Saturday, February 28, 2015

P17-Why the Bible has 66 Books and no lost books - Understanding the so-called "lost books" & "lost gospels"

Matthew 5:18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.


This current series of posts is dedicated to introducing the reader to various subjects related to the significance, authority and history of the Bible. The question or phrase "why the Bible" is at the heart of this series and it is hoped that the reader has been not only informed but perhaps had developed a greater appreciation for the Bible as God's Word. In yesterday's post we dealt with the subject of the Apocrypha and their relationship to the 66 books of the Bible. Today we will briefly focus on another collection of books that some people mistakenly call "the lost books of the Bible" but are in the technical literature of Old and New Testament studies referred to as the "Pseudepigrapha" (meaning false writings). More will be said of these terms in a moment. 

Why the so-called "Lost Books of the Bible" are not lost books of the Bible
I remember when I first became a Christian I had a relative who had also converted at about the same time as myself. One day my family and I went to his home for a visit, and I noticed a curiously titled book in his collection called "The Lost Books of the Bible". As I began to thumb through that volume, I ran into "The Book of Adam and Eve" and the "Book of Abraham" and other books supposedly written by famous biblical characters.

It must be remembered: not one inspired Book of the Bible has ever been lost
Some people today are saying that there are other books other than the 66 books that should had made it into our Bibles. Has all the books that God the Holy Spirit inspired made it into the Bible? Are there "lost books" of the Bible? It will be the contention of this blog that due to the nature of these "so-called" lost books, the dates of their composition and their corrupt theology, that we can confidently say that not one inspired book of the Bible has ever been lost. After all, its hard to have so-called "lost books" that  were neither ever lost nor part of the canonical, inspired 66 books of the Bible from the beginning.

What are these "so-called" Lost Books of the Bible
We saw yesterday that in the time period between the Old and New Testaments, the Jewish people began to write non-inspired devotional and historical works that collectively are called "The Apocrypha". As one digs more into what the Jewish people were thinking during that time, many curious questions were being asked. Many folks speculated about details not spoken of in the Bible. Thus between 200 B.C to almost 200 A.D the Jews composed a collection of Books under the assumed names of Biblical people.

In the scholarly community the "Lost Books" of the Bible are known by the weird name "Pseude-pigrapha" (soo-de-pi-grafa), meaning "false-writings". Much like the Apocrypha, this collection of writings were immedately rejected as non-inspired. The number of these books number in the dozens, and below some of their names are mentioned for reference:
1. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (supposed writings by Jacob's Twelve Sons)

2. The Books of Adam, Eve and Noah (Alleged records written by Adam, Eve and Noah)

3. The Book of Enoch (A long book recording the supposed revelations of the pre-flood prophet Enoch)

4. The Book of Abraham (you guessed it, supposedly written by Abraham)

These books were in a sense, the fiction of their day. Though this may be a poor analogy, it serves to illustrate how the Jewish people may had regarded these works. People were speculating about things in the Bible that they did not understand. What these Pseudo-pigrapha did was to fill in a curiosity gap and an entertainment gap. But even more-so, the people of God had not heard a fresh revelation for 400 years. Thus they began to write these books in an attempt to deal with the pain of God's silence. Unfortunately, by assuming the names of Biblical characters, the Pseudo-pigrapha were written under false pretenses.

Though popular in their day, these books were never regarded as inspired by God
By the days of Jesus, the Jews would had been well aware of the existence of these books (much like today's New York Times Best Sellers or popular Christian Authors). However the doctrines being communicated by these books was even more radical than that of the Apocrypha. The extreme figurative language and at times non-sensical nature of these books made it easy to see their counterfeit nature. Furthermore, these books as a collection taught for instance that angels were not just merely created beings, but in some cases could do similar things to God. Also too, claiming to be written by biblical characters, when it was clear in many cases that they were not, demonstrates a lack of regard for the scriptures.

A quick word on the supposed "lost gospels" or New Testament Pseudepigrapha
From time to time the reader may hear in the news the supposed discovery of a "new gospel" that never made it into our New Testaments. In part we have mentioned the Gnostics and some of the writings they produced in the century following the passing of the apostles in the first century. Early church fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons (180 A.D) made a catalogue of these false Gospels that were circulating around the Medditeranean world (such as the Gospel of Phillip, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas, etc). Consequently, these writings are sometimes also called "Pseudepigrapha due to their use of famous names of Apostles by their otherwise anonymous writers. I won't take the time here to detail these works but only mention them to alert the reader to the fact that these writings are not "new" (they have been known from the early days of the church) nor are they Gospels (they have no "good news" of salvation, only philosophical musings of the Gnostics). 

