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Biblical Perspicuity

What do we mean when we speak of the Perspicuity of Scripture?

 

            While there are certainly many areas of scripture that are difficult to interpret and to understand, given that the Bible was given to all people throughout history, not to just a select few, and given that the Bible was given for the edification of people of every age and level of intelligence and education, not just those trained as theologians, in matters of salvation, the scriptures are clear enough that all can understand what God has communicated, particularly with respect to the question of salvation.  The church fell into grave error in the medieval period when it argued that the scriptures were too difficult for any but the clergy to understand and thus restricted the Bible into the hands of the educated elite of the church.  This is contrary to the Biblical testimony of the early church, where the gospel was proclaimed and the command to study scripture was given to all believers.  The Bible is clear on the question of what sin is, the fallen state of man, the reality that man needs a redeemer, the fact that Jesus came and paid the penalty for sin for those who come to him in faith, and that if we yearn for redemption, we must flee to Christ.  The Bible is also clear in terms of the explanation of what the life of the believer should look like in terms of moral behavior and good works.  These things, even a young child or one with the least amount of education can understand and thus the scriptures should be read and studied by all who call themselves believers in Jesus Christ.  This does not ignore that there are difficult passages of scripture; such passages should be labored over and assistance sought from reliable theologians and commentaries should be sought, but the last thing one should do is to flee from them.

What then do we mean that the Bible is infallible and inerrant?

What do we mean when we state that the Bible is infallible as well as being inerrant?

 

            As discussed above, the Bible is inerrant, or, in other words, without error.  The idea of infallibility takes the premise one step further.  When we say that the Bible is infallible, we say that the Bible is incapable of making mistakes, or in practical terms, that the Bible is incapable of leading the believer into error.  This is not to say that there have never been students of the Bible that have drifted into error, indeed, the history of the church is filled with those who have done just that.  Yet, the reason that they drifted into error is not because they were misled by scripture, but it was because their own sin got in the way of the proper interpretation of scripture.  To understand scripture fully, it must be approached in faith and with respect for what it is, and thus guided by the Holy Spirit for its interpretation.  Many non-believers have spent their lives studying the Bible and have often provided valuable insights into the text, but they eventually fall into error because they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and as a result, their minds are not illumined by the Holy Spirit.  Yet, for those who are born again believers, those who are trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, prayerful study and application of the scriptures will not lead them into error.

            In addition, the scriptures are infallible in teaching the way by which men and women must be saved.  To put it another way, it is through the writings of scripture, being taught and proclaimed, that people come to know the beauty of Jesus and to experience the wonders of salvation that Jesus wrought.  So important was this idea that the Apostle Paul wrote the following words:

Therefore, how are they to call on him of whom they have not believed?  And how can they to believe in whom they have not heard?  And how are they to hear without one preaching?  And how can they preach if they have not been sent?  Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who proclaims the good news!”  But they have not all heard the gospel.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what they heard from us?”  Therefore, faith comes out of hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  (Romans 10:14-17)

Thus, the very content of our proclamation of the gospel and of our preaching in the church must always be God’s word.  The thoughts and ideas of the pastor can lead one to fall, but God’s word is incapable of doing just that.

            There have been different approaches to this concept in the history of the church.  The Eastern Orthodox church has largely held that since the early Christian councils were so scripturally based, said councils should be considered to be infallible as well as the scriptures.  The difficulty with this view is that there have been many books, creeds, and confessional texts that are deeply based in scripture, but when one argues that infallibility extends from scripture to those writings based on scripture, one enters into subjectivity in terms of what constitutes a document based on scripture.  Such a view also places a great deal of weight upon the interpretation of scripture and not upon the scriptures themselves. Invariably, this view will lead you into theological error and toward crediting the minds and the pens of men with honor that God never intended that they be given.  Such a position elevates the writings of these church councils to the level of scripture as well, and the dangers of that matter have already been touched upon.  While there are many wonderful texts that have been written to guide our studies, we should always be cognizant that they have been written by men and not by God.

