Tag Archives: Selecting the Christian Canon

How Do Christians Determine What they Accept as Scripture: Settling on the Final Selections (And Why You Don’t Necessarily Have to Agree in Order to Be a Christian)

1 Feb

Well here we are!  Over the last few months, we’ve taken a careful look at “How Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture”.  We’ve examined tests ranging from prophesy and accuracy to authenticity and value.  (If you’d like to review any of these tests, click the highlighted link above.)  Today, we conclude our series with a look at how, when, and where, the final selections were made and what effect this determination does or doesn’t have upon Christians today.

Confirming the date at which the Bible was finalized in its present form can be tricky business.  Why?  Quite simply because it took a few decades between the composition of each book and its distribution to and acceptance by the individual congregations scattered throughout the world.  What is certain is that all 27 books of the New Testament were accepted and in use by the time of the Nicean Council in A.D. 325 – a council which (contrary to urban myth) never even addressed the issue of what should or shouldn’t be included in the Canon.

It was the Synod of Hippo in A.D. 393 that produced the first complete New Testament list and it is interesting to note that the Synod did not establish the Canon, but merely recognized it.  Indeed, it was the churches themselves, individual believers who had done the hard work of reviewing the candidates for Scripture, comparing them to previous revelation, and establishing their accuracy and apostolic authority.  Perhaps the greatest miracle of the Canon is that independent thinkers throughout the world came to the same conclusion that these 27 books deserved a special place within the faith.

So, do you have to accept all 66 books in order to be a Christian?  Absolutely not!  While I, personally, believe that the Old and New Testament are the accurate, inspired, and infallible Word of God, some of the most respected Christians in history have found what they felt to be sufficient cause to doubt.  Martin Luther, the instigator of the Protestant reformation doubted the books of Esther and James.  John Calvin, his northern counterpart, questioned Esther.

Christians sometimes encounter difficulties in Scripture which seem hard to resolve – but their doubt concerning the books themselves, does not equal doubt in God.  Nor does it equal lack of saving faith. Christianity, after all, isn’t about what you know, but about Who you know.  It is faith in Christ’s shed blood as the full payment for our sins which saves us, not absolute certainty that every word in our modern Bible is actually a part of Scripture.

So if you doubt, don’t lose hope.  Struggle with the hard questions.  Be open to admitting your doubts.  Seek the answers.  And cling tight to the One who gave His life in order to redeem yours!

How Do Christians Determine What they Accept as Scripture: The Test of Value

25 Jan

Not every accurate text written during the time of Christ was included in the Christian canon.  Often times, the reason for this was that these texts were written by those who were not followers of Jesus.  But what about books written by non-apostolic contemporaries who were?  To answer this question, we turn to the final test in our series on how Christians determine what they accept as Scripture: The Test of Value.

Anyone who has read Christian writings beyond those included within the Scriptures will likely understand why such a test is necessary, even though it may at times appear to be a bit subjective.  Christian book stores abound with volumes written by educated men: preachers, theologians, and philosophers.  On occasion, these books meet the other standards set for Scriptural writings in that they are accurate, internally consistent with both themselves and other revelation, and even helpful to believers in general.  To include such works within the Christian canon, however, would make for more reading than most of us could do in a lifetime.

Such products are not limited to our modern age and Christians in the early Church found themselves in a position of needing to refine what would or wouldn’t be selected for inclusion in their Sacred Text.  The easiest way to make the decision was to select only those texts containing authentic and new apostolic doctrine.

You can think of it a bit like making a decision whether or not to include the writings of C. S. Lewis as part of the New Testament.  Provided that Lewis was an authentic apostle (he wasn’t) and that his writings were always consistent with previous revelation (not always the case) and that what he had to say would be useful to the Church worldwide (it is), they might make a good addition to the Holy Writ.  So why not include them?  The answer is that Lewis’ writings are an exercise in the application of Biblical principles, not a presentation of new principles upon which believers should act.  It is for this reason that some otherwise good candidates for inclusion in the Bible, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles are unknown to many of today’s churchgoing believers.

