Remember that one teacher you had that would ask a question but not give you the answer? Something like, “Why is your reflection in a mirror backwards left to right but not up and down?” And then you and your friends would be thinking about it all day until you came up with theories and eventually (hopefully) the answer. How much more effective was that, than the teacher who just read everything out of a book? Chances are you still remember those questions you spent all day pondering, even today. Why did I bring that up? I’ll explain in a minute.
The topic of “Scripture” can sometimes be a little dry and dull, but I think it’s really important to look at because I believe that, more than any other reason, misunderstanding What is Scripture leads to a blind acceptance of whatever we’re taught. I say this because I’m guilty of it in my own life. I was taught that my Bible was the entire, infallible Word of God. It’s an “all or nothing” proposition; either accept every single word, or reject every single word. But why do we think this?
I don’t want to get into some of the deep details of scripture and Bible history, like evaluating different translations or how we know if any of it is accurate. There are tons of articles that answer all of those questions; and I am very confident that what we hold today has been carefully handed down through the generations, and is extremely accurate and authentic. But whether every single word is divinely inspired is a completely different question, and that is what I’d like to talk about here.
I think the first place to start is asking, what is The Holy Bible as we know it today?
What we know as the “Old Testament” is more accurately defined as the original Hebrew Bible. We know from history, that in the time of Jesus the Jewish people accepted something very close to the 39 books we have in our Old Testament today. (If you want to dive deeper into this, look up the Hebrew Bible Canon and the Jewish historian, Josephus.) There are four parts: The Torah, or The Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy); Historical Books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther); Wisdom Books or The Writings (Job, Psalms, Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Song of Solomon/Song of Songs); and The Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).
With the exception of Esther, which was not yet considered canon at that time, these books are the books that Jesus and His Apostles considered “Scripture”. Anytime you see someone in the New Testament mention, “scripture”, these are the 39 books they would be referencing. When Jesus taught in the temple, these are the books He taught from. When His Apostles speak of verifying their claims in scripture, these are the books they are telling you to validate their words by. It is very important that we understand that as we evaluate the New Testament. Everything that Jesus said and everything His Apostles said have to be confirmed by what is written in “Scripture”; the 39 books that comprise our Old Testament.
I can’t reiterate the point above enough. One of the most important things we need to do is get rid of the notion that the books in the New Testament are “Scripture”. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that we need to throw away the New Testament! I believe the New Testament is very important to understanding Jesus and our salvation. I’m simply saying we need to change our wording to be more correct. Jesus never told us that the New Testament is Scripture. God never told anyone that the New Testament is Scripture. And none of the Apostles would have ever considered their own writings to be Scripture.
So where did this idea come from, that our current Holy Bible is the complete and inerrant Word of God?
A lot of Christians tend to say something like, “the Holy Spirit decided!”, and then no more discussion is allowed. Some people who make this claim don’t even know why they make it, other than someone else told them! I understand; we are told that if we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit we will go to hell. That is the one unpardonable sin, right? Sadly, most of us don’t even know what “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” means, so in an effort to avoid committing the one great sin, we choose not to go any further. “The Holy Spirit picked the 27 books in our New Testament and the Holy Spirit said these are God-breathed and without error.” But that’s simply not accurate, and that answer is a bit of a cop out, specifically because it shuts down any further questions or investigation. I actually read on a prominent Christian website, “It was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible.” That’s not only false, but it’s really dangerous.
The actual answer is: the Catholic Church. This answer will bother some of you, I know this as I’ve actually received complaints from people when I make this point. But if we are going to base our eternal life on something, we owe it to ourselves to be honest with where our guide comes from. And that is from the Council of Laodicea in 363 AD. (For the OCD types, yes, there was the “Muratorian Canon” compiled in 170 AD, but it did not include a number of books in our current Bible.) There were 60 rulings that came out of the council in 363 AD, including rules about what was forbidden to eat during Lent (which I will discuss in a later post), specified what day the “Christian Sabbath” should be (see my rant on the fourth commandment), the importance of modesty, condemning astrology, and whether to minister to Jews. While the Sabbath ruling is not exactly insignificant, the most important decision was obviously which books would be considered “God’s Word” and remain in the New Testament, considering it’s the same list of books we use to this very day.
The decision was made by 30 men. These men didn’t come together and pray about each book and then concur, “This one should stay.” The argued and negotiated and made deals. Think about that for a second. Some of the books you believe are divinely inspired by God are only in your Bible because someone made a deal to add it as long as one of the other books they wanted got added as well.
Then how do we know that the New Testament is divinely inspired?
Unfortunately, we don’t. That’s probably not what you want to hear, but the entire point of this blog is to point out that we are supposed to question and confirm The Word, not just blindly accept everything we’ve been told. Fun fact: we are never told in Scripture that the New Testament is inspired by the Holy Spirit. None of the Old Testament prophets confirm this and, according to Amos 3:7, God does nothing without telling His prophets; Jesus never told us, nor did any of his Apostles. Now, you can choose to believe that the New Testament is inspired if you’d like, but the interesting fact is: It doesn’t matter! Yes, you read that right. It doesn’t matter if the books of the New Testament are inspired. We can validate New Testament writings with what we know is the inspired Word of God: the Old Testament. That is our calling; what we are required by God to do, to search out what is written and make sure it is in alignment with what is in the Law and the Prophets.
So, remember that teacher I mentioned at the beginning of this post? What if that is what God has done with the Bible? Those who search through it, question it, and prove it, will believe it and know it forever. Those who read it on blind faith will be like the seed that fell on the rocky soil.
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let’s follow other gods (whom you have not known) and let’s serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)