After reading the articles in this supplement, you may have become confused—even troubled—about the basis of your faith. Does the welter of dates and councils and contradictory arguments presented by even the greatest saints allow us any right to be certain that Esther, a book that doesn’t mention the name of God; Song of Solomon, a love poem; and Philemon, an intensely private letter; must all be included in the Canon whereas Ecclesiasticus, a book of splendid moral instruction, is excluded?
Without reviewing a major apologetic, let it be noted that the rock-bottom basis of Christian faith is our confidence that, in spite of our sin, God has forgiven us and accepted us into his family through faith in Jesus Christ as our divine Lord and Savior. While evangelicals may disagree as to the nature and role of evidences, they are in broad agreement that this faith in Christ is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. And it is on this Christological base that they rest their confidence in the canon of Scripture.
Savior Of The Canon
Without question, Jesus Christ taught the divine authority of the Old Testament. Indirectly he also set the limits of the Old Testament canon by acknowledging the common canon of the Jews of his day. In the Sermon on the Mount he defends his complete acceptance of it, and this commitment runs throughout the entire gospel record, recurring again among his closest followers in the remainder of the New Testament. Disputes between Jesus and Jewish leaders always terminated on the interpretation of a Scripture to which they gave common allegiance, and never over what constituted Scripture.
A Christian today may not be able to judge the evidence as to whether the Jewish canon was solidified in 400 B.C. or centuries later. It is abundantly clear, nevertheless, that (1) the Jews generally held to the same canon as our Lord and his apostles; (2) that their canon did not include the Apocrypha; and (3) it contained the 39 books that we find in our Protestant Old Testament.
By validating the Old Testament canon of the Jews, our Lord also validated the method by which it came into being. Of the large amount of prophetic literature, the Spirit of God guided his people to preserve just 39 books. We may feel quite inadequate to determine on what grounds each book was retained, and we may be quite uncertain as to when Old Testament believers came to a final conclusion about the Canon. What is clear is that the Jews thought these books possessed divine authority—that they were books written by persons who had been commissioned by God to give forth his message. Moreover, we are certain that by the middle of the first century A.D. at the latest, the Jews and our Lord had a settled canon—our 39 Old Testament books.
The same process then repeated itself in the construction of our New Testament. Our Lord commissioned a band of apostles to speak with authority for him, paralleling God’s commission of the prophets in the Old Testament. The apostles claimed such authority and exercised it in the early church. They left a significant body of apostolic literature (not limited, of course, to the 12 original apostles, but rather to the authentic teaching of this body that had been commissioned by Christ to instruct the church). A portion of this apostolic literature was preserved in the church.
Just as with the Old Testament, we may be unable to prove exactly who wrote what or exactly when each book was acknowledged to be authoritative and on what grounds. But again, what is abundantly clear is that the church accepted the New Testament because it was convinced that these 27 books represented authoritative apostolic teaching by those who had been commissioned by Christ, the Lord of the church. Our Lord approved the results of the process in the Old Testament and instigated the same process in the New.
Basis For Belief
How, then, can we be confident in our acceptance of the Bible? For the Old Testament, it is our Lord’s approval of the divine authority of the 39 books composing the canon of the Jews. For the New Testament, it is his promise to provide similar instruction for his church through his apostles. The church, under the guidance of the Spirit, preserved just these 27 books that fulfilled his promise.
In the final analysis, the lordship of Jesus Christ is the basis for our confidence in the authority of the Old and New Testament.
Kenneth S. Kantzer is dean of the Christianity Today Institute.
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