31 Oct 2017
Christian Education Workshop - The Canon Of Scripture Pastor Chee Keen 27 August 2017 Why are there only 66 books in the Bible? How do we know if these books are really the inspired Word of God? What are the criteria for their acceptance into the Canon of Scripture? Come and find out the answers to these questions and more in this workshop.
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Alright, let's look at the topic for today. The topic today is the canon of Scripture. So you may be wondering, what is the canon of Scripture? What does the word ‘canon’ refer to? What does it mean? So, allow me to begin with this simple definition. The canon of Scripture may be generally described as the “collection of books which formed the original and authoritative written rule of the faith and practice of the Christian church”; in other words, the Old and New Testaments. Now, if you are still a bit lost, let me put it very simply. This refers to the 66 books in our Holy Bible. This refers to the 39 books in the Old Testament and the 27 books in the New Testament. Now, we believe that all these 66 books from Genesis 1 to Revelation, the last verse, is the word of God. We base our life, our practice, our hope of eternal salvation on what is revealed within its pages. And so, we got to ask ourselves the question: “how do we know we've got the right books in the Bible? Could there have been a mistake?” Now, we do know if we look at some scripture. For example, 2 Timothy, Chapter three, verse 16 to 17, that “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God” - that is the King James translation but the ESV says, “All scripture is breathed out by God”. In other words, God, as it were, breathed out His word. It came directly from him. It went through the medium of man who wrote them out for us. But we know that this is the word of God because it did not originate from man. And because of it, because we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we have confidence that it is “profitable for teaching”. That's why we teach from the Bible, “for reproof”. So, if we have any wrong ideas, we come to the Scripture and if we agree on the Bible as the Word of God, we stand corrected by it, right? So “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”. If we want to grow in the Lord, then our growth is based on these 66 books of the Holy Bible, so that we can be equipped for every good work. And I believe that we all agree that the books that are inspired by God, breathed out by God, they have to be the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God. Another verse that we may be familiar with is 2 Peter, chapter one, verse 20-21; here it says, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation” - it is talking about the Word of God again, alright? “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man” - it is not because we suka suka want to write a book then claim it to be the Word of God then it gets in. So, that is what Peter is saying although he never use suka suka. Okay? But that is not anybody, happy-go-lucky, like it, popular, get support and it becomes the Bible. No! Peter is very clear - “not by the will of man, but men spoke from God”. It is that same picture of God breathing out his word through man so that we have in our hands, the Bible, “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. So now, we are introduced to the work of the Holy Spirit in giving us the Word of God. Now that is great truth which gives us great confidence that if we base our hope of eternal life, our understanding of God and everything else He has revealed on His word, because it's breathed out by Him, carried along by the Holy Spirit, given to us, we have confidence! But here's the question we want to answer today: “How do I know if the Canon, that refers to the 66 books I mentioned of the Bible, are part of the Scripture breathed out by God?” How can I be sure? Could there be a mistake somewhere, somehow? What if one of those books got in by mistake? What if another book that should be in the 66 books was missed out? Then wouldn’t we be missing something or wouldn't we be in trouble?
Now, for today’s workshop, I want to clarify and qualify the boundaries of my sharing with all of you. First of all, I'm not here to provide apologetics for the Word of God as the Word of God. So, I'm not here to justify nor to present reasons why we believe the Bible is true. That's not the content of today's sharing. Neither am I here to fill you in on every single detail. You may have heard of this other ancient writing, that other ancient writing, etc; some discussion over different books of the Bible - all these are very interesting but today, I don't think we have enough time to go into all those details. Because if I were to try, we may not be home in time for dinner. And that'll get me into really big trouble, right? Because the next time we have a workshop, nobody will come. Okay, so we won't go into all the details. I hope you understand. But I just want to give you a simple understanding of why we can know for sure that the 39 books in the Old Testament and the 27 books in the New Testament are indeed the inspired Word of God, to strengthen your confidence. This is so that if your friends or your colleagues challenge the Bible, at least you know the answer. And you don't have to take the answer to argue with them, but you will not be shaken in your own faith. So, that's the whole intent - it is to strengthen your confidence, your faith in the books of the Bible, that they are indeed the Word of God so that you can continue on that journey to grow in the Lord and to have confidence to share the gospel from the Bible. Okay, so it's not meant for argument, it's not meant to fit all our curiosity and areas of interest. It is to strengthen our faith in the books of the Bible.
So let me begin by first examining the Old Testament. Okay now, concerning the Old Testament, I want you to understand the historical framework actually given to us in the Bible itself: that “God made the Jews the custodians of the Old Testament record”. He first began the first five books of the Bible through Moses. Then he handed the law to the Jewish people who then transmitted it down generations after generations. That is what God did. “Though their eyes may be blind to his truth”; when we come to the time of Jesus, you read that he constantly rebuked the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, which, by the way, were the custodians of the Old Testament. They are the ones who were in that generation down the line holding on to the Old Testament. But they were blinded to His truth, they don’t understand and they haven't opened their hearts to receive the gospel, to accept Jesus. But one thing is true of them that nobody will deny historically - it is that “they have gathered its transmission with great accuracy”. So, since the time of the dispersion through the Babylonian conquest, the Jews have been dispersed throughout the world and a lot of their elites have been carted off to Babylonia - you may have read about that; the book of Daniel talks about it, etc.