Why there are no "Lost Books of the Bible", just more books of men
As Jesus said in the opening verse of today's post, not one word of God will ever pass away. Not only did God the Holy Spirit work with the 40 human authors of scripture to produce each and every Bible book, He also guaranteed that not one would be lost. If we were to unearth an alleged book today written by The Apostle Paul, Peter or the Prophet Isaiah, we could say with utmost confidence that the book would be non-inspired. Why? Because God had fixed the number of books He chose to inspire, as well as the time periods in which they were written (Hebrews 1:1-2) God has even guaranteed His people that with the sending of the Holy Spirit, they would have the guidance they need to discern what is the truth of God versus the words of men. (John 16:13) Psalm 119:89 tells us plainly: "Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven." There are no "lost books of the Bible", whether we are talking about the works written in between the testaments or the Gnostic literature passing itself off as so-called "gospels". There are the books of God (i.e the 66 books of the Bible) and then there are books of men (The Pseudipigrapha, Apocrypha and any other piece of religious literature). May we be discerning as we answer the question: "Why the 66 books of the Bible?" with the affirmation: "because they alone are God's Word(s)". 

Friday, February 27, 2015

P16 Why the Bible has 66 books: Defining and understanding the Apocrypha

Revelation 22:18 "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book"

Introduction and review
Yesterday we considered the history of the canon of scripture and aimed to answer the question why the Bible has only 66 books. The main focus was more on the New Testament than the Old Testament. In today's post we want to consider a set of books that were originally written by the Jews in between the Old and New Testament eras called "The Apocrypha". As will be explained in a moment, much confusion and differences of opinion have ranged throughout the history of these books. To make it as simple as possible, though the "Apocrypha" were respected, they were never considered inspired books of the Old Testament nor considered part of the overall canon of scripture until relatively recently in church history. Today in our continuing series: "Why the Bible", we want to take a closer look at these 14 books called "The Apocrypha".

What are the Apocrypha?
When Malachi penned his book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, 400 years passed until God would once again speak a word to men like Matthew to pen inspired scripture.  In between the ending of Malachi and beginning of Matthew, history saw the rise and fall of four major world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  During that period, the Jews wrote 15 non-inspired books of history and devotional reflection that are referred to today as "The Apocrypha".  

The word "Apocrypha" means "that which is hidden" or "concealed".  You have perhaps heard about them or have seen them in an edition of the Roman Catholic Bible (Douay-Rheims, New American Bible) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  For reference sake, the Apocrypha are as follows:

1. 1st Esdras

2. 2nd Esdras 

3. Tobit (a fictional account of a Jewish man by the name of Tobit)

4. Judith (an alledged addition to the Book of Daniel)

5. Bel and the Dragon (an alleged addition to the Book of Daniel)

6. The Song of the Three Holy Children (an alleged addtion to the Book of Daniel)

7. Additions to Esther (supposed extra verses for the biblical book of Esther)

8. Susanna

9. 1 Macabbees (historical record of the Jewish opposition to Rome)

10. 2 Macabbees (reflections on Jewish opposition to Rome)

11. Prayer of Mannasseh (supposed prayer of repentance prayed by the biblical King Mannasseh)

12. Wisdom of Solomon (also called Sirach)

13. Book of Baruch (an alledged addition to Jeremiah)

14. Ecclesiasticus (a Jewish Philsophical work trying to prove the Jewish faith from reason)

15. Letter of Jeremiah (normally attached as "chapter six" in the Book of Baruch, #13 above). 

Evaluating the value and place of the Apocrypha
Just as you would walk into a book store and find many non-inspired books reflecting on the contents of scripture or giving a history of the church, the Apocrypha functioned in much the same way for the Jewish people. In terms of understanding what went on between the testaments, the Apocrypha can provide some valuable insights into Jewish beliefs and history. 

As a collection, these 14 books were never regarded by the Jews as equal or inspired to the Old Testament Books.   Whenever one turns to a copy of the Hebrew Bible, none of the Apocrypha will be found. Even though we do see these books in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint), even then the Apocrypha never enjoyed the same level of status as the 39 Old Testament books we find in our English Bibles. In as much as the Apocrypha may had been respected and seen as valuable, they were never considered sacred scripture. As one reviews the history of these 14 books, it is evident as to why they cannot be deemed as inspired scripture like the 66 books of the Bible.

How did the Apocrypha end up in some Bibles?

The Apocrypha, though respected, yet were never originally acknowledged by the Jews and the first few centuries of the early Church as inspired scripture
Jewish Historians such as Josephus in his work "Antiquities of the Jews" and the Greek speaking Jew "Philo" both refer to the Old Testament in their writings.  Josephus in particular writes about how the Old Testament books were recognized, accepted and in full use before the close of the Old Testament.  In his work, there are listed the documents of the Old Testament that are found in our English Bibles. Interestingly Josephus does not mention the apocrypha, reflecting the widely held Jewish view of the non-inspired nature of the Apocrypha. 

As already mentioned, the early church also had this same general opinion.  Documents such as the Muritorian Canon (composed over 100 years after the death of the Apostles) and the work "The History of the Church" by the church father "Eusebius" (written in the 300's A.D) mention the books of the Old and New Testament as being inspired.  Yet the Apocrypha are not included in those lists.  The reason why the church came to this conclusion is mainly because we never see the Apocrypha quoted as scripture by the Apostles in the New Testament. 

