Loading the canon: Why should I believe that my Bible is accurate? Part 4

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There are many issues that people will become contentious over. Probably the most significant of these things is religion. The crusaders went to the holy land and slaughtered thousands of easterners all in the name of god, while thousands have been slaughtered as a result of believing in no god. The Muslims have massacred just as many for the sake of their jihad. Some may think that religion has become a moot point. Because so many religions have arrived on the scene through the years, such as pantheism, panentheism, deism, Buddhism, Islam, polytheism, Hinduism, atheism, agnosticism, New Age, and postmodernism, it can be difficult to know what exactly makes a religion worth fighting for. All these beliefs have different views on God, Jesus, Scripture, and salvation.

So how does one know that Scripture is historical, accurate, authentic, and reliable?

Why are some books part of the canon while others are not?

What does the Bible, specifically the Gospels, actually teach?

Does God exist? Did Jesus claim to be God, and is His Lordship important? How does all this work in salvation?

Why is this important?

With worldviews in the conflict that they are in, it is important that the readers know how to defend themselves gone mad. when one understands the importance of not just defending the faith, but also being able to take the offensive, the initiative will be theirs.

Historicity, accuracy, and authenticity

“The Bible is a unique book. It is one of the oldest books in the world, and yet it is still the world’s bestseller. It is a product of the ancient Eastern world, but it has molded the modern Western world. Tyrants have burned the Bible, and believers revere it. It is the most quoted, the most published, the most translated, and the most influential book in the history of mankind.” No other book has received quite the same attention that the Bible has. It is either lauded as the Word of God, or seen as just a bunch of stories written by some delusional fisherman.

The word “Bible” made its way into our argot through the French taken from the Latin word “biblia” and the Greek word “biblos.” The crux of biblical studies must always begin with two words: “inspiration” and “revelation.” Inspiration and revelation have many meanings, but this author shall only, for the sake of time, highlight the proper use of the words. Revelation refers to God revealing, or unveiling, Himself to the world. In its most basic sense, it is the act of God that speaks truth to man. The key thing about revelatory truth is that before this revelation, mankind did not know this great truth. This is important because God is personal and reveals Himself to man through His imminence.

Inspiration refers to the Holy Spirit’s guiding, or superintending, over the writers of the Scripture so that they could write with their own styles and personalities while still recording the Word of God. Though the original autographs only were inspired, the copies we have today are very reliable. The original manuscripts were copied well over 20,000 times, which is far more than any other reliable historical document. There are scribal errors in the modern copies of the text, but the errors are miniscule in importance, and do not disrupt the doctrinal integrity of the book nor its teaching on the Godhead. One of the most remarkable things about the Bible is that the authors of each book (obviously guided by God) wrote their specific portion of the Bible without even knowing where exactly it would fit into the canonization.

The gospels in particular shall be the first issue of this blog. The gospels were written, according to church tradition, within the first fifty years (at least) of the death of Christ. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written within the first thirty years of Jesus’ death. This shows that the very men who saw Jesus live and die wrote exactly what they saw and witnessed. In the case of someone as Luke, he made a priority of writing that he investigated everything (Luke 1:1-4). Matthew recounted his own experience with Christ as he heeded the call (Matthew 9:9). Mark recorded what Peter had recited back to him. John however did not write his gospel until at least fifty years after the death of Christ. John’s gospel was different than that of his comrades’ in the fact that his writings were more spiritual in nature than narrative.

The gospels are historical documents. Perhaps their greatest defense is their specificity. They mention a specific time period, that period being Roman rule of Israel. They mention a specific governor of the Jerusalem, that governor being Pilate. It mentions specific members of the Sanhedrin, those people being Annas and his son-in-law and the current high priest Caiaphas. Jesus died a specific death that was only used by a specific people. Jesus passed through various specific locations. Jesus associated with specific people who became integral in church history. The apostles themselves referenced the events of the gospels in their later writings as though they were historical events. History has never been able to refute the gospels.

