How is it that we determine what are the bibliological doctrines that are worthy of separation? Shouldn't all departures from scriptural doctrine merit separation? If not, then separation becomes about just us and our personal taste or what it is that is the most theologically correct to separate over.
We started this series by talking about how it is that we come to our positions on issues. Then we delved into inspiration and what violations of that doctrine exist as worthy of separation.
Do we separate over someone who believes in 65 or 67 books? How many wrong books or missing books must there be for us to separate over that error?
We've seen a recent glut of books in the popular bookstores attacking canonicity. A couple of these are Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels. These are foremost textual critics of our day and they believe that we've left out some other genuine books of the Bible, perhaps because of some early Christian conspiracy. They believe that they've followed the trail of textual evidence to the truth as textual criticism sees it, not allowing theological presuppositions to get in the way.
Where does the Bible tell us that there should be sixty-six books? How do we know there are sixty six? What would tell us why there are sixty-six?
Scripture doesn't tell us there are or will be sixty six books. It doesn't tell us what their names will be. We have sixty-six. We know their names. Sixty-six have been accepted by many. Orthodox churches use sixty-six in their teaching and preaching. Christians all over carry around and possess copies of the Bible with sixty-six books in them. But how did we come to this group? This is canonization.
We can see that Christians recognized and acknowledged scripture when they saw it. We know they had some kind of basis for doing so. Paul understood that Isaiah penned God-inspired writ as seen in Acts 28:25:
And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
Then Paul writes this in 1 Timothy 5:18:
For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
This text applies the word "scripture" (graphe) to an Old Testament quote (Deut 25.4) and to an New Testament one (Luke 10.7), without any distinction. Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:15-16:
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
This accords canonical status to a collection of Paul's letters. Believers knew what were the Words of God and received them, even as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
This is what the Lord Jesus prayed in John 17:8:
For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
Believers did not receive non-canonical books as God's Word, like Paul's third letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 13:1).
How did believers know which were God's Words? We understand this from John 16:13:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
The Spirit will guide into all truth. The Holy Spirit guides to His Words. Believers receive them. These thoughts are exactly what Christians have said they have believed in history. This statement is made in the London Baptist Confession (1689):
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
What did believers makes copies of? They made copies of the canonical books. They copied scripture, not non-scripture. We see this in Colossians 4:16:
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
For Colossians to be read somewhere else (in Laodeicea), churches needed to make a copy of the epistle to the Colossians. Churches made these copies. Churches knew what the truth was. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Churches confirmed what the books and the words of Scripture were, even as God's assembly (ekklesia) is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).
The scriptural and historic doctrine of canonicity is a canonization of Words, not Books---certainly Books but only because Words were a greater to the lesser Books. I emphasize the word "doctrine," because we are allowing our scriptural presuppositions to guide us to the truth. We believe there are sixty six books because that's what we see is the fulfillment of what God said He would do.
Some would mockingly call this "fideism" because we don't have a text that says that there will be sixty-six books. God doesn't say, "I shall give thee sixty-six books." We trust that God would do what He said He would do. We look to see what He did and we accept it.
We should protect and propagate the doctrine of canonicity. Like we defend the doctrine of inspiration, we do the same with canonicity. What would an attack on canonicity look like? Do you think we should leave canonization to unbelieving textual critics? Would canonization be a pastor on a Sunday morning telling his people that the particular Words in the Bibles they hold before them are not the Words of God because they aren't ranked high enough by the textual critics? Does a pastor have the authority to tell His church what the Words of God are? I'm talking about something like these types of quotes that we see regularly from John MacArthur (and plenty of fundamentalists):
Already he's not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Now what was his message? Notice one little footnote. It says he preached Christ. The best manuscripts have Jesus there.
The promise of faith is superior to the law because of its confirmation and its Christ-centeredness. Thirdly, its chronology. This just takes the argument a step further. Verse 17 is chronology. Interesting. "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ," wow. That's fantastic. The two words 'in Christ' are not in the best manuscripts, so we would read it this way.
The best manuscripts translate this passage "for you are," not "it is," and that way it is personalized.
Should a man criticize the text of scripture to his church like this? Is this a pattern or a practice we see in Scripture? Wouldn't the Words canonized by the Holy Spirit be the ones that churches have agreed are God's Words? If someone would change those Words based on so-called "scientific" tests applied by textual critics, has he meddled with canonicity?
More to Come.
Those making comments in the comment section on this---consider arguing from scripture, since we're dealing with doctrine here.