How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are from God? A presuppositional response, Part 2: New Testament

What about the 27 books of the New Testament?

In part 1, we found that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament were truly part of the canon based on the clear statements of Jesus regarding their authenticity and authority. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament require some deeper thinking than the Old Testament because they were written after Christ ascended.

Because of this, some may think that we do not have His authoritative statements concerning them as we did for the Old Testament books. This is not at all the case. But let’s begin this section with an analysis of how God communicated to man in the Old Testament as a springboard to look at the New Testament writings.

How did God communicate to mankind in the Old Testament?

From a big picture standpoint, how had God spoken in the Old Testament? In some cases, it was by direct address, such as God speaking to Abraham (Genesis 18) or Adam (Genesis 3:8–21) or Joshua at Jericho (Joshua 5:13–15). Jesus had appeared in physical form at many points before He took on flesh at His birth in Bethlehem. These appearances are referred to as theophanies or, more precisely, Christophanies. It seems that one of the last of these physical Christophanies prior to Christ in the flesh was with Solomon (2 Chronicles 1:7).

In other cases, the revelation was written by the hand of God (e.g., the 10 Commandments). Sometimes it was given in dreams (e.g., Genesis 20:6). Often, it was delivered by verbal preaching (e.g., Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh in Jonah 3:2). In some cases, the oral revelation was transferred to written form (e.g., Moses speaking Levitical laws to the Israelites in Leviticus 1:2 and then recording those) and in other cases it was strictly written (e.g., Deuteronomy 27:8).

And, of course, Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1) and His every word was the Word of God, though clearly not all of it was recorded (John 21:25), just what was sufficient. He lived under the Old Testament as well, for He delivered the New Covenant in His blood (Jeremiah 31:31; Matthew 26:28).

Only that which has been written is sufficient, but that is for another discussion. There are a host of ways in which God delivered His Word. In the New Testament, we expect a variety of means as well—and we find this: verbal deliveries that needed to be put to paper (e.g., Stephen’s speech in Acts 7); directly written documents such as the epistles; direct address from Jesus (e.g., to Paul on the Damascus road); and so on. But what we have been left with is only that which was written. And this is important because what is being discussed in this treatise is what is written, not the verbal things that were not recorded for our benefit.

Authoritative guidelines from Christ

Now let’s turn back to Christ (with whom we began for the Old Testament) to look to the New Testament. Did Christ give any hints that there would be more books of the Bible or hints as to how and by whom they would arrive?

In John 14, Jesus is speaking with His disciples. He claims that the Holy Spirit will remind his disciples of things that have happened.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

Bringing “to your remembrance” implies that believers should expect one or more complementary accounts of Jesus’ life—gospel accounts. What is the point of bringing something to one’s remembrance if it is not meant to be shared? Since the Holy Spirit helped them to remember, they needed some firsthand knowledge of Christ. Obviously, it is the guidance from the Holy Spirit that would give these books classification as the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26–27)

“You will also bear witness” shows that we should expect some teachings from this group of witnesses for future generations; perhaps in the form of letters, books, sermons, and so on. This is significant, as Jesus points out that they will have the Spirit of truth, and Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). These disciples were also called apostles, which means “messengers” or “delegates” in Greek. Apostles are ones who have seen the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1) and are appointed by Christ to be His messengers/representatives. The apostles were also given special gifts such as working miracles (e.g., 2 Corinthians 12:12).

“In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute.’” (Luke 11:48–49)

Because the Jews had not listened to the prophets, Jesus says that God in His wisdom also conferred “apostles.” And in a like manner as the prophets, apostles would speak and have authority on Christ’s behalf.

In other words, apostles, like the prophets of the Old Testament, were able to speak the very Word of God by the Spirit with authority when it comes to the text of Scripture. In the past, no prophets were able to speak for God on their own but only as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), so apostles were able to do things in the same fashion as prophets in the Old Testament. Therefore, unlike the books of the Apocrypha, New Testament books have statements similar to those in the Old Testament claiming to be from God. For example, see the verses below:

To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:12)

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:12–13)

If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I [Paul, the apostle] write to you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37)

Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2)

Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” This salutation by my own hand—Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen. (Colossians 4:16–18)

Though these direct statements are not required since not all books of the Bible have these statements. Esther did not, nor does Jude. But seeing them in the New Testament in several places is similar to what we find in several places in the Old Testament showing the apostles knew they had the same authority, perhaps even more authority (1 Corinthians 12:28), than the prophets of the Old Testament.