By limiting the Sacred Text in this way, Christians erred on the side of caution and also kept their writings compact enough that every believer would have the ability to read, understand, and master the core doctrines of the faith.  (That’s not to say that this always happens or even that it happens frequently – just that it is a conceivable possibility!)

So there you have it: the tests which have been traditionally used to determine what does or doesn’t belong in the Christian canon.   They have influenced the Church for millennia and will likely continue to do so well into the future!

What happens if you aren’t sure about all of the selections made by the Church in the past?  Next week, we’ll conclude our series with a look at the finalization of the Canon and what it does or doesn’t mean for believers today.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on this test and why (or why not) you accept its validity in the comment box below!

How Do Christians Determine What they Accept as Scripture: The Test of Authenticity

18 Jan

Over the last few months, we’ve looked at a number of tests used by Christians to determine what we accept as Scripture.  This week, we’ll continue this theme as we take a look at the Test of Authenticity.  Why does authenticity matter?  Quite simply because it is the eye-witnesses (like Matthew and John) and those who were close to them (like Luke and Mark) who were in the best position to describe what Jesus actually taught.  They saw the events for themselves and were closely associated with the person of whom they spoke.  More importantly, as Apostles or those close to the Apostles, they were privy not just to Jesus’ public teachings, but also to what He had to say in private.  As such, they were uniquely qualified to purvey His doctrine to other followers not just in Judea, but around the world.

That isn’t to say that accurate accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings couldn’t or didn’t originate from those who weren’t Apostles.  Indeed, there are a number of excellent accounts from the time period, not all of which were provided by followers of “The Way”.  When it comes to establishing the doctrines of the Church, however, Christians are and were concerned with ensuring that the teaching came from someone with Apostolic authority.

Verifying authorship and date of composition is relatively easy when copies of “Scriptural” books are confined to a limited geographic area, such as the region of Judea (as was the case with most of the Old Testament).  Add in the rest of the world, however, and confirming the origin of a text becomes a challenge.  Though all 27 books of the New Testament were written within 70 years of Christ’s death, writings like these were copied and sent to churches individually and not every congregation in the early Church had copies of every document.  Most churches subjected new writings to serious scrutiny (using the previously discussed tests) before accepting the documents as authoritative.  Books like James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John and Revelation, were not immediately embraced by all Christian congregations and, as a result, decades passed before the New Testament officially stood as it does today.

The Church would later face similar difficulties when it came to verifying the authenticity of Old Testament writings as well.  The Alexandrian Jewish Diaspora had an edition of the Scriptures which contained numerous works which did not pass the authentication process utilized by the Orthodox Judean Jews.  While some Christians accepted these apocryphal books, others rejected them outright.

While these “hidden” or “secret” books contained material pertaining to this time, they were eventually excluded for a number of reasons varying from lack of authenticity (as found in additions made to Daniel and Esther long after the events in their volumes supposedly occurred) to scientific inaccuracies (as found in 2 Esdras, Tobit, and Judith) to contradictions with other Scripture (such as found in 2 Esdras, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) or simple historical inaccuracies (as those manifested in Baruch).   Indeed, Jerome (one of the early Church fathers) struggled with the idea of including these texts in his Latin translation known today as the Vulgate and did so only with deep reservations.

That said, if you want a broader understanding of varying Christian traditions, all of these make for excellent reading.  Most High School students should be able to pick out the reasons for their exclusion from the evangelical tradition and, if they think carefully, the reasons for their inclusion in other traditions.

Next week, we’ll take a look at one final test applied to determining whether a text qualifies for a place among the Holy Writ: The Test of Value.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts and discoveries in the comment box below!

Law and Grace: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction

11 Jan

Over the last five weeks, we’ve taken a look at a case study on the apparent doctrinal contradiction between the loving God of the New Testament and the wrathful God presented in the Old Testament.  Today, we’ll take a look at a second case study, examining the tension which exists between the Scriptural depictions of Law and Grace.