            The Roman Catholic church has taken a different approach to this as well.  They have held that the Pope, as “Christ’s Vicar” on earth is preserved by God from entering into error on matters of the church, faith, and morality.  He is said to demonstrate that infallibility when he speaks from “Peter’s Chair,” properly known as speaking ex cathedra.  This is built on the assumption that Peter was the first Pope of the church and that through the process of a succession of Popes, the Apostolic authority of Peter was handed down from generation to generation.  Again, this makes the error of assuming that men are incapable of failing, something all sinful men can do, no matter the character of the individual.  It is only God who is infallible and thus the infallibility of God extends to his divine word alone, not to the words of men.   What we do with that word is what opens us up to error.


In the larger context, Paul is also making the point that not all who physically hear the gospel will respond to it, but that the ability to hear comes from the Holy Spirit.

To what extent does inerrancy extend?

To what extent is the Bible inspired and thus inerrant?  Does the inspiration extend only to the ideas conveyed or to the very words of scripture?

 

A debate that has been taking place between the Orthodox branches in the church and what is normally called the Neo-Orthodox movement, is over the question of the extent of revelational authority.  Another way of phrasing the question is, “Is the Bible the word of God or does the Bible contain the word of God?”  This presents a contrast between a view of the inspiration of scripture and the view of the plenary inspiration of scripture.

The Neo-Orthodox movement in the church has held that it is not the words of scripture that contain the inspiration of God, but it is that when those words find themselves to rest upon the ears and the heart of a believer, then, and only then, genuine inspiration takes place.  This allows the Neo-Orthodox theologian to not get very hung up by source critical arguments because, after all, it is not the words of scripture that are important; rather, it is the effect that those words have on the believing heart that is important.  As one can see, this scheme of understanding revelation becomes extremely subjective and robs the text of any genuine content, for content, according to this view, comes from the hearer’s interpretation of the words.  Exegetical theology also becomes nearly impossible, for exegesis becomes about “what this text means to me…” instead of what this text actually says.  And though this position can be attributed to Neo-Orthodoxy today, it is not a new sin, but one that can be traced all of the way back to Adam and Eve who doubted God’s word that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit.

In response to this, the Orthodox theologians have taken a strong stand on the plenary (or complete) inspiration of scripture.  In other words, every single word of scripture is a result of the inspiration of God.  Every noun, every verb, ever preposition, every adjective, every pronoun, ever article is a result of the breathing out of God and thus carries with it the full authority of God himself.  This view holds that meaning comes from within the text and not from within the hearer.  This view holds that God is a rational and intentional God and that as a result, when he rationally and intentionally communicates with his people, he has a plain and intended purpose and meaning behind what was said.  This view holds that the very statements of scripture contain propositional truth given to God’s people so that we might know him and glorify him with our lives.  This view holds that while we see the stylistic fingerprint of the human authors within each text, that it is God who is writing through them, using all of their gifts and talents to produce his word, and that word—every word of it—is true and perfectly given and preserved by the Holy Spirit.

            There are many in the post-modern world that would contend that words in themselves contain no meaning.  They would continue that words are nothing but culturally formatted symbols with which we communicate and that it is the context in which language is used that conveys meaning.  On one level, there is a degree of truth to this argument.  We have already spoken of the dynamic nature of language as it is used by a culture.  Many of our words carry with them very different meanings depending on the context in which they are found.  For example, depending on the context, the word “dope” in English could refer to illegal drugs, to someone who is foolish or not intelligent, to gossip that is shared, to a form of varnish used on aircraft, or to lubricant that is used as a sealant.  Context, then determines which form of the word you are using.  This being said, words in a culture do have a fixed and limited set of meanings.  Dope does not also mean dog, cat, and grocery cart; it cannot mean anything we want it to mean.  If it could, then language would become meaningless, for “Dope dope doped dope” could then mean, “I need you to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store.”  If such use of language were ever to become the case, then, as a culture, we would be returned to the state people found themselves in at the Tower of Babble, when God confused the languages.  Culture cannot exist and reproduce itself if language is rendered meaningless.

