circulated by Athanasius in 367 and accepted by both east and western churches within the next thirty years. Should we expect other books to be added to the Canon at this late stage? What would we do if an Apostolic letter from Paul turned up today?
I think there are two reasons why we can reject this hypothesis. The first is Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Jesus is God’s final word of revelation.

And Revelation 22:18-19: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:(A) if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in(B) the tree of life and in(C) the holy city, which are described in this book.
Given the position of Revelation in the canon and what it concerns we can legitimately assume that ‘this book’ refers to the whole Bible.

Alongside this historic data we must consider the Fatherhood of God. Would God who loves to give us everything we need really hold back part of the Bible for two thousand years? Ultimately we must base our confidence on the completed canon on the love and faithfulness of God.
Just as with the OT, there is a an NT apocrypha that has built up. The suggestion, made by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci code that the books of the Bible were voted on by the early church fathers could not be further from the truth. There are four reasons why we can be confident about their lack of inclusion in the Canon.

1) Some of the letters do not the claim that authority for themselves like Ignatius’s letter to the Romans ‘I order you not as Peter and Paul, they were Apostles.’

2) Other parts of the Apocrypha are absurd, as we see from the end of the Gospel of Thomas: ‘Simon Peter said to them: ‘let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life’ Jesus said ‘lo, I shall lead so that I may make her male that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the Kingdom of heaven’

3) Like the OTA there are historical and geographical errors in the NTA that disqualify it.

1 comment:

Tom said...

The main reason we know that Dan Brown is mistaken on the canon, is that the canon was a protective, rather than selective mechanism, to protect the books and letters that had already been accepted as scripture by the early church. See my article on 'Who Chose The Books Of The Bible'