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In Defence of the Canon of Scripture: its Trustworthiness

Part 2: In Defence of the Canon of Scripture: Trustworthiness

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
Psalm 19:7 (NIV)

Introduction[1]

Big idea

The Scriptures are trustworthy because the Holy Spirit was in total control in the writing of the text, the amalgamation of the manuscripts and their preservation.

(You should refer to authors such as FF Bruce to gain a full understanding of the History of the Bible)

Overview: what do we mean by trustworthy?

The words are God’s own

  • Standpoint of content, men contributed nothing

Man transmitted the words of God

  • Standpoint of transmission men contributed to linguistic style, figures of speech, rhetorical devices etc.

God’s own words

"Lord said to Moses" 137 times in the Torah to write e.g.

Numbers 34:1,2 (NKJV) Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Command the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance-the land of Canaan to its boundaries.

Exodus 17:14 (KJV) And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put [blot] out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.

Exodus 34:1 (NKJV) And the Lord said to Moses, "Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke.

God prepared men to write for him

God writes of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." (NKJV)

Paul writes of himself

Galatians 1:15,16 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult [refer] any man, (NIV)

Men were guided by the Holy Spirit

2 Timothy 3:16a All scripture is inspired by God [θεόπνευστος, ον: theopneustos, theh-op’-nyoo-stos : "God-breathed" or "God-spirited"]

2 Peter 1:20-21: "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but people moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

The words preserved

God preserved his word, even during the harshest times – the periods of great idolatry of Israel, through to the sacking of Jerusalem and the burning of the Bibles in the middle ages.

Deuteronomy 31:24 - 26 (NIV) After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: "Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you.

The words rejected

We need to remind ourselves that the main issue with the Canon is not with the Canon itself, but with our rejection of the Word of God, indeed, of God himself.

Genesis 3:1,2 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?"

Sin entered the world by one man; and sin corrupted everything including our hearts: It is our sinful nature that wars against God and his word, which is recorded in Scripture.

1 Peter 2:11 (NIV) 11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Words Authenticated

Old Testament

Moses wrote the Law (Pentateuch or Torah) and as we see from the Deuteronomic verse above, which was preserved alongside the Ark. That Moses is attributed to writing the Pentateuch authenticated by Jesus in all four gospels, at least 14 times.

Jesus quotes from the Law eg Mark 7:10 (NKJV) For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’

Jesus uses the Old Testament many times, including describing the entire events that had unfolded in the gospels to the disciples on the Emmaus Road.

  • The New Testament quotes the Old 165 times directly and indirectly more than 200 times. eg Acts 8:32,33.
  • Note that Jesus came to fulfil the Prophecies, not alter or destroy it.

Matthew 5:17,18 (NKJV)"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

New Testament

The men who wrote were eye-witnesses of events

Peter states: Acts 5:32 (NKJV) And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him."

John states: 1 John 1:2 (NKJV) the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us

Internal Consistency

One major piece of evidence of authenticity is the complete consistency of the OLD with the NEW. It is the New that lifts the veil on the Old, revealing what God had set forth from the beginning.

2 Corinthians 3:15,16 (NIV) Even to this day when Moses [The Law]  is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

 

Trustworthiness: what does it mean?

The Canon is inerrant and infallible[2]

Inerrant

The Bible has no error of fact or inconsistencies

  • The Bible was written in 3 languages, 40 authors and a timeframe of >1500 years, yet the entire Canon is consistent: which is the result of the Holy Spirit, which too many underestimate, or ignore.
  • This applies to the original manuscripts. There may be errors of copying or understanding of the figures of speech etc but nothing to alter the doctrines of God.

Infallible

The Bible is never ever wrong.

  • If it appears wrong, we are wrong.

 

How was the Old Testament’s words preserved

The problem

  • We don’t have the autographs, i.e. the original manuscripts.
  • We don’t have first generation copies of the autographs or even the second or third
  • There were many writings that were considered by some as being canonical, that is representing the writings of God – why were these not included?

Notes

  • The Old Testament is divided into three: Law, Prophets and Writings (or Hagiographa, or holy writings, Psalms): Jesus had not come to destroy any of it (Matthew 5:17).

Luke 24:44 (NIV) He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

  • The decision that a manuscript or piece of writing was canonical, that is belonged to the Scripture, was decided by the writing itself, through the Holy Spirit, not the church.
  • There were clearly difficulties – such as with the book of Esther, which tells us of the providence of God, but does not mention the LORD’S (Yahweh’s) name.