            Yet, even the post-modern thinker, when pressed on the issue, would assert that language does contain meaning, though it pains them to do so.  Post-modern thinkers write books for people to read.  Certainly in writing a book, the post-modern thinker expects people to understand what he is trying to teach.  When a post-modern thinker goes to the bank and asks that his paycheck be deposited in his checking account, certainly he expects the teller to understand what he is saying and he trusts that the money will actually go into his account rather than in some random account.  When the post-modern thinker goes to the emergency room in agony because he has kidney stones, when he communicates this to the doctor, he does not expect the doctor to start by examining his knees.  When the post-modern thinker goes to a restaurant and orders an expensive meal, the post-modern thinker expects to be served the meal he ordered.  Thus words have meanings and any rational person is forced to admit such by the way they use their words in practical situations.  And, as God is a rational God, the words that God speaks in scripture are spoken with an expectation that they be understood—and that they be obeyed!

 


It is important to note that scripture was not given as dictation, squelching the various personalities through whom God wrote.  We see stylistic language, artistic structure of texts, and themes that run through the writings of given authors, showing us something of the human nature of the Bible.  Exodus 4:14-17 records the calling of Aaron to be Moses’ prophet (also see Exodus 7:1).  God would tell Moses what to say, Moses would tell Aaron what to say and Aaron would speak it.  The words that the prophet speaks belong to God (or in Aaron’s case, Moses), but the mannerisms, inflections of speech, and personality belong to the prophet.  So too with scripture—the words belong to God, but the structure and personality of the writings belong to the prophetic or Apostolic author.

It is worth emphasizing here that only the Orthodox view of plenary inspiration preserves the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture.  When the meaning of scripture becomes subjective, the truth of scripture becomes subjective as well.  In addition, scripture itself claims to be the word of God, not just to contain God’s word.  As the scriptures claim to be inspired in a plenary sense, to claim otherwise is to invalidate the value of scripture as a whole, suggesting that it is nothing more than a book of lies.

To what extent does Biblical infallibility extend?

If the Bible is incapable of error, to what extent does that infallibility extend, just to theological matters or to all maters to which it speaks?

 

We have already touched on this idea but it bears repeating.  Given that the Bible is written by God, it is impossible for the text to be in error.  God is omniscient and as he is the author of the Bible, the Bible reflects his omniscience in all areas.  This means that the Bible is inerrant in the history of which it speaks, of the geography of which it speaks, of the science of which it speaks, and of real existence of the miraculous deeds that it records.  It is our obligation, when our own understanding seems to contradict the revelation of scripture, to submit our understanding to the revelation that is given.  Anything that compromises this view accuses God of being untruthful in his revelation of all things or it denies that scripture is divine revelation altogether and accuses its authors of being charlatans and frauds in the name of religion.

What of people who would claim that there are errors in the Biblical text?

What of those who claim that the Bible contains errors and discrepancies either in its internal unity or in its scientific or historical claims?  Also, what of those who claim that the Biblical books were assembled, revised, and rewritten through the ages resulting in our modern Biblical text?

 

            Largely, the claims that seek to refute the inerrancy of scripture fall into one of two categories.  The first is that of simple inconsistencies that are seen on a cursory examination of scripture and the second falls into the category of the study of source criticism or what is often referred to as “Higher Biblical Criticism.”

            The first category is more simply explained than the second.  Many, in seeking to discredit the Bible have taken to seeking out areas of apparent discontinuity and have argued that there are errors within the text.  Yet, in each of these cases, a thorough study of the passages in question as well of the broader contexts of those passages, will serve to nullify any claim to Biblical error.  For every objection to the internal unity of the Bible, evangelical Christian scholars have set forth a reasonable and legitimate response which demonstrates the unity of the texts.

            This first category also includes those who would look to current historical, scientific, or archaeological data and conclude that the Bible is in error in terms of the events that it relates.  Once again, this demonstrates the limitations of modern science.  Scientific and archaeological premises change from discovery to discovery and we cannot expect to rewrite our understanding according to the whim of these scientists.  In addition, scientists are relying only on their own ability to observe the world around them, an ability that has been marred and weakened by the fall of man.  Scripture is given by God, who has not been affected by the fall, thus it is relayed to us by the one who we ought to appeal to as the highest authority by which we understand the things in the world around us.

            The second category is more involved, and that is in terms of the question of source criticism, a theory that dates back to the early eighteenth century and a French physician named Jean Astruc.  His suggestion was that the ancient Biblical texts were not unique manuscripts written by one individual over a period of time, but were instead compilations of the writings of many assembled together to form the whole we have today.  In the case of Astruc, he largely divided up the Pentateuch according to the use of God’s name and assigned each related text to a different tradition, assuming then that our Biblical account was combined from these source traditions to form a kind of amalgam that was revised and edited eventually into a final form. 

