Sunday, November 16, 2008

If You Believe in Canonicity, You Can and Should Believe in Preservation part 2

To get a doctrine of Bibliology, we go to the Bible. Since we get God's instruction from His Word, we look to His Word even about His Word. Part of Bibliology is canonicity. Canonicity is a sub-doctrine to the doctrine of Scripture. We look to the Bible to tell us how we decide on what Books should be part of the Bible. Many might call this circular reasoning or begging the question. No. We're applying tests to what we already know exists. What the Bible says about itself, however, must be consistent with itself. So the Bible is where we learn about canonicity. We know, if it is true and authoritative, that the Bible will reflect what it says about itself.
Nowhere does Scripture say any of these things:
1) When the Bible is complete, there will be sixty-six books.
2) Here is how you will know which books are canonical.
3) Here is how you will know that the Bible is finished and complete.
4) Here is how canonicity will be completed.
5) Scripture will be done in AD90 or some other particular date.
6) There is a standard outside of Scripture that should be used to judge the canon.

The criteria for canonization came from fleshing out principles of Scripture. Scripture is sufficient, so it will also help us arrive at the principles about the Bible that will determine what the Books of the Bible are. The Bible nowhere contains a list of the laws for canonicity. We look at what the Bible says about God's Word to glean what we would consider legitimate Books of the Bible. Not every one of the principles applies to every one of the Books of the Bible, but cumulatively they show us the canon of Scripture.

What does God's Word say that leads us to the canon?
1) The Bible will be complete, will be a settled book. Proverbs 30:5-6. Isaiah 8:16. Revelation 22:18-19. Jude 1:3.

Scripture presents itself as complete, not to be added to or taken away from. For Scripture to be added to or taken away from, it must be something that is settled or complete. If it isn't settled or complete, it can't be added to or taken away from. If God's Word is to be sixty-six books and someone has sixty-seven, he has added to Scripture. If the Bible is to be sixty-six books and someone has sixty-five, he had taken away from Scripture.

2) God's people, Old and New Testaments, are the caretakers of God's Word. Romans 3:2. Deuteronomy 31:24-26. John 17:8. 1 Timothy 3:15.

God gives the Books to Israel and the church. They immediately receive those Books. It is evident which Books they receive.

3) The Holy Spirit will lead His people into all truth. John 16:13. 1 Corinthians 2:4-11.

We know that whatever Books God's people recognize or accept are those that the Holy Spirit has led them to.

4) Those who write God's Word will have authority to do so. Deuteronomy 18:18. 2 Corinthians 12:12. 2 Peter 1:1, 20-21. Galatians 1:1-24. Hebrews 2:3-4.

We see authority to speak or write the very Words of God. Many of them are prophets or apostles. The prophets and apostles we know had authority from God.

5) What is His Word must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. 2 Timothy 2:13.

Scripture will harmonize. It won't contradict itself, so anything that would contradict would be suspect.

6) His Word won't have error; His Word is perfect. Psalm 12:6; 19:7; 119:40.

We would assume that Scripture would not have false doctrine.

7) God's Word seems like it is the Word of God to Believers. Luke 24:32. 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

When something is Scripture, it will read like Scripture. It has that "ring" of inspiration to it.

8) Jesus and apostles give testimony to Books' canonicity. John 5:39; 10:35. Luke 24:44. 2 Peter 3:16.

Books that Jesus and the apostles recognized as Books, we know were Books of the Bible.

9) The Books were quoted as being Scripture. Micah 4:1-4. Daniel 9:2.

Certain Books were quoted in other Books as being Scripture. This tells us that men were recognizing Books as Scripture immediately.

Based on these principles, we recognize sixty-six Books of the Bible. We do not believe that some book like the "The Gospel of Judas," found now after hundreds and thousands of years, could be Scripture, because that would not fit several of the criteria above. Any potential book that would at least contradict any of the above principles could not be considered to be Scripture.

Let's Apply the Principles Faithfully and Consistently

One Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, J. Hampton Keathley, III, wrote on canonicity:
That God would provide and preserve a Canon of Scripture without addition or deletion is not only necessary, but it is logically credible.
He makes that logical conclusion from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. From those verses, he wrote:
In view of this, the logical question is: “Would it not be unreasonable for God to fail to providentially care for these inspired documents to preserve them from destruction and so guide in their collection and arrangement that they would all be present with none missing and none added that were not inspired?”
So he believes that preservation is an implication of inspiration. If God inspired His Word, it follows that He would preserve it intact. He is teaching the preservation of Books, and yet, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we have verbal, plenary inspiration. The assumption from inspiration of Words isn't preservation of Books. The same God Who could inspire every Word could keep every Word.

Above I made a list of points about canonicity not found in the Bible, six of them. Look back up at them again. Christians believe that when the Bible was completed, there were sixty-six books. They used principles from the Bible to know what books were canonical, even though those principles weren't designated in Scripture. From those same biblical principles to conclude that Revelation finished God's special revelation in AD90. Denominational councils officially agreed upon a canon, but there wasn't anything in Scripture that says that was how it would be done. Believers copied, passed around and down, and agreed upon the Books they recognized as Scripture. They numbered sixty-six.

And yet, if you look through any of the texts that are basis for the above nine points, they don't mention the Books of the Bible. They talk about the reception of Words. In the principles of Canonicity we have Words, not Books. Faith based upon the evidence, based upon Scripture, says that we would have a settled, perfect Canon of Words---all of them and every one of them. Canonization is far more fideistic than preservation. And yet believers accept perfect canonicity. They too should accept perfect preservation.

