By Lloyd Streeter
It is our conviction that the Holy Spirit led the true people of God to accept the words and books of the Bible as genuine Holy Scripture, authoritative and inspired. In my book, Seventy-five Problems with Central Baptist Seminary’s Book: The Bible Version Debate (p. 75), I argue for the preservation of all of the words of Scripture on the basis of the doctrine of canonicity. We argue that if Central’s professor, Roy Beacham, believed in the canonicity of the books of the Bible, then to be consistent, he should believe in the canonicity of the words of the Bible as well.
After all, if the Holy Spirit led the true churches of Jesus Christ to accept the genuine inspired books of the New Testament (and He did!), would He not also lead the true, Holy Spirit indwelt churches to accept the inspired and preserved words of those books?
How does Beacham know that the canon of Scripture which all of us accept is correct? How does he know that the sixty-six books of the Bible are all of the books God intended for us to accept? How does he know that some of the books were not left out? How does he know God intended for them to be canonical? After all, God did not give us a list of canonical books. So, what is Beacham’s faith based on?
The answer to the above questions should be that the canon of Scriptures is based on the same verses which I cite for promises of Bible preservation. If God could lead and guide His people to accept the right Books for the canon, could He not also guide His people to accept the right words?
A considerable amount of faith is required if we are going to believe at all that we have God’s Word, even in “a practical virtual sense.” When we consider some of the facts in the history of the Old Testament text, we must conclude that God was overseeing and caring for the words of Scripture just as He had indicated in Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Psalm 119:152; Psalm 119:160; Isaiah 40:8; I Peter 1:23-25; Psalm 12:5-8; and John 14 and 16. [Seventy-five Problems, pp. 75-76]
The words of Scripture were received by true believers in the true churches of Jesus Christ as soon as they were delivered. No church or church council made the Bible. The Holy Spirit made the canon of Scripture by leading the true people of God to receive the Books and the Words. The canon of Scripture was settled hundreds of years before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence and hundreds of years before the Councils of Nicea and Hippo.
In I Thessalonians 2:13, Paul wrote of how the Thessalonians had received the Word of God:
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
Some commentaries would say that Paul here refers to the Old Testament Scriptures which he read to the Thessalonians. Others would say that he refers to the New Testament revelations which Paul wrote down under inspiration of God and then read to the church. In any case, the statement shows how the true people of God and the true churches of Jesus Christ receive the Word of God when it is presented to them. The Holy Spirit teaches the child of God to receive the Word.
Of course, we do not mean that any individual Christian, nor any individual church is infallible. But, all of God’s people together and all of His churches together made the right decisions about the canon of Scripture.
Dr. Wilber Pickering, in his excellent book, The Identity of the New Testament Text [Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1977] on pages 94-100, makes the case that the New Testament writings were recognized as Scripture immediately:
It is clear that the apostle Paul, at least, considered his writings to be authoritative–see 1 Cor. 14:37, 2 Cor. 10:1-16, Gal. 1:6-12 and 2 Thess. 3:6-14. And it is reasonable to infer from Col. 4:16 that he expected his writings to have a wider audience than just the particular church addressed.
Peter, also, puts the commandments of the apostles (himself included) in the same class with “the holy prophets” (2 Pet. 3:2). In 1 Tim. 5:18 Paul puts the Gospel of Luke (10:7) on the same level as Deuteronomy (25:4), calling them both “Scripture.”
Taking the traditional and conservative point of view, 1 Timothy is generally thought to have been written within five years after Luke. Luke was recognized and declared by apostolic authority to be Scripture as soon as it came off the press, so to speak.
In 2 Pet. 3:15-16, Peter puts the Epistles of Paul on the same level as “the other Scriptures.” Although some had been out for perhaps fifteen years, the ink was scarcely dry on others, and perhaps 2 Timothy had not yet been penned when Peter wrote. Paul’s writings were recognized and declared by apostolic authority to be Scripture as soon as they appeared.
Pickering goes on to show that Clement of Rome (96 A.D.), Barnabas (70-135 A.D.), Ignatius (110 A.D.), Polycarp (115 A.D.), Justin Martyr (150 A.D.), Theophilus, Irenaeus, Athenagorus, and Tertullian all quoted the New Testament writings calling them “sacred Scripture.”
In the book, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, by R. Laird Harris, Ph.D., he makes these points
- By neither appeal to authority nor appeal to history can the apocryphal books be properly included in the sacred canon. (p. 180)
- We do not disparage the apocryphal books because they are of real value and should be read by more Christians because they give good historical insights. (p. 180)
- The apocryphal books were written after prophecy was recognized to have departed from Israel. (p. 181)
- The common Jewish canon did not include these apocryphal books and Jesus and His disciples accepted that Jewish canon. (p. 182)
- Most of the Old Testament books are quoted in the New Testament, but the apocryphal books are never quoted. (p. 183)
- When Josephus listed the Jewish Scriptures, he listed the same 39 books, no more and no less, that we have in our AV. (p 185)
- The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) contained apocryphal books but it was an Egyptian production and not a Palestinian one. (p. 186)
- Eight prominent Church fathers of the fourth century, including Athanasius and Cyril, left us lists of Old Testament books, all of which agree with the Jewish canon. (p. 189)
- Augustine (and the councils which he dominated, Hippo 393 A.D. and Carthage 397 A.D.) included the apocryphal books in his canon. (p.190)
- Roman Catholics officially adopted the Apocrypha in reformation times (Trent, 1546). VERY LATE!
- In so far as the New Testament canon is concerned, the Church, very early, received all of the 27 books “as inspired and therefore canonical.” (p. 201)
- The Syriac version (Peshetta) was most likely written in the second century (about 125-150 A.D.), and did not contain any apocryphal books. (p. 216)
- The Old Latin Bible, predating Jerome’s Vulgate, had the same 66 books as the reformation Bible. (p. 217)
- Regarding the Roman contention that the Roman Catholic Church made the Bible, Harris says, “Of course, the main assumption of Roman Catholicism is the usual contention that the Church of the first three centuries was a Roman Catholic Church. If so, it was a strange one. No present-day Roman Catholic would have felt at home in it. There was no doctrine of purgatory, of confession, of the mass. Both elements of the Communion were given to the laity. The infallibility of the Roman pontiff was nowhere held, because never claimed. There was no rosary, no celibacy of the clergy, no doctrine of indulgences, no treasury of merit, no doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary or special adoration of her, no immaculate conception or bodily assumption of Mary. The fact is that the Church of those centuries would have passed very well for a Protestant Church, but a present-day Roman Catholic would scarcely have known he had been to church if he had attended a meeting in the catacombs! This was the Church which for three centuries was testing the evidences concerning the New Testament books and was within fifty years in full agreement on all but a handful of them. The remainder were accepted as the evidence was circulated and recognized. No church made them into Bible books.” (p. 274)
- Harris quotes John Calvin (Institutes) who emphasizes the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit and says that unsaved men are unable to think rightly about heavenly things (canonicity). Says Calvin, “The Word will never gain credit in the hearts of men til it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit.” (p. 276) The French Confession of 1559, in which Calvin had a large hand, says, “We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the church as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which enabled us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books.” (p. 277)
- He quotes S.R.L. Gaussen, who argues that “providence has led the Church catholic in the selection of our 66 books, but [God] gives no authority to the Church in this matter.” (p. 278)
- He quotes Princeton Professor Archibald Alexander, who wrote a book concerning the canon, and says that the Old Testament canon was settled “very simply by appealing to the historical fact of the testimony of Christ and His apostles.” (p. 279) Furthermore, Alexander said of the New Testament books, “Their right to a place in the canon does not depend on the vote of any council, or the decision of any bishop, but upon the fact that they were given by inspiration; and this was known by the character of the men who wrote them. The appeal to testimony, therefore, is not to obtain the judgment of the Church that these books were canonical, but to ascertain the fact that they were indeed the productions of the apostles, to whom the Lord promised plenary inspiration.” (p. 279)
- He quotes B.B. Warfield from his Revelation and Inspiration. Warfield says Scripture was imposed upon the Church by the apostles and that this guarantees canonicity. (pp. 279-280)
- He quotes C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, that the canon of the Old Testament is determined by the approval of Christ and His apostles. “The principle on which the NT is determined is equally simple. Those books, and those only which can be proved to have been written by the apostles, or to have received their sanction, are to be recognized as of divine authority.” (p. 280)
- Harris says, “God’s providence, which watched over the preservation as well as the preparation of these sacred books, was doubtless a factor . . . at least we may cheerfully concede that God in His providence saw to it that these books were preserved. . . .” [It is my conviction that the Words, not just the Books, have been preserved by God, and that what Harris says about the Books applies to the Words, and for the same reasons. LLS]
- Harris concludes, “We have thus come to the conclusion that historical study and Biblical evidence combine to give us a test of canonicity that is definite and which was readily applied by the early Christians. It can even be applied with confidence by us in spite of the lapse of centuries and the diminution of the evidence. The books did not become authoritative by Church decision or as a result of the veneration attaching to things of antiquity. They were authoritative when written because given by inspiration of God. They were recognized as authoritative, inspired, and canonical by the generations to which they were addressed because of the position of the authors as acknowledged spokesmen of God. In the ancient times the succession of writing prophets following Moses, the great prototype, gave us our Old Testament. In the times of the founding of the Christian Church the apostles were God’s chosen instruments appointed expressly by Christ for the purpose and endued by Him with the Holy Spirit for their revelational activity. They were conscious of such a holy gift, and as they write to us the Word of God they attach to it a suitable blessing for all who receive it in faith and practice it: ‘Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (Rev. 1:3)
A scholarly discussion of the Apocrypha and of Roman Catholic claims is found in Loraine Boettner’s book, Roman Catholicism. Boettner (pronounced: Bet-ner) was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary from which he also received a Th.M. in 1929, where he studied under C. Hodge. He was also a graduate of Tarkio College and the University of Missouri. He was the author of many books, including The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, The Millennium, and Studies in Theology.
He says that the Roman Catholic Church did not make the Bible as it claims because there was no Roman Catholic Church at the time the Bible was written and reached canonicity.
Romanism developed, says Boettner, over a long period of time. Prayers for the dead began about 300 A.D. Making the sign of the cross started about 300 A.D. Veneration of angels and dead saints and the use of images came in at about 320 A.D.
The mass did not begin as a daily celebration until 394 A.D.
The beginning of the exaltation of Mary came in at about 431 A.D.; extreme unction in 526 A.D.; and the doctrine of purgatory in 593 A.D.
The College of Cardinals was not established until 927 A.D.; the canonization of dead saints in 995 A.D.; and the Apocrypha was added to the Bible in 1546 A.D. [pp. 7-8]
Here are some points made by Boettner:
Ever since New Testament times there have been people who accepted the basic principles now set forth in Protestantism. That is, they took the Bible as their authoritative standard of belief and practice. They were not called Protestants. Neither were they called Roman Catholics. They were simply called Christians. During the first three centuries they continued to base their faith solely on the Bible. They often faced persecution, sometimes from the Jews, sometimes from the pagans of the Roman empire. But early in the fourth century the emperor Constantine, who was the ruler in the west, began to favor Christianity, and then in the year 324, after he had become ruler of all the empire, made Christianity the official religion. The result was that thousands of people who still were pagans pressed into the church in order to gain the special advantages and favors that went with such membership. They came in in far greater numbers than could be instructed or assimilated. Having been used to the more elaborate pagan rituals, they were not satisfied with the simple Christian worship but began to introduce their heathen beliefs and practices. Gradually, through the neglect of the Bible and the ignorance of the people, more and more heathen ideas were introduced until the church became more heathen than Christian. Many of the heathen temples were taken over by the church and re-dedicated as Christian churches.
Thus in time there was found in the church a sacrificing and gorgeously appareled priesthood, an elaborate ritual, images, holy water, incense, monks, and nuns, the doctrine of purgatory, and in general a belief that salvation was to be achieved by works rather than by grace. The church in Rome, and in general the churches throughout the empire, ceased to be the apostolic Christian church, and became for the most part a religious monstrosity. [p. 11]
Boettner says the true church is composed of all who are true Christians, those who have been “born again,” or “born anew.” [p. 19]
He points to “Roman Catholic” as a denominational name, and says,
In the Bible the word “church” never means a denomination. The Bible has nothing to say about denominations. Whether a local church chooses to remain strictly independent, or to enter into a working agreement with one or more other local churches, and if so on what terms, is not discussed in Scripture, but is left entirely to the choice of the church itself. And we find that in actual practice churches range all the way from those that remain entirely unrelated to any other, to the other extreme of those that subject themselves to some hierarchy of denominational overlords who own property and send the minister. [p. 20]
He says, “When our Lord prayed for unity, ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21), it was primarily a spiritual unity, a oneness of heart and faith, of love and obedience, of true believers. . . .” [p. 20] (empasis LLS) Then says,
It is just here that the Romanists, who claim to be the only true church, err in attempting to bring all churches, even to force all churches, into one external and mechanical organization. The oneness for which Christ prayed was not external and visible, but spiritual and invisible. There can be and actually is real spiritual unity among Christians apart from organizational unity. The church is not a mechanism, but a living organism, whose head is Christ; and any unity that is mechanical and forced is bound to hinder the very thing that it is designed to promote. When we hear the pope and occasionally other church leaders talk about uniting all churches into one super organization, the words they employ and their method of approach make it clear that what they have in mind is not spiritual unity of believers but an ecclesiastical and mechanical unity of believers and unbelievers, designed primarily for what they think would be greater efficiency of operation. [p. 21]
Boettner does not believe the early church had any power over the conscience of men. Says he,
We are inclined to believe that the early church was neither Episcopal, nor Presbyterian, nor Congregational, but a combination of all three, and that local churches then as now may have differed considerably in their manner of government. In any event it is quite clear that the Roman Catholic Church, with its hierarchial form of government, was not the New Testament church, for the institution of the papacy, with a sacrificing priesthood, did not develop until some five centuries later.
The spurious logic of the hierarchy through which it lays claim to supreme authority over all Christians finds no support in Scripture. [p. 29]
The primary point of cleavage between the Roman Catholic and the other churches seems to be the fact that the Roman Church is hierarchical and authoritarian in its form of government, while the others are essentially democratic and place the control of church affairs in the hands of the people. It was the Vatican Council of 1870, with its pronouncement of papal infallibility, that sounded the death-knoll [sic] of any democratic processes in the Roman Church and placed it irrevocably on the road to totalitarianism. [p. 42]
With regard to the Apocrypha, it is only through the coersive power of the hierarchal system that the spurious books are accepted:
The 14 or 15 books that the Roman Catholic Church adds to the Bible and pronounces equally inspired and authoritative are known as the Apocrypha. These are printed as a part of the Bible and must be accepted by all Roman Catholics as genuine under penalty of mortal sin. . . .
They are listed as follows:
- The First Book of Esdras
- The Second Book of Esdras
- The additions to the book of Esther
- The Wisdom of Solomon
- Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
- The Letter of Jeremiah
- The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
- Bell and the Dragon
- The Prayer of Manasseh
- The First Book of Maccabees
- The Second Book of Maccabees [p. 80]
Boettner correctly says that the canon of Old Testament books was settled by the Jews long before the time of Jesus:
The Hebrew Old Testament was completed some four hundred years before the time of Christ. In the second century B.C., a Greek translation by Hebrew scholars was made in Alexandria, Egypt, and was called the Septuagint because the translators numbered 70. There developed an important difference, however, between the Greek translation and the Hebrew canon since the Septuagint contained a dozen or more Apocryphal books interspersed among the books of the Hebrew Bible. But not all copies contained the same books–suggesting that there was no general agreement among the translators as to which of these additional books were authoritative. [p. 81]
So, we find that at the time of Christ there were two versions of the Old Testament current in Palestine, the more liberal Alexandrian Septuagint, including the Apocryphal books, in Greek, and the more conservative Hebrew version which included only the canonical books of the Jews, and the Roman Catholic Bible follows the Alexandrian while the Protestant Bible follows the Hebrew version.
The loose talk of some Roman Catholic writers about the “Greek Bible,” the form of the Septuagint that originated in Alexandria, Egypt, being the Bible of the early church, is no credit to scholarship, for it ignores the most important point of all, namely, that so far as the evidence goes, Jesus and the New Testament writers did not consider the Apocryphal books canonical but instead accepted the Palestinian version of the Old Testament.