The world's first Bible translation included the Apocrypha due to their popular use
As the Jewish people came to speak the Greek language in the time between the testaments, the need arose for a Greek translation of the Old Testament.  The project of translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek occured from 275 b.c up until almost the time when Jesus came on the scene.   The Hebrew Bible continued to be copied and interpreted by the Jewish Rabbi's (Teachers) and Scribes (people who hand-copy manuscripts), however the vast majority of the Jewish world came to use the Septuagint.  The Apocrypha, though not being recognized as inspired scripture, were included in the Greek Old Testament due to their wide use by the Jews. It would not be until nearly 400 years into the history of the church that the opinion toward the Apocrypha began to shift. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter Elwell, notes the following about the Apocrypha:

"How did the Apocrypha secure a place in some of the English Bibles? The Jews uniformly denied canonical status to these books, and so they were not found in the Hebrew Bible; but the manuscripts of the Septuagint include them as an addendum to the canonical OT. In the second century A.D., the first Latin Bibles were translated from the Greek Bible and so included the Apocrypha. Jerome's Vulgate distinguished the books of the church (i.e the Apocrphya) from the books of the Canon (i.e our familiar 66 books), with the result that the Apocrypha were accorded secondary status. At the council of Carthage (397), however, which Augustine attended, it was decided to accept the Apocrypha, accepting 1-2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses, as having unqualified canonical status."  

The Roman Catholic Church's continued use and gradual elevation of the Apocrypha
By the 400's A.D the church in the Western Roman Empire was speaking more Latin and less Greek.  A man by the name of Jerome translated the Old and New Testament into the Latin Version known as the Vulgate.  It would be this Bible that would be used by the Roman Catholic Church for the next 1,000 years.  Though Jerome in his writings never acknowledged the Apocrypha as inspired, they were included in his version due to their wide use.  A few in the church of the Middle Ages tried to push for Apocrypha as being on par with the canonical 66 books, however that decision by the Roman Catholic Church would not become official Church Doctrine until the 16th century (see below). The Roman Catholic Church would gradually come to value the Apocrypha more and more over the centuries as it saw the need to justify some of its beliefs not taught in the inspired books of the Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church deems the Apocrypha as equal to scripture in the 1500's
By the days of the sixteenth century (1500's), Martin Luther and others were calling for spiritual, moral and doctrinal reform in the Roman Catholic church.  In partial response to the Reformation movement, the Roman Catholic Church needed a way to defend doctrines that it knew were not in the Bible.  Since they already had been using the Apocrypha, the church convened a series of meetings called collectively "The Council of Trent" from 1545-1563. Among the many subjects discussed, the choice was made to adopt the Apocrypha officially as on equal par with the canonical 66 books of the Bible. Even in modern day editions of Roman Catholic Bibles, these books will be called "Deutero-canonical", meaning "second canon". The Roman Catholic Church as a rule does not term these books "Apocrypha", since they are accorded by them with equal status as the other 66 books.

Why the Apocrypha are not included in many Modern Non-Catholic English Bibles
After the Council of Trent was done, events transpired that led to the Church in England breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church, under the leading of King Henry VIII.  The Church of England, known as the Anglican Church, retained the Apocrypha in the various English translations, including the 1611 King James Bible.  In all editions of the King James Bible, the Apocrypha were inserted in between Malachi and Matthew until the 1700's.  By influence of the Reformation, Christian leaders, especially in America, recognized the original position of the early Christians and Jews, and from the 1800's onward, no edition of the King James Bible included the Apocrypha.  

In 1881 English Scholars did the English translation known as the "Authorized Standard Version".  This version, as well as most English versions produced today (other than Catholic Bibles and the New Revised Standard Version), do not include the Apocrypha. 

Pro's and con's about the Apocrypha
So how is the Bible believing Christian to regard the Apocrypha? To be as fair as possible, some of the books, such as 1 Macabbees, are valuable historical records of what the Jews were dealing with between the Old and New Testaments.  With that said, we must note at this point that even the authors of the Apocryphal books did not view their works as inspired scripture. For example, 1 Macabees 9:27 reminds us that there was no word from God in the times following Malachi, thus showing how the Apocryphal writers themselves viewed what they were doing - namely non-inspired work.  

The theology of the Apocrypha is in some places contrary to revealed scripture. For instance, in one of the books called "Tobit", salvation by works is clearly taught. Though there maybe some valuable historical and even at times devotional insight, yet the Apocrypha as a collection are uneven in their usefulness, and must be used with caution if they are consulted.  

Final thoughts: Focus on the 66 books revealed by God
To know what is authoritative for living the Christian life is crucially important for growing in Christ.  1 Peter 2:1-2 reminds us to crave the pure milk of the word, so that we may grow in our faith.  Knowing which books are inspired is important, since only by the written Word of God can anyone be converted to saving faith and grow in Christ. As we have labored again and again in this series of posts, only the 66 books of the Bible are revealed by God, and thus profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) My prayer is that you, dear reader, have found today's blog helpful in understanding the value of knowing God's word, the 66 inspired books.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

P15 Why the Bible has 66 books - the question of the canon

Proverbs 30:6 "Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar."

