Exodus 31:18 "When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God."
What is meant by the term "canon"
When we talk about the canon or canonicity of scripture, of what do we speak? Dr. Wayne Grudem defines the term canon or canon of Scripture as: "The canon of scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible".1 Grudem goes onto say later: "The precise determination of the extent of the canon of Scripture is therefore of utmost importance. If we trust and obey God absolutely we must have a collection of words that we are certain are God's own words to us. If there are any sections of Scripture about which we have doubts whether they are God's words or not, we will not consider them to have absolute Divine authority and we will not trust them as much as we would trust God Himself."2
Another scholar, Dr. Norman Geisler, states: "The first link in the chain of revelation "From God to Us" is inspiration, which concerns what God did, namely, that He breathed out (spirated) the Scriptures. The second link in the chain is canonization, which relates to the question of which books God inspired. Inspiration indicates how the Bible received its authority, whereas canonization tells how the Bible received its acceptance. It is one thing for God to give the scriptures their authority, and quite another for men to recognize that authority."3
With the above thoughts in mind, I would like to explore today why we need the Canon of the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps this is something you have never thought of or have taken for granted. However there are specific reasons why we must continue to stand by the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament, otherwise known as "The Canon". So why does Christianity need to the Canon of scripture?
We need the Canon of scripture to proclaim the Gospel
As Christian people we need to have an absolute standard by which know which God is the true God, the salvation He offers, to understand the world in which we live, the lives we are to practice, the eternity which awaits and how to know where we will go once we live this world. The question of knowing what the authority is and determining its contents, boundaries and applications are all covered under the issue of the canon of scripture.
How we know whether or not we are proclaiming the Gospel as it is supposed to be proclaimed is perhaps the most important issue when describing why we need to know which books are canonical, and which are not. For example, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." Which writings or scriptures I preach from is vital. Why? Because if I preach from the wrong books (like the Quran or the Book of Mormon), then I preach a different Gospel and Jesus. So we need the Canon of Scripture to preach the right Gospel, but notice a second related point...
We need the Canon of scripture to discern truth from error
Why did I make mention to the Quran and the Book of Mormon a moment ago? Consider what Paul writes in Galatians 1:8 "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" Mormonism and Islam claim to be revealed religions whose founders received alleged angelic messages (Muhummad and the Quranic Gabriel and Joseph Smith and the Mormon angel Moroni). Those books present a completely different message and Jesus that is non-saving, and thus a different Gospel. There is a reason why historic Bible believing Christianity deems both those books to be non-canonical, because they are non-inspired. They do not portray the same Jesus and salvation of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. Therefore Christianity needs the Canon of scripture to proclaim the Gospel rightly and to discern truth from error, but notice thirdly...
The canon of scripture is needed for authority in practical everyday life
In our Christian life and growth we essentially have different types of authority, with only one being the absolute authority above all others: experience, tradition, reason and scripture.
A norm called experience
Experience is important because by experience do we accumulate understanding in the realm of responses and behavior. However experience and levels of understanding gained from it varies from person to person. Whenever we attempt to equate experience with scripture, we run the danger of reducing Christianity to paganism. Experience by itself is inadequate and requires the absolute norm of scripture to judge and measure its conclusions.
A norm called reason
Reason is vital to making decisions, weighing facts and thinking through arguments and situations. However reason by itself needs experience or something outside source to validate its conclusions. Faith and reason are not enemies, but brothers, with faith being the bigger of the two. Though Christianity asserts salvation by grace through faith alone apart from reason, nonetheless we are saved by a faith that is most reasonable. To place reason above scripture divests the Christian faith of its supernatural power and character.
A norm called tradition
Tradition refers to the historical ways of doing things that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Tradition can include such things as creeds, confessions, doctrinal statements, denominational distinctives and the like. If a large segment of the Christian church is doing a particular practice it believes to correspond to reason, experience and ultimately scripture, on the one hand that tradition can oftentimes be more reliable than any individual assumptions. However traditions are subject to error and need an outside source that is not just man centered, but God sourced. If a tradition attempts to bind the conscience or compel the individual to violate his or her conscience, the tradition must be set aside or rejected out of hand in favor of the scripture, which alone can shape and mold the Christian's conscience.
The one true norm or standard that regulates the other three - scripture
Whenever we say that the Bible alone is the Christian's standard or "norm" of faith, practice, life and eternity, we are not excluding the role of tradition, reason and experience. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 itself states: "Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God. Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice." 3
With that said the BFM 2000 goes on: "It (The Bible) reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried." 4
In today's post I wanted to lay out practical reasons why we need to uphold the Canon of the 66 books of our Bible. In other words: why does Christianity need the Canon of Scripture? We saw three reasons:
A. We need to know what the Canon is to proclaim the Gospel rightly
B. We need to know the Canon of scripture to discern truth from error
C. We need to know the Canon of scripture to have authority for Godly, daily living
1. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zondervan. 1994. Page 54.
2. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zondervan. 1994. Page 54.
3. Norman Geisler and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 1986. Page 203.