The Law or Pentateuch

The Manuscripts of the Law were writings that were recognized very early on as having divine authority and served as a "rule of faith and practice" for the people of Israel. At the time of the Exodus, the covenant of God had been written.

Exodus 24:7 (NKJV) Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient."

Indeed God had demanded Moses to write down the events of the Exodus in a book:

Exodus 17:14 (NKJV) Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."

The Old Testament was a work in progress at the Exodus, but the Law consisting of the first five books of the Bible was one book (or scroll) by the time of the downfall of Israel.

1 Chronicles 16:40 (NKJV) [the Levites were left] to do according to all that is written in the Law of the Lord which He commanded Israel;

The Book of the Law is found by Hilkiah (2 Kings 22-23, 2 Chron 34), and later lost, but found and read by Ezra (Nehemiah 8).

Throughout the times of the Kings of Israel the Pentateuch was treated as a sacred writing.

Moses was the author of the majority of the Law, authenticated by Jesus himself, who attributes its authorship to Moses, whatever modern critics may say.

Other literary works began with Samuel, who started the activity of writing the history and prophecies of the Jews such as Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Joshua and Judges were probably written for a similar purpose.

Samuel 10:25 (NKJV Then Samuel explained to the people the behavior of royalty, and wrote it in a book and laid it up before the Lord. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house. 1)

These men also wrote down the events to preserve them for the future as a memorial or witness (Deut 31:24-26) or a time to come:

Isaiah 30:8 (NIV) Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come, it may be an everlasting witness.

Some contend the Bible was really oral folk-law which various people eventually wrote down. However, the written word was important – more important that oral transmission, because we see that it could be lost and forgotten (2 Kings 22-23). It is clear that much was written down immediately:

1.      God commended men to do so

Exodus 17:14 (NIV) 14Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

2.      Writing down the history was what they did culturally – we see many times the following scenario:

2 Kings 15:36 (NKJV) Now the rest of the acts of Jotham [ ruled in the fear of God and became prosperous], and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?

We don’t know when the Pentateuch was formed into its final form: but Mose’s work was considered canonical at the time and placed in the Ark of the Covenant. (Deut 31:24-26). The first section of the Canon therefore is considered to be the Law – or Pentateuch, recognized by many of the other authors of the Old Testament. Certainly by the time of Ezra the Pentateuch was complete.

The Prophets and Writings

The Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections: in book order:

The Books of the Law:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

The Books of the Prophets (Nevi'im)

Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Twelve (ie 12 minor prophets, minor due to their length)

The Hagiographa or Writings

Ruth (as a preface to Psalms and later moved to after Song of Songs), Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esher, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles[3].

These groupings are order by literary character of the time. It is likely that these books were at first recognised individually as authoritative then bound to others. Once the prophetic gift was withdrawn (about 425 BC) the books were re-classified and carefully re-ordered. Certainly by 200 BC, if not by the 4th century BC, all the books that are currently canonised where so, with the three divisions clearly indicated by the Greek prefaces to the translation of the Hebrew Bible.

The actual date of the closure of the OT is probably 165 BC. This we find 2 Maccabees – a non-canonical book, but one that some have considered to have considerable authority. They had two crises – war and the loss of the books that made up the canon. Judas Maccabaeus gathered up the books and ordered them, setting up a canon with 24 books (FF Bruce) (more out of convenience – one for each letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, with Ruth joined to Judges, and Lamentations to Jeremiah).

There are many writers who attest that these books make up the canon, except perhaps Song of Songs.

Summary

  • By the time of Christ the OT canon had clearly closed, and been firmly established, and has not been altered since, whatever others may say!
  • Jesus used the Old Testament with authority, even the LXX which was not a particularly good translation, but sufficiently so.
  • The writers of the New Testament use the Old Testament as an authoritative text, quoting from 31 books.
  • The Jamnia theory is but a theory. It has been written that no human authority of council of rabbis ever made an Old Testament authoritative. The books were inspired by God and had the stamp of authority on them from the beginning[4].
  • There are a large number of books which people have tried to add. The collection called the Apocrypha such as 'The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians", Macabess I & II etc are not considered canonical. The Vatican has accepted many, but there are few thoughtful Christian scholars who would consider these as authentic divine revelations of God. (see footnote 2).

But none of these were internally consistent with the existing Canon, and hence rejected

  • The Greek translation (The Septuagint called LXX) from 285-270 BC)
  • Masoretic Text (MT) Council of Jamnia (90 AD)

 

How were the New Testament’s words preserved?

