To anchor ourselves in today's post, let me reference Romans 3:1-5,
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’
Paul references God having gave the Jews what he calls “the oracles of God”. The text before us is concerned about what salvation is, and what God uses to bring it about. Paul identifies what salvation is by noting what it is not, gaining God’s approval by good works. Instead, He argues towards the end of Romans 3 that salvation is received through faith alone because of God’s grace won for us by Christ.
1. The importance of knowing which books are the words of God.
You will notice Paul uses an interesting – “the oracles of God”. The word “oracles” translates an underlying Greek term meaning “spoken words”. It is one of the strongest terms for defining what sort of book the Bible claims to be. To know which books are the inspired words of God is the concern of conversations about the subject of “canonicity”. This phrase “oracles” pertains to the Hebrew Bible or what we call the Old Testament Canon, with the familiar 39 books of our English Bibles (having been 22 or 24 books in the Hebrew Bible, same contents, with some of the Bible books combined together, thus the difference in numbering). In this series of posts, we have looked at the doctrine of Divine inspiration of the Bible and issues surrounding the Canonicity of the Old Testament. For those curious about such matters, or those with either a Roman Catholic background or having family or friends in the Roman Catholic Church, these next several posts will hopefully prove informative. As we noted in the last post, the question of canonicity deals directly with two issues.
A. Ultimate authority is the first issue when discussing canonicity.
First, there is the matter of Biblical authority. Notice what Paul writes again in Romans 3:4 "May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’ Who is to say what governs the spiritual lives of Christians? Does the Church formulate the Canon, and thus hold authority over which books belong? Or do the inspired books of the Bible themselves bear marks of their inspiration and consequently lead to recognition, acceptance, and use in the forming and growth of the Church?
B. Understanding which books are inspired is the second issue when discussing canonicity.
Canonicity not only touches upon the matter of authority, but also in answering the question “which books are the inspired books”. This matter of inspiration, or what Norman Geisler refers to as “propheticity”, is the key issue in defining the contents and limits of the canon. Which books have the final say in matters of faith, practice, this life, and the life to follow? Far from just a academic curiosity, the question of canon affects the lives of millions of God’s people. With these interrelated matters of “authority” and “inspiration” governing how we discuss the importance of “canon”, we come to the topic of these next several posts concerning the so-called "Apocryphal Books" (or what Roman Catholics call "Deuterocanonical Books", meaning "second canonical books").