"Let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth." - Basil of Caesarea (c. 330 - 379 A.D.)
"We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ. We deny that such a confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and the church." - Chicago Statement of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy
"In the empire of the church, the ruler is God's Word." - Martin Luther - Works, Vol. 41, p. 134.
"I have learned to ascribe the honor of infallibility only to those books that are accepted as canonical. I am profoundly convinced that none of these writers has erred. All other writers, however they may have distinguished themselves in holiness or in doctrine, I read in this way. I evaluate what they say, not on the basis that they themselves believe that a thing is true, but only insofar as they are able to convince me by the authority of the canonical books or by clear reason." - Martin Luther
"Since the church is Christ's Kingdom, and he reigns by his Word alone, will it not be clear to any man that those are lying words by which the Kingdom of Christ is imagined to exist apart from his scepter (that is, his most holy Word)?" - John Calvin, Institutes
"Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God." - John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians, p. xii
"...have you not read what was spoken to you by God..." - Jesus Christ (Matt. 22:31)
There has been an unprecedented crisis in the Church in the last two hundred years as to the question "Can we trust the Scriptures?" There has been a wholesale loss of the sense of authority.
To understand the issues involved in our day, I am convinced that we need to know something about the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. The central issue was Justification by faith alone (Latin: sola fide). Yet often overlooked is another controversy which was equally as serious for the life of the Church.
The material issue of the Reformation was the debate over justification by faith alone. The formal issue (the structure in which the whole debate ensued) was the issue of final authority - who or what speaks for God?
Martin Luther had two debates with the leading Roman Catholic theologians of his day (Martin Ek and Cardinal Cajerton). As Ek and Cajerton debated the subject of justification, they pointed out that Luther's views differed significantly from the official position of the Church. For the Roman Catholic Church, both the former Church councils and the Papal declarations were binding upon all those in the Church. These men were able to demonstrate that Luther was in disagreement with both Church Councils and the Pope himself.
Martin Luther was perceived by many as being the most arrogant and pompous individual imaginable. They could not understand how one man could do as Luther was doing. They would say to Luther, "Who do you think you are that you would presume to know more than the Church Councils or the Holy Father in Rome?"
In these debates, Luther was asked if he stood against Pope and Councils.
Luther admitted that indeed he did. In his opinion, Church Councils could err as well the Pope himself. Of course, this was hugely disturbing and even considered blasphemous. Luther was quickly likened to the Bohemian John Hus, who had made similar statements to Luther's around a hundred years earlier, and was burnt at the stake as a heretic.
Complete uproar ensued. Luther was excommunicated with a price put on his head. Finally, in 1521, an attempt was made for one final resolution.
Officials and princes of both Church and State met at an Imperial Diet convened in the town of Worms in Germany, in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles. Luther was summoned, after being given a safe passage of conduct, which meant that he was able to travel to and from Worms without the fear of being arrested or killed. His inquisitor demanded an answer: "I ask you, Martin, answer candidly and without horns - do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"
Luther surprised everyone by asking for time to think about his answer. He was given 24 hours, and then he was to appear again to be faced with the same question.
As anticipated, after the assembly convened again, it did not take long at all for the same question to be presented to Martin Luther.
Luther responded, "Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture, or by evident reason, I will not and cannot recant; for my conscience is held captive by the word of God and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."
Notice especially the words, "My conscience is held captive by the word of God." For Luther, God's words were binding and had an authority far beyond the respected words of Church leaders or even Popes.
Luther left the Diet of Worms, riding off into the night. On his way home he was kidnapped by his own people (because they feared that the Church would do so themselves in order to kill him) and then transferred him to the Wartburg Castle where he translated the Bible into German, the vernacular of the people. The Reformation sparked by Luther swept most of the countries of Europe.
SOLA SCRIPTURA - BY THE SCRIPTURES ALONE
At Worms, the second slogan of the Reformation became established because of Luther's defiance of all other ecclesiastical authority in the light of the Scriptures. That slogan was "Sola Scriptura," which was the Latin phrase meaning "by the Scriptures Alone."
What is "by the Scriptures alone?" Luther was saying that the ONLY written source in this world that had the level of authority to bind the conscience of a person is the Bible itself.
Luther had enormous respect for the insight, wisdom and collective teaching of the great theologians of the past, and that the Creeds and Confessions of the Faith were not at all to be despised. He knew that it would be unspeakably arrogant to create theology without any reference whatsoever to the guidance of the great teachers God had set in the Church. Yet, Luther and the other Reformers believed that no written document of men, no confession of faith, no creedal statement and no Council declaration had the authority to bind the conscience. The only person with such authority is God Himself, and only the word of God carries that authority.