            While there were others who built on Astruc’s hypothesis, the major proponents of this principle were two German scholars named Julius Wellhausen and Karl Heinrich Graf who lived in the 19th century.  Their position, called the Documentary Hypothesis theory, went as far as to suggest many contributors, later redactors, and then editors of the Biblical texts, constantly revising the text as history progressed.  This theory has formed the basis for much of Biblical critical scholarship, essentially treating the Bible as they would a humanly written document. 

            To understand this challenge to scriptural inerrancy, one must understand the historical context behind the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis.  In the early 19th century, a philosopher named G.W.F. Hegel rose to prominence.  Hegel argued that all things are constantly in the process of change, something he referred to as the “passing of opposites.”  Opposite positions were constantly colliding with one another and as they collided, a synthesis would result.  This process, Hegel called the “dialectic.”  As a result of this presupposition, Hegel argued that this process applied to all things—including religion.  Though his book on the Philosophy of Religion was published posthumously, it was a compilation of his lecture notes on the subject, notes that he taught to his students for many years.  This position implies that religion began as the primitive worship of rocks and trees and as the people grew more sophisticated, so too, the religion became more spiritual, and hence a development takes place.  Carl Marx would apply Hegel’s philosophy to politics, Charles Darwin would apply Hegel’s philosophy to biology, and Graf and Wellhausen would apply Hegel’s philosophy to the development of scripture. 

            Aside from being based on a faulty presupposition, for when you have a religious text given by an omniscient God, there is hardly room for this kind of theological revision, the principles upon which source criticism is based are faulty.  First, we have already spoken of how they see use of different names of God to signify different traditions of authorship of the Biblical text.  Yet, the reality is that the different names of God are used to describe different aspects or attributes of God’s character.  Thus, depending on the context of the event that is being recorded, there is often variation in the name of God being used to reflect the activity that is taking place.

            The second area of attack for source critics is that of repeated narratives, where we find a very similar story taking place in the lives of two people.  First of all, this view simply ignores the rhetorical tradition of the Jewish people, where repetition was deliberately used as a mnemonic tool and to draw theological connections between two similar events.  Neither of the events are manufactured as the source critics suppose, but in the providence of God, there were often similarities between two events so that the story could be told in such a way as to bring out those similarities and draw that connection.

            The third area of attack for the source critics is that of apparent discrepancies, something we have already discussed.  The fourth approach is to look at varying writing styles, which is connected with the variance in the use of the names of God.  Can one not consider that a single author is capable of writing in different ways and using different vocabulary at different points in his life or when describing different situations?  The position of the source critics in this area is based solely on the premise that one writer will always write with the same writing style and will always utilize the same vocabulary and themes to get his point across.  This simply is not so, either in modern writing or in writing from ancient times.  The final area of attack is that of distinctive theologies seeming to show up in the context of certain texts and not in others.  For the same reasons, this position fails as well.  Theology is developed in the scriptures not by thesis and antithesis colliding, but by the gradual revelation of God to his people.

            To some degree, all who study the Bible need to use some level of source criticism.  There are more than 5000 full or partial manuscripts of the New Testament text alone, from which scholars have worked to discern the most accurate rendering of the original text.  Texts must be compared and one must determine which is most reliable and which likely carries scribal errors (misspelled words, transposed words, fuller explanations given, etc…).  Yet, this level of scholarship does not hold the authenticity of divine revelation in question, but simply seeks to sift through the wealth of evidence at hand for the purpose of most accurately presenting that which is divinely revealed in scripture.  Those involved in the “Higher Critical” schools take things one step further, placing into doubt the divine origin of scripture and arbitrarily eliminating texts or theological concepts that do not agree with their Hegelian presuppositions.


Thesis plus anti-thesis equals synthesis is the sum of his argument.

How do we know that the 66 Books of the Bible are God’s complete revelation?

How do we know that the 39 books of the Old Testament that we have actually constitute the complete written revelation of God during that era?  How do we know that the 27 books of the New Testament complete that which was begun in the Old Testament?