John 16:13–15[1] speaks further on this subject, confirming expected writings. However, there is no reason to assume that all the apostles wrote something that would be part of the canon. Many prophets of the Old Testament have no written documents to their names. Also, there is no reason to assume that the eleven remaining disciples were the only ones able or gifted with such authority conferred to them. God called other apostles, such as Paul, who saw the resurrected Christ and became His messenger specifically to the gentiles. And as we see in Scripture, Paul rigorously defended his apostleship. There were also prophets in the New Testament, but they were under the authority of apostles (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:28.)

This brings up another preliminary question: Who were the apostles listed in Scripture?

Who were the apostles and what was their function?

The discussion surrounding the apostles is relevant to determine who had apostolic authority, and, therefore, who would have authority to write, oversee, or put Christ’s seal of approval on the newly written Scripture of the New Testament.[2] In a greater sense of the word, apostle means one who is sent and is derived from the Greek word apostolos.

But apostleship carried more meaning than that. Being an apostle was more like a being a legal representative for someone—to speak, act, and make decisions on another’s behalf, such as in court. In today’s vernacular, our culture has something similar called “power of attorney” to make binding decisions and be a legal representative for someone else as though they were there.

In the Talmud (traditions of the Jewish elders, which was originally a study or commentary on the Old Testament Scriptures), an apostle was a delegate who carried the same basic authority as the one he represented, and he deserved the same respect (for example, see Mishnah Berakhot 5:5).

Sadly, Jews often elevated these Talmudic interpretations to a level greater than Scripture both in Jesus’ day and today. Recall in Matthew 15:2–9 where Jesus pointed out the error of the Jews when they elevated their interpretive traditions to be greater than God’s Word; the Talmud often recorded what these traditions were. Not that all traditions are bad, but they need to be placed well below the Scriptures.

But regardless, this helps us understand the authority an apostle carried for another person. So apostles of Jesus Christ would be representatives of authority for Jesus Christ. This explains why Paul defended his apostleship so vigorously in places such as 1 Corinthians 9. That apostolic seal gave him authority from Christ through the Holy Spirit to dictate or point out what was Scripture onto the church.

Authority of the apostles

“Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute’” (Luke 11:49)

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28)

having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20)

which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5)

that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:2)

The apostles were conferred with power to speak, write, or make designations for Christ in a similar manner as the Old Testament prophets, though the work of the Holy Spirit that is. Notice that the apostles were actually listed as first importance in the church in 1 Corinthians 12:28. This gives the apostles a rank of authority – more on this in a moment.

The apostles were now the vessels of authority as given by Christ to write or impose upon the church the Word of God. So who were the apostles?

Scriptures gives apostleship to the twelve

The twelve disciples were listed as apostles (Matthew 10:2–4; Luke 6:13–16). They are as follows:

  1. Simon Peter
  2. Andrew, Peter’s brother
  3. James, the son of Zebedee
  4. John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew
  7. Thomas
  8. Matthew, the tax collector
  9. James, the son of Alphaeus
  10. Lebbaeus Thaddaeus
  11. Simon the Canaanite
  12. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ, killed himself, and forfeited his right to this office

Judas’s betrayal of Christ and subsequent suicide eliminated him from this position of authority. So this left eleven in this initial eminent position. But there are more.

Scripture says Matthias is an apostle

Due to Judas’s betrayal and death, his apostleship was essentially forfeited (John 17:12). After Judas’s death, the apostles cast lots to replace him, and the lot fell to Matthias (Acts 1, Psalm 109:8). He was now honored as one of the twelve and placed in the position of apostolic authority. The twelve apostles do have a special distinction as revealed in Revelation:

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:14)

This special distinction, though, does not mean that other apostles listed in Scripture are not authoritative in their writings or oversight, as Paul made explicitly clear in his defense of being an apostle in several places. But it does show that Matthias’s inclusion was acceptable, for there were not eleven foundations, but twelve, for Judas had been replaced.

Scripture says Paul is an apostle

Paul was often declared to be an apostle in Scripture (e.g., Acts 14:14; Romans 1:1, 11:13; 1 Corinthians 1:1). Paul was not relegated to a position beneath the twelve eminent apostles.

For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. (2 Corinthians 11:5)

I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing. (2 Corinthians 12:11)

Paul penned an extensive amount of the New Testament. When one is denoted in Scripture as an apostle, there should be little question as to whether the writings he was imposing on the church should be classed as Scripture due to the authority they bring.