A common criticism of the verbal, plenary preservation doctrine is: 1) Scripture doesn't tell us how God would preserve. 2) The Bible doesn't say that the Bible would be preserved in the Hebrew Masoretic and the Textus Receptus. I reject the idea that the Bible doesn't tell how God's Word would be preserved. It does. But the second one, that God doesn't name the text type or the name of the manuscript family, that is a bogus criticism in light of belief in canonicity. Just like canonicity, we look for what God said He would do.

What would God do and what would He not do? We have good Scriptural reasons for rejecting the Shepherd of Hermas and including Esther and James. We have the same reasons for rejecting Codex Sinaiticus and receiving the Textus Receptus.

Is there really a legitimate, Scriptural reason that someone believes canonicity, but does not believe in perfect preservation of Scripture? No. Lack of faith explains it, a lack of faith that displeases God (Hebrews 11:6). Romans 4:20 describes what should be the faith in preservation.
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.
Oh ye of little faith. Will you not trust in the promise of God? He has preserved His Word, Word Perfect, for every generation of believers.


Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Kent:

You are clearly guilty of circular reasoning. You define "Christian" and "God's people" as they who accept the 66 books that you do! And they know this why? Because the majority of professing Christians accepted them? You have made that your leading criterion, not any rule from scripture.

Who is the ultimate judge of canoncity? Christians or God's people. But, how does one become a Christian? By accepting the 66 books! If you cannot see the circular reasoning here, then you are blind.

You left out so many other important rules for judging canoncity!

But, more on that later, perhaps.

In Christ's name,


Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't agree that it is circular reasoning. I explained why. Scripture does exist. If canonicity is circular reasoning then our entire Bibliology is circular reasoning. Inspiration is circular reasoning.

I'll be happy to hear the rules for canonicity that I left out with the authority behind them.

Christians and God's people are the same thing. I haven't defined a Christian as someone who accepts 66 books. Lots of people accept 66 books who aren't saved.

I haven't made it a majority who accept them. You'll need to read the articles again. You're reading that into what I wrote. That is a rule for Scripture---go back and reread the nine rules. Those are Scriptural.

If I'm blind, it's probably true that I would miss circular reasoning among other things.

Thanks for commenting.

Kent Brandenburg said...

When I say "that is a rule for Scripture," "that" is referring to Christian Acceptance.

Anonymous said...

You say 66 is the standard. Ok. And you logically conclude that anything more (67) or less (65) would fail to be the real canon.

So then, since it is demonstrable that "every generation" did not have an exact replica of the TR/KJV , doesn't that prove your theory false?

At least it would be false to support KJVolyism. . again I say you bring up a terrific argument for a MT type preferred position.

The problem is the same churches that are used to declare canonicity still had Bibles with readings that varied from the KJV we have today. And even if one reading. . take Rev 16:5. . is off, then according to your argument, no one had a complete Bible until 1611 or the 1611 is not the real Bible.

Good food for thought as always, though. Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for coming over. You are illustrating one of the more common strawmen in this discussion. We have a Scriptural basis to say that every generation had every word. The other side makes up the "exact replica." The Bible didn't come down in a single bound copies. All the Books were available and agreed upon. All the Words were available and then agreed upon.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the strawman seeing how this is the basis of your argument. You are using the same criteria to determine both the canon of books and the canon of words. It can be demonstrated that the canon was determined very early. I'm thinking Athanasius gave the earliest report of it (4th cent), could be wrong. but let's say that's it. So you're argument for the canon would sit well from at least the 4th cent onward. But you could absolutely not make the same claim for the words at that time. It would also be different prior to 1516, change a little before 1611, and even a little more before 1769.

It just seems backwards to me to take the words we have in a 17th century translation and say that the church had these words and only these words as God's word. If you're saying they were availble and not agreed upon, what good is that? Does that mean that Beza's conjecture of Rev 16:5 was availble somewhere prior to his including it in the 5th ed of his TR? And where does that place the official determination of the canon of God's words? 1769?

Kent Brandenburg said...


What I'm saying is that coming out of the period of handwritten copies comes 66 books. Out of the period of handwritten copies comes the TR. Aland says it was the received text of the New Testament before the printed edition phase. He also says the church believed it was identical to the originals.

My position is based on Scriptural presuppositions, ones you don't seem to be dealing with. You seem to prefer to argue it by going to "textual evidence." I don't think you can rely on that for a position on the Bible. It's speculative. Let me explain. One thing that I don't have men doing is arguing about the merits of the Scriptural presuppositions. They are used for canonicity with great gusto, relied upon as a basis for many of the principles for canonicity. We start talking about the Scriptural application to preservation and we remain silent. It doesn't seem to be a fair or consistent way to deal with the teachings of Scripture.

You point out one of the few places, Revelation 16:5 that differs from many of the English translations of the time and other editions of the TR. My faith bridges the gap in those very few places (less than five). The argument follows that as a matter of degree we can go ahead drive the truck of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus right through. I don't think we can assume, just because of Beza's comment on Revelation 16:5, that the few words of that variant do not represent perfect preservation of Scripture. There is other textual evidence for the Beza reading. The King James Translators, scholars on the text, had every edition of the TR at their disposal. They represented the opinion of believing scholarship.

This post is not about arguing Revelation 16:5, but I have enough in my mind to accept that reading.