 

            First of all, the 39 books of the Old Testament are confirmed as genuine by both Jesus and the New Testament writers.  Jesus not only quoted or alluded to many Old Testament texts, but he used the traditional Jewish groupings to speak of the Old Testament scriptures, referring to them as the Law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the Prophets (former and later), and the Psalms (also called “the writings”).  In addition, the New Testament Writers either quoted from or alluded to passages from every book of the Hebrew Old Testament except for the Song of Solomon.  Also, Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the sermon that inaugurated the Christian church, was largely an exposition of Old Testament Passages.  Paul the Apostle is also regularly found “reasoning with the Jews from scripture” when he is on his missionary journeys.  Peter also boldly points out in his first epistle that it is Jesus that all of the Old Testament prophets were searching for.  Jesus himself speaks of the Old Testament as being writings about himself.  While it is true that the New Testament writers also are found to allude to extra-Biblical writings, that fact in itself is not enough to bestow Canonicity upon the whole of the outside cited text, it simply means that the cited text is accurate insomuch as the citation has used it.

            Secondly, we have the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint or the LXX.  This text was begun about 300 years before the birth of Christ and was a popular text in the first-century.  While the LXX is nothing more than a translation, the books that it translates are the texts which we now refer to as the Hebrew Old Testament.  Yes, many do cite that the Greek translation of the Apocrypha is often included with the Greek LXX, but it is clear that the Apocrypha and the Septuagint comprise two separate texts.

            Thirdly, the Jews venerated the scriptures as they were the very words of God.  They were dedicated to preserving it and making sure that it was not defiled by error or false teaching.  The Masorites labored tirelessly to make sure that the text we have in our hands is the whole of what God revealed to his people in the ancient times.  Their testimony is that the Old Testament that we have today is the Old Testament that Jesus used and was used for years before he walked the earth in the flesh.

            The Jewish historians Philo and Josephus, who were contemporaries of the New Testament writers, refer to the books of the Bible that we refer to as the “Old Testament” as the Jewish Canon.  Early Latin and Syriac (the Peshito) translations present to us the consistent witness that the 39 books of the Old Testament are God’s revealed word to his people.  The Targums and Talmudic writings as well, which are the writings of Jewish tradition and an ancient commentary on the Bible, also submit that the Old Testament books we have in our hands today are the Canon of the Hebrew faith.  Ancient Hebrew scrolls found in Archaeological sites like Qumran contain texts which once again confirm the content of the Old Testament as containing the complete Jewish canon of scripture.

            The formation of the New Testament canon developed in the same way as did the Old Testament canon.  As mentioned above, the New Testament writers understood that the letters they were writing were scripture and thus inspired by the Holy Spirit to be God’s witness or standard for his church for generations to come.  As the Apostles began to die off, the church became more and more deliberate in their work to define for all, those letters and books which were God-breathed.  As time went on, the church also had to fight heretical teachings and to communicate to the congregations what documents were heretical, thus councils were held, not unlike how the early rabbinical councils were held, to clarify for the church which books were canonical and which books were not. 

            There have been many who have accused the church of manufacturing their canon based along the lines of church traditions, but this claim cannot be substantiated and is quite contrary to what took place.  While the final form of the canon that we know today as the New Testament did not take place until the Council of Hippo in A.D. 393, the role of the council was simply to clarify and affirm what the churches had been affirming as far back as the first century A.D.  The oldest formal listing of Canonical books is the Muritorian Canon, which dates back to the mid-second century (named after the scholar who discovered it), contains a listing of canonical books that is almost identical to our modern listing, with only slight variations. There were other second-century theologians, like Irenaeus, who also produced canonical lists, which are remarkably similar to what we find in our New Testament today.

            In addition to these formal listings, we can also look to the writings of the early church fathers to see the citations that they make to the Apostolic writings.  For example, while the Muritorian Canon does not include the book of Hebrews in its formal listing, Clement of Rome, a contemporary of Paul and the other Apostles, cites it in his writings.  Hebrews is also cited by others like Ignatius in his letter to the Philadelphians and it is found in the Didache, a late first century or early second century guide for instructing new communicants.  Thus, it is clear from the earliest extant documents that even the books not included in the Muritorian Canon were being used by the churches as scripture. 