In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul points out that he was the last to see the risen Christ, and hence was the last of the apostles (since one criteria of an apostle was to have seen Christ). This seems to imply that there would be no apostles in years to come. Those in Scripture who were called apostles would have been designated as such prior to Paul’s becoming an apostle; even James, who Paul recognized as an apostle in his book to the Galatians. It simply means they were not necessarily recorded in Scripture as apostles until afterward. But this also rules out people who claim to be apostles much later, such as Muhammad of Islam.

Scripture says Barnabas is an apostle

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out. (Acts 14:14)

Scripture says James is an apostle

But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19)

A deeper discussion regarding James’s apostleship will be dealt with later. But the simple fact that the word “other” (Greek: heteros) is used in this verse reveals that he is indeed an apostle.

Though some try to argue that the twelve and Paul were elevated in authority, there is no biblical basis for this. Scripture calls James an apostle (Galatians 1:19), so who can say he was not? Not being listed among the twelve does not mean that an apostle has no authority. The fact that, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a person is listed with this unique title is of significance.

When some argued that Paul was in a lower tier, he refuted that position and shared that there is no such thing as a tier of apostleship (2 Corinthians 11:5, 12:11). This means that when Scripture calls someone an apostle, he is one—not in a caste-type system—and he has the same authority. Hence, Paul and James had the authority to write, oversee, or impose Scripture through the Holy Spirit in the same way John and Peter did.

Scripture says Jesus is the Apostle

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 3:1)

Jesus is, of course, unique among the other apostles as indicated in John 13:16, where Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” Because the apostles are the messengers of Christ, they are not as great as Christ. Of course, Christ is the messenger from heaven (John 6:38), the second person of the Trinity.

Apostolic Connection to the New Testament Books

New Testament canon came about because Christ conferred His authority to the apostles to write, edit, speak, or impose books on the church as authoritative. So all twenty-seven books of the New Testament are Scripture because of this authoritative line that has been in discussion. This is the methodology.

Do we need to know which apostle(s) affirmed each book as Scripture? No. And this is significant. The fact that they affirmed a book as Scripture to the early church is significant. It would not be Scripture had they not imposed it as such on the church.

In the same way, though we do not know who wrote each book of the Old Testament, the virtue that the books were affirmed by a prophet was all that was necessary and Christ put His seal of approval on this. Whether that information is passed along to us as to who the specific prophet(s) was, matters not. In some cases, we know from the Scripture the likely candidate (e.g., a specific psalm of David or the books of Moses). In some cases, we know who wrote New Testament books (e.g. Paul with Colossians) and hence, the likely apostle who affirmed it (Paul himself or even Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-16), but it is not necessary to know each person for each book. The sheer fact that it was an apostle who gave a “stamp of approval” for its inclusion in the canon is sufficient.

When it comes to the authority of the New Testament, it is important to understand how these books get this stamp of approval from the apostles. This does not mean that the apostles had to write each book, but they had to “impose” it on the church. Something could have been written by scribes of a prophet or an apostle, or even written by a prophet himself, but it was by an apostle’s authority as given by Christ that needed to confer it, on behalf of Christ whom they represent, as canon law.

Furthermore, this does not mean that everything the apostles said, wrote, or did was worthy of the canon; only that which was affirmed as Scripture for teaching over the church. If an epistle or book had an apostle involved in it, this does make it easier to identify the likely candidate (and other apostles would be able to recognize it as Scripture too) with whose authority this canon book came.

I would maintain that the early church knew the all the books of the New Testament because the apostles were able to tell them directly when a book was Scripture. Perhaps not all at the same time of course. Apostles were often in different places across the Empire. So it took some time for one church to get a copy or find out about other books across the Roman Empire.

In some cases, there may have been a subsequent loss or confusion over all the canonical books if there were not an apostle nearby to sort them out. For example an ancient canon list called the Muratorian canon was a list of 22 of the 27 New Testament books. Did this particular Christian who made this list not know about the other canon books yet or had he lost the information on what all was canon?

Who were the likely apostolic connections for the New Testament Canon?

Apostle John: 5 of the 27 books of the New Testament

  1. Gospel of John
  2. 1 John
  3. 2 John
  4. 3 John
  5. Revelation

John is obviously the best candidate for conferring apostolic authority for the books above. The short letters by John [the Elder] will be discussed in more detail later.