Compiling the canon

The gospels were added to the New Testament canon with almost no dispute. They were quoted or cited by almost all of the early church fathers with Augustine, Josephus, and Athanasius referencing them the most. Of the books that were actually disputed, as far as inspiration goes, the gospels were never part of that inquiry. Though there were various accounts written about Christ shortly after his death, many of them false, the gospels are the only inspired ones. The gospel writer Luke eluded to this in the first few verses of his gospel. John says at the end of his gospel that Jesus did many other works than what was written in his gospel, but the extent of them would fill most books of the world. It is the mysterious nature of those other acts that has spawned yet another topic of debate among the church. That issue would be the pseudopigraphal books, or the Gnostic gospels.

The Gnostic gospels are, for the most part, books of historical interest. Their contents contain the errors of the Gnostics (as their name implies), the docetists, and the ascetics. In short, they are heretical. The Gnostic gospels are a collection of works that were found in an ancient library in Egypt named Nag-Hammadi. They were Coptic language texts that attempted to change the way that Christians look at Jesus. The key point that they stress is this: for centuries, historians and theologians alike have all been wrong about what Christianity really is.

One must wonder, if these books (the Gnostic gospels) are accurate, then why were they not included in the canonization of the New Testament along with the other gospels? For starters, most of these Gnostic gospels emphasize a glorification of Mary the mother of Jesus, or they speak on Jesus’ childhood. Some are forgeries of letters that the New Testament writers alluded to in their books. Though these letters may have actually been sent, they were not accepted as canonical by the early church fathers, which is one of the three key criteria in admitting a book into the Bible. They also were not written by apostles or those closely associated with them. The Gnostic gospels were written across a time period spanning early first century (only one for that matter), all the way up to the sixth century. The canonical books of the New Testament on the other hand were all written within the first century. In short, these books teach things that are, more often than not, contradictory to the teaching of the gospels. With that said, this author shall now look at what the gospels actually do say.

What the gospels actually teach

The gospels give different perspectives from four different writers. With these books of the Bible Christianity lives and dies. Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews, presenting Jesus as Messiah and King. Mark wrote to the Roman Christians presenting Jesus as the suffering servant. Luke presented Christ as the perfect Son of Man. John, as the life-giving Son of God. Matthew gives the reader the account of Jesus’ genealogy that gives Him the right to be King. Luke gives the genealogical account that tells of Jesus’ right to be Savior. The Gnostic gospels stress, to some degree or another, the worship of Mary. The gospels of the New Testament though, ironically, portray Mary as a pious woman who, rather than heaping praise upon her so-called ‘divine self,’ was in shock that she had found favor with God and that she had considered herself to be a bond-slave of God (Luke 1:38, 48). She never considered herself to be in equality with God.

The purpose of the gospels is to teach people how to know Christ and to know Him crucified. The gospels teach about Christ from the perspective of a historical narrative indicating that all these “stories” actually did happen.

Jesus, God, salvation, and their relevance

Does God exist? This question has plagued many a person for years. The Christian God comes across as so unknowable sometimes that some may wonder if he has ever taken the time to reveal Himself to mankind. How can a finite creation be traced back to an infinite creator, or an uncaused cause? This author hopes to answer these questions in the most concise way possible.

Newton’s first law of motion states that, “Every body will remain at rest, or in a uniform state of motion unless acted upon by a force.” Little kids grow up and trees grow from acorns. Kids have the potential to become adults, and acorns have the potential to become trees. But, in and of themselves, they cannot change to that state. Objects cannot have now what they will possess when they mature into a final state. Self-moving things like animals are not simply driven by molecules, for once they are dead they no longer move. Change requires an outside force to act upon it. Because the universe moves, there must be an outside source moving it, making it reach its potential. Because the universe is comprised of matter, space, and time, this being must exist outside matter, space, and time. One thing cannot move a like thing. Therefore, this uncaused cause must be an infinite being. The best example of this being is the God of the Bible.

If something has an ending, it must also have a beginning. Since the universe had a beginning, it must have a moving factor.

