How do I know the Bible is true? (Part 3)
This is the third in an eight-part series addressing skeptics’ claims against the Bible. Click on the “Bible” link under Topics to see parts 1 and 2.
Objection 3: The books of the Bible were chosen arbitrarily by councils of men in highly political processes. As a result, they left out some very good books – perhaps some equally inspired writings.
Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, compiled a list of the 27 books we now know as the New Testament in 367 A.D. He also was the first person in the church to use the word “canon,” which comes from the Greek kanon and means measure or rule. The councils of Carthage (393 A.D.) and Hippo (397 A.D.) fixed the final list of New Testament books, but it’s important to note that the question of which books were truly “scripture” was being addressed long before this. Even more important, Christians believe the Holy Spirit, who authored scripture, also managed its preservation and organization (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Four developments prompted the church to act to “close” the canon: 1) heretics began circulating false writings; 2) counterfeit books, falsely written under the name of an apostle, began to appear; 3) Christianity spread to new lands, and missionaries needed to know which books should be translated into the native languages; 4) the edict of Diocletian (A.D. 303) ordered the destruction of the Christians’ sacred writings and threatened death for those who refused; believers needed to know which books were worth dying for.
The early church used a number of criteria in discerning which books belonged in the canon: 1) Evidence/claims of inspiration; 2) apostolic origin (written by an apostle or an associate who preserved the apostle’s teaching), the only exceptions being granted to James and Jude, brothers of Jesus who became followers after His death and resurrection; 3) written while the apostles were still alive; 4) general acceptance and use by the church and in continuous use in worship services; 5) agreement with accepted and undisputed scripture.
What about the Apocrypha, a collection of 14 books of Jewish history and tradition written from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.? The argument against these books includes the following: 1) The Jews never accepted these books as scripture and did not include them in their Bible; 2) any acceptance the books enjoyed was local and temporary; 3) no major church council included these books in scripture; 4) many of the books contain errors; 5) some books include teachings that contradict scripture; 6) neither Jesus nor the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha even though they quoted from the Old Testament hundreds of times; 7) the Christian churches that accepted these books did so many centuries after the Canon was closed.
The term “Bible” derives from the Greek word biblion (book); the earliest use of la biblia in the sense of “Bible” is found in 2 Clement 2:14, around 150 A.D.
Next — Objection 4: It’s silly to assume that one book – the Bible – contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to the Book of Mormon, do not come from God.