Apostle Peter: 3 of the 27 books of the New Testament

  1. 1 Peter
  2. 2 Peter
  3. Gospel of Mark

Two books were directly written by Peter (1 and 2 Peter). John Mark, who was under the guidance of Peter as pointed out by the early church, wrote the Gospel of Mark. Mark likely recorded much of Peter’s teachings, and the Gospel of Mark follows similar outlines to Peter’s sermons, such as Acts 10:34–43 from John the Baptist to the Resurrection. Mark was more or less acting as a scribe under Peter’s guidance. For example, Papias, who learned from John the apostle and wrote early in the 2nd century AD, said:

For information on these points, we can merely refer our readers to the books themselves; but now, to the extracts already made, we shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words: And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.[3]

Also, Tertullian, an early writer, states at the same time as Papias:

The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage—I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew—whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.[4]

Other church fathers comment on this, but these early apostolic fathers share the initial view on these teachings. Apologist and researcher Brian Edwards sums it up nicely:

Papias and Tertullian, both of whom lived early in the second century AD, claimed that Mark wrote his Gospel in partnership with the apostle Peter.[5]

Is the fact that Mark acted as a scribe acceptable? There is precedence in the Old Testament for someone else to write things down for a prophet; for example, Baruch acted as the scribe for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:4–32). So there should be no problem with apostles having such writers under their oversight. But it was due to apostolic authority that these writings were imposed on the church.

Critics have argued that Peter was not the author of 2 Peter but without much warrant. When such claims are evaluated, they simply fall apart.[6]

Apostle Matthew: 1 of the 27 books of the New Testament

  1. Gospel of Matthew

Only one book was attributed to Matthew. Matthew was one of Christ’s twelve apostles, so it was likely his authority on this gospel account.

Apostle Paul: 15 of the 27 books of the New Testament

  1. Romans
  2. 1 Corinthians
  3. 2 Corinthians
  4. 1 Thessalonians
  5. 2 Thessalonians
  6. 1 Timothy
  7. 2 Timothy
  8. Ephesians
  9. Galatians
  10. Philemon
  11. Titus
  12. Philippians
  13. Colossians
  14. Gospel of Luke
  15. Acts of the Apostles

It is worth noting that from the earliest records few, if any, doubted that the thirteen letters (fourteen including Hebrews, as many did, more on this below) came from the hand of Paul. Why were Paul’s writings classed as Scripture? There are two reasons. First, Jesus selected Paul to become His apostle (Acts 9), and so Paul was in a position of honor like the other apostles. Again, Paul defended his apostleship when people questioned it.

The second reason is that the apostle Peter claimed that all of Paul’s epistles to the churches for instruction were Scripture (2 Peter 3:14–16). So this accounts for at least thirteen books of the New Testament. And we can be certain that if people did not recognize Paul’s authority here, that Peter, another apostle, affirmed these as Scripture. There is nothing wrong with having multiple apostles agreeing that a particular book is Scripture. In fact, this likely happened repeatedly in practice, but was simply not recorded in the Scriptures beyond this example.

Turning attention to the two books penned by Luke, we find that Luke spent considerable time with the apostle Paul—even being called a co-laborer by Paul in Philemon 1:24. Why is this significant? Luke was recording what he was learning from Paul. In the same way that Mark was under Peter’s guidance, Luke was under Paul’s guidance as he traveled extensively with him, and was, no doubt, involved in the account. Paul even quotes Luke as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18 (Luke 10:7). So Paul was one of the apostles that clearly imposed the gospel of Luke as Scripture.

In fact, Luke’s gospel account follows after Paul’s teachings, going back to the beginning with Adam and being directed toward Gentiles. Paul was the messenger from Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Romans 15:15–16), so it makes sense that he would start at the beginning (unlike Peter, who preached primarily to the Jews, and so Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist). Luke’s writing was under the guidance of Paul, and early church fathers spoke of this. Irenaeus said:

After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.[7]

Not only did Irenaeus confirm that Luke wrote as Paul instructed, but he also concurs with Mark writing what Peter instructed. Tertullian further builds on the comments of Irenaeus:

For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.[8]

With this in mind Paul is also the likely candidate for Luke’s other book, Acts.

Apostle Paul/Other unidentified apostle: 1 of the 27 books of the New Testament

  1. Hebrews

There have been many authors suggested for the book of Hebrews. Many claim Paul for various reasons. One biblical reason for Pauline co-authorship, or at least guidance, is that Peter mentioned that Paul wrote to the Hebrews/Jews (to whom Peter also appeared to be writing in 2 Peter 3:15–16). So in light of 2 Peter 3:15–16, where it says all of Paul’s epistles are Scripture, which book of the canon was it referencing? Hebrews is the likely answer. And this would be Peter and Paul’s authority.