As John MacArthur wrote, "Sola Scriptura, the formal principle of the Reformation, is essential to genuine Christianity. Yet this doctrine is under attack like never before. Christians who want to defend their faith must have a basic knowledge of this doctrine, know how to support it with Scripture proofs, and be able to discern the enemy's attacks against it."
This belief in the authority of Scripture alone to bind the conscience, as Dr. James White states, "does not mean that the Reformers rejected everything that every Christian in earlier ages has said: indeed, they often cited the early Christians as supporters of their own positions. However, they recognized that those earlier believers were not inspired, were not inerrant, and, in fact, quite often made errors in their judgments and beliefs, just as people do today. The only infallible rule of faith, they argued, is found in the pages of Holy Writ."
The issue of Sola Scriptura was an issue regarding the question of authority. Specifically, "is God's authority invested in a book or in an Institution (the Church)?"
The Protestant Reformers believed in Sola Scriptura (the Scriptures Alone), and would declare the Roman Church to believe and practice Sola Ecclesia (by the Church Alone), for quite simply, what the Roman Catholic Church says to be true, is true because the Church speaks with infallibility and cannot possibly be wrong.
The response of the Roman Catholic Church was to remind the Reformers that the Church would not even have had the Bible except that Church councils actually defined what the Bible actually was. The reasoning went like this: if the Church is the Institution that declares the Bible to be the Bible, does not that indicate that the Church would have at least the same authority as the Bible, or even more?
Both Martin Luther and John Calvin responded to this by reminding Rome that the key word the Church used, when it did define the Bible, was the Latin word "Recipimus," which means "we receive." The Church declared "we receive these books as sacred Scripture."
In the New Testament, we are told, "as many as received Him (Christ) to them He gave the authority to be called the children of God." (John 1:12)
But think about that in the concept of when someone receives Christ as Lord and Savior; they are certainly NOT giving any authority to Jesus. Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and earth, for He is Lord, whether or not a person acknowledges Him as such.
When the Church said, "Recipimus," she was humbly acknowledging her submission to the authority of the Bible.
Dr. James White in his book "The Roman Catholic Controversy" has provided a very helpful synopsis of the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura by outlining both what it is, and what it is not.
WHAT SOLA SCRIPTURA IS NOT
1. First and foremost, sola Scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, a manual on governmental procedures, or a catalog of automobile engine parts. The Bible does not claim to give us every bit of knowledge that we could ever obtain.
2. Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge. The Bible itself asserts that it is not exhaustive in detail (John 21:25). It is obvious that the Bible does not have to be exhaustive to be sufficient as our source of divine truth.
3. Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the authority of the Church to teach God's truth.
4. Sola Scriptura is not a denial that the Word of God has, at times, been spoken. Rather, it refers to the Scriptures as serving the Church as God's final and full revelation.
5. Sola Scriptura does not entail the rejection of every kind or form of Church "tradition." There are some traditions that are God-honoring and useful in the Church. Sola Scriptura simply means that any tradition, no matter how ancient or venerable it might seem to us, must be tested by a higher authority, and that authority is the Bible.
6. Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church.
WHAT SOLA SCRIPTURA IS
1. The doctrine of sola Scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church.
2. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture, and in no other source. This is not to say that the necessary beliefs of the faith could not be summarized in a shorter form. However, there is no necessary belief, doctrine, or dogma absolutely required of a person for entrance into the kingdom of heaven that is not found in the pages of Scripture.
3. That which is not found in the Scripture either directly or by necessary implication, is not binding upon the Christian.
4. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture (Matt. 15:1-9). There can be no understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture apart from an understanding of the true origin and the resultant nature of Scripture. The Reformers had the highest view of the Bible, and therefore had a solid foundation on which to stand in defending the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, a key statement of the faith fought for in the Reformation, states:
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (1:4)
It goes on to say: We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. (1:5)
The very heart of the doctrine of sola Scriptura is then laid out in the next two paragraphs:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. (1:6)
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (1:7)
THE COUNCIL OF TRENT 1545-1563
Of course, just because the Reformation swept through Europe did not mean that the Roman Catholic Church disbanded. Instead, Rome engaged in a rigorous Counter Reformation. She took seriously the criticism of the moral scandals, and in reality there was a widespread moral reform in the Church. However an Ecumenical Council, which was the Roman Catholic Church's official theological response to the Protestant Reformation, convened. This was called "The Council of Trent" and took place over an eighteen year period between 1545 and 1563. During this time, many issues were discussed in detail, not the least of which was the issue of justification by faith alone. Rome placed its anathema (curse) on the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone), and on any who preached it.
SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION
But before the Roman Catholic Church even discussed justification (during the 6th session), the issue of authority was addressed in the 4th session. It was made very clear that there are two sources of authority in the world, namely Scripture and Tradition.
The Roman Catholic Church has always maintained a very high view of Scripture. Rome believes the Bible is the Word of God. However, it affirms that in addition to the Bible there is another infallible source called Tradition.
The inevitable question then becomes, "what if there appears to be a conflict between what the Scripture teaches and what the Tradition of the Church is?"
Luther, for example, saw a huge conflict between the Tradition of the Church and what the Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans concerning justification.
Rome believes that it is the function of the Church to give both the Bible and its infallible interpretation to the world. Therefore when Luther denied the tradition, in their minds, he was also denying the Bible, because Rome was convinced that the Tradition and the Bible agree.
BY WHAT STANDARD?
I've labored the dispute of the Reformers with Rome in the 16th Century for the simple reason that the issues raised then are exactly the same in our day. Today we are faced with the exact same questions: What is the authority? What is the standard? What is the absolute authority?
The word "authority" can be defined as "the right to impose obligation." When legitimate authority speaks, it has every right to say such things as "you must," "you should" or "you ought."
Of course, when we hear these words, we often respond with the question, "says who?" or "why should I?" In other words, we ask, "by what authority, or by what standard do you try to direct me or hold me responsible?"
I hope you can see that this is not a vague, abstract and merely theological question. It touches everything relating to the life of the Church.
THE QUESTION OF AUTHORITY
The question of the authority of the Bible is very much related to the question of the authorship of the Bible. Indeed, if we look at the word authority, the first six letters spell the word "author."
Christians believe the Bible to be the Vox Dei (the voice of God), or the Verbum Dei (the word of God). Yet the Bible did not come down out of heaven on a parachute, and we do not believe that the Bible was actually penned by God. The actual writing was done by human beings. However, the Bible is God's message.
Romans 1:1 - "Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the Gospel of God."
In the phrase "the Gospel of God," the word "of" usually means "about," but in this particular case, the original construction of the language (Greek) does not allow for that understanding. The "of" here is possessive. It does not refer to the Gospel about God, but rather it is talking of the Gospel belonging to God, or "God's Gospel." Paul declared that he was set apart to announce God's Good News, or announce God's announcement. God is the Source of the announcement - it is God's Gospel.
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
In Luke 1:11-25, the angel Gabriel announces to Zacharias that his wife Elizabeth is to have a son (who we will come to know as John the Baptist). Zacharias protests that his wife is too old and that he also is an old man. Note Gabriel's response in verse 19, "I am Gabriel. I come from the Presence of God."
He was saying in unmistakable terms: Zacharias, consider the Source of this announcement. I am Gabriel, and I've just come from the immediate Presence of the Lord. The message therefore comes with the highest possible authority, so don't think you are too old! My announcement destroys all human limitations.
Zacharias probably said something like, "Oh!" and if you remember the rest of that story, that's about all he would say for the next nine months!
But let's not fail to notice the point being made here - the claim Scripture makes for itself is that it is the very word of God Almighty.
But simply making a claim doesn't make it so. Anyone can claim to be speaking for God. But what would happen to our confidence in a claim such as this, if someone claimed to be speaking with the authority of God but we were able to find obvious mistakes, discrepancies and errors? What would happen to our confidence in his claim to be speaking with the authority of God?
I think we all know the answer. We would begin to question the fact that he is speaking for God.
Why? Because although we expect human beings to make mistakes; we don't expect God to make mistakes. If the Bible claims to be the Word of God and it is not the word of God, it could still be generally true, but the claim would be exposed as a fraud.
I certainly would not devote my life to worshipping and serving a man, about whom all I know comes from a source that has proven to be fraudulent. I'd have to commit intellectual suicide to do that!
The point then is that when a claim is made that something is the word of God, the stakes are very high. Either it demands our complete attention and obedience or else it is a fraud and would not even be considered a "good book" to read.
2 Peter 1:20, 21 - It is the origin of Scripture in God and in His care in which is grounded the authority of Scripture.
2 Peter 3:16 - Peter recognized Paul's letters as Scripture, during Paul's own lifetime.
2 Tim. 3:13-17 reads, "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
This passage has much to say regarding our subject. Let's review these verses in order.
Verse 13 - these people are evil because they deceive. A deception is a distortion of truth.
Verse 14 -16 - note the phrase, "knowing from whom you have learned them" or in other words, "consider the source."