Anyone who has ever conversed with a Biblical Christian about their faith has likely heard the words of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  (NASB)  Used to demonstrate that there is nothing a human being can do to restore their relationship with God, verses like these seem to be at odds with passages like James 2:14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”   If doctrinal non-contradiction is a rule for establishing canon, how did both passages make it into the Bible?

To answer this question, we need to spend a few minutes in the Old Testament.  The first five books (known as the Pentateuch) focus heavily upon the Law that God gave to His people – so much so that some have been led to believe that the rule for Salvation actually changes somewhere between the Old and New Testaments.  A closer examination of the text, however, reveals that this is far from the truth.  In fact, passages like Genesis 15:6:  “Then he believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” and Habakuk 2:4: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” clearly indicate that even when the Law was being actively observed, it was not obedience which saved a man, but faith.

If this is the case, why did God bother with the Law at all?  According to Galatians 3:24-26, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”  Rather than being a means by which a person can be saved, the Law is a means for demonstrating that people need to be saved.  Our inability to perfectly keep God’s rules is immediately apparent when we compare our actual behavior with this depiction of desirable behavior.  We just can’t do it.  And that’s the point.

Paul clarifies the point in Romans 4:1-8, “What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather according to the flesh, has found?  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’  (Genesis 15:6)  Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.  But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the mad to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account’ (Psalm 32:1,2).”  The truth is, God’s gift to us becomes all that much more magnificent when we realize that we can do nothing to contribute to our own Salvation!

So how do we clarify the presence of a text like James 2:14 in the midst of all these verses about salvation through faith?  More easily than you might think!  My Dad used to say that if you ignore context, you can make the Bible say anything you like.  His favorite example was to mix the phrases, “Judas went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5) and “Go thou and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).  Of course, any intelligent observer would note that the two verses involved different situations and were found at different places within the text.  They really had nothing to do with one another other than the fact that they were both a part of the sacred writ.

The same principle applies to Ephesians 2:8-9 (written to a Church that needed to be reminded that it was faith, not works which saved them) and James 2:14 (which was written to a congregation struggling with persecution and fighting to “let their light shine”).  While the former needed to remember the origins of their Salvation, the latter needed to be reminded that true faith would bear real fruit. I love to compare this to the difference between saying that I believe a chair will hold my weight and actually sitting in the chair and proving that I believe it won’t collapse beneath me.  James was pointing out that real faith is more than just uttering a few words about “trusting Jesus for Salvation” – it was about actually trusting Jesus.  And actual trust is demonstrated through obedience.

So do the two passages contradict?  Not at all!  In fact, we find that both are in perfect harmony – real faith, actual trust in Christ as the full payment for our sins – will save us.  Not works.  Not empty words.  Genuine faith.

Next week, we’re back on track, investigating the role of “authenticity” (Was the book written by an eye-witness or someone else?) in the selection of the Christian canon.  Meanwhile, if you’d like a more in-depth look at the roles of faith and works, why don’t you take some time to read through the book of Romans?  It’s a short read, full of deep theology!

 

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Doctrinal Non-contradiction

30 Nov

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at different aspects of the test of Non-contradiction and the role that it has played in determining what has or hasn’t “made the cut” and found its way into the Christian Scriptures.  In “Cultural Understanding”  we explored how our comprehension of ancient societies influences our perceptions of the documents they produced and how what appears contradictory to us may not have been contradictory at all!  In “Logical Non-contradiction”, we explored the difference between a contradiction that is logically impossible (like there being “only three men” in the room in one account and there being five in another) and the apparent contradiction created as different historians give an account to varying audiences.  This week, we’re going to continue our series on non-contradiction with a look at the issue of doctrine – and why contradictions in this field have almost uniformly led to the discarding of candidates for the Canon.

Turn on your television.  Go ahead.  It happens to be drawing close to Christmas at the time of this writing and I have begun (with great enthusiasm) to anticipate the inevitable flood of documentaries on “The Real Jesus”.  One of the mainstays of such documentaries is an attack upon the consistency of Gospel accounts – usually with some reference to the doctrinal “spin” produced by the eye-witnesses of the events and later disproven in the gnostic gospels (most of which were written nearly 400 years after the events and, you guessed it, by people who didn’t witness them).