Even many early church fathers, such as Eusebius when he refers to Clement’s writings (one of Paul’s associates) in the first century, confirm that Paul was involved:

Clement in his epistle which is accepted by all, and which he wrote in the name of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth. In this epistle he gives many thoughts drawn from the Epistle to the Hebrews, and also quotes verbally some of its expressions, thus showing most plainly that it is not a recent production. Wherefore it has seemed reasonable to reckon it with the other writings of the apostle. For as Paul had written to the Hebrews in his native tongue, some say that the evangelist Luke, others that this Clement himself, translated the epistle.[9]

Eusebius continues:

He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name. [10]

Eusebius explains the deviation from the normal Pauline style of introduction. If this is the case, then this translation into Greek was overseen and appointed to the church by the apostle Paul.

However, according to Hebrews 2:3, the writers (plural) of this final version, speaking of salvation, appear to not have had directly heard the Lord Jesus Christ, as most apostles had, but it has been confirmed to them through others who did hear the Lord teach regarding salvation. Though in an interesting way, Paul did not hear much of Christ’s teaching during his ministry (nor Luke) but only had the brief experience with Christ on the Damascus road.

This gives support to the view of Luke and probably others’ involvement in the writing of Hebrews. It opens up the possibility of one or more of the following being involved: Apollos, Silas, Barnabas, Clement, or others; but it is not likely Timothy, since he is mentioned in Hebrews 13:23. Apollos, Clement, and Barnabas are the more likely candidates. Whoever it was, the recipients of the book of Hebrews knew whose authority was behind it and were to be in prayer for the author(s) (Hebrews 13:18).

Since Hebrews 2:3 speaks of direct contact with those who had been with the Lord (e.g., an apostle) regarding salvation, this is consistent with the approval process by one who had been confirmed to them by those who heard Christ—in other words, an apostle. Looking back at Acts, when replacing Judas for apostleship the requirement was that it be one who had heard Christ by “accompanying the apostles all the time” when they were with Jesus (Acts 1:21–22). So this may be opening the door for another apostle other than Paul or perhaps more than one apostle made it clear this was Scripture.

Hebrews 2:3 is not the only passage to look at in Hebrews regarding authorship. Hebrews 1:2 is also significant. Hebrews 1:1–2 says (emphasis added):

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.

The emphasized portion reveals that the authors did have contact with the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., “to us”) in one sense, but perhaps not all the authors/translators of the book had. But in light of an apostle “coming with the authority of Christ as an authorized representative,” one could say they were spoken to by the Son having direct contact with an apostle or prophet to confer this information. This gives further confirmation to the authority of this book given to the church by an apostle as the final say. And of course this happened, but whether we know whose authority exactly is up for debate; in other words, I would not be adamant about Paul by any means; but Hebrews is Scripture nonetheless.

But this brings up another possibility: a New Testament prophet(s) was involved in the writing (e.g., Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:29). One of the apostles then imposed it on the church as they held Christ’s authority. Keep in mind that this epistle to the Hebrews was written prior to the death of the last apostle, John, as Clement quoted from it and he died long before John.

In light of Peter’s comments, Paul is the best candidate for applying authority to it, potentially with other apostles. Paul’s associate, Clement, quoted from it very early on and may well have been the first to do so, showing that he was aware of Hebrews. As we have seen, the most likely candidate is Paul, and early church fathers seemed to believe this was the case. Clement died long before the apostle John, so no less than one apostle was still around when Hebrews was in use in the church as authoritative.

The book was also written in Italy (Hebrews 13:24), where Paul was. Regardless, if we ever found out with certainty which of the other apostles may have been involved in Hebrews, Hebrews would still be included as Scripture, since it would have been under the imposition of an apostle as law for the church.

James, apostle and brother of Jesus: 2 of the 27 books of the New Testament

  1. James
  2. Jude

Like Hebrews, James and Jude do not seem to have an obvious and direct connection with one of the twelve disciples or the apostle Paul. But recall that Jesus confirmed the eleven disciples (leaving out Judas Iscariot), but He did not limit apostleship to just them. As noted previously, Paul and Matthias were raised up as apostles later.

James and Jude were brothers of Jesus Christ—sons of Mary and Joseph (Matthew 13:55). Some have claimed that the author of James was not the brother of Christ but John’s brother. However, that particular James died early in 44 AD (Acts 12:1–2), giving good reason that it was not him. Skeptics often attack James for other reasons, but they are beyond the scope of this treatise.[11]

Of all people, though, James and Jude, being Jesus’s brothers, would have known Jesus better than many of the disciples, with the exception of His years of ministry where He was closer to the disciples (although with the help of the Holy Spirit, any apostle could relay first-person events). Their books do not try to give an account of Jesus’s ministry but are directed at instructing the church.