Revelation 22:18 "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book."

In this series we have entitled: "Why the Bible", the attempt has been made to introduce the reader to virtually every major subject and question raised about the Bible. In this series we have explored why the Bible is authoritative and trustworthy, as well as why the Bible is inspired and inerrant. In this series we have considered why the Bible is the basis for preaching and most recently, why the Bible alone is worthy of the title: "Word of God". 

Today's post considers a subject that is vital in any discussion about the Bible - namely the issue of canonicity. When we talk about the "canon of scripture", we're not talking about armaments used in physical warfare (however one could say the Biblical books are God's "canon" so-to-speak in fighting the Christian's spiritual warfare, see 2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Strictly speaking, the term "canon" comes from a word meaning "standard", "measuring rod" or "measuring stick". To say that the Bible is composed of "canonical writings" simply means that the 66 books, and no other set, constitute the "standard" or "measuring rod" of God's truth. The 66 books that are in our English Bibles (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament) are considered as a collection the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God. 

People who tried to "add" to God's Word or replace it
Throughout the history of the church there have been groups inside the church, as well as outside, who attempted to "add" to these 66. One group, called the "Gnostics", lived and taught in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (100-200 years after Jesus and the Apostles). We won't go into all the details surrounding what the Gnostics taught, but suffice it to say, they combined elements of pagan thought, Jewish mysticism, a smattering of Greek philosophy and vestiages of Christianity in their worldview. Awareness of the Gnostics' attempts to attack early Christianity and the scriptures is an important piece to the fascinating story behind the canon of scripture. To spread their heresies, the Gnostics devised the clever strategy of attaching names of apostles or prophets to their writings and thus passing them off as genuine writings. More will be said about the Gnostics in a little bit. 

The question about canonicity aids in understanding whether or not there were so-called "lost books" of the Bible
Were there extra books or "lost books" that didn't "make the cut" so-to-speak? Before we go any further to address that question, the first matter of importance is to understand the true history behind how the Old and New Testament books came to be regarded as God's Divine collection of books and thus, the Bible.  By understanding the story behind how the books of the Bible ended up being the Bible books, the reader will be better informed in discerning what is often said about the Bible's history.

So why does the Bible only have 66 books? A quick history about the canon of scripture

1. The truth about the development of the New Testament Canon
So did the early church wait nearly 300 years to pick its own books for the New Testament to the exclusion of the Gnostic gospels? When we read history and the Bible, we discover that canonicity was not something that the church decided to make up to suit its own political interests. Norman Geisler, an evangelical scholar writes in his book (co-edited with William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible):

Inspiration determines canonicity. If a book was authoritative, it was so because God breathed it and made it so. How a book receives authority, then, is determined by God. How men recognize that authority is another matter altogether (see discussion in chap.13 ). As J. I. Packer notes, “The Church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by His work of creation, and similarly He gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up.” [1]

Since the New Testament books were immediately recognized by God’s people within or shortly after the apostolic age, then from a historical standpoint, the early church was already using many of the Books of the Bible even before the apostles died out. 

2. The earliest records that bear witness to the development of the New Testament Canon
Church historian Everett Harrison cites the letters of Paul, Peter and John as the first immediate evidence of the early church’s recognition of the inspired texts of those apostles.[2]
With all of these New Testament texts dated between 50-90 A.D by even the most hardened critics, we can safely acknowledge that recognition of what constituted inspired text was a first act of the apostolic church.

In fact the churches established by the apostles constituted the criteria by which the church recognized the number of books and the type of books as authoritative witnesses of the words of God. Harrison notes three tests used by the early church in determining which books were canonical:[3]

a). Was it of apostolic origin or authority?
b). Was it received by the earliest churches and in use?
c). Was it consistent with the teaching of the already established norm of the Old Testament?”

3. Questions surrounding the exact numbers of the books
With the early church already acknowledging each of the New Testament books as individually inspired, the next step would involve recognizing the gospels and epistles in their respective groupings as canonical, with the end result being the entirety of our 27 book N.T. Many within the world of liberal, critical scholarship claim that the N.T Canon was invented or put together in 325 A.D at the Council of Nicaea under the watchful eye of Emperor Constantine. Yet testimony from the early church fathers and early lists of New Testament books state otherwise.

a). Papias was a student of Polycarp, who in turn had been a student of the apostle John. Eusebias, the first church historian, notes that Papias acknowledged the authority of the four gospels as early as 135 A.D, only 40 years after the apostolic age.

b). As already mentioned, Polycarp, Papias mentor, had been himself a student of the apostle John. Polycarp in his book entitled “First Apology” asserts the authority of the four gospels and Pauline epistles while sharply distinguishing them from the then popular but apocryphal books of “The Shepherd of Hermas” and “Apocalypse of Peter”.[5]  Polycarp is dated 115 A.D, some 25 years after the close of the apostolic age.

c). Ireneus, Bishop of Lyons, wrote his work “Against Heresies” to record and critique the growing Gnostic threat that was attempting to undermine the orthodox, Bible believing church of his day. Irenaeus not only mentions almost all of the 27 books of the New Testament, but effectively denounces all of the Gnostic gospels. Iranaeus wrote his work in 180 A.D, some 85 years after the apostolic age.

d). The Muratorian Fragment, the earliest list we have of the New Testament books outside the apostolic era, can be dated to 170 A.D. In it we have almost a complete record of all the New Testament books except two. This canonical list represents a good portion of the early church’s opinion of what constituted the New Testament.