I’m not about to argue that there aren’t some apparent doctrinal inconsistencies within the pages of the Christian Scripture (emphasis upon the word “apparent”).   Any reasonably intelligent human being will note that, in a quick “skim” through, the God of the Old Testament  seems wrathful and self-centered while the God of the New Testament is loving and fatherly or that the Old Testament was largely about rules while the New Testament appears to teach freedom from these rules.

So why sit here and defend doctrinal consistency when such clear and apparent contradictions exist?  Quite simply because these, like the contradictions demonstrated over the course of the previous two weeks, are just that: “apparent” contradictions.  The truth is, many of the anomalies we see when we merely “skim” the pages of Scripture begin to disappear as we delve deeper into its pages.  They exist only when we isolate specific portions of the Bible from the rest of the volume (the Books of the Law, for example, from the Books of History).  The issue is one of context, not contradiction.

It should be obvious that neglecting the context of a passage is dangerous (we’ve all had our own words taken out of context from time to time), but the temptation to do just that is overwhelming.  After all, which one of us doesn’t want to appear to be on top of current scholarship?  Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the issue with a couple of case studies centering on the tricky apparent contradictions mentioned earlier.

This week, however, we’ll conclude with the generally accepted (but sometimes questioned) rule that if texts which are otherwise sound (are scientifically and historically accurate, display the cultural understanding of eye-witnesses, and are logically consistent) fail to be doctrinally consistent, they don’t qualify for inclusion in the Christian Canon.

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Logical Non-contradiction

23 Nov

Last week, in “Cultural Understanding”, we took our first look at non-contradiction – a test which has historically been applied to help determine what does or doesn’t deserve a place within the Christian Scriptures.  We discovered (with the help of some archaeological “digging”) that not all apparent contradictions are actually contradictory and considered the importance of taking the time to uncover all of the facts (or at least as many as possible) before passing judgment on conflicting texts.  We also learned the importance of being open to our initial judgment being proven wrong – just as any good archaeologist or historian would be.  This week, we’ll take our discussion a bit further as we examine the role played by eye-witnesses and the importance of logical non-contradiction within the pages of the Bible.  Our focal point?  The New Testament.

As we discussed last week, some of the apparent discrepancies in Scripture result not from genuine contradictions, but from our lack of knowledge regarding ancient cultures.  A prime New Testament example of this principle can be found in the chronology (timeline) of the Gospels.  Take a moment to flick through their pages and you will quickly notice that the events don’t always take place in the same order in each account.  Nor does every account contain the same details of each event.  While some might be tempted to discard the lot as “contradictory”, this is far from the case.

Unlike modern biographers, the goal of ancient writers was not to present a chronological account of the life of an individual, i.e., to tell their tale from birth through death, but to convey a point about that life.  Each historian considered not just the raw events (as modern journalists aspire to do), but their implications for the lives of their chosen audience.  When audiences differed, so did the material presented.  The result is that two authors each giving an account of the same historical figure might include radically different details and in a distinctly different order – yet both be quite accurate in their reporting.

This isn’t a case of “spinning” the events in favor of one particular view or another, but of selecting the most pertinent material for a given audience – much as a professor might share the same concepts in an High School class or a college class, but with different “supporting” information.  For example, because his audience was primarily Jewish and was deeply familiar with the Torah, Matthew focuses his Gospel on the ways in which Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophesy.  Mark, on the other hand, was more interested in sharing with a Gentile audience who would have been bored stiff by such details.  Instead, he focuses his account upon Christ’s practical influence upon the lives of those who surrounded Him.  The result of these considerations (as well as others) is that we find differences between the accounts such as Matthew telling the story of two men beside the Jericho road (Matthew 20:29,30) while Mark relates the tale of only one (Mark 10:46).  This apparent discrepancy in numbers is not a contradiction, since Mark does say that Jesus healed “one man” (which is entirely true) and not that Jesus healed “only one man”.

