Friday, December 16, 2022

The Doctrine of Scripture Series: Marks Of Divine Inspiration For The Old And New Testament Canons


    As we have taken time to survey the doctrine of Scripture, we have done so in what I would call three stages. The first few posts handled introducing the subject as it pertains to the characteristics of Scripture itself and explaining the doctrine of inspiration. 

    Then, in “stage two” of this series, we investigated the Old Testament canon. We explored how it was the early Jews and Christians who came to recognize the 39 books of the Old Testament as Divinely inspired. Along the way, we explored the so-called “Apocryphal books”, evaluating whether or not they belong in the Old Testament canon, having concluded that they did not. 

    The third stage of this series has explored the New Testament canon. So far, we have noted the formation and collection of the New Testament books. Thus far have we traveled in our journey. For interested readers, I have preached a series of messages on Sunday nights dealing with the above topics, which readers can access at our church's website here

    In this post I want us to look at what Bible scholars refer to as "marks of Divine inspiration" or what others sometimes refer to as "tests for Divine inspiration". When one reads the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus of Lyons work "Against Heresies" (2nd century) or Eusebius' work "Ecclesiastical History" (early 4th century), certain criteria are inferred from how the early Christians recognized, received, and began to use the books of the New Testament. Similarly, when one reads through Jewish authors such as Philo of Alexandria, or Josephus, or the writings of the various Rabbinical schools (found in such volumes as "The Talmud"), similar sorts of criteria are noticed.  In my own study over the years, scholarship on canonicity done by such men as Norman Geisler, Gleason Archer, Michael Kruger, R.C. Sproul, Ben Witherington III, and David Alan Black have sharpened my thinking. What I share below are gleanings on such "marks of Divine inspiration" that I have discovered over the years, notwithstanding of course the gifted insights of Godly individuals such as those I just mentioned.

1. Why it is important to know which books are the Word of God.

    This issue of knowing which books are inspired or “canonical” has never lost its importance. Paul already had to deal with false teachers posing with their false documents claiming Divine authority. We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”

    Luke, Paul’s aide in the ministry, wrote his Gospel to ensure the accuracy of the Gospel being preached throughout the Mediterranean world. He writes in Luke 1:1-4

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

    Paul especially would urge his readers to have what he wrote read in the churches, that is, preached and taught, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 "I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren." Having the right books is vital to establishing sound churches. One more example that demonstrates the importance of having the right books involves Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:16-18

"as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."

    The New Testament evidence overwhelmingly shows us the importance of having the right books. I could also take the time to rehearse how the early church in the centuries after the Apostles worked through affirming and defending the New Testament canon. 

2. How we know that the books we have are the Word of God.

    Since Christianity proceeds on the basis of God’s Word, knowing which books are the Word of God is of utmost practical, as well as theological importance. Below are a series of “tests” that theologians have drawn from reading the early church father’s writings about the early church, their practices, and what they had to say about the Scriptures.

A. Old Testament marks of Divine inspiration.

    We must realize that it was the inspired books as God’s canon that formed God’s people, rather than God’s people formulating the inspired books that belonged to the canon. As each Old Testament book was composed, its recognition as inspired (and thus canonical) was immediate. Just as Isaac Newton came to recognize the law of gravity already present in creation, God’s people would recognize certain books already revealed by their Creator. So what principles were used? Let me mention two principles for how God’s people recognized the inspired books of the Old Testament Canon from insights gained in reading Normal Geisler’s “A General Introduction to the Bible” and Gleason Archer’s “A Survey of the Old Testament”.

*Miraculous Test. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? See Exod. 4:1-9; Num. 16-17;
1 Kings 18; Mark 2; Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:4.

*Salvation Test. Can the book bring someone to saving faith? See Is. 55:11; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23

    The Canon’s use would be used of God to call the people of God back to Himself. 2 Kings 22:9-11 “Shaphan the scribe came to the king and brought back word to the king and said, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it in the presence of the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.“

B. New Testament marks of Divine inspiration.

    The “tests” we just looked at are similarly used in how God’s people came to recognize the New Testament books. When it comes to those, we can note three other such “tests”.

*Prophetic or Apostolic Test (Apostolicity). Was the book written by a prophet or Apostle of God, or an associate? In Exodus 24:4, we read of how Moses wrote down the words of God. Luke, and associate of Paul, writes in Luke 1:3-4 

“it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

*Recognition Test. (Catholicity). When I use the term "catholicity", I mean not the Roman Catholic church. Instead, "catholicity" refers to "what was believed upon by all Christians, everywhere and at all times" (the term "catholic" derives from a Greek term meaning "universal"). In this test, we ask: was it recognized by the people of God? The Old Testament’s books recognition is demonstrated by how quickly they went into use after their writing. This observation fits too with the New Testament books. When one reads 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul cites Deuteronomy and Luke's Gospel as sacred Scripture. The dating of 1 Timothy (62-66 A.D.) and Luke's Gospel (60-62 A.D.) indicates immediate reocognition, reception, and use by God's people. 

    For an Old Testament example, in Joshua 24:26, we read of Joshua’s book being included alongside the first five books of Moses or “The Law”. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.” That phrase "read in all the churches" was Paul's way of saying "treat what I just wrote to you as auhthoritative Scripture". 

*Truth Test (Orthodoxy). Did the message tell the truth about God, the human condition, and the world? See Deut. 13:1-3; 18:21-22. For the New Testament, the preaching of the Apostles functioned as a standard while
the New Testament books were being written, recognized, and completed. 

    Daniel Wallace describes the three main doctrines comprising the orthodox Christian preaching (called “regula fide” or “rule of faith”): 

1. God as Creator with creation being good.
2. Jesus as truly human and truly God.
3. Creation needing redemption. 

    As the early church grew and confronted error and persecution, this “rule of faith” was a lens through which the early Christians understood the canonical books of the New Testament. Ultimately, the Old Testament Canon, Christ’s resurrection, and the completion of the New Testament canon provided the triple foundation for the
truth handed down to the saints. Jude 1:3 reminds us: 

“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the
faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”

Closing thoughts for today:

    We have then five “tests” or marks of Divine inspiration: 

1. The miraculous test.
2. The salvation test.
3. The prophetic or apostolic test. 
4. The recognition test.
5. The truth test. 

    These types of standards are how we can tell that we have the inspired books that comprise the Old and New Testament canons. But now, what of other books which claim Divine inspiration? For that, we will reserve for our next post.

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