4. The length of time it took for the early church to acknowledge the New Testament Canon?
Overall we could quote well over a dozen more church fathers that lived and wrote prior to 200 A.D. The point is that even though the Gnostic gospels had begun to be written by 150 A.D, yet we have ample testimony that some 30 to 40 years previous to their existence, the 27 book New Testament that we have today was in one way or another already established. P.R Ackroyd, a New Testament scholar writes:[6]
“While there was some considerable dispute over some of the N.T books, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 2nd century (150 A.D).”

Thus despite the claims of radical critics of the Bible like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman (two authors who have written material attempting to discredit the Bible and its history), the New Testament canon as we know it was well on its way by 150 A.D. By the time we arrive in the fourth century, various church fathers (like Athanasius of Alexandria) and certain church councils (Hippo in 393 A.D and Carthage in 397 A.D) did nothing more than affirm what was already generally acknowledged by all Christians everywhere – namely the canonicity of the 27 New Testament Books.

5. Constructing a Timeline for history’s account of the story of the N.T canon
With the major evidence for the development of the N.T Canon considered, it is now time to see how all of this evidence lays out in a time line. This timeline gives a three part account of how our New Testament came to be recognized as the canon.

 Part 1: Apostles, Post-Apostolic/Pre-Nicaean Church Fathers 
 1 & 2 Peter 3:14-16 & 1 Timothy 5:18 mention the early Christian's recognition of the agood portion of the New Testament books well within the days of the Apostles or about three-quarters of the way through the 1st century. The Muratorian Canon (170 A.D) mentions every New Testament book but three, indicating that the early church within a century after the passing of the Apostle John. By 200 A.D. the Latin church father Tertullian states his refusal to use any other gospels other than the four. This indicates his awareness of the Gnostic Gospels and the early Christians' immediate rejection of them.

50 -----100 A.D-------------------------150 A.D----------------200 A.D------------>>

Epistle of Barnabas (120 A.D), Papias (120 A.D), Irenaeus (180 A.D) quote or refer to almost all the 27 New Testament books.                

Part 2: Nicean and Post-Nicean Church Fathers (Nicaea refers to Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D)

<<-----300A.D-------------------------------------------------400 A.D

Athanasius “Festal Letter” Council of Carthage listing all 27 books 367 A.D recognizes canon

Part Three: Ancient New Testament Translations that testify of the recognition of the 27 N.T Books as being Canonical
Ancient translations Athanasius “Festal Letter” Council of Carthage of Greek originals listing all 27 books 367 A.D recognizes canon N.T writings (Itala, for whole church 397 Syriac, Coptic) verify unanimity of 27 books from 200-300 A.D

200 A.D-----------300 A.D-----------350 A.D------------------------400 A.D

Church is being persecuted. Council of Hippo agrees on 27 books 393 A.D, reaffirming what church generally had believed since shortly after the days of the Apostles.

The above chart gives a realistic picture to the development of the canon. The problem among radical critics of the Bible today is their purposeful disregard of the testimony of history. No greater New Testament scholar than Kurt Aland has commented on this error of judgment among modern New Testament scholarship:
“These insights gained from the history of the canon are fundamental and of vital significance for the history of the text – New Testament textual criticism has traditionally neglected the findings of early church history, but only to its own detriment, because the transmission of the N.T text is certainly an integral part of that history”.[7]
Closing thoughts
Today's post aimed to introduce the issues surrounding the canonicity of the Bible and how the books we have in our Bible's today were immediately recognized for what they were - the Word(s) of God. It must be remembered that the church did not create the Bible, but the scriptures the church. To God be the glory!

[1] Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. 1996, c1989. A General Introduction to the Bible. Includes a short-title checklist of English translations of the Bible
[2] Harrison, Everett. Introduction to the New Testament.
He cites 1 Thess 5:27, Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; and passages throughout the Book of Revelation as evidence for there being at least a beginning point of a formation of the Canon.
[3] Ibid. 104-106
[4] Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church.
[5] McDowell, Josh. Evidence that demands a verdict. Volume One. Page 37.
[6] Ackroyd, P.R and C.F Evans. The Cambridge History of the Bible
[7] Aland, Nestle and Barbara Aland. The Text of the New Testament.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

P14 Why the Bible is the Word of God: Are any other religious books the Word of God?

2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness".

Yesterday we spent quite a bit of time comparing the Bible to the Book of Mormon and a few other statements made by the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), Joseph Smith. We used three tests to determine whether or not the Book of Mormon could be considered the Word of God as much as the Bible. Those tests were:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22

After scrutinizing the claims of both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, it was discovered that no claims of revelation nor inspiration can be demonstrated. When the Bible was submitted to the same type of testing, it was found that it was confirmed and bears the marks of revelation and Divine inspiration, thus by default substantiating the reality of the True and Living God that revealed its words. 

