Tag Archives: Why Aren’t Certain Books in the Bible

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!

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.

%d bloggers like this: