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Inspiration and the Canon of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 26, 2021 12:01 am

Inspiration and the Canon of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 26, 2021 12:01 am

The Bible is not simply one book, but a collection of 66 books written over hundreds of years. Today, R.C. Sproul explains how we got the Bible we have today.

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R.C. Sproul
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Grace Bible Church / Rich Powell

How do we know for sure that the right books got into the Bible when there were over 2,000 books that were pretenders for biblical authority and you end up with, what, 27 in the New Testament?

How do we know we have the right 27? Have you ever been troubled by doubts about the Bible? Maybe someone questioned your faith, claiming that the Bible is simply words and opinions written by men.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul defends the reliability of Scripture and strengthens our confidence that each book in the Bible is indeed the very Word of God. In Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul made the statement, all Scripture is given by inspiration.

Notice that he didn't simply say Scripture is given by inspiration, but he used the term all as if to indicate that there would be more than one Scripture. Well, literally, in the Greek, all the grafe means all of the writings or all of the sacred writings, gives us our first clue that the Bible is really not a Bible, in the sense that the Bible is not a bibliot, or biblion, from which we get the word Bible, which means book. It's not a book. Well, it is a book, but it's not a book. Now, I'm not speaking in contradictions here or playing games with you, but we realize that the Bible is not simply one book.

It is a collection of books. It's more of a library than a single volume, because actually the Bible, as this volume that I hold in one hand here, is made up of a total of 66 individual books. That's why we'll talk about the book of John or the book of Matthew or the book of Romans, meaning an individual entity that together added to each other comprises this vast collection of 66 books that we publish between two covers here. Of course, the books of the Bible were written by many, many different authors, humanly speaking, and over literally hundreds and hundreds of years of time between the time that Genesis was written and the time that Revelation was completed, presumably towards the end of the first century. Now, how is it that all of these individual books ever got together to form one single big book that we call the Holy Bible?

Now, that raises an extremely important question that has an indirect reference to our confidence in the authority of the Bible. Again, if I can go back to my friend Martin Luther in the 16th century when he was insisting on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, those who were opposing Martin Luther kept quoting to him some statements that James makes in his epistle about justification. And after a while, Luther became more and more upset with these endless citations from James and made the observation that's been repeated 10 million times since he made it that James is an epistle of straw. Or another way of translating it, a right straw epistle. Now, since the 20th century conflict in the church over the doctrine of Scripture and its authority, some have argued that the 16th century Reformers, as much attention as they gave to Scripture, did not really believe that the Bible was inspired of God because if, for example, Luther believed that the Bible was inspired by God, how could he possibly say that James was an epistle of straw? You wouldn't say that something of which God was the author was right straw or an epistle of straw. There, when people make that observation, they confuse a couple of issues that need to be distinguished and need to be distinguished carefully. And I have to confess that some people find it difficult to make this distinction.

Indeed, confusion about this point is rife even among professional academicians, and so it calls for even greater caution and care to understand it. If anyone ever believed in the full authority of sacred Scripture, it was Martin Luther. Martin Luther made the comment, the Scriptures never are.

Never. Yet, there was a period in his life, which he changed his mind on later, when he had real questions about James. But Luther's question was not about whether the Bible was inspired, but Luther's question was, is James properly to be included in the Bible?

Do you see the difference in that question? For Luther, all of the Bible is inspired, and all of the Bible is true, but now he's asking the question, what are the books that make up the Bible? And that is a question of what we call canon. Some people like to refer to the Bible as the sword of the Lord. I prefer to think of it as a canon, a more modern form of weaponry. If you will, the word canon comes from the Greek konon, which means a measuring rod or a ruler or a norm.

You remember earlier on in our series here, I mentioned a book that I had read in college under the title, By What Standard? Well, that's what the word canon means, a norm or a standard by which other things are measured or judged. And so historically, the collection of books that together make up the Bible is called the canon of sacred Scripture. The question of canon is how and by what process did the individual books that make up the Bible come to be collected and put into the Bible? I heard one critic, or I read one critic who made the observation that the church of Christ didn't really have a Bible until 500 years after Jesus was gone. Now that's a long time, isn't it? So the church didn't have a Bible until 500 years after Jesus.

Now let me tell you how some people come up with numbers like that. The church in the first four centuries had a series of synods and councils that met to discuss questions about which documents should be included in sacred Scripture. The final meeting of those discussions took place in the year 397 at the Third Council of Carthage.

This is really a small council, but significant church history. Now that's 397. That does take place approximately 370 years or 365 years after the death of Jesus. But why would somebody say 500 years?

Here's the way it works. This is the end of the fourth century. So somebody could say, well, the church didn't finally have their final decision on what books belong in a canon until the beginning of the fifth century. And you know how we mess that up, the 20th century or the 1900s, the 19th century, the 1800s, the 18th century, the 1700s.

You say we're at the beginning of the fifth century, next thing you know it's 500 years. We don't have a Bible. Well, that is a gross oversimplification of what actually happened in the early church. As I mentioned in our last lecture together that some of the biblical writers themselves make reference to the other writings of the apostles so that they're recognizing even at that point that they belong to the status or to the level of Scripture.

Now, another one of the disputes that arose out of the Reformation was on this question of what belongs in the canon and how things got in the canon. If you are Roman Catholic or if you have Roman Catholic friends and if you've ever seen a Roman Catholic Bible, you know that there are certain books in that Bible that are not found in Protestant Bibles. For example, the Roman Catholic Church includes a segment of literature that was written in the so-called intertestamental period between the close of the Old Testament canon with Malachi and the opening of the New Testament canon with Matthew in that 400-year period there. There were some books of great historical value written by Jewish historians and wisdom people and so on that are called the Apocrypha. And for the most part, Protestant Christianity has not recognized the books of the Apocrypha as being part of the Bible, whereas the Roman Catholic Church does recognize the Apocrypha as being part of sacred Scripture. So that the Roman Catholic Church might say, the Bible says, and then give a quotation from the book of Maccabees or from 2nd Esdras or somebody like that where the Protestant would not quote those sources and say, the Bible says. We recognize the Apocrypha to be what we call deuterocanonical. Deutero means at a secondary level, not primary.

The primary canon are the books of the Old Testament, the books of the New Testament, the Apocrypha at best, second level, it's very important historical, but we don't carry any brief to claim that the Apocrypha is inspired or is the Word of God or anything like that. But why this difference? How did this come to pass?

Well, there's a difference in the view of the whole process. We know, as I mentioned earlier, that several meetings took place in the first four centuries within the church to discuss questions about what books belong in the Bible. And the crisis was provoked in the middle of the second century by a fellow by the name of Marcion. How many of you have ever heard of this fellow, Marcion?

Okay, so most of you haven't, okay? We usually pronounce his name Marcion, but he's not from another planet. Marcion lived in the second century, and he was heavily influenced by a group of heretical thinkers who were called Gnostics and so on. But here was the interesting view that Marcion had. Marcion hated the God of the Old Testament. He believed that the God of the Old Testament, the God of wrath and judgment and all of that sort of thing, was a God that was not worthy of Marcion's adoration and worship and respect. And he didn't believe that Jehovah in the Old Testament was really God. He believed that he was the creator of the world, but Marcion believed that the Old Testament deity, Jehovah, was not the high God, the most high God, but was sort of a second-level God. You have to understand something of Neoplatonic philosophy to understand these different levels of deities, but in any case, his conviction was that God of the Old Testament was what was called a demiurge, sort of a demigod, a semi-god, junior-grade deity, not the full-blown thing. And that Jesus in the New Testament reveals the high God and rescues the earth from the clutches of this second-grade deity, this demiurge who's so mean and nasty that we meet in the Old Testament.

But the true God is a higher God than Jehovah, and he's a God of love and kindness and mercy, not like the one who's drowning people with a flood and so on in the Old Testament. So in order to communicate his theology to the masses, this fellow Marcion produced the first official canon of the New Testament. But it was Marcion's expurgated version of the Bible.

He only included books in the New Testament that fostered and championed his idea of a distinction between the loving God of the New Covenant and the mean and nasty God of the Old Testament. So, for example, Matthew wouldn't be included because Matthew was always quoting from the Old Testament, and he even would chop out passages from Luke and other gospels where anytime the gospel writer would have Jesus say something complimentary about Jehovah in the Old Testament, that had to go. So Marcion gave us the first scissors-and-paste version of the Bible where he actually tried to play around with the writings of the apostles and dismiss what he didn't like and keep what he did like and doctor up the sources. That's the crisis theologically that forced the church in the second century to say, wait a minute, we're going to draw up a list that we recognize of the true and complete books of the New Testament. Now, even this is not to suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that the church didn't have a Bible until the middle of the second century.

I've already pushed it back now from 500 years back to 150 AD, but I want to push it further than that. There is no doubt historically that from the moment, for example, Paul wrote Romans, and it circulated in the early church, that the church recognized Romans as the Word of God, as sacred Scripture. There's no question as we read the people who were living and writing at the end of the first century, the so-called sub-apostolic fathers, as they quote the writings from the New Testament, from the gospels, from Paul's writings, for example. They quote them as biblical authorities. So, we know as a matter of historical record that the bulk of the New Testament literature that is found in the canon of the New Testament functioned as sacred Scripture from the very beginning in the life of the church.