With that process done, we now turn to an even more significant question: is the Bible the only book in the entire world worthy of the title "Word of God". Again, the Bible is not the only book in the world claiming this title. Other books of other religions claim some sort of Divine revelation and inspiration. However, just like the Book of Mormon, they too must past the tests above before we can believe their claims. Lets briefly survey some of them and see when compared to the Bible, whether or not they can be called "God's Word".

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a
I won't reproduce Isaiah 41:21-22a here, since we discussed it at length yesterday. Suffice it to say, it states the first test in terms of determining a claim to Divine revelation and inspiration has to do with accuracy about the past. Some of the literature of the world's religions make claims about past events. 

Note: all the samples below are taken from the book: Sacred Texts of World Universal Anthology, Crossroad Publishers. 

To begin, in the texts of Hinduism, we see statements about the creation of the world. In the one volume of Hindu literature, copied from the Rgveda 10:129 , we read "The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?" The idea of a self-creating eternal universe seems to be in view, and yet in another Hindu narrative called: "Prajapati Creates Agnil Satapatha-Brahmana", we read the following: "Prajapti alone, indeed, existed here in the beginning." What is at stake is of course what does Hinduism have to say about the origin of all things: is the universe self-creating or did it emerge from an assortment of different deities? Hinduism is happy to retain conflicting narratives, and yet this begs the question: what is the nature of the beginning of history as we know it? Hinduism does not possess a unified answer.

When we turn to another religion, Islam, its sole holy book, the Quran, records in its chapter (called Surahs) 4:157 "And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain." According to Islam, the crucifixion of Jesus never took place. However, nearly one dozen independent lines of historic evidence assert the reality of Jesus' crucifixion, not to mention of course the Four Gospels of the New Testament.

These of course are but two examples, and yet they represent two major world religions that both claim to be religions of Divine revelation with texts inspired by their respective deities. Both evidence lack of agreement or lack of accuracy in the recording of the most fundamental and major events of history. The Bible on the other hand records in over 60 places that the universe began to exist, with the cause being the the same God who reveals the words of the Bible. Moreover, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, featured prominently in the New Testament and predicted in the Old Testament, satisfies the voluminous evidence we have for that event. Henceforth the Bible is the Word of God by virtue of its accuracy about the past. What of future events?

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23
Whenever we survey the Quran (composed of 6,000 lines of text, slightly longer than the New Testament), the volumes of literature from Hinduism, the philosophy of Confusius, Buddhism, Indian relgions and other world religions, it may shock readers to discover that not one example of verified, fulfilled prophecy can be found. Yet, with the 66 books of the Bible we discover hundred of predictive prophecies, with dozens of them historically verified as fulfilled. The phenomena of fulfilled prophecy cannot be explained purely by appeal to naturalistic processes or mere reason. To accurately predict an event in detail at a later time than the stated prophecy cannot be done repeatedly by chance, coincidence or favorable odds. Unless the very God revealing the prophecy exists, there is no other explanation. Henceforth, as shown in past posts in this series, the Bible repeatedly demonstrates its Divine revelation and inspiration by virtue of repeated fulfilled prophecy.

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22
As we have noted already before, if the given book pasts the first two tests, then by default the Deity claiming to reveal the words and message is shown to be real. Christian apologist Dean Hardy in his book: "Stand Your Ground: An Introductory Text for Apologetics Students", page 38, gives this remarkable insight: "(I)s there an actual supernatural deity and if so, who is he? Is there truly a deity that exists? If so, there are only three possibilities:

1. The supernatural deity in one of the supernatural beings expressed in one of the modern world religions

2. God exists, but he is not expressed in any world religion

3. The deity is a mixture of all these different deities that are expressed in all these various religions."

As we have discovered in subjecting the texts of the major world religions to the three tests for Divine inspiration, options #2 & #3 would be ruled out, since no other religious book has demonstrated traits of Divine inspiration. Only one book, featuring One God, has demonstrated itself to reveal and be revealed by the One true and living God - the Bible. 

Closing thoughts
Today's post aimed to briefly survey other relgious books claims of revelation and divine inspiration. It was discovered that no other book in the world can demonstrate its claim as revealed and divinely inspired like the Bible. The Bible alone is the Divinely inspired and revealed Word of God.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

P13 Why the Bible is the Word of God: Is The Book of Mormon also the Word of God?

Joseph Smith, 
founder of Mormonism
2 Timothy 3:16 - "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (ESV)

2 Timothy 4:3-4 "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

In this series we have been focusing on answering various questions surround the subject of "why the Bible". Up to this point we have been exploring the claims of scripture, its authority, it reliability and as we saw yesterday, why it is the basis for all true preaching. Thus far we have been addressing this subject as it is typically raised by either believers inside the church or those skeptics who claim to have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Today's post deals with the very important area of why the Bible, and no other book, is God's Word. 