When that happens, the need for the Word of God to be preserved began because it's scattered everywhere. And somehow, God preserved those manuscripts, those patchments, and when they were re-gathered in Jerusalem - that's the book Ezra, if you have read about it or heard about it, you will know that he was one of those great leaders that got raised to bring the people back to the Word of God. And from the time of Ezra, the scribes begin their ministry to record and transmit the Bible. So what happened historically is “to ensure the accuracy of this transmission”. “The later scribes known as the Masoretes” - that's a group of men who were devoted and they have given their whole lives to copying and transmitting the word of God. They developed a number of strict measures to ensure that every fresh record was an exact reproduction of the original. They established tedious procedures to protect the tax against being changed. This was because they were having great reverence to the Bible to the Old Testament. So now, I'm not only talking about the 39 books of the Old Testament, what are some of these tedious procedures if the scribe in copying, nodded, and fell asleep - didn't even catch 40 wins? He's supposed to put a dot above that letter he transcribed to indicate that he fell asleep for a little moment. So could you imagine if there were a lot of dots on top? That fella maybe kena fired already; I don't know. However, they have a lot of such rules and regulations to make sure that that is no mistake. Let me read you some of these things that they will actually find out as they went about doing all these manuscript copying and translation, alright?
In the process, they would find out things like, “according to their known” at Leviticus 10:16. The word ‘daras’ is in the middle of the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible. And at verse 11:42, we are told by these scribes that the waw or the WAW, the Hebrew word that is, that is the middle letter of the book. At the end of each book, they have statistics like the total number of verses in Deuteronomy was 955. The total in the entire Torah is 5845. The total number of words is 97,856. The total number of electors is 400,945. This is the extent to which these Masoretes went to ensure that not a single word is missing from the Old Testament. So could you imagine? I think they are better than photocopying machines. You know what I mean? They really devote their whole lives just making sure that when you finally receive the Old Testament in your hands, not a single alphabet, letter or word or verse is missing because they counted everything, compared and contrasted, and make sure that everything matches according to their work and references.
So the Masoretic text of the Old Testament contains 24 books. This is our reference to the Old Testament because it's transmitted to us by the Masoretes, the scribes, the people I just described to you who went to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of their transmission of the Bible in the Old Testament.
Now, they have 24 books. It doesn't mean that we have so many missing books in our current Old Testament because we're 39, right? It simply is a matter of a different way of dividing the books. So their 24 books matches with our 39 books exactly, okay? There are 24 books - the Masoretic text - and it matches our 39 books exactly. It's just that they used a different division. This 24-books division in the three-fold division are the same and it's as follows. Let me show you. First, they have the law or the Pentateuch - the same, five books and five books. Okay, so the Masoretic text, which is the Jewish original manuscript transmission, has the same five books. Then, we have the prophets. Originally in the Masoretic text it is eight books but then in our English Bible, the Old Testament is 21. So there are the former prophets - that's their division. Originally, 4 then 6 - Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 & 2) and Kings (1 & 2). So, you'll notice that when we first had the first and second Kings, they only had Samuel. When we have first and second Kings, they only have kings. We have first and second Samuel, they only have Samuel. That's the difference. That's why they have 24 books. The latter prophets, originally four then 15. Major prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Izekiel - three. So, we have five major prophets and they have three. Minor prophets, the 12, originally one book in the Masoretic text, then 12 in our Old Testament, in our English Bible. Then the third division is this: the writings - originally 11 then 13. There are poetical books, the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the roles (they call it), five books on Solomon, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes and Esther. The historical books, which includes Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. So, this is the Old Testament handed down to us by the Jewish scribes.
How do I know if the Canon of the Old Testament is part of the Scripture, breathed out by God?
Okay. Now, here's another piece of note we need to make for the historical transmission. By the time of the New Testament, the Canon of the Old Testament was completed. In other words, no more books were added to the law or the writings in the Masoretic text. No additional material was ever included from 425 B.C. to A.D. 90. In other words, no change for these 500 years; no new books added. So, the Old Testament Canon, 39 books in our Old Testament, 24 books in the Masoretic text from which we got our 39 books - closed, no more addition. So here's a question that now we must ask: “How do I know if the Canon of the Old Testament is part of the Scripture, breathed out by God?” How do I know that this is correct?
Jesus testified to their authenticity.
The answer is actually very simple. I only offer you one answer because I think, for believers, this is enough to give us great confidence. Okay, so what's the answer? The answer is Jesus testified to the authenticity. Okay? If we believe that Jesus is the Savior, if we believe that he came down from heaven, we believe that he is the Son of God, then what he says about the Old Testament is the best witness, right? If you can't believe his word, then who else can you believe? This is the word of God, right? God Himself came to earth and told you this is the Bible in the Old Testament. Well, good, that settles it for me. Now, of course, I understand that it may not settle a lot of questions for you. So I'm calling you to come back to your faith, to the root of your faith. You can’t just believe in Him as your Savior and then question him on everything else. If you believe that He is the Savior, that He is the Messiah, that He is the Lord, that He is the Creator, then His word counts.
So what did Jesus testify about the Old Testament? He said in Luke chapter 24, verse 44, speaking to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “he said to them, “These are my words that I wrote to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The same three divisions in the Masoretic text is what Jesus is referring to. In other words, he is saying that these 24 books in the Masoretic text, our 39 books in the Old Testament, is the Word of God. They all point to Him. That's why we know that this Canon of the Old Testament that is closed is the Word of God because Jesus Himself said so.