Introduction

Unlike the Old Testament the New Testament was written over a very short time (relatively – c AD 40 to c 90) within the same culture and historical landscape.

The methodology of canonizing the manuscripts is the same as the Old Testament: whereby the Apostles are the prophets of the New Testament and are considered equivalent to the Prophets of the old, having authority to speak God’s oracles.

Hebrews 5:12 (NKJV) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles [elementary truths NIV] of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Note in particular that the revelation of the Church was to come by the Holy Spirit:

John 14:26 (NKJV) But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

John 16:13 (NKJV) However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.

  • We do not have the original manuscripts[5], but we do have more manuscripts for the Bible and in particular the New Testament than any other ancient text.
  • For the New Testament there is over whelming manuscript evidence of its authenticity
  • We have today in our possession 5,686 known Greek manuscripts[6] of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,284 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,970 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament today!4
  • Compared with our most venerated secular books such as those Plato, the New Testament has more MSS closer to the original than most others. For instance 1300 years elapsed between Plato and the oldest known MSS. Furthermore there are only 7 copies (extant), and yet no one questions its authenticity. (In fact it appears that only Christians question the authenticity of the New Testament).

FF Bruce write: "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament."[7]

  • Understanding which texts were canonical was not without its difficulty and detractors; Satan will stick his barbs anywhere he can to scuttle the work of the gospel[8].

The Canonization of the New Testament occurred as it was written

The New Testament began most likely with Paul who asks the following of the receivers of his letter to Thessalonians:

I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 1 Thessalonians 5:27 (NIV)

In some cases the letters were to read, authoritatively to a wider audience

Colossians 4:16 (NIV) After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Indeed the message of the writing’s of Paul was to be recognized as a message from God himself:

2 Corinthians 2:17 (NIV) Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

By 2 Peter, Paul’s letters are considered "the other scriptures"

2 Peter 3: 15,16 (ESV) … just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other [rest of remaining] Scriptures.

Clement of Rome wrote in AD 95 using material from Matthew and Luke, He has also read the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Earliest New Testament Manuscripts[9]

Of importance to the church was listing those books that were authoritative, noting that "The Gospels, recording "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach," could not be regarded as one whit lower in authority than the Old Testament books" (FF Bruce).

Bruce also notes: "The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognising their innate worth and general apostolic authority, direct or indirect.1"

Within 30-35 years The Gospels and the Pauline letters were circulating as authoritative texts. These were used according to Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) on the Lord’s Day to be read out aloud.

A fragment of papyrus from AD 125 containing John indicates the reverence the early Christians had for the apostles’ work

The Pauline letters were bound (with Hebrews) much earlier than this, along with other books

Tertullian, a Christian, called the Christian Scriptures the New Testament, the title which was around before c. 190 AD.

However, confusion arose when heretics arose in AD 140 when some tried to introduce their own works as authoritative texts.

This clearly had happened before 90AD, as John in the Apocalypse writes:

Revelation 2:14,15 (NKJV) But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria & Ignatius (AD 50 – 115) – called the church fathers (they knew they were not apostles, and encouraged Christians to believe and accept the apostles’ writings), accepted the New Testament Scriptures as authoritative works, except Mark, 2&3 John, Jude and 2 Peter. Polycarp and others quotes texts and refers to them as Scripture. The other books were soon authenticated although it took a lot of debate.

Origen (AD 185-254) a Christian scholar promulgated the New Testament as being inspired by God.

The edict of Diocletian AD 303 called for the destruction of all Christian sacred books.

By AD 325 the New Testament was as we know it today.

The Canon recognized

In AD 367 Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria lists the New Testament books, to once for all, authenticate those that belong and those that were excluded.

Jerome and Augustine – great pioneers of the early church and Bible, also listed 27 books of the New Testament.

Jerome sorted out those books which were apocryphal, translated Esther, and indeed the whole Bible, providing a Bible which was used up to the Reformation (in Latin so the ordinary person could read them)

The Council of Carthage AD 397 was the first ecclesiastical council to classify the canonical books - decreed the canonical Scriptures of the 27 books.

 

Conclusion

1.      The Bible is a product of God: it is not man’s creation. One cannot over emphasise the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding its every letter.