In the above opening verses, we see the scriptures being described by the ESV as "breathed out by God" or rendered by other English versions as "inspired by God". We also see in the above verses the warning given of increasing counterfeits and heresies that will oppose the Gospel and which Timothy and subsequent generations of Christians have dealt with and will continue to battle. Both verses together express the reality of the Bible's uniqueness as God's Word and other wanna-be pretenders attempting to pass off as the truth. 

In our day and age, the Bible is not the only book in the world claiming to be the word of God or as a collection of writings revealed by God.  It is one thing to make the claim of something being revealed from God, and quite another to make good on such claims. In today's post we will be consider one such book that claims to be a book revealed from God - the Book of Mormon. In the course of our investigation, we will put forth a valid test for determining the claims of Divine revelation and inspiration of a given book. 

Testing the claims of Divine revelation and inspiration for any written document
To remind the reader of what we mean by the terms "revelation" and "inspiration", revelation refers to the event and process by which God makes known to people that which was previously unknown; whereas inspiration is the Divinely enabled work of putting that information into writing. Three areas can be used to test the claims of any document, namely: accuracy about the past, accuracy about the future and what it has to say about God. The first two areas are measurable by standard methods of science and history, and the third area follows from the results of the first two tests. In other words, if a given document claiming divine revelation from a given deity is shown to exhibit miraculous qualities such as predicting events beyond the date of the original prophecy, then the reality of the given Deity is demonstrated. 

Moreover, if the same document gives accurate details of events that were prior to the date of the author or which are contemporary to their day and past to our own, then the reliability of the document is confirmed and thus the reality of the Deity giving the information is confirmed. Philosophers such as Richard Swinburne have laid out similar such tests as the ones outlined above and such tests are mentioned in the philosophical literature that deals specifically with such matters. The Bible itself lays out the three tests in two main texts:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22

A quick history of the Book of Mormon and its main point
According to Mormon accounts, the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, had journeyed into a wooded grove in a rural area of New York in 1820. The then young Joseph Smith had grown disillusioned with the churches in and around New York, and so he went into the woods to gather his thoughts and to pray. According to the story, God the Father and the Son both appeared to Smith in bodily form, claiming that all the churches has apostasized, and that he need not join any of them. 

In  a copy of the Book of Mormon that I own, we read what happened later on to Smith on September 21, 1823: "While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor." This alleged heavenly visitor was an angel by the name of Moroni, who told Smith of a set of golden plates that were deposited in a secret place. Written upon the plates of gold was an alleged history of the Jews migrating to the Americas and various appearances of Jesus to them. The angel then told Smith that with the plates were two stones, the "Urim and Thummim" that could be used to translate the golden plates. 

As one reads on down through Smith's testimony, he claims in 1827 to have found the golden plates and begins dictating the revelation on them to one of the chief witnesses attested in Mormon history, Oliver Cowdery. In every copy of the Book of Mormon, the reader can view a written testimony by Cowdery and two other men (David Whitmer and Martin Harris) as having seen the alleged plates. 

So with the revelation of the plates in 1827, Joseph Smith gains alleged insights and claimed visitations from Biblical figures as John the Baptist, Peter, James and John about how Smith was to restore the Levitical and Melchizedekian priesthoods. As Smith's movement picks up momentum and followers, the group moves from New York to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1839. The group splinters and 600 followers go with Bringham Young to Utah in the 1840's. By 1850, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" is formed to become one of the largest religious movements in the world.

To summarize the Book of Mormon itself, an introductory section in one edition of the book reads: "The Book of Mormon is comprised of fifteen main parts or divisions, known with one exception as books, each designated by the name of its principal author. Of these, the first six books, namely, First Nephi, Second Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni, are translations from the Smaller Plates of Nephi. Between the books of Omni and Mosiah, we find 'The Words of Mormon', connecting the record of Nephi, connecting the record of Nephi, as engraved in the smaller plates, with Mormon's abridgment of the Larger Plates for the periods following." 

Mormon had been, according to Mormon historians, a prophet of long ago who had a son, Moroni. Moroni was the one who allegedly appeared to Joseph Smith in angelic form and relayed to him the revelation of the Book of Mormon. The storyline is about how the Jews fled from Jerusalem in 587 b.c, crossed the ocean to the Americas and thus became the ancestors of two Indian tribes and their subsequent lives from 600 B.C to 400 A.D. The Book of Mormon retells the alleged post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to these peoples in America and how Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saints are restorers of the lost message of Jesus and his followers.  