Paul considered seeing the risen Christ as an important part of his defense of apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:1). And if one had not seen Christ, that person could not be an apostle. After Jesus’s resurrection, these brothers of Jesus were among the disciples and of one mind (Acts 1:13–14). Thus, James and Jude had in mind to be messengers of the good news also.

Jesus even visited James at another point (1 Corinthians 15:7) before He visited the other apostles, showing the importance that Christ placed on him. Furthermore, Scripture reveals that James the brother of Jesus was indeed elevated to the position of an apostle:

But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19)

Some have argued that the rendering of this verse could leave James excluded from apostleship. Commentaries on Galatians 1:19 overwhelmingly view James as an apostle; for example, John Gill,[12] John Calvin,[13] John Lightfoot,[14] and, more recently, Henry Morris.[15] Church fathers, such as Papias, also acknowledged James as an apostle, but the better witness is the context in which Paul writes to the Galatians.

But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:7–9)

James, Cephas (Peter), and John are seen as pillars. Since Paul equates James with these other great apostles here, there should be no doubt as to the reference by Paul in Galatians 1:19 to the apostleship of James.

The James mentioned in Galatians 1 and 2 was not one of the original disciples (James the son of Alphaeus or James the son of Zebedee), since Scripture reveals that during Christ’s ministry none of his brothers believed in Him (John 7:5). James’s authority was further shown among the apostles when his comments held final sway regarding the gentile believers in Acts 15:13–21. With all this, James, the brother of Jesus, is an apostle, and this gives him the authority to affirm Scripture to the church on Christ’s behalf. So the book of James did come with apostolic authority, and the apostle James, brother of the Lord Jesus, is obviously the likely candidate for conferring that authority.

Jude, the author of the book of Jude, is short for Judas (not the betrayer of Christ), the brother of James (and half-brother of Jesus), as we learn from Matthew 13:55.

Two of Jesus’s disciples were named Judas—how do we know which Judas wrote this book? Let’s do a short analysis to see whether any other Judases are even valid candidates.

Judas of Galilee is mentioned in Scripture, but just as quickly as he is mentioned, he perishes (Acts 5:37). So the author was not this Judas (I am not aware of anyone who would suggest it was this Judas anyway).

Another Judas, who is likely the son of Joseph Barsabbas, is mentioned as a candidate for discipleship by the other disciples (Acts 15:22, Acts 1:23). This particular Judas—as well as Silas—was classed as a prophet in Acts 15:22–32. Silas spent time with Paul, but there are no recorded books with either of these two identified as authors.

Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. (Acts 15:32)

This potential author of Jude was a prophet, and that would theoretically qualify his book as Scripture if it were written by him and affirmed with authority by an apostle; as Jesus had transferred the authority to apostles to affirm Scripture with final authority on His behalf (1 Corinthians 12:28—of course, this is through the Holy Spirit). However, there is no hint that this person had a brother named James (Jude 1:1). So this argues against this Judas as the author of the book.

Two more Judases are mentioned in one verse and were disciples of Jesus:

Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor. (Luke 6:16)

Jude, the author, was not the son of James, nor was he the betrayer who died prior to Christ’s resurrection. The author of Jude was the brother of James.

Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:1)

The only mention of a Judas being a brother of James is in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, both being the brothers of Jesus. Why would James or Jude not say they were brothers of Jesus when they introduced their books? Jesus is the Holy One of God, and it was likely simple humility—they did not want people to think they were equal to God and so they rightly stated that they were “bond servants” of Christ. They clearly told their readers that their position was subservient to Christ (recall how Christ claimed to be the Son of God and it was seen as equality with God in John 5:18).

Jude mentioning that he was the brother of James may imply that he was lesser known and had lesser authority than James, outside of familial relationship. James was well known and had the authority as an apostle. James was, at the time, the head of the church at Jerusalem. This would explain why he put this brother’s name into the first line of his short book and not Joses or Simon (Matthew 13:33). Jude was not an apostle.

James must have been someone of significance to be important enough for Jude to mention him in the first line of the book. If he simply wanted to let people know who he was, Joses or Simon could have been sufficient, so there must be more to this.

So how do we resolve this? Instead of saying “apostolic authority is insufficient” and come up with man-made rules to try to include Jude, let’s ask the question, “How does this book have apostolic authority?”

