Scripture has come to us by a heaven-sent process. Along with inspiring men to write (2 Timothy 3:16), the Lord led the church to accept certain books as being worthy of inclusion in the Bible. Today we have 66 commonly accepted books of the Bible because of a process known as “canonization.” Some Christians never think about such matters, assuming that they are only to be considered by Bible scholars and seminary students. Considering the society in which we live, it is beneficial for Christians to be well equipped with answers concerning such matters. Pop-culture in America has seen the publication of various books and films that discount the trustworthy nature of the Bible. Many claim that there are other writings that aren’t included in the Bible that give the full story about Jesus and the early church. Some even use such a line of thought to say that our Lord didn’t die on the cross, that He married Mary Magdalene after a failed crucifixion attempt, and that the two had a family that they raised in France! At the end of the day, by answering three questions about how we got the Bible, we will be better equipped to defend our faith.
How do we know what books should be included in the Bible?
Our current collection of biblical books came together by human observation. Men and women read the writings of church leaders and gained a sense of what books were from the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that they didn’t personally determine what qualified as Holy Writ. To the contrary, they spiritually detected what belonged in the Bible. One has noted, “It is not so much a process of deciding which books we want to include in the canon, but rather a process of discovering which books belong there.”
What about the Apocrypha?
Some folks express consternation over a group of books that certain professing Christians have added to the end of the New Testament. These form a collection that is often called “The Apocrypha.” The word refers to that which is “hidden,” “secretive,” or “concealed.” It is important to note that the Apocrypha was made scripture as a response to some of the tension surrounding the Reformation. It contains support for many of the Catholic teachings that the fathers of the reformation challenged. In 1546, the Roman Catholic Church made a declaration making the Apocrypha a part of Scripture. There is good reason that the church had traditionally excluded the writings from the Canon. Many of the books within promote beliefs and behaviors that run against the grain of the rest of Scripture.
What about the “lost books” of the New Testament?
There are a slew of writings that many think could be viable alternatives to understanding the life and times of Jesus. Though there were many pseudonymous writings, the church recognized what qualified as Scripture. They used three litmus tests, asking questions like “Did the apostles influence the writing of this book?”, “Does this book benefit the church?”, “Have churches used this book as Scripture?”. Nowadays we hold a book in our hand that is a product of Divine inspiration and providence. God has given us His Word for our benefit (John 17:17). May we cherish it, live by it, and proclaim it!
Dr. Patrick Latham