Furthermore, Josephus, the noted Jewish historian, about 90 A.D., gave a list of the books of the Jewish law and prophets, but he did not include the Apocryphal books. Other Jewish sources support Josephus. The Apocrypha was rejected by Origen, who is generally acknowledged to have been the most learned man in the the church before Augustine, by Tertullian, an outstanding scholar in the early third century, by Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea and by Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgste which became the authorized Roman Catholic Bible. [p. 82]
The Roman Catholic Church did not exist when the Bible was given by God and canonized by the Holy Spirit’s work in the minds of the believers. As Boettner says,
A fraudulent claim recently put forth by the Knights of Columbus in a series of newspaper and magazine ads designed to appeal to Protestants and others is that the Roman Catholic Church produced the Bible and that we received it from her. Some of her spokesmen attempt to say that the canon of the Bible was established in the fourth century, by the pope and council of Carthage, in 397 A.D. But that statement is erroneous on two counts. In the first place, there was no pope as such in 397 A.D. It was not until the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, that the bishop of Rome was designated pope, and the authority of the bishop of Rome never has been acknowledged by the Eastern churches. Previous to that time all priests and bishops were called popes (Latin, papa), and in the Eastern churches that title is applied to ordinary priests even to the present day. The Council of Chalcedon attempted to restrict the title exclusively to the bishop of Rome, who at that time was Leo I, and conferred it posthumously on all previous bishops of Rome in order to make it appear that an unbroken succession of popes had proceeded from Peter.
And in the second place, the New Testament was produced during the first century of the Christian era and had assumed its present form centuries before the Roman Catholic Church developed its distinctive characteristics. At that time the Eastern churches were dominant in Christian affairs, and the Church in Rome was relatively insignificant. Gregory I, called Gregory the Great, who was consecrated pope in 590 and died in 604, was in effect the founder of the papal system. He reorganized the church, revised the ritual, restored monastic discipline, attempted to enforce celibacy among the clergy, and extended the authority of the Roman Church into many countries adjacent to Italy. He more than anyone else gave the Roman Church its distinctive form and set the course that it was to follow in its later history.
Furthermore, long before the Council of Carthage the particular books now found in the New Testament, and only those, had come to be looked upon by the church at large as the inspired and infallible Word of God on the basis of their genuineness and authority. These particular writings, in distinction from all other books of that age, manifest within themselves this genuineness and authority as we read them; and the Council of Carthage did not so much choose the books that were to be accepted in the New Testament but rather placed its stamp of approval on the selection that by that time, under the providential control of the Holy Spirit, had come to be looked upon by the church as the New Testament canon. The Old Testament canon was completed and had assumed its present form long before the coming of Christ. The Roman Church, of course, had nothing whatever to do with that. [pp. 102-103]
Boettner recognizes that there were many Christian churches before the Roman Church came into existence. They did not have the name Baptist, Presbyterian, or Catholic attached to them.
He also recognizes that there were true-to-the-Bible churches all through the Dark Ages, churches which were not part of the Roman Church. It was these churches which were led of the Spirit to receive the Books and Words of Scripture.
There remained, however, some groups, small in numbers, usually in isolated places, and later primarily in the mountains of northern Italy, who maintained the Christian faith in reasonable purity. There were also individuals throughout the church in all ages, usually more or less independent of the church at large, who continued to hold quite correct ideas concerning the Christian faith. But the half paganized condition continued through the Middle Ages and on into the sixteenth century when the religious revival in the West, known as the Reformation shook the church to its foundation. [p. 11]
We have looked at several Scriptures which show that the genuine books and words of Scripture were received by the true believers and true churches of Jesus Christ, and that this was done as soon as the Scriptures were presented to those churches and believers. The canon was not made by any denomination or church council. We have found that some significant scholars have understood the work of the Holy Spirit, of true believers, and of the true churches in the formation of the canon. Wilber Pickering, Laird Harris, Archibald Alexander, S. R. L. Gaussen, B. B. Warfield, C. Hodge, Loraine Boettner, and John Calvin have been cited as some who have understood the work of the Holy Spirit, of the Apostles, of true believers, and of true churches in the formation of the canon of the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit has been active through out history in the preservation of the genuine words of God as written in Holy Scriptures. Both the words and the books are canonized, not by a denomination or council, but by God Himself. Most protestants do believe that the books of the Bible were canonized by the Holy Spirit working in the minds of believers, but to be consistent, they should also recognize that the words of the Bible were canonized on the same basis.