Paul often opened a book by stating the authority with which he wrote—as an apostle of Jesus Christ (e.g., Ephesians 1:1 and Galatians 1:1). While Paul and Peter mentioned their apostleship, they both used the term bondservant in the openings of Titus and 2 Peter respectively (but by then, people knew they had apostolic authority). James used this same opening in James 1:1.[16]

The mention of James in the opening of Jude not only gives us an idea of the author’s heritage, but it is significant because Jude is the only author of a New Testament book (that we can be certain about) who was not an apostle or under the obvious guidance of Paul or the twelve. James was called an apostle in Galatians 1:19, and Christ obviously elevated his status by appearing directly to him after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Also, Jude openly indicates that he is not among the apostles when he states:

But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:17)

The more likely reason James, who was an apostle, was mentioned was to show the church that this letter by Jude was under the guidance and approval of James; hence, it was authoritative. Think of it this way: If I receive a letter addressed from John Smith and he says come meet me at the White House for dinner, I would probably think he was crazy. But I received a letter from John Smith, the brother of the President of the United States of America and he says come meet me at the White House for dinner, this comes with the authority of the President and dinner at the White House is not at all unreasonable!

The mention of James, an apostle, gives the book of Jude an authority that comes with the apostles as James is the likely candidate to impose this on the church.[17] If we look back at many of Paul’s letters, they were co-written, but the fact that Paul was giving them guidance and even penning much of them himself gives little reason to doubt their authority. In like fashion, with James’s oversight and affirmation establishing the letter as canon, there is little reason to doubt the book’s authority, and his name was added as an “acknowledgement” of its authority.

The book of Jude is authoritative. Jude’s letter was quickly seen by the early church as authoritative and this may very well be the reason.

Concluding Remarks about the Development of Canon from the Scriptures

Scripture is Scripture because the Holy Spirit inspires the text. This is the case. To recognize the case, we turn to the pages of Scripture as our starting point and find that Christ gave authority to the apostles to affirm Scripture or recognize it by the hand of the Holy Spirit, who was sent in Christ’s name. Their imposing of certain books on the church as law is how these books were recognized as Scripture.

Whether we know which book was authorized by specific apostles in not necessary, but in many cases the likely candidate can be discerned. Internal evidence of the Scriptures affirms the authority of a number of books where people have questioned the apostolic authorship or authority of these books.

Other confirmations are helpful but not the absolute standard. For Mark’s gospel, Mark follows Peter’s sermon in Acts. The epistle to the Hebrews has affirmation by those who were with the Lord: Hebrews 2:3 likely refers to the apostles in Acts 1:21–22. Even Peter affirms that Paul wrote to the Hebrews, so Paul is clearly the candidate for affirming its authority (even if he was not the author) from the internal texts of Scripture.[18]

Peter called himself an elder, so this is obviously in company with an apostle like John the Elder for 2 John. Just as Peter referred to himself as an elder, so does the author of 1 John. This points to the apostle John, author of the Gospel of John, as the author. 2 John has linguistic and thematic similarities to 1 John, and 3 John has some similarities to 2 John as well as a common author, “The Elder” (presbyter). From this internal evidence, this is consistent with John being the author who outlived the other apostles as was prophesied (John 21:20-22).

The Gospel of Matthew is written with a Jewish crowd in mind, and Matthew Levi makes clear sense as the author with his history of tax collecting among the Jews.

We could continue for ages on this type of internal conformational evidence, keeping in mind that any external conformational tests are merely helpful—but they are not the basis for authorship. In seeking to understand the books that actually belong in the canon of Scripture, either God or man is the authority.

So, in conclusion, all twenty-seven books of the New Testament are self-authenticated within Scripture by an apostle (whom Christ, who is God, commissioned, whether we know the exact apostle(s) who gave it authority or not), along with the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, which Christ confirmed. The unity of the sixty-six books, being without contradiction, is a further confirmation that each book indeed deserves its place, pointing to a God who cannot lie and will never contradict Himself (Hebrews 6:18).

BHodge

Cite this article: Hodge, B., How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are from God? A presuppositional response, Part 2: New Testament, Biblical Authority Ministries, August, 27, 2015,https://biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/how-do-we-know-that-the-66-books-of-the-bible-are-from-god-a-presuppositional-response-part-2-new-testament/.

[1] John 16:13–15 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

[2] Apostles being referred to in this discussion are specifically those who were called such in Scripture.