When I was a teenager, my adult teeth came in crooked. For some time, I was called "Goofy" by my peers at school. My mother's panacea for all such insults was, "Son, consider the source." In other words, my mother was saying that before you get hurt by what someone says, consider who it is who is saying it.
In so many words, Paul says, "Timothy, remember whom you learnt from - for from childhood you have learnt the sacred writings. And All Scripture is God breathed."
Verse 16 is a crucial text in our discussion. All Scripture (Greek: all the "graphe" which is referring to the sacred writings). Here is an obvious reference to the Old Testament, though it did not exclude the writings presently being written in Timothy's own day, the New Testament.
THE GOD-BREATHED SCRIPTURES
All the graphe (the sacred writings) are theopneustos (God breathed) as in the NIV. Though the Bible is inspired by God, this text says even more than that. It is not merely inspired (which means to breathe into) it is expired (breathed out) by God. This describes the Source of Scripture, and says that all of Scripture is breathed out by God. Anything that is Scripture is, by its very nature, God breathed.
We could not find a text that more clearly affirms the idea that the Scripture is the word of God than this one in 2 Timothy 3:16. The authority of Scripture is rooted and grounded in its Source. That's why, for example, the Old Testament prophets would not start their message with, "I say," or "Thus says Jeremiah," or "Thus says Isaiah," but "Thus says the Lord."
Verse 16 and 17 also teaches us something else that is very significant for our study of sola Scriptura. Notice that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work."
Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has been taught, knowing from whom he learnt it. The message he has received is found in the Scriptures themselves. These are enough to make you wise for salvation by faith which is in Christ Jesus. It is the Scriptures, not the writers themselves, that are "God breathed." Because the origin of the Scripture is God Himself, the authority of the Scripture is God's authority. The Church is not left without the voice of God, for when the Church listens to Scripture; she is hearing her Lord speaking to her. The divine authority of the Church, then, in teaching and rebuking and instructing, is derived from Scripture itself. The fact that the Church has God's voice always present with her in God-breathed Scripture, means that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.
The word "complete" means "fitted, able to meet all demands, qualified."
Now here's the point - if another source of authority (such as Tradition) was necessary, surely Paul would have directed us to it in order that we might be complete, but he does not!
Concerning this, Dr. James White writes, "Paul was not satisfied to merely state that the man of God may be complete. He goes on to define what he means: "fully equipped for every good work." Various lexical sources list as meanings "fit out," "to furnish completely," and equip." Most significantly we find the word sufficient used to describe this term as well." It means to "make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something to make adequate, to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified, adequacy."
If the Scripture fully equips the man of God for every good work then the Scriptures are sufficient for the task.
Dr. White goes on to write, "If I am a store owner who can fully equip a hiker to hike the Grand Canyon and if I have the resources and abilities to provide everything he needs in the way of supplies, hiking gear, shoes, maps, food, etc., does it not follow that I am a sufficient source of supply for the hiker? If he has to go next door to another shop for a few more things, and then to a third shop for some things that neither mine nor the other shop had, then none of us are sufficient to equip the hiker. But if that hiker can come to my shop alone and get everything he needs to accomplish his task, then I can rightly call myself a sufficient equipper of a hiker of the Grand Canyon. In the exact same way the Scriptures are able to fully equip the man of God so that he is able to do every good work. No one serving God has to search about for other sources. The inspired Scriptures are the sufficient source for a person's needs in ministry."
That which is God breathed is able, by its very nature, to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus and to fully equip the man of God for the work of the ministry.
THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
The Bible is a collection of books. It is actually more of a library than a single book. There are 39 books in the Old Testament, 27 in the New, making a total of 66. It took approximately 40 authors to write these, over a period of about 1,500 years. So how is it that all these 66 books ever got together in the Bible?
LUTHER AND JAMES
Early on in his ministry, Martin Luther had a problem with the Epistle of James. Luther, standing against the known world with the revelation of sola fide or justification by faith alone, encountered many in the Roman Catholic Church quoting the book of James to dismiss him. Luther, for some time could not reconcile James' words in chapter 2 of his epistle, with Paul's clear words in Romans and Galatians. He concluded that James was merely "an Epistle of straw."
This has led some to argue that Luther did not believe that the Bible was inspired by God, for, they say, how could he believe the Bible is the Word of God and then say that the book of James was a "strawy Epistle?"
Yet these folk confuse a couple of issues that need to be distinguished carefully.
If anyone believed in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, is was Luther (remember Worms!!). He said, "The Scriptures never err!"
But there was a period in his life (though he changed his mind later) when he had real questions about James. But this is the point we need to see Luther's question was not about whether the Bible was inspired, but whether the Epistle of James is supposed to be included in the Bible.
