Tag Archives: scripture

Where did the Bible come from?

A friend on Facebook recently asked me how the Bible came to be in it’s present form and how Irenaeus decided which books to throw out and which books to keep.

Here’s my response:

Thanks for the question. I always love a challenge, especially since its bee a while since I’ve studied Irenaeus or the formation of the NT canon.

The first thing I would point out is that Irenaeus didn’t come up with the canon. Even though it is a popular argument from critics that Irenaeus arbitrarily chose the 4 gospels “because there are 4 winds”, the truth is that the gospels were already in widespread circulation long before Irenaeus came on the scene.

Irenaeus wasn’t the only one to list the books that were considered canonical, there were several writers that listed the accepted canonical books of the NT.

In fact, two of the biblical authors, Paul and Peter, cite eachother’s books as Scripture. Which means that by the time Paul wrote to Timothy that all Scripture was God breathed and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), he already considered at least some of the letters that the other apostles had written to be included along with the OT.

The second thing I would point out is that the “missing gospels” like Judas, Thomas, etc. were never really missing nor were they unknown by the majority of Christendom. They were known and, in the case of Judas, they were soundly rejected at the very beginning by the early believers because they simply did not meet the criteria already established for authoritative writings. Some of those criteria were:

  • clear authorship
  • written within the author’s lifetime1
  • and it must be internally consistent
  • it must be consistent with both the OT as well as the already accepted texts of the NT

The earliest collections of writings passed around included the apocryphal and deuterocanonical writings. These were in the earliest editions of the King James bible and they still exist in Catholic and a few other denominations’ Bibles. However, these writings were never considered canon by the church until after Martin Luther in the 1500s challenged some of the practices of the church of Rome. Then the RCC canonized a few of the apocryphal writings to strengthen some of their practices such as praying to saints, the exalted view of Mary, etc.

Finally, I would note that the best place to begin if you are searching for the historical basis of Christianity is to examine the gospels as historical evidence in the same fashion as any other ancient source. From this historical approach it is worth asking one central question which is “Who was Jesus?”.

The reason this question is important is that the whole of the Christian faith rests on one historical event (1 Corinthians 15) and if that event is found to be false, then all of Christianity is rendered invalid. So if you are looking for a place to start, I would highly encourage you to start with that one question, keeping in mind that the gospels in the NT are separate documents which each present an eyewitness account of one man’s life, death, and resurrection.

After examining the Gospels in light of the question above, I am willing to wager that the answer as to why other books were not accepted as canonical will be readily apparent as their goal is not the same as the gospel writers to, as Luke puts it, “provide an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of historical events.

Here are some excellent resources regarding the formation of the NT if you are interested:

Bonus: Here is the history of our English Bible.

Extra credit: Here is a 30 part lesson series to answer the question of “Are the New Testament Gospels Reliable?”

  1. by contrast the earliest known copy of the gospel of Judas is dated to the 2nd century, long after Judas’s death []
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Wordy Wednesday: Bibliolatry

In a recent conversation on Google Buzz a brother in Christ told me:

Douglas K. Adu-Boahen – What I mean is that this discussion has been barren from any deep discussion of the only real factor that matters – the Bible, which is God’s Word. All this talk of philosophical concepts is boring, boring, boring – let’s go to God’s Word and let it speak unless of course, you feel it is insufficient for this discussion, which I hope you do not.

Here’s my response:

Douglas, what you are expressing is something that I believe JP Moreland addressed in his paper titled “How Evangelicals Became Overcommitted to the Bible and What Can Be Done about It.”

“this discussion has been barren from any deep discussion of the only real factor that matters – the Bible”

No, the only real factor that matters is Christ, which the Bible tells us about but the Bible itself is not, strictly speaking “the only real factor that matters”.

“All this talk of philosophical concepts is boring, boring, boring”
I’m sorry you feel this way, however I don’t see how you can avoid philosophical discourse in your interpretation of Scripture. Any claim to have achieved this nirvanic state of interpretational bliss ought to be treated akin a claim to divine revelation.

“let’s go to God’s Word and let it speak unless of course, you feel it is insufficient for this discussion”
I’ve held the Bible to my ear for quite a while and have yet to “hear it speak”. However, when I read the words on the page I cant help but to ponder and filter those words through my mind and philosophical presuppositions.

No, the answer here is not to attempt a claim at premature conversational victory by claiming the hermanutic high ground. The answer, as I’ve said earlier, is to admit our philosophical presuppositions and then discuss how those systems answer the apparent contradictions in the text between God’s sovereignty and mankind’s freedom.

In short, Bibliolatry is defined as akin to idol worship characterized by Douglas’s statement that “the only real factor that matters – the Bible”.

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The Perspicuity (clairity) of Scripture

I recently had a chance to teach on Sunday night at a small Church my parents attend and, in trying to decide what to teach on, I remembered an ongoing conversation I’ve been having recently with my neighbor who happens to be Catholic on the nature of Scripture and it’s role in the life of the Church and individual believers.

We’ve discussed at length the authority and inerrancy of the scriptures, and if time permits I’ll post my notes on the subject, but our most recent exchange involved the clarity of Scripture for, as I found out, the roman Catholic position is that Scripture is inherently unintelligible to anyone outside the clergy (as ordained and authorized by Rome) and requires a “final” interpreter to settle disputes over questionable doctrines such as paedobaptism (baptizing infants) and the Real Presence.

In my research on Scripture, which included listening to several hours of lectures by Dr. Wayne Grudem (one of the translators for the ESV), I ran across the old reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture which, in a nutshell, simply states that the Scriptures are written so that anyone can understand them. Not that they are necessarialy easy to understand, but that they are able to be understood by anyone so that special interpreters (such as a priest) and hidden meaning (such as numerology and “I feel this means”ism) are equally wrong.

Much ink has been spilled on this subject and I won’t attempt to present the argument here (the links above are more than adequate for the faithful searcher) but I wanted to point out some of the interesting implications I’ve noticed this doctrine has and, particularly, why we should pay attention to it today.

First of all, it is an old doctrine. I like the way John Calvin speaks about it in his Institutes:

The sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have cavilled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

Unpolished simplicity, I like that description of the only means we have to know who God is or what he requires of us.

Second of all, it undercuts any argument that Scripture is too hard, or that we are somehow not up to the task of, as Paul commands Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

If we fail to understand what Scripture is communicating it is only because we have neglected to study enough, not that the text is indecipherable to us as mere mortals and not because we are somehow less spiritual as some suppose. No, this doctrine clearly places the onus on our spiritual development upon our shoulders. Not that we do not require the holy Spirit to guide us into all truths according to John 16:13, but that we are able and therefore responsible for diligently studying the Word of God which fits many things we are told throughout Scripture such as the blessing we receive by meditating on the Law in Psalms 1.

Finally, this doctrine combats the subjectivism, sensationalism, gnosticism, feelingism, postmodernism, etc. However you want to define the Zeittgeist that has crept into the Church that detracts from the clear, singular, and objective meaning of Scripture. This includes not only the old-school Gnosticism that Irenaeus wrote (at length) against, but the popular notion of “God spoke to me and showed me _(insert whatever strange interpretation that fits your fancy here)_”. It also has the added benefit of combatting the silly notion that the most important thing is for us to find a way to make everything in the Bible apply to our lives. It also corrects the misguided notion that we need to make the Bible relevant to our lives, which presupposes it was ever irrelevant.

This is a dynamite doctrine, one I think could help the Church in America get back on track. It also goes to show that the reformers are still worth studying because they still have much to teach us.

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