This is the second in a set of articles that builds on the previous set which explained 1) we need God to reveal himself, 2) he has revealed himself in the Bible, and 3) the Bible is necessary, inspired, authoritative, self-authentifying, sufficient, clear, and final.
The last segment clarified why we assert the Bible is God’s Word. At this point it is salutary to consider the fact that the Bible has been transmitted to us intact thus it is valid to assert that the Bible we have today is God’s Word.
- The Bible is God’s Word – Previous Article
- Holy scripture is God-breathed
- Jesus Christ viewed Scripture as sure, undeniable, unbreakable
- New Testament writers regarded the Scriptures as God’s word
- The Bible has been transmitted to us intact
- The Bible is God’s completed written revelation to man – Later Article
- The Canon was temporarily closed
- The Canon is permanently closed
- God Speaks in the Scriptures – Later Article
- Personal Reactions
- Necessary Implications
The Bible has been transmitted to us intact
In a recent conversation a neighbor rightly observed, “Just because Jesus affirmed the authority of the Scriptures of his day doesn’t mean the Bible you hold in your hand today is what he was referring to. How do you know that today’s ‘Bible’ contains the right material?” Very good question. The short answer: because God says so; he says he will preserve his word.
In giving the longer answer I first need to address a common misconception held by liberals and skeptics of many stripes. It goes like this: due to either neglect or specific evil intent, during the centuries intervening between the Apostles and the present day various books were left out and errors mixed in such that today’s “Bible” cannot be trusted as an accurate reproduction of God’s historic written revelation.
Mormonism holds to this theory and one of their past authorities words it this way, ‘The Bible has been robbed of its plainness; many sacred books having been lost, others rejected by the Romish Church, and what few we have left, were copied and recopied so many times, that it is admitted that almost every verse has been corrupted and mutilated to the degree that scarcely any two of them read alike’ (The Seer, Orson Pratt, p. 213).
It is sad that this view persists because it is fed by misinformation. We hear sensationalist stories of “Lost Gospels” and other lost books of the Bible but serious students of ancient literature and archaeology know that this is not the case; nevertheless the stories persist. Rather than explore the external evidence that shows nothing has been left out of the Bible and what’s in it has been transmitted accurately, I want to depend on the internal evidence: what God has said about his own written record. God has A) given the procedure for compiling it, and B) said it will be preserved for use by future generations.
The Word Compiled
I am indebted to Dr. Phil Kayser for his writings on this topic; he has developed it much further than any other author I know. See his The Canon of Scripture – Volume 1 available at http://www.biblicalblueprints.org
It is often quipped, “God did not give a table of contents.” There is no list in the Bible that says, “These are the books to trust – … – read them and no others.” So how do we know that the books that are included are the right one’s without any extraneous material mixed in nor extra material preserved elsewhere? Stated briefly: there is a clear procedure throughout the Bible wherein writers (prophets) are given authority to declare God’s words, prophets confirm each other, and prophets set the time-bounds of revelation.
What we are really delving into here is the formation of the Canon. “Canon” means “rule” in the sense that the God’s Word is his rule for faith and life. Historic biblical Christianity asserts that the Bible and the Bible alone is the Canon. Other religions have their own canon which is either completely independent from the Bible (Hinduism, Buddhism) or the Bible plus other writings (Islam, Mormonism, Roman Catholicism).
Below is a more detailed explanation of the formation of the Canon:
- Prophets alone can canonize the Scriptures. They add to it and they close it. This is because they are God’s mouthpiece and speak for God; they proclaim God’s word[s].
- in Luke 24.25-27 Jesus uses the term “the prophets” to refer to every book of the Old Testament.
- in Romans 16.25-26 Paul uses the term “prophetic scriptures” to refer to the New Testament.
- in 2Peter 1.19 w/vv19-21 Peter uses the term “the sure word of prophecy” to refer to the New Testament
- Many times books are canonized as they are being written
- Exodus 17.14; 24.4; 34.27; Numbers 33.2; Isaiah 34.16
- Many books refer to other books as canonical
- 2Chronicles 36.21 quotes Jeremiah 25.11
- Daniel 9.2 quotes Jeremiah 25.11
- Jeremiah 26.18 quotes Micah 3.12
- The Old Testament is a unified whole; referred to as
- “the book” (Psalm 40.7)
- “the book of the Lord” (Isaiah 34.16)
- “the book of the Law” (Nehemiah 8.3), etc.
- The Old Testament anticipated the prophetical writings of the New Testament and gave a beginning and ending point to those writings
- Isaiah 8-9 (especially 8.16); Daniel 9.24-27; Zechariah 13
- The prophet Moses anticipated the coming of Christ and his revelation
- Deuteronomy 18.15, 18 with John 1.21,25,45; 6.46; 6.14
- The Old and New Testaments are a seamless whole
- the Old Testament ends by anticipating the coming of Christ (Malachi 3-4)
- the New Testament begins by referring to Malachi (John 1)
- New Testament writers confirm other contemporary prophets’ writings are scripture
- Paul confirmed Luke’s status (1Timothy 5.18)
- Peter confirmed Paul’s status (2Peter 3.15-16)
- Jude confirmed Peter’s status (Jude 18 with 1Peter 3.3)
- Paul endorsed his own writings (1Thessalonians 2.13)
- John’s Revelation closes the canon just as (E) predicted would happen
- John was the last prophet, and thus the last one able to confirm the canon (John 21.23)
- Revelation “finishes the mystery of God” (Revelation 10.7)
- God promises to preserve the canonized scriptures so all generations can live by it
- Deuteronomy 29.29; Psalm 111.7-8; 119.160; Isaiah 8.16; 59.21; Daniel 12.4; Matthew 4.4; 5.17-18; Mark 13.31; Luke 16.17; Hebrews 2.2; 1Peter 1.25
The Word Preserved
The preceding material establishes God’s procedure for compiling the Bible but it is another task altogether to transmit the Bible in tact without omission or mixture of error. How can we be certain the Bible we have today contains the Scriptures Jesus spoke so highly of?
The reasoning goes like this: God has said that his word will stand/endure forever (Ps 111.7-8; 119.160; 1Pt 1.25) and he has said it will be preserved down to the minute details—”jots” and “tittles” (Mt 5.17-18; Lk 16.17). Thus, we are assured that his Word is fully preserved because God cannot lie (Tit 1.2). Those who say the Bible has been horribly corrupted are calling God a liar.
Church tradition and history instruct us that the Jews were extremely careful as they copied their manuscripts. They double checked them and they rewrote the whole page if there was one small mistake. The Bible says the Jews were entrusted with God’s Word (Rom 3.2) and they took this responsibility very seriously [the Book of Mormon agrees that the Jew’s correctly transmitted God’s written revelation, see 1Nephi 13.24]. The seriousness with which they engaged in this task was the providential means by which God fulfilled his promises in Psalm 119.160, 1Peter 1.25, etc.
The validity of Bible-based Christianity depends on the veracity of its canon. We can be sure that God’s Word—the Bible—has been transmitted to us in tact so that the Scriptures to which Jesus and the Apostles referred is the Bible we possess today. God promised to preserve it and he has. Next we will consider in greater detail the possibility that more revelation has come since the 1st century revelations were compiled.