How Did the Books in the Bible Get Chosen?
In the elementary years, my daughter and I had an evening ritual. After her little brother went to bed, we’d snuggle together under warm blankets and I’d read aloud to her. Most of the books we read together were great, but there was one particular standout that neither of us liked. It was called, Little Lord Fauntleroy.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Little Lord Fauntleroy was written in 1885. It’s about a little boy named Ceddie who goes to live with his grandfather, a grumpy English earl. In the story, Ceddie wins the hearts of everyone he meets because he is perfect. Seriously. Long paragraphs about how loving, kind, wise, and virtuous he was, filled the pages. It seemed he could do no wrong.
The book was written as a morality tale- and Little Lord Fauntleroy was the hero for children (an example on how to behave).
A lot of people have loved the story. It’s a classic! I felt like I should have liked it, too. But it annoyed me. I kept thinking, no one is that perfect!
The story felt strangely familiar, and then I thought, it sounds like a Sunday school story!
As a child, I was in Sunday school every week. Back then, stories were told with flannel boards, while we sat (kris-cross applesauce) on our carpet squares, eating vanilla wafers out of Dixie cups. My teachers were kind and well intentioned- yet I picked up on a couple of things that likely caused more harm than good in my understanding of the Bible.
I had two misconceptions:
1. The characters in those stories were Bible heroes.
2. The Bible was an instruction manual with morality tales on how to behave (and those heroes were my examples).
I would go home and read the Bible on my own, only to discover that those heroes did a lot of bad stuff (not mentioned in the flannel board stories). Was God okay with those bad things they did? If so, I wasn’t so sure about this God. These were his heroes, weren’t they? I didn’t understand. If I thought about it too much, I became uncomfortable.
So I avoided the parts I didn’t understand. Instead, I favored Proverbs and the red-letter parts of the gospels. Just tell me what to do, I thought.
As a child, I trusted that every book in the Bible was God’s inspired Word and that every scripture was there for a reason- because that’s what I was told. I didn’t understand how those books got there, nor did I understand why they were in the Bible. Since human authors wrote these books, how did we really know the authors were hearing from God? And how do we know they got it right?
Here’s what I needed to know first:
1. There is only one perfect hero in the Bible, and His story is woven throughout its entirety. His name is Jesus. (God uses many imperfect people to do heroic acts, for His glory, but they are still flawed humans)
2. The Bible is, more than anything, God’s story. The overarching theme of this story is about God- and how to be in right relationship with him.
As soon as I began reading the Bible with the understanding of the above statements, the Scriptures made so much more sense. They became alive to me. I was interested in the whole Bible. I didn’t need to trust that the Bible was God’s inspired Word, just because someone else told me it was so because I could see it for myself. Yet I was still interested in finding out the answers to my questions, about how the books in the Bible were chosen. What was it about them that made them special?
We use the written word of God, the Bible, as we study theology because it’s the only form that’s available for public inspection, repeated examination, and mutual discussion.
So how did the books in the Bible get to be there?
This is a question of extreme importance because, as Christians, we believe:
1.The Bible is God’s Word in written form.
2.The church is built on the word of God.
3.Theology serves the church in creating conformity with the word of God.
In order to trust and obey God, we have to be certain that the collection of words in the Scripture are, in fact, God’s own words to us.
Anything added to God’s written word requires extra things of his people, not commanded, and anything taken away would prevent God’s people from obeying him fully.
The books that belong in the Bible are called the canon of Scripture. In that canon, we have both the Old and New Testaments, 66 books in all.
The primary requirement for a book to belong in the canon is divine authorship (through human authors). For the early church to preserve a book as part of Scripture, they had to believe that the words in the books were God’s words. How did they determine this?
In the graphic below, what you'll see is NOT a checklist that the early church leaders marked off when determining if a book qualified as part of the canon of Scripture, but in hindsight, every book in the Bible meets the following standards:
Here’s a list of 10 facts about how the canon of Scripture:
1. It was not until 367 AD that the church father Athanasius first provided the complete listing of the 66 books belonging to the canon.
2. Athanasius, in a letter, distinguished those from other books that were widely circulated and he noted that those 66 books were the ones, and the only ones, universally accepted.
3. The first five books (sometimes called the Torah or the Pentateuch) were the first to be accepted as canonical (though long recognized as “Law”, it was probably Ezra and Nehemiah who put it into general use, as authoritative, in about 500 BC)
4. The prophets’ writings were also not brought together in a single form until about 200 BC. The remaining Old Testament books were adopted as canonical even later.
5. The earliest collection of written words of God was the Ten Commandments. God himself wrote on the two tablets of stone the words he commanded his people. (Ex. 31:18)
6. In the New Testament, there’s no record of any dispute between Jesus and the Jews over the extent of the O.T canon.
7. The last book of the Old Testament coincides with the last of the O.T. prophets, Malachi, written around 435 B.C. It closes with the expectation of the Messiah to come.
8. It was primarily the apostles who were given the ability from the Holy Spirit to recall accurately the words and deeds of Jesus- with their writings forming the N.T. (they had been given a promise of this empowering in John 14:26)
9. The New Testament canon is considered closed, with the end of Revelation, giving a strong warning not to add these words (Rev. 22:18-19).
10. God was at work in the assembling together of the books of Scripture. @@We know we have the right books in the canon of Scripture because we can trust God’s faithfulness.@@ I leave you with the words of Wayne Grudem, who says, in Systematic Theology,
Father God, thank you for your written Word, the Bible. Please open our spiritual eyes so that we can see what we can’t see by ourselves. Teach us, Holy Spirit, so that we can know and enjoy the wonders of what you have revealed to us through the Scriptures.
In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.
“The word of God is the only norm and rule of all true Christian knowledge.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Join us as we take a clear and practical look at some of the most basic and essential tenants of the Christian life – the doctrines of the faith.
Each week, we will highlight and explain a core doctrine. Then, we will pose the question, “Why does this matter to you and me?”
You can catch all of this year’s “Delight in Doctrine” posts by clicking HERE.
For the purposes of the study, our main texts will be first, the Bible, of course, and Wayne Grudem’s classic, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.
It is our prayer that by the end of 2017, we will all find more delight in understanding what we believe and why we believe it.
“…And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 (ESV)
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Linking up with Deb Wolf at #faithandfriends (Friday), #GraceandTruth (Friday), Holly Gerth at #coffeeforyourheart (Wednesday),Sherry at #homesweethome (Thursday), Susanne Eller at #livefreeThursday, Kelly at #RaRalinkup (Tuesday), and Lori at #Momentsofhope (Monday)