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If I had a nickel for every time an angel lied to a person and led them to start a false religion, I’d have at least 10 cents. I’m thinking here of Joseph Smith and Muhammad, both of whom started their religions (Mormonism and Islam) after receiving revelation from a bright and shining angel.

In reality, angels lie to people far more often than this. John had to warn his readers:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

Just because an angel says it doesn’t make it true. Many false prophets, John says, have gone out into the world on this account. John calls us to have discernment in light of this grim reality.

But the scariest angel warnings actually come from Paul. He says:

“Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

He says it twice for emphasis. It doesn’t matter who is teaching the false gospel. Even if an angel from heaven stands before you and tells you something that contradicts biblical teaching, you tell that angel to go straight to hell! (This is the literal meaning of “let him be accursed.”)

But what if the angel is really bright and shiny? Paul addresses that question too. He talks about those who are teaching false doctrine (the “false prophets” that John mentioned), and says:

“Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

Surely if you see an angel of light, you can believe what it says. Right? No! Paul says that your shimmering angel may well be Satan himself.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

These frequent warnings in Scripture show how dangerous it is to rely on our experiences alone, as if a word from an angel should be enough to direct us away from God’s truth. These warnings have been available for thousands of years, and both Joseph Smith and Muhammad claimed to have a reverence for the Bible. Why did they not pick up on these warnings?

At these two crucial moments in human history, Satan’s messengers (perhaps even Satan himself) appeared to these two men in angelic light and spoke soul-damning lies. And so many tragic souls have been swallowed in allegiance to what they believed to be truth.

Of course, this is a good reminder to stay away from false religions. But it’s more than that. It’s a reminder for all of us to stick to the bedrock truth of what God has revealed in Scripture. This is what Paul was calling for in Galatians 1:8-9. Know God’s truth intimately. Know it so well that when an angel, a kindly person, a church leader, or whomever, shows up speaking ideas that contradict Scripture, you will recognize those lies for what they are.

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.