            When the church fathers were organizing these canonical listings, there were three criteria that were used.  First, they sought to insure that the documents of canon were either directly written by an Apostle or were guided by an Apostle.  In this case, Matthew, John, and Peter were all apostles originally called by Jesus to follow him and were sent out with power at Pentecost.  Paul was called as an apostle separately from the others to be the Apostle to the Gentile nations.  Mark, though not an Apostle, traveled with Paul and served under Peter’s guidance in Jerusalem.  It is held that Mark’s gospel account is largely drawn from Peter’s teaching and preaching in Jerusalem.  Luke, who also was not an Apostle, served with Paul on his mission trips and certainly wrote under his guidance.  James and Jude, while not believers during the life of the Lord, came to faith after the death and resurrection of their half-brother, Jesus.  They served in Jerusalem and would have been under the guidance of the Apostles there.  There is also evidence that this James would lead the church in Jerusalem at least for a time.  The book of Hebrews is the greatest mystery of all.  It is structured more like a sermon than a letter, so it does not contain the customary greeting which would instruct us as to who the writer was.  It does contain themes that are similar to many of Paul’s writings which has led some to believe it is of Pauline origin, but the language is very different.  Some have suggested that it may have been the Apostle John or one of his students, others have suggested Barnabas or Apollos.  The reality is that we do not know.  What we do know is that from the earliest era of church history, it has been understood as having come from or having at least been influenced by one of the Apostles.

            The second criterion that the early church fathers used was whether or not a book contained theology that was consistent with the rest of the scriptures (both Old and New Testaments).  They understood that while God was doing “something new” he was also building on the foundation that had already been laid in ancient Israel.  They understood also that the canonical writings were breathed out from God and thus ultimately had one author, that is God himself.  If there is one author and that author is God, there cannot be any contradiction within the whole of the text. 

            The third criterion was that the book was being used by the churches to the edification of the church.  In other words, the church fathers understood that the scriptures were given by God for instruction and the building up of faith as well as for the conversion of lost souls.  They understood, then, that documents which bred nothing but contention within the church did not come from the lips of God.  Certainly there are some of the Biblical documents that are difficult to hear, particularly if they contain rebukes that happen to apply to you, but the rebukes as well as the promises of blessing are given so that the body of Christ might be built up in its most holy faith to the glory of God on high.

            In terms of confirming that the canon we have today is the authentic New Testament canon, we can look at many of the same kinds of things as we did when we discussed the Old Testament canon.  There is an internal unity to the New Testament books that cannot be manufactured by human writers.  New Testament writers quote and allude to each others’ texts.  Extra-Biblical writers quote from the New Testament writers extensively, quoting or alluding to almost the entirety of the New Testament.  In addition, when looking at the Bible as a whole, certain observations can be made about scripture that set it apart from other writings, either ancient or modern:

  1. The scriptures do not glorify man in any way, but glorify God.  Ancient texts tend to glorify men and to create a mythology around them that makes them larger than life.  This is not the case with scripture.  God alone is glorified.
  2. The scriptures go out of their way to portray all of the Biblical characters in all of their sin and weakness.  God is clearly the hero of the Biblical narrative, not Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, etc…
  3. The Bible gives names, dates, and place names that have been found and confirmed to be accurate.
  4. Never has a book so impacted the course of history as has the Bible.  No book of ancient religion or philosophy has brought about the rise and the fall of men and nations and no book has inspired men to such good deeds as a result of what it contains.
  5. Never has a book other than the Bible inspired men and women to die rather than to give it up.  Never has a book other than the Bible inspired men and women to go to the furthest corners of the earth, risking life and limb, to present it and its contents to those who live in remote or government restricted areas.
  6. No other book has the power to give peace to a person’s spirit when they lie at death’s door.  The sheer power of the book to shape a person’s life is testimony of its divine nature and origin.

