Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series - Introducing The Apocryphal Books


    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. 

    So how does God bring salvation about? God in the Person of the Holy Spirit works conviction in the sinner’s heart by means of the Scriptures. Of course, it is imperative that we have the right books, the right words, otherwise salvation will not come about, which is why the issue of Canon is so important.

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? 

    I would contend that it is the inspired books of the canon of the Old Testament (39 canonical, inspired books, not the so-called non-inspired "Apocryphal books", which I'll argue for in later posts), coupled with Jesus’ resurrection, that were the twin foundations responsible for the Holy Spirit’s birth of the Church. Whenever one studies the roughly 20 sermons and addresses of the Apostles and their associates in the Acts of the Apostles, this two-fold foundation of Scripture and Christ's resurrection provide the means for the Spirit's work in the early church. 

    As The Holy Spirit worked through the New Testament Apostles and their associates to write the New Testament books, the growth and expansion of the church were by-products of the composition, recognition, and gradual usage of the New Testament books. Those New Testament Gospels, letters, and the Apocalypse of John would come to function alongside the already established canon of the Old Testament. In future posts, we will eventually get to the equally fascinating subject of the New Testament canon, its development, and function in the early church. For now, we return back to our discussion of the canonicity of the Old Testament, and the question of the Apocryphal literature written between Malachi and Matthew. 

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"). 

Closing thoughts for today

    For now I leave the reader with two thoughts. First, for an introductory post I've written in the past on this subject of the Apocryphal books, readers are invited to click here Secondly, the diagram below lists out the Apocryphal books for the reader's reference. Next time we will explore a more detailed description of each of these books, as well as summarizing how they were regarded in Jewish and Church history. 


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