Friday, December 2, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series: Why Knowing Which Books Belong In The Biblical Canon Is So Important


    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.

1. Defending Christianity - The Apologetic task of the canon. 

    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.”

    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. 

    So, we see the apologetic value of having a canon of inspired books wherewith we can defend the faith. But now what about proclaiming the Christian faith to those who already believe the Gospel? This brings us to Luke's introductory remarks in his Gospel, and the second reason for a canon of Scripture.

2. The Preaching Task - The Expository Function Of The Canon.

    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." 

    When Jesus ascended into Heaven, the early Christians had two foundations upon which they built their faith. They had the Old Testament canon. Then, they had the preaching of the Apostles that formed a body of doctrinal truth about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This body of truth would become codified in early creeds, some of which appear in the New Testament, and others of which appear in the second and third centuries of the early church (for example, the old Roman creed that would form the basis for the later "Apostle's Creed"). Such body of teaching came to be known as "the rule of faith" ("regula fide").

    However, as Jesus had indicated to His disciples, the Spirit was sent to make known to them all He had taught them. This meant that a third foundation for the Christian church would come along that functioned alongside those first two foundations - namely the canonical books of the New Testament canon ("regula canona").

    As the books of the New Testament were composed, the preaching of the early church became stronger, more stable, and more accurate. It was not the church that formed the New Testament. Instead, the New Testament would come to make the early church what it came to be. So, we have found that the canon of Scripture is vital for the apologetic task, the preaching task, and then one more. 

3. The Sanctification Task - The Discipleship Building Function Of The Canon.

    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."

    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."

    You and I cannont grow apart from the canonical Scriptures. In Romans 15:4, we are reminded of the need for the Old Testament in growing the Christian faith. Then of course, Peter's words reinforce the need for the New Testament canon. Unless we build Christianity upon the canonical Scriptures, our Christianity will die on the vine. 

Closing thoughts:

    Today we found three reasons for knowing which books belong in the Biblical canon.

1. The Apologetic Task - Defending the Faith.
2. The Expository Task - Preaching the Faith.
3. The Sanctification Task - Growing in the Faith. 

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