Now, that's very important for us to understand. And about the vast majority of the books in the New Testament, there was never any question in the mind of the church as to whether or not these books belonged in sacred Scripture. But the facts of history make it clear that there were a few books in the New Testament about which at various points in history the church had questions about whether or not these books really belong in the canon. Questions were raised about the book of Jude. It makes up less than one page of the New Testament.

Okay. Questions were raised about 2 Peter. Questions were raised about 1, 2, and 3 John. I mean, these are very tiny, the smallest portions of the New Testament. Questions were raised about the book of Hebrews. The reason being that the book of Hebrews in Hebrews chapter 6 seems to suggest that people can lose their salvation. And that seemed to be so strange from everything else the Bible taught about it that people began to raise question, really, does this book belong? And so the councils were called, and the synods met, and they examined, and they sorted, and they sifted. And I've heard another scholar say, how do we know for sure that the right books got into the Bible when there were over 2,000 books that were pretenders for biblical authority and you end up with, what, 27 in the New Testament? How do we know we have the right 27?

Odds are pretty strong against that, right? You'd think surely if there were 2,000 contenders and only 27 made it, very possible that some that got in shouldn't have and those that were left out should have been in. Beloved, if you look at the historical process of these 2,000 books, there were two to three books that were ever given the slightest serious consideration for inclusion in the canon. The Shepherd of Hermas, First Clement, books that were written at the end of the first century and their magnificent literature and basically sound theologically. And the reason why those two books were not included in the New Testament is because the authors themselves indicate a clear difference in the authority that they had and the authority of the apostles.

In other words, they disqualified themselves from inclusion. But the rest of the 1898 or 1998, ladies and gentlemen, were never considered for a moment because they were pure Gnostic frauds and everybody knew it. There were a few of the books that did end up in the New Testament canon about which there were questions. So the question we're left with now is how do we know that this is the right Bible? How do we know that the books that are in there belong in there? Roman Catholic Church has a somewhat facile solution to the problem since the church is infallible and the church made the decision as to what books are in the canon. You know, we don't have to worry, we know for sure that the right books are there because Rome approaches this by saying, I don't want to confuse anybody here, that the canon is an infallible collecting of infallible books.

See, if we get this, it's like this. The church says, we know that there's 2,027 or so many manuscripts out there and some of them are the inspired Word of God and some of them aren't. And we've got to find which ones are truly the Word of God. We've got to collect the ones that are infallible. We know Romans is infallible because it's the Word of God, we know that Matthew is infallible because he's the Word of God, so on, you see what we're doing. We've got to find the ones that are inspired and separate them from the ones that aren't inspired. And Rome says that their process by which they made that sifting and sorting evaluation was an infallible work of the church so that the collecting process itself was infallible.

Do you see that? The classic Protestantism would say, no, the compilation of the canon was a fallible collecting of infallible books. Saying the church was trying to be diligent, the church was trying to be obedient, the church prayed for providential help and support, but the church didn't claim to be infallible here. We just said to the best of our knowledge, to the best of our ability, best of our judgment, these are the books that we believe and we receive to be sacred Scripture, but we could be wrong.

And that's the position I take. If you ask me, is it possible, R.C. Sproul, that there's a book in the New Testament that doesn't belong there? I'd say, yes, it's possible. If you say to me, R.C. Sproul, do you think it's possible that there's books that were written like the first Clement that didn't get in that should get in there? I'd say, possible.

If you ask me then to give you the probability quotient in my judgment, I'd say I wouldn't give you one in ten jillion chances. There's no work of the church in counsel in the history of the church about which I have more confidence than that the church made the right decision on recognizing the Scripture. This is clear, and it really wasn't that hard of a task.

It's a historical process, a process led certainly by the providence of God, and one that I don't think any Christian needs to be concerned about because I think that 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. That confidence was the foundation of everything Dr. R.C. Sproul taught—in fact, everything he did. Our message today here on Renewing Your Mind is from R.C. 's series, Hath God Said? Satan tempted Eve in the Garden with that very question, and as we look at the world around us, we see that first seed of doubt has only grown.

That's why we think it's important for believers to be able to defend the authority of God's Word. You can request Dr. Sproul's six-part series on two DVDs when you contact us today with your donation of any amount. You'll find us online at, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. And to study this topic further, you'll find many resources on our mobile app. You can read articles, watch videos, and listen to audio teaching series when you download the app to your phone or tablet. If you're looking to grow in your understanding of what you believe and why you believe it, we hope you'll spend some time there.

You'll find it by searching for Ligonier in your app store. As I mentioned earlier, we are living in a time when the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture are being questioned by many, even many in the church. Tomorrow, Dr. Sproul will reinforce what Christians historically have believed about the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. So we hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-13 03:11:42 / 2023-11-13 03:19:55 / 8

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