Can you see the important difference?
For Luther, the entire Bible is inspired. However, he was asking a question concerning which are the right books to be included in the Bible, and he had doubts over whether the Epistle of James should have that kind of a status.
This is the question of the Canon of Scripture, or what we refer to as Canonicity.
The word canon comes from the Greek word canon and means "a measuring rod, ruler, norm, or standard by which other things are measured or judged."
You may have wondered why the Roman Catholic Church includes books in their "canon" that are not in our Protestant Bibles. They include books written in the Intertestamental Period (the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew in our Bibles). These are known as The Apocrypha.
Protestants have not included the books of the Apocrypha in the canon. These are regarded as Deuterocanonical books or books on a secondary (deutero) level to Scripture.
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 (with the exception of 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh). It is significant that the Council of Trent was the response of the Roman Catholic Church to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation because the books of the Apocrypha contain support for Catholic doctrines such as prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works.
It is important to remember four further things about the Apocryphal books: (1) They do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings; (2) they were not regarded as Scripture by the Jewish people (from whom they originated); (3) they were not considered to be Scripture by Jesus or the New Testament authors; (4) they contain teachings that are inconsistent with the rest of the Bible.
THIRD COUNCIL OF CARTHAGE (397 A.D.)
In Church history, the first Council that determined which books made up the Biblical canon met in Carthage, approximately 365 years after the death of Christ.
By way of background, a heretic named Marcion produced the first canon. However, he was heavily influenced by the Gnostics and hated the God of the Old Testament, believing Him to be a different god than the one revealed in the New Testament. In his canon, he only included books that seemed to agree with him. Out would go books like Matthew, because there were far too many quotes from the Old Testament!
This crisis of a heretic's canon forced the Church to draw up a list of the true books of the New Testament. Even this does not suggest that the Church did not have a Bible up until then.
There is no doubt that, for example, when the Apostle Paul wrote Romans, and it circulated in the Early Church, it was recognized as the Word of God. As the believers at the end of the First Century (sometimes referred to as the Sub-Apostolic Fathers) quoted from the writings of the Apostles, from the Gospels, from Paul's writings, etc., they quoted them as full biblical authorities. So we know as a matter of historical record that the bulk of the New Testament literature found in our canon functioned as sacred Scripture from the very beginning. That is very important to remember.
Concerning the vast majority of New Testament books, there was never any question in the mind of the Church as to whether or not they belonged in the canon. But there were a few books about which there were questions: Jude, 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Hebrews.
AROUND 2,000 PRETENDERS
There were around 2,000 books/letters circulating that were pretenders, yet we have only 27 of them in the New Testament. How do we know that the right books got into our Bible? How do we know that we have the right 27?
Well, of these 2,000 books, there were only ever 2 (or perhaps 3) that were ever given any serious consideration for inclusion in the canon. The Shepherd of Hermas was one, and First Clement was another.
These were magnificent literature and contained no false doctrine. The reason these were not included is because the authors themselves indicate a clear difference in the authority with which they were writing and that of the Apostles. In other words, they disqualified themselves from inclusion.
The other 1998 or so were never given the time of day, so to speak, because they were Gnostic frauds and everybody knew it.
Is it possible that we have a book in the New Testament that shouldn't be there? Yes, it is possible.
Is it possible that there were books that were written that didn't get into the canon that should have? Yes, it is possible.
What is the probability?
Not 1 in 10,000,000,000,000 chances.
There was no work of the Church in Council in the history of the Church about which I have more confidence than that the Church made the correct decision as to which books should be in the canon. It was extremely clear and was not a difficult task.
THREE CRITERIA FOR CANONICITY (basically)
The Council asked:
1. Was this book written by an Apostle or endorsed by an Apostle?
(Mark was not an Apostle, but was Peter's secretary. The Gospel of Mark could be described as Peter's Gospel, if you will. Likewise, Luke, who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was not an Apostle, but had the endorsement of Paul. Luke was the companion of Paul on many of his missionary journeys).
2. Was this book recognized by the Early Church as Scripture from the very beginning?
3. If a book met these first two criteria (which ruled most out, of course), and there was any question about a book (like Jude or 2nd Peter) the question then was: "Does this book contain anything in it that contradicts the rest of the New Testament (about which there is no question as to canonicity)?" This was the question of conformity to Biblical doctrine.
Under the Providential hand of God this was a very thorough process, and one I don't believe any Christian needs to be concerned about. I certainly have lost no sleep at all over it!
We have every reason to believe with the fullest possible confidence that the right books, by the grace of God, have been delivered safely through the ages, to the Church today.