Can You Trust Your Bible, Part 5: How Do We Know We Got the Right Books?

Mark Beuving —  October 15, 2012 — 2 Comments
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the seriesCan You Trust Your Bible?

RevelationIn this post, I want to answer three questions:

  1. How do we know all of the books in our Bibles belong?
  2. How do we know we are not missing any books from our Bibles?
  3. How do we know God doesn’t want to add to our Bibles?

 

How Do We Know All of the Books in Our Bibles Belong?

Very simply, I would appeal to the information in the last post as evidence that all of the books in our Bibles actually belong there. When the time came to write down a complete list of New Testament books, God’s people looked at which books carried the authority of God and were being accepted and used by the church in its life and worship on the same level that they used the Old Testament Scripture. As I said in the last post, there are good historical reasons to see that the right books were chosen. And add to that the reality that God is faithful to his people and would not have allowed an erroneous book to have slipped into the Bible that his people would be trusting as his word.

 

How Do We Know We Are Not Missing Any Books from Our Bibles?

Once again, I would argue that because God is faithful to his people, he would not have spoken words that were essential for our life and growth and then allowed those words to be lost. This confidence in the faithfulness of God is backed up by historical research. While some people would like to add other books (the Apocrypha, the Gnostic Gospels, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and others have all been candidates), these books are either known to be inauthentic or they teach doctrines that contradict the teaching of the biblical books. Though there was some debate over the canonicity of some of these books, the early church ultimately decided against them for strong reasons.

Da Vinci CodeIn recent years, some of the Gnostic Gospels have gotten a lot of press. For example, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (keep in mind that this is a work of fiction) explains that The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene show clear evidence that Jesus was married and claims that these books were only excluded from the New Testament because of the bias of manipulative church leaders.

In reality, the Gnostic Gospels do not compare to the New Testament writings whatsoever, not least in terms of credibility. Most of these gospels were written much later than the accounts they record. It is possible that The Gospel of Thomas was written in the first century, but this is extremely unlikely. The Gnostic texts were actually written in the second and third centuries, and they reinterpret the life of Jesus through the lens of a worldview that does not fit the four biblical gospels.

If you want assurance that books like the Gnostic Gospels don’t belong in our Bibles, I’d suggest reading The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. I know I’m biased, but I think you’ll immediately see a qualitative difference between these writings and the biblical writings. I am convinced that what makes that difference is the inspiration and authority of God.

Ultimately, the books in our Bible are completely unique, and no other ancient documents measure up.

 

How Do We Know God Doesn’t Want to Add to Our Bibles?

The Bible begins with the beginning and ends with the end. The Old Testament records how God set his plan of redemption into motion, and it ends with a cliff-hanger. God created humanity, humanity failed, God made a promise to redeem the world, God gave the mission to Israel, and Israel failed. We are left with the question: how will God’s plan of redemption be accomplished?

The New Testament answers that question by recording both the climax of that plan and its consummation at the end of all things. God’s word to us in the New Testament consists of the word that he has spoken in Christ in the last days (Heb. 1:1-2). Since this authoritative word about Christ has come to us in the New Testament, and since the book of Revelation takes us right up to eternity future, what more do we need? Revelation then ends with a warning to not add to the words of that prophecy (22:18). We should not expect God to change or add to this final revelation in the New Testament.

It simply does not work for God to have spoken a definitive word “in these last days” (Heb. 1:1-2), and then for him to later add a few follow ups that contradict what he has already said. (Mormons believe that Jesus later added The Book of Mormon, The Doctrines and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. They will deny this, but each of these contradict the Bible and must therefore be rejected.)

 

I will conclude this series tomorrow by adding a final thought on how exactly we come to trust the validity of Scripture. And just as a hint, I think it goes far beyond the solid historical evidence we possess.

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.
  • “And add to that the reality that God is faithful to his people and would not have allowed an erroneous book to have slipped into the Bible that his people would be trusting as his word.”

    Whoa, what? No offense, but this seems a bit presumptuous. Plenty of people throughout history – including lots of “God’s people” – have been fooled into thinking that they are reading or hearing God’s word when they’re not. False prophets are a perfect example of this. Wouldn’t this logic say that God would not have allowed someone to preach heresy to his people if He knew that they might believe it?

    • MarkBeuving

      Hi Justin.

      No, I don’t think it’s the same at all. I think my last post in this series will clarify my thoughts on this a bit. But in brief, if God wants to communicate with his people, he knows how to do it. So if the book that his church is going to cling to as his words for thousands of years ends up having too much or too little in it, then his communication to us is less than clear. People speak to us from all angles and it’s our responsibility to sort out what is true from what is false. But we weigh the truth of any statement by the truth found in God’s word. So I don’t think that believing God would not allow his church as a whole to trust the wrong Bible is comparable to believing that God would never let anyone speak falsely about him.

      And this gets messier, but I also think we need to make a distinction between the church as a whole and individuals. It’s true that individuals and clusters of people have added to or taken from the Bible. In those cases, God apparently did not providentially ensure that those particular people would have his whole and unadulterated word. I don’t have a great answer for that, but God knows those who are his, his sheep hear his voice, and he has purposes that don’t always make sense to me. But I think we’re swimming in a different ocean when we talk about God writing a book to his church. I can’t imagine him doing so and not ensuring its delivery.