Now, here's another verse for you. In Matthew, chapter five, verse 17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets”, referring to the same Masoretic text of the Old Testament. The same 24 books, our 39 books in the Old Testament, he said, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”. He says that even the little brush, a little note on the text itself that distinguishes one Hebrew word from the other; they are all totally accurate and the right to the very last iota will be fulfilled. That's how accurate it is. So if you believe Jesus, if you receive Him and worship Him as Lord and Savior, then His testimony to the Old Testament, which was completed 400 years before he came, is the best witness. And for today's session, that's all I'm giving you. Okay? You believe in Jesus, you accept His word - Old Testament Canon closed. Alright? Because we're not talking about two different things. That's why I tell you about the Masoretic text and his division and how it is different from our Old Testament division. Jesus, in referring to the Masoretic text and his three divisions confirmed that this is the Word of God. Canon, closed. Question, answered. Actually, that's the easy part. Because when we come to the New Testament, that's where our question begins. So if you understand the issue of Canon, you will find that in most of the writings, they hardly refer so much to the Old Testament because it's very straightforward. It's very clear. There is no question of it historically for Christians. Jesus testified to it. Issue is closed. Most of the discussion is on the New Testament. Okay, so you can say that that was the preface, just a little beginning. This is the main discussion.
How do I know that the New Testament has the correct Canon?
How do I know? How do I know that the New Testament has the correct Canon? Because after Jesus died and He rose again, he left after how many days? How many days did he spend with his disciples? Uh… but we know that by the day of Pentecost, he has left, right? So, he spent about 40 to 50 days and then he went back to heaven. How could he testify to the New Testament Canon when it wasn't even written? Right? Now we have, it seems, a headache. And because of that, we now need to go into a deeper study and understanding of how we can be sure that the New Testament Canon is correct.
Now, although the New Testament does not speak of a completed Canon of Scripture, it does testify to writings already considered to be the Word of God. This is really amazing and this is something that we need to understand as we go along into this session, which is: the word of God is not recognized to be inspired because somebody claimed it to be so. It's not that you write something and say, “Oh, this is the Bible, this is a word of God, now believe it.” No! The Word of God is known and believed to be the Word of God simply because it is. Now you like, “wow, okay”. Are you with me? Okay, I need my coffee now. Alright.
The Word of God is the word of God because it is from God
The Word of God is the word of God simply because it's from God. Are you getting closer now? If I speak, this is the Word of Chee Keen, right? That's about it. It came from me. If God speaks, then it will bear all the marks of His inspired words and people who read it will realize it is and this is what is happening in the New Testament, even as it is written.
Now, let's see some of these verses. In 2 Peter, chapter three, verses 15-16. Now, there is no historical process to point to Paul's writing as being inspired. It's not like they had 300 years and saw the power and marveled at what this epistle did in the lives of all these Christians, and then they said, “okay, we all vote, this one can go into the Canon”. No, that didn't happen. The moment the Word of God was written, because it's breathed out by God, it was immediately recognized and Peter recognized it. So look at what he said, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters”. Now, when Peter was writing, Paul was also writing. Not everything Paul wrote was inspired but Peter recognized that there are writings by Paul that was indeed inspired. So he said, “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him” - notice that it is not out of his own wisdom. Peter could recognize that God was at work in and through Paul, as he does in all his letters when he speaks to them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand. I'm sure that even today we grapple with the epistle of Romans and some of its truths. You know, we come to maybe Thessalonians and we are still wondering exactly how the Second Coming is like - “hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”. So what is Peter saying here? Peter is saying that, you know what? These people are trying to twist scriptures just as they try to twist Paul's writing. So he's equating Paul's epistles, current in its day, as the Word of God. Why? Because God inspired it. Now, I know that this thought is still hanging in the air but give me some time and I hope after a while, it will settle in because we are dealing with the Word of God.
Now, let's see another verse of scripture - 1 Timothy, chapter five, verse 18. The scripture says, Scripture is the word of God, right? Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain”. Now, where is this taken from? Let me check my notes and give you the accurate and correct answer. Okay, this is quoted from Deuteronomy, but the second quotation, “the laborer deserves his wages”. Where do you think this verse is quoted from? I will give it to you. This is quoted from Luke, chapter 10, verse seven. Luke, chapter 10, verse seven, and this is in the first century. In other words, when Paul wrote the Scripture, he already recognized that what Luke was writing is scripture. Okay? When Paul was writing, he recognized that Luke was writing the Word of God. So, how do we know? That's the question, isn't it? How come these apostles could tell this is scripture, that is scripted, they quote each other and they say, ‘these two, Old Testament verse, New Testament verse, brought together - they are both the Word of God’. So we see a phenomena happening in the first century. What is the phenomena? The phenomena is that God, once again, is breathing out His word. Are you with me now? Old Testament Canon was closed with Malachi, 425 B.C. But in the first century, the early church, the believers, the apostles could recognize that God was once again breathing out His word. So scripture was being given out by God. And because the early church recognized that God is once again breathing out His word, some of the apostles’ writing, some of the associates of the apostles, like Luke, they are writing as if they were moved by the Holy Spirit, then the church begins to recognize and gather which are the writings that belong to the Canon and which are not. Therefore, the formation of the New Testament Canon began in the early part of the second century. As they are written, they are being recognized. That's why I showed you those two verses. And as they are being recognized, they are being confirmed as they are passed around. Remember these letters; in the past, there's no email, you can’t forward, right? So what happened once again, the scribes would copy, copy, copy, copy and hand over. Then it would circulate whether by horse or by ship. They would send it throughout the known Christian world and then they'll be read in churches. And then the believers would recognize, “oh, this is the Word of God, that is the word of God”. So, they begin to recognize and confirm, as they are distributed throughout the known Christian world, which belongs to the Canon of the New Testament.
Now, by the end of the fourth century, all 27 books in our present Canon were recognized by all churches of the West. Okay. By the end of the fourth century, all 27 books in our present Canon were recognized by all the churches of the West. Now, this is a very, very important statement. I've heard people say before, “You know, why should I believe in the Bible, in the New Testament? A bunch of old men sat together and decided which are the books of the Bible.” You know, that is such a misrepresentation of the process. There weren't a bunch of old men who sat down and decided which books belong in the Canon for us. Why? Because up till the fourth century, the church was under intense persecution. Nobody had time to sit down and talk. They were busy running for their dear lives. They were being burned at the stake. They were hiding in holes. Today, if you go to Rome, one of the tourist attractions is the catacombs, which allows you to see the different holes that Christians hid in. And they were ready to run the next moment. They had no time to type emails and send SMS or WhatsApp to you. And they did not have those technologies. They had no means of communicating. They were divided. They were dispersed. They were busy and they were in danger. Nobody had time to sit down and talk. But 400 years later, remember a major incident happened. Some believe that this is the best thing that happened to Christianity because it was legalized and now they can have freedom of worship. Some think that this is a worse thing because then corruption sets into the church. Because remember, Emperor Constantine? The Emperor realized that there are so many of his subjects in the Roman Empire that have converted to Christianity, he also now claimed to be a Christian. He said he saw this sign in the sky in this symbol, ‘conquer’, it was the cross. So, he claimed that he is now a believer. And with that, he legalized Christianity. And that's why in the fourth century, then the churches had time and the protection of the Roman Empire to come out and sit down and say, “Hey, so which are the books you have been reading for the past 300 years?” Can you imagine that? That will be such an interesting question to ask, right? We never got to talk about it. We have no technology to communicate but finally, when we come up, we can ask, “which books have you been reading?” That is a very good question and that is an amazing question. Because after the Demasine Counsil of Rome in A.D. 332 and the third Council of Carthage in A.D. 397, the question of the Canon was closed in the West, which means that when they could come out after 300 years of persecution and talk about it, they concluded this is it. The Canon is closed. We know that these 27 books are the New Testament. That was how historically it developed.
Who decided these 27 books are part of the New Testament Canon?
Now, here's the question, who decided? That was something I hinted at just now. Who decided these 27 books are part of the New Testament Canon? Just now, we talked about the Council and it seems like they decided. Then, we talked about how the letters were circulated and it seems like maybe some of them decided. So, there seems to be such a strong human element, isn't it? Somebody has to decide. So probably, these fathers did, these pastors did, etc.
Well, again, the answer may surprise you but you got to think about it. Here we go. God decided. Okay, it is like, “okay, well, I spent an afternoon here and you know, you're just going round a circular argument”. Well, it seems that way. But I want to bring you around eventually to understand. Remember, I'm not trying to give you a defense of the Bible here. I'm trying to help you understand what it means to have the Word of God and how God transmitted it to us and ensured that these are His books.
Now, why do I say ‘God decided’? Now remember I told you; I show you this map now, that nobody in those days had the time nor the authority nor the presence to sit down and tell everybody what to think. There was no Roman Catholic Church, there was no Pope, there was no Presbyterian Council, there was no Methodist, you know, headquarters. There was nothing. There were poor Christians running for their dear lives. The little crosses in a box talks about cities visited by Paul. In other words, in the first century, these are all the places he went to to spread the gospel. It is a huge area that stretches from Jerusalem to Rome, which is the scope of our record in Acts. Okay, so there were Christians all over the Mediterranean world, the Roman Empire, and then the one with the fire, the little symbol of fire - by the way, that's not referring to the Holy Spirit, that's referring to the persecution of Christians with dates. And you can see that there was all these persecution breaking out also across the same map where the gospel had spread. When Christians were persecuted, the chances of them dying was very high, right? The chances of them losing manuscripts are very high. The chances of them losing their parchments, their writings, are very high. What do you think they would guard with their dear lives? Let me give you a clue. It's those writings that they believed is the word of God. Right? I mean, if I'm going to be persecuted and burned at the stake, I choose between my wife's love letter to me and the Word of God. Which one do you think I would like to get burned? I love my wife very much but I think I will hand over the love letter, right? Why? Because the Bible is the one that when transmitted can bring forth the gospel and give people hope of eternity. And that's why I'm living, that’s why I'm dying. I will guard it with my life. And that's what the Christians did. In other words, nobody sat down in this huge organization with all these advisories to run around and say, “This is the Bible. This is the Bible. Let's put it together. Let's put soldiers to guard over it.” Everybody was trying to burn it, destroy it and root out this faith. And the Christians testified to Jesus, gave up their lives for him and guarded the Word of God with their lives. And it happened throughout the Roman Empire.
And so we are seeing what we call the providential hand of God. He's moving in the history of men and the early church in the first 300 years, in spite of all the odds and forces against them. Even though they didn't get to discuss anything for those 300 years, at least not extensively with many different people, and yet, this is the amazing thing. When the persecution finally ended, when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be legalized, there emerged in the fourth century, these five major centers of Christianity, okay? There emerged in the fourth century, these five major centers of Christianity. Today, except for Rome, they're all gone, okay? But in the fourth century, that was a major center in Jerusalem - the Gospel started there, right? Antioch, we read about that in the book of Acts - it became a major center after 300 years of persecution, almost four. Alexandria - St. Augustine, for those of you who read ancient writings, he came from Alexandria. Okay, that is a place of great enlightenment, great knowledge; learning took place in Alexandria. There is Constantinople, that is the Eastern Roman Empire capital, and then there's Rome. Okay, so just now I showed you the map where everybody was scattered, Paul went everywhere to spread the gospel, churches were started everywhere; we saw the blue one, which was the seven churches of Asia, they're quite neat together. But you know, there was a lot happening over a very broad space with no technology, no means of communication but when the Word of God was written and circulated around, Peter could recognize it, Paul could recognize it, the rest of the church could recognize it, and they kept it, they guarded it. And when they could finally come out of this persecution and they met in these five major centers, this is the amazing thing. They all agreed there for all these hundreds of years, the books that they recognized to be the Word of God in the New Testament are the very same 27 books.
Do you understand what God did for us historically? He allowed the people to recognize it wherever they are, wherever they met. Under the tread of their lives and they're running for, you know, their lives, He still let them recognize which are the books and when the time came for them to sit down and talk about it, they all agreed that these 27 books, even though there was no prior discussion, no means of contacting each other, are the 27 books of the New Testament.
And so because of this, Bible scholars give us this conclusion. Okay. “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the church because they were formerly included in a canonical list.” In other words, these five major centers, they didn't come out and sit down together and say, “Eh, you like which one ah? You prefer which one ah?” Then you just add it in. “Oh, okay, good, good we pakat a bit”. No, they didn't get to decide, okay? “The church included these 27 books in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired”. That's why when they came out of the persecution, they merely formalized what was already recognized and acknowledged as the Word of God, because they recognized “their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect”.
Good, this is a very good quote from J.I. Packer in his book, ‘God speaks to men’: “The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity”. Now, this is a very good parallel to understand, alright?
So then he goes on to explain. God gave us gravity, by His work of creation, right? Because He created the world, He created with a law and He gave us a law of gravity. So all that Isaac Newton did was to recognize the law of gravity. Are you with me? Good?
Now, when you come to the Canon of Scripture, the church, the counselors, they did not create the Canon. They had no power to do so. Because if they did then it is still the word of man, not the word of God. God gave us His word when He inspired, when He breathed it out. And through His work of inspiration, He gave us the Scripture. They naturally or supernaturally formed the Canon. So the church merely recognized it. For 300 years, they recognized it even though they didn't talk about it. After over 300 years, when they finally came out of their persecution, they talked about it and they all conquered.
So I come back to this quote. This is a quote by F.F. Bruce, another Bible scholar on the New Testament documents. He said, “The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397. But what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of these communities”. That was what I was trying to explain to you with the maps and with the big centers of Christians and of Christianity. Alright, the councils didn't decide. They merely recognized what was already accepted by the church and formalized it. So some old men didn't sit down and decide what belongs to our New Testament. The church recognized them as they were written, given to us by God, and in spite of all the adversities and odds against it, they continued to recognize these books as being the Word of God. And they finally formalized that recognition in the councils. That is what happened historically.
Okay, so God decided which books are to be included in the New Testament Canon by inspiring these books and the church merely recognized them as such. Are you with me? That is why I said the New Testament is a bit more challenging because don’t have a simple ‘Jesus said they are true’. Okay? You got to understand the historical process and you got to understand the reality of the inspiration of Scripture. If God didn't speak to us, there'll be no New Testament. If God spoke to us through the apostles and the prophets, then these books will be recognized as such, in spite of all the persecution they suffered, and they were eventually recognized.
Okay, now, here's something that can maybe help you and reassure you a little further. Remember, I told you that I'm not here to give you a defense of Scripture. I'm here to help you understand how we have our books of the Bible to strengthen your faith. So that's that was the historical process, which testified to its authenticity.
What criteria were used to recognise and determine the books that belong to the NT Canon?
Here are some criterias. Because you may say, “Eh Pastor, you say they decide; the church and the councils merely recognized. But they still have some rules, right? Some guidelines, right?” Yes, they do have some guidelines. So these are some of the guidelines they used to determine if these 27 books are to be in the New Testament.
So what are some of these guidelines?
1. Is it authoritative? (“Thus saith the Lord”)?
Number one, they ask, “is it authoritative?” If it is the Word of God, there will be that ring of authority and power. Now, this is something that can seem very subjective. But you must remember: if God speaks, there is always a difference than when man speaks. I remember I would meet some friends and they say, “How do you know those are the books in the Bible? Have you read the Gospel of Barnabas?” Have you read the gospel Barnabas? Well, I've never heard the gospel Barnabas, so I was like, “Huh? You mean there's another gospel? Then siao liao lor. Uh how ah? What ah?” So I was kind of like, confused by it and I didn't have any access. Then one day, in a friend's library, I saw the Gospel of Barnabas. Guess what I did? I took it out and I started reading through it. And as I read through, I read about this little boy whom they called Jesus and how he got angry with his friend who bullied him and made him angry and upset and so he called on his power and cursed the boy. I thought, “okay, that's not the Jesus I know in the Bible”. That's the difference. That's the difference. Is it authoritative? The authority of the Scripture is reflected in how it reveals the character of God. Are you with me? You will find that in all the 66 books of the Bible, even though there are questions, there are doubts, there are things you don't understand, you will find everything in there consistent with the character of God, not with the imagination of man. That's why it's authoritative.
2. Is it prophetic (“a man of God” 2 Peter 1:20)?
Number two: is it prophetic? ‘Is it prophetic’ means, is it written by a man of God? Is it written by a prophet? Is it written by an apostle? Is it written by someone who is a close associate of an apostle, like Luke, who traveled much with Paul, or like Mark, who traveled much with Peter, or is a close relative, etc? And later he also engaged with Paul in his gospel journeys. So the question is, is it written by a man of God? Is it prophetic? That's another rule.
3. Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?
Another one is, is it authentic? Is it consistent with other revelations of truth? Or does it present another side that is not accurate, not true?
4. Is it dynamic - demonstrating God’s life-changing power (Hebrew 4:12)?
Is it dynamic, demonstrating God's life changing power?
Now, these are some of the simple rules that the early church fathers used to identify if what they have in their hands is the Word of God. Now, I’m going to ask you, if you have, in your Bibles to turn to this passage because I think it really helps. In 2 Kings chapter 22 - if you don't, no worries, I'll tell the story in brief but I just thought it'd be good if you could refer to it. 2 Kings chapter 22. 2 Kings chapter 22, which gives us a great illustration of this principle, lest you think that we came up with it ourselves. It is actually in the Bible, okay? Is it authoritative? Is it prophetic? Is it authentic? Is it dynamic? Because my position is, it is the Word of God, it reveals the character of God, it carries His power, it carries His dynamics; it will be known as authentic for all those who would worship Him. So in the book of 2 Kings chapter 22 is the story of Josiah who wanted to renovate the temple because he was a God fearing man. And in the process of renovating the temple, they were digging through the pile stuff and they suddenly uncovered what they knew to be the law. Remember, the law is one of the three divisions of the Masoretic text. It is the Bible, it is the Word of God. Now, let's understand the background Josiah for a bit. Josiah, his grandfather is Manasseh. Manasseh was a wicked King who did more wicked things than all the other previous kings of Judah. In other words, he's a man, his grandfather, who denies God and went the extra mile to rebel, disobey, and introduce idolatry in its worst form into the land of Judah. For 50 over years, he reigned as King. So could you imagine the spiritual climate in Judah? But you know, Josiah didn't become king after that. His father, Amnon, became the king next. So his father also was a wicked king. He had no reverence for God and that's why the Bible is still in the temple, buried among piles of other things. So Josiah never heard nor learned of the Bible from his grandfather. He never learned of the Bible from his father. And because these two men are kings, when they reject God, nobody has knowledge of the Bible in the land of Judah for 50 over years. That's why the law is buried in the temple. Are you with me now - the picture? Okay, now, 2 Kings 22 tells us that when the law was uncovered and it was brought to Josiah, Josiah was a man, the Bible tells us, from eight years of age (I don't know how it happened but thank God for his mercy and grace), from eight years of age, he feared God and want to obey God. So his heart is right, okay? The moment he read the law, nobody stood beside him and said, “This is the Bible”. Right? Nobody taught him to revere God's word. Jesus hasn't appeared on the scene and testified that this is the Bible yet. But the moment Josiah read it, the Scripture tells us in 2 Kings 22, he ran his clothes, he wept and he was in great fear because he recognized the authority, the authenticity, the dynamic of the Bible and he worshipped God. That is what happens when you read the Word of God. Why? Because it's from God. Okay? Again, this seems like a circular argument, right? But this was what the early church fathers were looking for. Does it have that kind of power in the life of an individual who is seeking after God?
And you know, the beauty of it is this. You may think it's a circular argument but if you read on in the story, what Josiah did was that he thought, “You know, this is terrible. We are in deep trouble! We have angered God.” So he said, “Now go down the street. Look for the prophetess, Hilda.” Now, it is interesting. There is not a prophet there. Maybe the men are all scared already so only one lady left there to be a prophetess. Okay, go and look for the prophetess and ask her, “what should we do?” Now, when the emissary went to the prophetess Hilda and asked her ‘what are we supposed to do?’, you know what happened? God, the Bible tells us, spoke through the Prophetess and brought word back to Josiah. What is happening here now? God Himself authenticated His Word to Josiah, even though he has never read it before. And this is what we call, up till this day, the weakness of the Holy Spirit. It can happen through the preaching of God's Word on Sunday. It can happen through a conversation with a friend. It can happen even through something you watch on TV. It could happen in a testimony you read. What's going to happen is that when you have a heart that seeks God and fears God, and you read the Word of God, God Himself, authenticates His word to you and you fall on your knees and you say, “this is the truth, I need to repent”. You understand? Why? Why does it happen only when you read the Bible? The answer is simply because this is the Word of God. God will authenticate His Word.
So these are the principles that the Church fathers used to evaluate because they understand this dynamic. They understand that if it is His Word, if it is God's word, God stands behind His word. Okay? If it is the Word of God, God stands behind it - so they looked for these marks.
5. Is it received (accepted and used by believers - 1 Thessalonians 2:13)?
And then the last one is the one that I highlighted to you. Is it received, accepted and used by believers? So you see, just now when I talked to you about the historical evidence, it was just to let you know that hey, no one person decided, no one organization decided; there was no organization anyway. But yet, they all agreed. Why? Because God providentially ensured. But beyond that, there is the internal evidence of the validity and power of God's Word that made the people recognize that this is the Word of God. And that's why they included them into the Canon of Scripture.
How reliable are the New Testament manuscript documents?
So, here's another question I thought would be helpful for all of you. How reliable are the New Testament manuscript documents? Now this is a little beyond the Canon already but I just thought I would throw it in because sometimes people ask, “Okay, fine, I accept the 39 books. I accept the 27 books.” By the way, again, nobody questioned the Masoretic text because the evidence and the manuscripts for it are so overwhelming. You know how fanatical the Jews are? They would literally die. They lived in caves, known as the Qumran caves, just to protect the Word. So nobody questioned the Old Testament manuscript because when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, they found it to match word for word with the Masoretic text, okay? So nobody questioned the Old Testament text evidence. But how about the New Testament? Okay, so you say that these 27 books are the New Testament Canon. How do I know that it is accurate enough? You said just now that there was persecution and people are burning people, they're destroying properties. And by the way, since then, there were continual attempts to burn the Bible. If you go back to the Reformation, there were attempts to destroy the Scriptures, lock it up in churches, etc. So how do we know that we have sufficient manuscript evidence for the New Testament? So let me show you this table. This is a comparison of ancient writings to the New Testament. And if you look at this table very carefully, you will notice that there is a clear winner beyond the shadow of doubt with the New Testament. The New Testament has 24,000 manuscripts. The closest to it in the second place is Homer (Iliad). They only have 643 manuscripts. So if you believe in any of the history books you read, whether in the West or in the East, and believe that this person really existed because there were some manuscripts. For example, you believe that there is a Caesar or Plato, you study him in philosophy, then well, the bad news is, you know, there are only 10 manuscripts on Caesar but you believe that he exists in history. When you talk about Jesus and the epistles, there are 24,000 manuscripts. So this is the visual comparison. The yellow dot forms the size of the 24,000 manuscripts. Do you notice that the closest second runner-up is Homer and easily, if the big round circle shifts a bit, it will eclipse all the other ancient manuscripts? So, what am I telling you here? I'm telling you here that there is no doubt that God preserved His word for us. There is no competition. If you cannot accept the testimony and the manuscripts of the New Testament, you basically cannot accept any historical record in the world because there's nothing better preserved than the New Testament manuscripts. Nothing. Nothing can even come close. You can have at most a few hundred copies but you can't compare with the New Testament. So if you want to be skeptical about the New Testament, you basically have to be skeptical about everyone who existed in history. Is there a Confucius? Well, let's look at the manuscript evidence. How do you know? Is there, you know, Alexander the Great? Well, my school teacher told me. What is the manuscript evidence? So in other words, when you want to really compare and contrast, and you reject the New Testament, you basically have to reject everything else in the history of the world. Because their manuscript evidence is far weaker than the New Testament.
Alright, so, the fact of the many documents plus the fact that many of the New Testament documents are very early - how early? Hundreds of parchment copies from the fourth and fifth centuries with some seventy-five papyri fragments dating from A.D. 135 to the eighth century. Why is it that early manuscripts are important? Early manuscripts are important because it means that the chances of people fabricating a story is much lower. Right? If that piece of news is written in this year and the incident happened last year, people are still alive to verify whether there is such a street, whether there is such a person living in the neighborhood, and whether such a crime or incident happened because people are still alive. 50 years later, we can still verify. That is why people go and study, right? 100 years later, it gets a bit harder. 200 years later, you can write mythology. 300 years later, Superman can appear. Nobody can say yes or no. But you see, the New Testament manuscripts date back so early to the history of the Christian church, to the spread of the gospel, to the crucifixion of Jesus, that the chances of fabrication is extremely low. That is the kind of evidence we stand on when we hold our Bible in our hands.
Now, here's a last bit I throw in just for all of you because you have been such great listeners. So you may be asking this question which is often asked. If you have not been asking this question, you may come across it one day. The question is, “What about the Apocrypha?” Okay, what about the Apocrypha? What is the Apocrypha in the first place? The Apocrypha are those books that are found, simply put, in the Catholic Bible. Okay? The Apocrypha are the books found in the Catholic Bible. These books are 15 books written in the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew. Okay? They record some of the history of that time period and various other religious stories and teaching. So yes, other writings are being recorded and preserved. They don't have the same amount of manuscript evidence and they are not recognized as scripture. They do exist and they are like good Christian literature today. So people do write books, they get kept, they are useful but they are not the Bible. Then why is it that the Catholics claim that this is the Bible? Okay. Now, I'm not here to beat down other religions but I just want to show you some facts so that you can understand.