2.      The acceptance of a piece of writing as canonical was not a product of human intellect – it was as Milton Fischer puts it – was rather a matter of simple obedience to the known commands of Christ and his apostles.[10]

1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV) This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

3.      The acceptance of the New Testament canon arose from the utter acceptance of the church of the Old Testament.

There was a small boy that found a book in a small cave on top a large crag in Czechoslovakia. His name was Palko. The book was the Bible. Written on the first page were these words:

‘Whoever you are, you that takes this sacred volume in your hand – read it with perseverance and attention, line after line. It shall teach you the Way that leads from this vale of tears to the country where there is no night and where the sun never goes down, the land of light and happiness eternal.’[11]



Some Supporting Text

The Canon’s usefulness

Chuck Misler states – is useful for answering the following.

Which of the only two world views is true?

  1. Everything is a result of a cosmic accident.
  2. Deliberate result of a Creator.

Four Basic Questions

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where did I come from?
  3. Where am I going?
  4. To Whom am I accountable?

Texts

2 Timothy 3:15-16: "From childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All scripture is inspired by God [theopneustos: "God-breathed" or "God-spirited"] and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

2 Chronicles 34:14: "While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, the priest Hilkiah found the book of the law of YHWH given through Moses."

Matthew 5:17-18: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets;

2 Peter 1:20-21: "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but people moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

2 Peter 3:16: "Our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."

Hebrews 4:12 (KJV) 12For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Findings at Qumran

One of the most important groups of writings found at Qumran consists of commentaries (pesharim) on various Old Testament books or parts of books.[12]

(1) Over 200 copies of Old Testament books in the Hebrew (or Aramaic) original have been identified among the more than 500 books represented by the Qumran finds. Most of these have survived only as fragments, but there are a few reasonably complete copies, such as Isaiah A from Cave I and the copies of Leviticus and the Psalms from Cave XI. All twenty four books of the Hebrew Bible are represented with the exception of Esther; there are also fragments of some books of the Apocrypha.

Some facts

  • Number of books in the Bible: 66 
  • Chapters: 1,189 
  • Verses: 31,101 
  • Words: 783,137 
  • Letters: 3,566,480 
  • Number of promises given in the Bible: 1,260 
  • Commands: 6,468 

References to the Old Testament in the New

1. "the scriptures" Matthew 21:42

2. "scripture" 2 Peter 1:20

3. "the holy scriptures" Romans 1:2

4. "the law" John 12:34

5. "the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms" Luke 24:44

6. "the law and the prophets" Matthew 5:17

7. "the old covenant" [NIV] or "old testament" [NKJV] 2 Corinthians 3:14


[1] This is a mere overview – I am incapable of giving even a half-view of the reasons why we know the Bible is a trustworthy document. FF Bruce published much in this area and is a well regarded expert. Much of his work is published on the web, for example: Bruce, FF (1943) The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? InterVasity Fellowship, England < http://www.bible.ca/b-new-testament-documents-f-f-bruce.htm > accessed 20 February 2011.

[2] See The Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible by  Brown HOJ in Bruce FF, Packer JI, Comfort P & Henry CFH (2004) The Origin of the Bible, Tyndale House, p37-48 for a full discussion.

[3] Note that the final Canon splits the Twelve, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, and reorders them.

[4] See Josh McDowell (1999) The New Evidence That demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson, Nashville

[5] Clearly papyrus or paper (as 2 John v 12 alludes to) would have worn out with continuous use over.

[6] The title MSS or manuscripts has been given, for millennia, to copies in the original language of the autographs. Smyth, J. Paterson, 1926 Now we got our Bible James Pott, London available from http://www.archive.org/ (accessed 26 February 2011)

[7] F.F. Bruce, (1950) The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, Fleming H. Revell Co. pp 178

[8] See FF Bruce - The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? op. cit.

[9] See Bruce FF 1988 The Canon of Scripture, InterVasity, Illinois for a full account of the history of the New Testament.

[10] The Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible, op cit. pg. 76.

[11] Christina Roy Sunshine Country 1931 Pickering & Inglis , Great Britain. (Miss Roy was in charge of an George Muller orphanage in Czechoslavakia).

[12] F.F. Bruce, "Qumran and the Old Testament," Faith and Thought 91.1 (Summer 1959): 9-27. < http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ft/qumran-ot_bruce.pdf > accessed 12 February 2011. In the light of these different species of Qumran literature we now propose to consider what can be learned about (a) the literary criticism of Old Testament books; (b) the text of the Old Testament; (c) the canon of the Old Testament; (d) the interpretation of the Old Testament current at Qumran.

 

David L Simon (GBC 27 February 2011)
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