 

As was written by A.A. Hodge on this subject:

In this respect you may compare the Koran of Mohammed with the Christian Bible.  In the great debate between the missionary Henry Martyn and the Persian moulvies, the latter showed a great superiority of logical and rhetorical power.  They proved that the Koran was written by a great genius; that it was an epoch-making book, giving law to a language pre-eminent for elegance, inexhaustible fullness, and precision, revolutionizing kingdoms, forming empires, and molding civilization.  Nevertheless, it was a single work, within the grasp of one great man.  But Henry Martyn proved that the Bible is one single book, one single, intricate, organic whole, produced by more than forty different writers of every variety of culture and condition through sixteen centuries of time—that is, through about fifty successive generations of mankind.  As a great cathedral, erected by many hands through many years, is born of one conceiving mind, and has had but one author, so only God can be the one author of the whole Bible, for only he has been contemporaneous with all stages of its genesis; he has been able to control and co-ordinate all the agents concerned in its production, so as to conceive and realize the incomparable result.


Luke 24:44.

1 Peter 1:10.

Luke 24:27.

The word Canon comes from the Greek word “kanw/n” (kanon) which in turn is derived from the Hebrew word hn<q’ (qaneh).  The Hebrew word literally refers to a “reed” or a “rod.”  In common usage, it referred to a straight rod of uniform length that could be used for measurements. In figurative use, it was common to use the term to refer to an ideal or a standard.  Thus, the idea of a Canon of scripture was to designate the writings which had been inspired by God for use as the standard for religion and life for God’s people.  By the time the New Testament writers were writing, the concept of Canon was clearly understood in the church and the writers understood themselves to be agents of God in the completion of the Canon. 

In citing the traditional three-fold division of scripture in Luke 24:44, Jesus himself rejects the idea that the Apocrypha should be considered Canon.

2 Peter 3:17.

It is worth noting that Marcion also published an early second century canon, but it was highly doctored to reflect his heretical views.  Thus, it should not be seen as a genuine canon, but as a heretical document of a false teacher.

The Muritorian Canon contained the following list of books in this order:  Matthew & Mark (the first section of the document is missing, but what follows implies the presence of Matthew and Mark in the missing section), Luke, John, the Acts of the Apostles, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Romans, 2 Corinthians, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Titus,  1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, The Wisdom of Solomon (Apocryphal), Revelation, and the Apocalypse of Peter (but listed as doubtful).  The Shepherd of Hermas is listed as useful for the believer but not scripture and is prohibited as a subject of preaching.  Also, the Letters of Paul to the Laodiceans and to the Alexandrians is listed as forged in Paul’s name to further the heresy of Marcion.  Finally, the writings of Arsinous, Valentius, Miltiades, and Basilides are condemned.  To include these documents, the canon instructs, would be to “mix gall with honey.”

Numerous citations from the book of Hebrews are found between 1 Clement and 2 Clement. 

Hodge, A.A.  Evangelical Theology.  London:  T. Nelson and Sons, 1890.  Pg. 74-75.

How do we know that the Bible is complete and unified?

How do we know that the Bible is a unified and complete book in its presentation to us and that it alone contains the written revelation of God for his people?

 

            While the Bible has many human authors through which the text was written, there is one divine author.  This is clear by looking at its overall unity.  There is not a humanly produced book, wherein multiple authors have contributed over a long span of time, that contains the unity that scripture contains.  Not only does the Bible not contradict itself, it also presents a progression of theology that could not have evolved from the imagination of men.  Themes and theological concepts are found in their infancy in early Old Testament writings, are developed further in later Old Testament writings, and are found complete within the New Testament—all without contradiction or inconsistency.

            More importantly than its unified nature are the many claims that the Bible makes of itself being God’s word.  Throughout the scriptures there are commands to “write this down” or “speak this to my people” given by God to his prophets and apostles.  The Old Testament itself contains more than 600 instances of “and God said” or “thus says the Lord.”  That in itself is an occurrence of about once every 35 verses.  The New Testament contains numerous direct quotes from Jesus himself, again being God’s speech recorded by the Apostles.  The Bible goes as far as to refer to itself as being the very “breath” of God and thus the revelation of God to his people.

            To those who would suggest that there are other texts that necessarily supplement the Bible that also contain God’s word, the Bible contains strong warnings that judgment will come upon those who suggest such things.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and told them that anyone who proclaimed a gospel not consistent with that of scripture would be accursed.  The consistent witness of every prophet and apostle within the history of the Biblical writings is that these words that are recorded in the scriptures contain the very words of God.


2 Timothy 3:16.

Revelation 22:18-19.

Galatians 1:9.