Sound like a bit of verbal wrangling designed to get Christians out of a sticky position?  Not at all!  In fact, we all do the same thing on a daily basis, but (likely due to the fact that most of what we say doesn’t have the potential impact of Scripture) don’t think twice about it.  Take for example, the statement that, “The four of us went to gym class.”  Likely, there are more than four people in your gym class, but if the focus of your dialogue is upon you and your three best friends, your phrasing will reflect that.  Your statement isn’t a lie, a contradiction, or a twisting of the truth even if there are thirty people who actually attend the gym class at your school – the four of you (the stars of the story) did go to class.  The same principles apply to Scripture.

While cultural context and a healthy dose of logic are really all that are needed in order to resolve many of the seeming conflicts contained within the pages of the Bible, clear, provable contradiction (like one book saying there were only two men present while another says there were five) has always been considered sufficient cause to discard any claimant to Divine authority.

Next week, we’ll take a look at one more form of non-contradiction which has played a key role in the formation of the Christian canon: doctrinal non-contradiction, but for now, feel free to share your comments in the box below!

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture: Cultural Understanding

16 Nov

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken a look at the role that “The Test of Value” has played in establishing the Christian canon.  We’ve looked at both science and history and spent some time examining what they can and can’t tell us about the world which surrounds us.  We’ve considered their importance in forming an accurate picture of world events and taken a look at ways in which they help us establish the truth or falsity of an account.

Today, we’ll shift our focus slightly as we begin to delve into yet another test for Holy Writ: that of non-contradiction.  We’ll examine some apparent logical and doctrinal inconsistencies within the pages of the Bible and consider the part that non-contradiction plays in determining what stays and what goes.  But before we get started, let’s take a moment to examine the role of cultural understanding and the ways in which our comprehension of other societies (like those discussed in “Archaeology and Historical Accuracy”) can influence our perception of the Biblical account.

To begin with, it is important to recognize that both Christians and other earnest seekers of the Truth have often found what appear to be “contradictions” within the pages of Scripture – places where two or more accounts are not in agreement with one another.  Such contradictions (if they really are contradictions) would be sufficient cause to discard the passage of the Bible in which they are found and (in some cases) the Bible as a whole.  For this reason, it is important that we not take such textual disagreements lightly.  At the same time, it also pays not to be too hasty in our judgment.  (Wouldn’t it be a shame to throw out something perfectly useful just because we didn’t understand how it worked?)  Things are not always what they seem and a sincere investigator must take the time to learn the facts before he comes to a conclusion.  Many times, the facts which are most relevant are the cultural ones.

Take, for example, the accounts of the reigns of the Israelite and Judean kings from the books of Kings and Chronicles.  An astute observer will notice that the length of their reigns is not always the same from one book to another.  Even other Old Testament accounts seem to leave the actual length of rule in doubt and, for years, scholars were stumped by this discrepancy.  Clearly, both accounts couldn’t be correct – so which one was and why?

It took some digging (literally) to discover that the time-keeping issue unearthed by modern scholars wasn’t actually a discrepancy at all.  The apparent conflict originated not in a logical contradiction, but from a cultural oddity: the two kingdoms, while being adjacent to one another, operated on two different calendar systems – both of which accurately portrayed the reigns of the kings according to the standards of the culture.

In the accession system (used by Israel throughout its entire history), if a king reigned for the last month of a year, he was counted as having ruled for the entire year.  In the non-accession system, however, only full years of a reign were considered.  During the rule of the kings, Judah began with the accession system, switched to the non-accession system, and then switched back – leading to an apparent (but not actual) inconsistency with the Israelite account.  The difficulty then, is not one of contradiction, but of having attempted to understand two separate ancient cultures in light of modern practice.

Such details go a long way to confirm the inerrancy of Scripture.  Had the accounts been written hundreds of years after the events had taken place, a different time keeping system would have been in use.  It is likely that the author would have utilized this more “modern” method – leaving the accounts of the kings’ reigns to be proven inaccurate (and inauthentic) at a later date when the details of accession and non-accession time-keeping were uncovered

Meanwhile, an accurate cultural understanding goes a long way towards smoothing over many of the apparent discrepancies contained within the Christian canon.  The moral of the story?  Before discarding the Bible (or any portion of it), take the time to gain an understanding of the culture in which the text in question actually originated.  Like the scholars who discovered the Israelite and Judean calendars, you may be surprised by what you unearth!

