In this post, I want to answer three questions:
- How do we know all of the books in our Bibles belong?
- How do we know we are not missing any books from our Bibles?
- 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.
In 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.