How does the Book of Mormon perform under the three tests of accuracy about the past, future and God?
In the edition of the Book of Mormon that I own, there are 524 pages of texts which average out to less than 295,000 words or roughly twice as large as the average New Testament. The above storyline and testimony of Joseph Smith makes some big claims of Divine inspiration. We could certainly detail the highly controversial history of Joseph Smith himself, but that will have to remain for another post. What we want to know is whether or nor the Book of Mormon is the Word of God like the Bible. To test these claims, we can note the following three tests as already outlined above:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a
Isaiah 41:22-22a states - "Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome." Despite the numerous peoples and place names mentioned in the Book of Mormon, there is not one archaeological or geographical confirmation of evidence. Conspicuously absent from the Book of Mormon are maps of any of the locations mentioned in the book or in any of Joseph's Smith's other writings. For example, on the Mormon's official website, one can actually view what are called "The Joseph Smith Papers", where Smith identified Daviess County, Missouri as the place where Adam blessed his posterity after he had fled from the Garden of Eden. No (reputable) archaeological evidence nor map (produced outside the context of Mormon scholarship) can trace the connection between the ground in Daviess County, Missouri to the Garden of Eden in the Fertile Crescent near the Euphrates River Valley on the other side of the globe!

When you look in a Bible, there is always accompanying maps that one can use to trace the journeys of Abraham or the ministry journeys of Jesus or Paul. However, whenever you look at the Book of Mormon, there are no maps, indicating that there is no evidence of any migration of Jews from Israel to America nor any of the details of lost tribes as recorded in the Book of Mormon. The Bible on the other hand has hundreds of confirmations of its historical details in both archaeology and geography. When the Bible has been used to reconstruct history, it has always been accurate. So on this test, the Book of Mormon is shown wanting.

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23
We read in Isaiah 41:22b-23   "or declare to us the things to come.23 Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified." Having read the Book of Mormon in times past, as well as information from scholars who have studied the book in detail, the test is failed in the fact that not one example of fulfilled prophecy can be found. In the accompanying volumes to the Book of Mormon (the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine & Covenants), there is no example of fulfilled prophecy. 

When we turn to the Bible on the other hand, we find literally dozens and hundreds of examples of fulfilled prophecy in history. In past posts we have witnessed how the prophecies concerning Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28, Israel's time table in Daniel 9:23-27 and Jesus' prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24 are verified fulfilled in history. Jewish Historians such as Flavius Josephus, Roman Historians such as Tactius and Greek Historians such as Herodotus can be consulted to cross check the historical and prophetic fulfillment of these Biblical prophecies and others. 

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22
So far we have subjected the Book of Mormon to two tests of accuracy in matters of the past and fulfilled prophecy and have found it wanting. The Bible on the other hand consistently passes such tests with robust and numerous examples. As we had noted earlier, whichever document passes the first two tests in its claims to Divine inspiration necessarily demonstrates the reality of the Deity claiming to both reveal and inspire its contents.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 states - “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." 

The God of the Bible is first of all One in existence. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 43:10-11). Secondly, the God of the Bible is Three in identity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 13:14) Thirdly, this One God, existing as Three Persons, has revealed His words and purposes in the Bible alone. (Exodus 24:4; Isaiah 41:22; Luke 24:44; 1 Tiim 5:18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Pet 3:16; Matt 16:18; John 1:1)

Even if we relax the requirements of passing the first two tests on the Book of Mormon, the question is: does the Book of Mormon describe the same God as the origin of its words as the Bible does for its contents? Joseph Smith himself is quoted as saying the following: "I am going to tell you how God came to be a God. We have imagined that God was a God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil. He was once a man like us. Yea, that God himself, the father, dwelled on earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did. (Teachings of Joseph Smith). In an edition of the KJV Bible issued forth by the Latter Day Saints, the definition for God in the accompanying Bible dictionary reads accordingly: "From latter day revelation we learn that the Father and the Son have tangible bodies, and that the Holy ghost is a personage of spirit without flesh and bone." (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23)

So is Joseph Smith a true prophet? Is his teachings and the Book of Mormon a book of God the same as the Bible? The Old and New Testaments teach that God in the Person of the Father does not have a body of flesh and bones, but is a Spirit (John 4:24) and is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2). The Person of the Son shares in the same nature with the Father and is not a separate God or exalted being as taught in Mormonism. Moreover, only the Son came and incarnated Himself in human flesh (Philippians 2:5-11) and thus is deemed God in human flesh (John 1:14). Thirdly, along with the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son exist as One God from all eternity (Psalm 90:2) in contrast to Joseph Smith's denial of God's eternality. So on that score we would have to say Joseph Smith is not a true prophet. 

This brief survey of comparing the Bible and the Book of Mormon and other Mormon literature reveals two different deities spoken by the Bible vs the Book of Mormon. The Bible has been shown consistent in its claims to be the Word of God, and thus the Deity revealed in its pages is the True and Living God. The deity spoken of in the Book of Mormon cannot be the true and living God nor then, can the Book of Mormon be a revealed book worthy of the title: "Word of God".

Today's post aimed to discover whether the Book of Mormon, with its claims of being the Word of God as revealed to Joseph Smith, is worthy of such claims. Three tests were put forth to evaluate the claims of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon as revealed, Divinely inspired pieces of literature:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22

In all three tests, the Book of Mormon and Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, failed to demonstrate either claims to Divine inspiration or prophethood. The Bible on the other hand consistently passed all three tests and thus demonstrated itself to be the only Divinely revealed and inspired Book. Hence, the Bible alone is the Word of God.