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Archaeology and Historical Accuracy

9 Nov

Last week in “The Test of Value”, we began to take a look at the influence that accuracy (especially scientific accuracy) has played in determining whether Christians accept or reject a book as Scripture.  This week, we’ll continue the theme by examining the issue of historical accuracy and the role that archaeology has played in determining what does or doesn’t merit a place in the Bible.

Before we begin, however, we must take a moment to understand what the field of archaeology can and can’t offer us in regard to determining historical truth.  It is important to recognize that archaeology does not deal directly with history, but with what remains of history.  The story which artifacts tell must be deduced from their surroundings and, sometimes, due to the differences between modern cultures and ancient ones, these deductions are inaccurate.  (If you want a great example of an argument which has arisen as the result of such deductions, take a moment to do an internet search for “Qumran” (the ancient community located near the spot where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found).  You may be surprised at what you find!)

As our knowledge of the ancient world expands, so do the possibilities for interpreting its remains.  What at one time was a “proven fact” can quickly be discarded as a misinterpretation of the evidence.  This isn’t always the case, but it does happen frequently enough to leave room for doubt.  The result is that while archaeology can do much to confirm details of an account, it is not always a source of absolute truth.  Its evidence must be weighed, often in the light of the evidence from other fields of study, before we arrive at a conclusion.  In a sense, archaeology is the handmaiden of history – illuminating our understanding of recorded history by bringing its remnants to light.

One of the most common errors made in regard to these remnants is the “argument from silence”, i.e., to argue that something (or someone) did not exist simply because no evidence of its existence has ever been found.  While this might sound reasonable at first, the argument falls to pieces upon further investigation.  For years, it was argued that the Hittites mentioned in the Old Testament were a fictional group of people.  No remnant of their society had been found anywhere near the expected Biblical location and no mention of them was made in any other ancient literature.  If God really had promised their land to the Israelites, the promise had been an empty one.

That is, until the early 1900’s when Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered an impossibly large cache of clay tablets confirming that the Hittites had existed!  Since then, archaeologists have unearthed many remnants of their society.  The lack of evidence once thought to disconfirm the claims of Scripture was turned into a treasure trove which confirmed Scripture.

So what role does archaeology play in validating a book as part of the Christian Bible?  To begin with, it does provide us with known facts.  Archaeology has uncovered much evidence to support the Biblical record (evidence of places and people named within the pages of Scripture) and archaeologists have done a wonderful job when it comes to illuminating our understanding of ancient cultures.  As the picture becomes more complete and more gaps are filled, we find ample evidence that the writers of the Bible did live at the time and in the places they claimed.

So what happens when a book that claims to be Scripture is disproven through archaeology or other historical documentation?  The same thing that happens when a volume is proven scientifically inaccurate: it is discarded.  It has been discredited as the Word of God and does not merit a place within our Holy writ.

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: The Test of Value

2 Nov

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the important role that prophesy plays in determining what Christians accept as Scripture.  We’ve learned about “Testing a Prophet” and have discussed both “The Test of Uniqueness” and “The Test of Detail”.  This week, we’re going to look at another test applied to texts to determine whether they merit a place among our Holy writ: the test of value.

The test of value can be broken down into three primary subheadings: accuracy, authenticity, and applicability. Of all the tests of Scripture, the first of these (accuracy) is one of the most important.  After all, if a writer can’t get basic verifiable facts about science, history, and geography correct – why should we believe his explanation of spiritual things?  It’s a valid question and one with which Christians (and others) throughout the ages have struggled.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at these “factual” questions, beginning today with the issue of science.

