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Apologetics – Lesson 4: Do We Have the Complete Bible? (Part 1)

February 19, 2012

As soon as we start digging into the origin of the Bible we are almost immediately struck with one unavoidable fact: the Bible is not a single book but a collection of books. A brief look at the history tells us that the people of God assembled this book over time. Questions immediately come up. Do we have all the right books? Are there missing books? Why do some Bibles have more books than others? This will be the discussion over the next two lessons.

Bible 101

Before we dive into the content of Scripture we need to establish some basic facts about the Bible. The Bible is one book, which is a collection of 66 books and is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and New Testament. It was written over a period of about 1500 years by some 40 authors who came from a wide range of backgrounds. Some were nobility, others were common people, and still others were kings and prophets. Despite this it is significant to point out that the Bible presents a unified message of God, man’s condition, and the way of salvation. No other work from antiquity can make this claim.

It may surprise some people to know that the Bible was not written in English. The Old Testament (OT) was written in Hebrew, with some few passages written in Aramaic (a closely related language) and the New Testament (NT) was written in Greek. The Hebrew language is a very foreign language to Westerners. It reads from right to left and (what we would consider) back to front. If you open a Hebrew Bible you will find Genesis in what you expect to be the back. The Hebrew language is very ancient and very verbal. As such when Hebrew says something, it says something and there is not much room for nuance of meaning. Here is an example of the Hebrew script:

וידבר אלהים את כל־הדברים האלה לאמר׃

The Greek language is very different from Hebrew and looks more familiar to us, especially those of us with a scientific background as Greek letters are often used as symbols in equations and formulas. It reads left to right and many of the characters are common with English. The type of Greek used in the Bible is known as Koine Greek, which was the common language of the day during the time of the NT. It is significant to note the providence of God in this. Greek was the trade language and would have been understood by most all people in that day. What better situation to bring the Gospel than when you have a common language that crosses cultural boundaries? This, combined with the Roman roads, was an ideal environment in which to bring the NT. Here is an example of the Greek script (this is not a perfect example as the necessary fonts are not available through WordPress):

ENARCHHNOLOGOSHNPROSTONQEONKAIQEOSHNOLOGOS

Looks difficult to read don’t it? That is because the style of Greek used during the writing of the NT was known as uncial. This used all capital letters, no spaces between words, and no punctuation. Later on the style developed into what is known as miniscule. Capital and lower case letters were used with spaces and punctuation much like our language today. This is one of the ways manuscripts from this time can be dated since the older manuscripts use the uncial format. Here is an example of a miniscule script:

᾿Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος.

Canon of Scripture

The term “Canon” comes from the Greek word, kanon that refers to a measuring rod. Over time this came to mean that which was accepted as meeting a particular standard. The canon of Scripture refers to the books that have been put to the test and accepted as God-breathed Scripture. We need to note here that the people of God, in recognizing a book as Scripture do not make it Scripture. God is the ultimate author of the canon and the process where by the Church accepted some books as Scripture and rejected others does not contain the authority to grant a work God-breathed status.

How did the people of God recognize Scripture? This was a process that tool place over time. As such the canon is a product of history and not a result of a miraculous event (i.e.: angels did not bring down a golden index telling us what books were Scripture.) The books that were included in the canon were the ones that measured up and clearly demonstrated that they were the result of the inspiration of God. There are several requirements for canonicity but no single factor should be considered, all must be taken into account:

Prophetic/Apostolic Authority: Is the human author recognized as being a spokesman of God?

  • Was he a prophet or did he have the prophetic gift? For New Testament books, was the human author an Apostle or someone endorsed by an Apostle. (Example: Mark – Peter, Luke – Paul)
  • This is the most important of the requirements. It does not stand alone as not everything written by an apostle or prophet has been considered inspired. Only when the writing measured up to the other requirements. Regardless, this attribute must be present for the work to be considered inspired of God.

Antiquity: Does the writing come from the proper time period to be a faithful witness?

  • Many of the NT apocryphal books were rejected on this basis as they were mid-second century documents and thus could not have apostolic authority.

Orthodoxy: Is the book consistent with the revealed inspired Scripture?

  • Does it contradict clearly revealed and attested doctrine? The Word of God cannot be contradictory.
  • This is not so much a requirement as a check and balance.

Inspiration: Is there evidence of divine inspiration (being God-breathed)?

  • Does the book contain errors? Does it speak with authority? Is it of the proper spiritual character? Does the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit?

Acceptance: Is it universally accepted by the people of God?

  • Was it received, accepted, collected, preserved, read and used by the people of God?
  • If the early church though it necessary to copy and preserve the writing while under severe persecution then we need to take that into account.

Again, we need to point out that this is how the people of God recognized the canon. Since God is the ultimate author of the canon, He infallibly knows which books were inspired. Much as a modern author infallibly knows which books he has written among all the other books that are available today.

The Old Testament Canon

The canon of the OT was received through the Hebrews. The Hebrew canon consisted of 24 books divided up onto three sections; the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. If you open your Bible to the table of contents you will see that there are 39 books as opposed to 24. Why is this? The answer is very simple. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in 280 BC (translation known as the Septuagint or LXX) the division and order of the books was changed. Kings was a single book as was Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. The 12 minor prophets (Hosea – Malachi) were also considered a single book. If you do the math it is easy to see how 24 becomes 39. The order of the books was also changed whereas the Hebrew canon started with Genesis and ended with Chronicles the LXX canon started with Genesis and ended with Malachi. Our modern Bibles follow the LXX order and arrangement of the books since the LXX was the predominant Bible of the NT church. The important point here is to note that, while the order and arrangement of the books was changed, the content was not.

Missing Books?

Now to the question of missing books; these fall into two categories: References and Apocrypha. The References are several passages in the OT which point to other books outside the canon of Scripture. Examples of this include the Book of Jashar (2 Samuel 1:18), the Books of Nathan, Ahijah, and Iddo (2 Chronicles 9:29), and the Book of Shemiah (2 Chronicles 12:15.) These books were considered written historical accounts and not inspired Scripture. The Jews never considered these writings to be inspired by God. Just because the Scriptures refer to these writings, does not mean that they are inspired—like when Paul quoted from pagan poets. These writings were not lost from the Old Testament since they were never a part of the Old Testament. Simply referencing a book in inspired Scripture does not make that work inspired as well. Nevertheless, there are groups who will point to this as evidence of an incomplete canon and use that to promote their own work as inspired Scripture. The Mormon missionaries are known for this.

The second category of “missing books” is the Apocrypha. The word Apocrypha refers to something that has been hidden or concealed. In this context it refers to a specific group of books that were of unknown origin, unrecognized (not a part of the canon of Scripture) and which dealt with mysterious (hidden) matters. Since there are other New Testament Apocryphal writings, it is best to refer to these writings as the Old Testament Apocrypha. The Old Testament Apocrypha is made up of 14 or 15 books depending on your method of counting and was written between 325 B.C. and 150 A.D. The following is a complete list of these books:

  1. Letter of Jeremiah (317 B.C.) – also referred to as Baruch chapter 6
  2. Tobit (250—175 B.C.)
  3. Baruch (200B.C.—70 A.D.)
  4. Ecclesiasticus/Sirach (190 B.C.)
  5. Additions to Esther (180-145 B.C.)
  6. 1 Esdras (150 B.C.)
  7. 2 Esdras (70—135 A.D.)
  8. Judith
  9. Wisdom of Solomon (150 B.C.—40 A.D.)
  10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Holy Children (167—163 B.C.)
  11. Susanna (100 B.C.)
  12. Bel and the Dragon (150—100 B.C.)
  13. Prayer of Manasseh (150—50 B.C.)
  14. 1 Maccabees (103—63 B.C.)
  15. 2 Maccabees (100 B.C.)

Here is where the controversy begins. At the council of Trent in 1546, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) declared 12 of these books to be canonical. The RCC uses the term deuterocanonical to refer to these books which means “secondary canon” (with Protocanonical referring to the first canon.) These books were added to the Bible as seven new books and four additions to existing books of the Bible. The following is a list of books included in the RCC canon:

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. Wisdom of Solomon
  4. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)
  5. Baruch (includes Letter of Jeremiah)
  6. 1 Maccabees
  7. 2 Maccabees
  8. Additions to Esther (Esther 10:4—16:24)
  9. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:24-90])
  10. Susanna (Daniel 13])
  11. Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14)

The Roman Catholic Church rejected the following Old Testament Apocryphal books: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh. They refer to the rejected books of 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras as 3 Esdras and 4 Esdras. The reason being that Catholics refer to Ezra as 1 Esdras and Nehemiah as 2 Esdras.

So the question is why are these in he RCC canon and not the Protestant canon? To answer that we need to look at history: The Hebrew Bible, as we have said, contains all the books from Genesis to Malachi, which was written around 430 BC. After that time the Jews recognized that God was not speaking as He once had. This can be seen in the writings of Josephus and the Jewish Council at Jamnia (90 AD.) Thus the Jewish people considered the canon to be complete prior to the writing of the Apocryphal books. These books are historical and contextual in nature but do not contain the authority of inspired Scripture. Thus many of them were included with the Septuagint translation for reference and to provide a context for the Jewish people of the day. When Christianity was first forming and the NT was being written the primary Bible of the Church was the Septuagint. This can easily be seen in the book of Hebrews, which extensively quotes from the OT Septuagint.

