As we have taken time to survey the doctrine of Scripture, we have done so in what I would call three stages. The first three posts introduced the characteristics of Scripture itself and explaining the doctrine of inspiration. Then, in “stage two” of this series, we investigated the Old Testament canon, exploring how it was the early Jews and Christians 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.
In this post, I want us to understand why the question of the canon is so important to Christians today. This post and the next one will evaluate how we can know for sure we have the right books in the Bible, as well as examining claims of Divine inspiration by other religions for their literature.
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. When we turn to his second letter to the church at Thessolonica, we find the first reason why the topic of canonization is important.
There were those in Paul's day who were going around, claiming that the eschatological Day of the Lord and the end of the age had passed by, leaving those behind who were never really redeemed. Imagine how much disturbance this sent through the church at Thessalonica. One of the reasons for the canon, and the New Testament canon in particular, was to provide an "apologetic", that is, a defense of the claims of Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return.
“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
"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."
Peter alludes to what was an already completed collection of the Apostle Paul's writings. He connects the Old Testament canon and Paul's writings, representing the New Testament canon, to the imperative of discipleship. Note again what we says in 2 Peter 3:18 "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."