It doesn’t take most of us long to recognize that what we learn in science class doesn’t always mesh with the claims of Scripture.  For example, according to Genesis 1:27, God created man in His own image – with intention and purpose.  According to our science text books, however, man is the result of random mutations which have taken place over the course of millennia – an accident.  It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that both can’t be true.  So which one is?  And what role does information like this play in determining whether any book should or shouldn’t be included in Scripture?

To begin with, as Christians, we need to approach anything bearing the label of “science” (whether or not it confirms our original beliefs) with a certain level of skepticism and, perhaps, even agnosticism (a willingness to openly admit that we just don’t know).  Instead of jumping to conclusions about what can or can’t be true (conclusions often based upon our upbringing, system of belief, or the pressure applied by those around us), we need to be willing to do a bit of research and be open to the results.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “science” is “a knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.”  The key elements of this scientific method are observation and repeatability, i.e., the person performing an experiment must be able to witness an event taking place and, through recreation of identical circumstances, reproduce that event multiple times.  We see this method in action when we consider the laws of gravity.  Drop an apple while standing on this planet and it will fall to the ground… over and over and over again.  The result?  Scientific fact.

Science is an excellent method for determining truth, but it is important to note that it isn’t the only way to determine what is or isn’t true.  There are many “facts” (those surrounding historical events, for example) which cannot be either proven or disproven through scientific investigation.  Whether life came in existence through evolution is an excellent example.  While we do observe minor adaptive changes (micro-evolution) throughout creation, no scientist has yet been able to actually “create” living, breathing organisms out of chemicals in a laboratory.  Nor has anyone witnessed reptiles actively transforming into birds or apes becoming human (though they can be trained to interact in human-like ways).   The initial creation of life, like other historical events, is beyond the realm of science.

1 Timothy 6:20 warns that we should avoid, “…worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”.”  The old King James Version puts it, “… keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.”  This doesn’t mean that Christians ought to reject scientific findings (quite the opposite!), but it does mean that we need to be careful to ensure that what we accept as science actually is science.

So what happens if genuine science does contradict the claims of a book which declares itself to be Scripture?  Then the answer is simple: the book of Scripture must be discarded.  It has been discredited as the Word of God.  And this is one of the reasons that the Bible stands as it does today.

Answering Questions About the Bible: How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture?

5 Oct

Deciding what is or isn’t accepted as sacred text isn’t a problem limited to Christianity.  Ask any Muslim and they’ll tell you that one of the greatest debates of the Islamic world revolves around the Hadith, the apocryphal sayings of Mohammed.  Which teachings are accurate?  Which one’s aren’t?  How are they tested?  And who, ultimately, gets to decide which ones remain a part of the accepted religious tradition and which ones don’t?

These are questions faced by many faiths, so it’s not at all surprising that they should be asked in reference to Christianity as well.  There are more than a few ancient texts which refer to the struggles of the Jewish people and the work and teachings of Christ – so who decided which books were sacred and which weren’t and how did they decide?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at why the Christian Bible stands as it does today – why some writings were accepted universally and others only by certain groups – and why so many of us are convinced that these 66 books stand out from the rest!

We’ll start by taking a look at the key tests applied to any text which makes a claim to Divine authority:

  • The Test of a Prophet – What role does prophesy play in defining the Christian Scriptures… and how do we know that a prophet really is from God?
  • The Test of Uniqueness – What role does logic play in defining what is or isn’t prophesy and how does it influence what believers will or won’t accept as genuine?
  • The Test of Detail – Is detail an important element of authentic prophesy and how might it help us determine whether a text does or doesn’t belong in the Bible?
  • The Test of Value – How do accuracy and applicability help Christians to determine whether a text (prophetic or not) deserves a place within the Holy Writ?
  • The Test of Authenticity – Why when a text was written and who wrote it can make the difference between the acceptance or rejection of an ancient composition.

We’ll examine the philosophies and events which surrounded the establishment of the Canon (a fancy, Latin word meaning “rule” or “measure” which is used in reference to those books without which a group of writings – in this case, the Bible – would not be complete), answer some frequently asked questions, and consider the implications of our findings.  Whether you agree with me that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, Word of God or not – you’re sure to find the journey an enlightening one.

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