As time goes on Latin begins to take the place of Greek as the principle language of the known world. Therefore Jerome (now referred to as Saint Jerome) undertakes a translation of the Scriptures into Latin in the 5th Century. Jerome, amid much controversy, decides to translate the OT from the Hebrew language rather than the Greek in order to get a more pure translation. He learns the Hebrew language from the rabbis and in the context of that discovers that the Jewish people never accepted the Apocryphal books as Scripture. Therefore he argues against including them in his Latin translation but is ultimately overruled and translates them at the very end. From this point and for the next thousand years these books go into a sort of “canonical limbo” as no council officially recognizes the books as Scripture yet they are included in the Latin Bible. This continued until the time of the Reformation.

The Protestant Reformation brought about a renewed interest in the Bible based on the ideal of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), which means that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church. That being the case it is desired for every Christian to have access to the Bible. With this return to the sources the Reformers looked to the Scriptures and found out some interesting facts about the OT as they knew it:

  • The Apocrypha was never accepted by the Jews.
  • The books of the Apocrypha were never quoted by Jesus or the NT writers as Scripture.
  • Jerome did not believe these books to be canonical.
  • The Church should never have accepted them.

On this basis the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture since these books do not meet the requirements of canonicity. In response to that the RCC made an official declaration that some of these were canonical at the Council of Trent wherein they also pronounced accursed those who proclaim what the reformers proclaimed about faith and justification. It is also significant to note that the Apocrypha supports several doctrines that are proclaimed by the RCC today but contradict revealed Scripture:

  • Atonement and salvation can be achieved by giving large donations and doing good works.
    • “for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin” (Tobit 12:9 NAB)
    • “Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin” (Ecc. 3:30 NAB)
  • Prayer and offerings for the dead can free them from sin (2 Maccabees 12:41-46).
  • That deceased saints are interceding in heaven for those on earth (2 Maccabees 15:11-14).
  • Ecclesiasticus 25:24 teaches that “from a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die” in contradiction to Romans 5:12 that teaches that by one man (Adam) sin entered the world and death through his sin.

As a final nail in the coffin of the Apocrypha we also need to note that there is no claim within the Apocrypha itself that it is the word of God. Furthermore, the content and style of these books deny their inspiration of God. Some Apocryphal books, though written as history, are actually fiction. These imaginative books include Tobit, Judith, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. In the book of Tobit a supposed high and good angel of God, lies and teaches the use of magic (5:4, 5:12). This angel professes to be one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints to God (12:15). Tobit also teaches that help is only to be given to the deserving, not to sinners (4:17). Protestants sometimes include the Apocrypha to the Bible NOT because they believe it to be canonical, but for informational purposes. It was never thought to be a source for doctrine. English translations can still be found in the New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and some editions of the New living Translation.

Conclusion

Concerning the Old Testament we have but to look at the evidence of history to understand how the books were determined. For me the most significant testimony about the books of the OT comes from the mouth of Christ. As Christians we need to take seriously what our Lord has to say about the content of the Bible. In Luke 11:51 we read: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah…” This amounts to a tacit recognition of the OT canon, as it existed at the time. Remember the order of the Hebrew OT would have started with Genesis (Abel) and ended with Chronicles (Zecheriah.) Add to that that He never quotes from the Apocryphal works as the words of God not has any debate or discussion with the religious leaders of the day about the books considered as Scripture. This would be the perfect time to correct their misunderstandings about the content of the Scripture (and He certainly was not shy about correcting their other preconceptions) yet the Lord does not do so. Taking all this together we have no reason to believe that the OT as we have it today is not accurate.

I believe the case is very clear in favor of the 39 books we have today. However I recognize the complexity and the depth of this study and the inherent limitations of the few paragraphs in this lesson. Therefore I am including references that the reader can look into for more information and study. I encourage you to do so.

God bless.

References

  • The Canon of Scripture, F. F. Bruce
  • How We Got the Bible, Neil Lightfoot
  • Scripture Alone, James White
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2012 9:41 pm

    You wrote the article from your point of view. How about reading from catholic point of view?
    http://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/who-has-the-correct-number-of-books-in-the-bible/

  2. Knight permalink*
    February 25, 2012 7:40 am

    vivator,
    I am allowing your post on this because it is fair to allow people to look at the other side of this argument. And I found your article to be well thought out. However, I did not start this series to engage in debate. I encourage people to look at the facts themselves and the resources I mentioned which cite people more educated on the subject than either of us.

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