The next question that must be answered is the matter of moral and ethical standards and how this proves the existence of the God of the Bible. Where does man derive their standard? One might say that the government is capable of deciding what is right and wrong. This is, however, at best, insubstantial and at worst, frightening. This is what is known in Latin as mallum prohibitum, which roughly translated means “wrong because someone says it is.” Any man can tell you that there is a sliding scale for the morality of all men. The atheistic view of moral standard falls inadequately short if acquired from primordial soup or the human standard that has actually no standard with which to judge it. We are, from this point on, forced to adhere to a created-with-purpose viewpoint and that our moral purpose must exist and come down from a divine being. Again, this view coincides with the God of the Bible.

Was Jesus the Messiah and Savior of mankind? Any reader of the Gospels would realize that Jesus made some radical claims. He claimed to be not only the Son of God, but also equal with God Himself. Was this an error? Was Jesus presumptuous in His proclamation? We have three options to adhere to:

1. Jesus was a madman. But Jesus is widely regarded as a wise man and wise men are not mad.
2. Jesus was a liar. But Jesus was also widely regarded as a good man who taught good things. Good men are not liars.
3. Jesus was really the God He claimed to be. Luke even admits in His genealogical account that Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus is God. If Jesus has the same character of God, then He must also have the same nature of God. God is not a man that He should lie, nor a man that He should repent. If he does not need to repent, then He clearly has done no wrong. Thus making Him the only sinless being to ever exist. He is therefore the Son of God, and the spotless Lamb of God. He is the only acceptable choice to be the Messiah of mankind.

The final issue addressed is that of Jesus’ salvific work. First, salvation must be possible for, without it, the Christian dies. Second, salvation must be possible for, without it, Jesus is no longer God. Third, salvation must be possible because, without it, we are the most miserable of people. The disciples of Christ have died pointlessly, horribly, and awfully. Fourth, salvation must be possible and narrow because Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). If Jesus were not the only way, then God would be neither a good judge nor just. Who could serve such a God? The real answer that mankind does not want to admit is that no one could serve such a God. Ironically, this very “narrow” God is the most loving God that there could ever be. Though He will, and must, send those who reject His free gift to hell, He also claims to be a good God, and who would not want to serve a truly good God? How great God is.

The last question that must be asked then is why is this all relevant? The answer is simple: mankind must be ready to make a defense for the Christian faith. It is a charge laid down to believers by God through the apostle Peter. Heresy is out there. It has been out there since the beginning. A crafty serpent once asked the most famous question of all in Genesis chapter 3. This is not just a simple matter of religious comparison. If all roads lead to heaven, then what road are mankind and Satan actually sharing? If Jesus is not the Son of God, then who is the redeemer? If God is not just, then who is the standard? If the Bible is not the Word of God, then how can man know this infinite being? If we have no starting point for morals, then who determines morality?

These issues are relevant, and it is entirely a matter of irresponsibility for the Christian to not know how to answer these questions. These issues are the crux of the Christian faith. The Christian must know how to confront the worldviews and presuppositions of man in a world gone mad. To do this, Christians must keep one foot in the Truth and one foot in the world. This is not an attack, but a plea to the unbeliever to seek after Truth (intentionally capitalized).

The Bible must be the Word of God because it is a reputable, historical document. If it is a reliable, historical document then it must contain accurate facts that have yet to be refuted by history. If its words claim to be that of God Himself, then it must be such if it is a reliable document. If it states that Jesus is the Son of God, then it must be so since it is a reliable document. If the Bible claims that Jesus is Lord, and Messiah, then He must be so.

This post doesn’t go nearly into the depth that I wish to on this topic. That’s the point on this series. I’m going to spend a lot of time extrapolating on this more. This post is a general beginning point. Please read parts 1-3 of this same topic to get more details, and please continue reading the series, published whenever I have time in my life.

– Just

Norman L. Geisler, William E. Nix. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Moody Press: Chicago, 1974).

Paul Enns. The Moody Handbook of Theology (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 1989).

John MacArthur. The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB-U (La Habra, California: Thomas Nelson, 2006).

John MacArthur. The Murder of Jesus (Nashville, Tennessee: Word Publishing, 2000).

Darrell L. Bock., The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities. (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

Paul E. Little, Know What You Believe (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1975).

Peter Kreeft, Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Critical Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

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