The Catholic Bible (Douay Version) regards these books as scripture. The Apocrypha includes some specific Catholic doctrines, such as purgatory and prayer for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:39-46), and salvation by works (almsgiving - Tobit 12:9). So obviously, what this Apocryphal books record supports some of the teachings that Catholics hold to that Christian churches today do not. So who's right, who's wrong? How can we tell? Let's look at some facts. Interestingly, the Catholic Church officially recognized these books as scripture in AD 1546, only 29 years after Martin Luther criticized these doctrines as unbiblical. In other words, the Jews never recognized the Apocrypha as part of Scripture. The early church never died for them if they have in their possession because they don't consider this to be part of Scripture. Even after they emerged from persecution and became legalized and had the freedom under the Roman Empire to worship, they also didn't recognize these books as part of Scripture. But when Martin Luther broke forth from the Reformation, criticized purgatory, prayer for the dead, etc., then the Catholic Church used the power of its council to officially endorse the Apocrypha as part of the Canon of Scripture. So do you notice that the process for the Apocrypha and for the New Testament Canon is very different? In AD 393, in the council of Carthage where the Canon was closed, they merely recognized what everybody accepted. But when it came to the Apocrypha, it was the Catholic council who decided for everyone what is in Scripture. And that is why we do not accept the Apocrypha. Okay, now, here are some other reasons. Four additional reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha as part of the Word of God.
Number one, the Jews never accepted the Apocrypha. Jesus never referred to it and never endorsed it. I think that's enough, actually, for us as Christians, because they were written by that by the time he arrived on the scene.
Number two, the Apocrypha itself never claimed to be inspired. Okay? They didn't claim to be inspired, not like some verses of scripture you see in the New Testament.
Number three, the Apocrypha is never quoted as authoritative in scriptures. The New Testament never quoted the Apocrypha. They may allude to some of the stories because they're simply historical accounts, but it never quoted it as scripture. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus implied that the close of the Old Testament historical scripture was the death of Zechariah (400 B.C.). That's an implication. This excludes any books written after Malachi and before the New Testament. So, all these books were in the period of silence and Jesus suggested, implied, that there is no inspiration of scripture in that time. So this is the reason why although the Catholic Church endorsed the Apocrypha as part of Scripture, the Christian Bible does not. Okay, so that may answer some of the questions you may have just to strengthen your own faith. I'm not giving out this information just so that you can fight with your Catholic friends, okay? So please love them, share the gospel with them, okay? Show them that Jesus is real in your life by your words and deeds, and not go back and go and beat them over the head that the Apocrypha is not the Bible. That's not the point. But it is to let you know, dear Christians, that you're not missing out on anything. Okay? If you're keen, be my guest, go read Tobits, go read Maccabees, go read it - it won't kill you. You just find out for yourself whether it has the same ring of authority and whether it has the same power as the rest of the Canon of Scripture.
We can have confidence!
So in conclusion, what do I want to tell you? I want to tell you that we can have confidence that the God who purposed to inspire his scriptures (that is to breathe it out to us; that's what He chose to do, right?) has also the power to preserve his Bible through all the persecution, through all the centuries of time, through the masoretes, through the scribes, through the councils and all, as well as the passion (and this is our topic today) to ensure that the Canon of Scripture is indeed His Word to us. And that's my whole point to all of you. Although I don't have a verse of scripture to tell you that this Canon is true, we just have to base it on faith, that if God gave us His word and has the power to preserve His word, He didn't lao hong or lose steam when it came to including the right books in His Canon and said, “Aiya, you all go and take care of it yourself la. I finished my job ready.” No, He ensured, through the centuries of time, that we have the Word of God.
So, the internal (which is within the scriptural text, the dynamicity, the authority, the prophetic quality of the Scripture) and the external evidence (testimonies from people like Jesus and early church fathers - I didn't go into details of the early church fathers’ testimonies because that would be too long; alright, historical - I showed you how it developed over time; and the manuscript evidence - tens of thousands of it) give us factual (this is not just based on faith alone), reasonable grounds for our confidence that we do have the Word of God in the 66 books of our Bible today.
Alright, so Christians, I hope that after today's session, even if you don’t understand much of what I explained to you (very cheem, right?), I hope you can go with the confidence, you know, that we have the Bible. No worries, you have the Word of God. Okay? And if you have any other questions, anything you are still unclear about, you can still always come forward after the session and check with me. I'll be happy to answer your queries.
Shall we all rise and I will now close our time in prayer? It is 2:30 pm. Our Father in heaven, we thank you so much for everyone who gathered. A lot of information, I understand, and not all of it is easy to absorb because there are a lot of different paradigms and perspectives in order to understand what's going on when the 66 books are added to the Canon of Scripture. But help us to realize that it is not man who decided. It is You who decided, and You decided the moment You breathed out Your word to us, that Your church, Your people, will recognize that You have given us Your word. And we thank You for faithful men through the centuries who have given their lives to protect, to preserve, to hand down to us, all these evidences, so that today we can have the Word of God in our hands and we can boldly and confidently base our lives on the truth within its pages and proclaim the gospel out of its revelation. We thank you so much. We pray that You will give us great confidence to pursue You and to read Your word with pleasure, delight and gratitude, because of how You have loved us to give us Your word and how men and women through the centuries have given their lives to hand to us the Word of God that we may know the God of the word. We ask all these now in Jesus’ name, amen.
Hey, thanks for watching. We hope it has been a blessing. For more of such content, do check out our website and our YouTube channel and do subscribe for weekly updates. May God bless you.
More Episodes from Pastor Chee Keen Seethor:
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30 Mar 2018
24 Dec 2017
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