I have been asking for those that are at Cornerstone Bible Church to submit questions each week if there are anything they are wondering or have always wanted to know. Specifically, as we go through our series, "Investigating Cornerstone," I want them to fully grasp who we are and what we believe. I thought I would blog some of the questions and my answers to them as I receive them.
Question: Why 66 books of the Bible? Are there more? Could there be some that we just have never found?
The Bible is the most unique book that has ever been written. It is a collection of 66 books that were written in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, & a bit of Aramaic) by more than 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years. Yet there is a consistency and accuracy that runs through it like no other book that has ever been written. Each writer of the Bible wrote in his own language and style, yet was moved along by the Holy Spirit so that error did not creep into their work (2 Peter 1:21). It is a book that is without error. It is composed of the Old & New Testament, which are separated by 400 years. In the NT, we have near 300 direct OT quotes and close to 4,000 allusions to events that took place in the OT.
To answer this sort of question, we must understand what is known as the Canon of Scripture, which simply means “rule” or “measuring rod.” It has become known as the list of books that are in deed the rule or measuring rod of our life. They are those books that are from God. There are 39 books that became accepted in the OT Canon and 27 in the NT Canon, forming 66 books in the Biblical Canon. But how did they get there?
It is very important to note this, the books in the Canon were generally accepted to be part of the Canon. There was never a council of people that got together and voted books in or out, as is represented in Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. By earliest records the 39 books of the OT were generally accepted as they were written in history. For instance, as Moses wrote the first five books at the end of his life, they were generally accepted by the people of God as authoritative at the end of his life. And so on it went.
What is really interesting is there are 14 books known as the Apocrypha, books that were written during that 400 years of silence between the end of the OT and the start of the NT. While Jesus and other NT writers quote the OT close to 300 times, not once do they cite any statement from the books of the Apocrypha. It was not until 1546 at the Council of Trent that the Roman Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Canon.
When we get to the NT Canon, there is one thing that is very important to understand:
“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, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa—at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397—but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, 22).
From a very early point in time, the 27 books became recognized as authoritative and part of God’s Word. My favorite example is when Paul wrote the book of 1st Timothy, he says “For the Scripture says . . .” and then quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 & then quotes from Luke 10:7 (with exactly the same Greek words). Paul wrote that sometime in the middle 60’s AD. So the book of Luke had to have been circulated enough so that the church generally accepted it as Scripture.
Could any book be accepted? Well, there were some general guidelines that would have used (this helpful list is taken from Answers in Genesis article, "Why 66?")
1. Apostolic—does it come from an apostle? The first Christians asked, “Was it written by an apostle or under the direction of an apostle?” They expected this just as the Jews had expected theirs to be underwritten by the prophets. Paul was insistent that his readers should be reassured that the letters they received actually came from his pen.
2. Authentic—does it have the ring of truth? The authoritative voice of the prophets, “This is what the Lord says,” is matched by the apostles’ claim to write not the words of men but the words of God. It was the internal witness of the texts themselves that was strong evidence of canonicity.
3. Ancient—has it been used from the earliest times? Most of the false writings were rejected simply because they were too new to be apostolic. Early in the fourth century, Athanasius listed the New Testament canon, as we know it today and claimed that these were the books “received by us through tradition as belonging to the Canon.”
4. Accepted—are most of the churches using it? Since, as we have seen, it took time for letters to circulate among the churches, it is all the more significant that 23 of the 27 books were almost universally accepted well before the middle of the second century. When tradition carries the weight of the overwhelming majority of churches throughout the widely scattered Christian communities across the vast Roman Empire, with no one church controlling the beliefs of all the others, it has to be taken seriously.
5. Accurate—does it conform to the orthodox teaching of the churches? There was widespread agreement among the churches across the empire as to the content of the Christian message. Irenaeus asked the question whether a particular writing was consistent with what the churches taught. This is what ruled out so much of the heretical material immediately.
Each of the 27 books of the NT Canon passes this test. And any book that we were to uncover today would not pass it. I do not think there would ever be enough evidence that any new book that is found could ever be considered part of the Canon. And ultimately, our last appeal is not to man, not to the early church, but to the providence of God. The idea of the final canon being an accident or any number of books could have ended up in the Canon or that any other books could be added, ignores the evidence that God superintended to give us what He thought we would need.
Do You Think There Could Be Another Book Added To The Biblical Canon? Why?