[3] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), pp. 154–155.

[4] Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), p. 350.

[5] Brian Edwards, Nothing But the Truth, p. 210.

[6] Hampton Keathley IV, “The Authorship of Second Peter,” Bible.org, http://bible.org/article/authorship-second-peter.

[7] Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers . . . p. 414.

[8] Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, Latin Christianity . . . p. 350.

[9] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), p. 169.

[10] Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, Eusebius . . . p. 261.

[11] For a biblical response on this subject please see: J.P. Holding, “The Authorship of James,” in Trusting the New Testament: Is the Bible Reliable? (Xulon, 2009), pp. 221-224.

[12] John Gill, Commentary on the Whole Bible, notes on Galatians 1:19.

[13] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, notes on Galatians 1:19, 2:9.

[14] John Lightfoot, Bible Commentary, notes on Galatians 1:19.

[15] Henry Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible, notes on Galatians 1:19 (Iowa falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1995), p. 1294

[16] It was not always necessary for an apostle to state his authority. John did not even mention his apostleship in his writings and Paul did not do so in 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

[17] It is possible that James was not the affirming one, and could have been another apostle, but no other is mentioned and James is the obvious choice.

[18] I leave open the option that we may not know who Peter was addressing, but many suggest it was a Hebrew Christian crowd because of Galatians 2:8 which says: (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles) and the fact that Peter often preached to the Jews (e.g., Acts 2)

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How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are from God? A presuppositional response, Part 2: New Testament

How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are from God? A presuppositional response, Part 1: Old Testament and Apocrypha

Introduction

Luke 11:49 Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute.’

Ephesians 2:20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

2 Peter 3:2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior

If Roger were to write a letter to Bill, and Bill wanted to know whether Roger had really written it, the first thing he should do is ask Roger! If Bill asked Joe, who did not have firsthand knowledge of the letter, whether Roger had written the letter, would Joe be able to give a satisfactory answer? No. The best person to ask is the one who wrote the letter—Roger.

How does this relate to the Bible? If anyone knows what God wrote to the human race, it is God. There is no greater self-authenticating voice than that of the True One who created all things. Self-authentication is commonplace among all of us: if someone wants to know what I think about something or what I dreamt about last night, I am the only person in the world he can ask for the answer.

Some people who believe God does not exist say that God’s Word should not be consulted to see whether the Bible is from Him. But on what basis is such a claim valid? It is illogical to assume that the letter written by Roger to Bill is off limits for study. Therefore, one should also be able to use the Bible to defend the Bible. If someone claims the Bible cannot be used to defend the Bible, he is trying to make his fallible reasoning the ultimate authority on the issue rather than God’s infallible Word.

But believers should not be led astray by such a fallacy: believers should check God’s Word regardless of such a claim. Nothing can fully authenticate God’s Word other than God Himself (Hebrews 6:13); otherwise, there is an authority greater than or equal to God. If that were so, then God would not be God—the supreme authority. So it would be self-refuting to look somewhere other than Scripture when dealing with the unique issue of canon (the books that belong in the Bible). So, when examining the authority of the Bible, you should not lay it aside, but rather stand firm on the Scriptures as the foundation and ultimate authority for looking at the question: Did the sixty-six books of the Bible come from God?

Can the canon of Scripture (what God has written to man) be placed under the judgment of fallible man to determine whether it came from God? If so, then God is no longer the authority, nor is His Word; instead, fallible, autonomous human reasoning is the authority. Man, in essence, is sitting in judgment of God. This is the philosophy of humanism, where man is seen as the greatest of all things and the determiner of truth, thus replacing God.

Disregarding the Word of God forces people to accept the presupposition of humanistic thinking when looking at God and His Word (which leads to a world of problems, such as a breakdown of the foundations of logic, knowledge, morality, and so on).[1] Christians should not give the Bible away and play by man-made, humanistic rules. Sadly, however, many Christians fall for this line of reasoning, and in doing so they give up a biblical foundation for a false one based on humanism (i.e., man is the final authority).

Rather, Christians should start with the Word of God as the absolute presupposition (absolute beginning/basis and final authority on these matters) and verify that God’s Word will authenticate itself (although, being truth, naturally it will not be proven wrong—even by outside sources).[2] In other words, let God be the judge of whether or not the Bible is His Word. This stance (a presuppositional perspective) starts with the Word of God and uses it as a confirmation that the books are indeed from God.[3] With this perspective, Jesus Christ, being God, is used as the beginning of the analysis for both the Old and New Testament books of the canon.

The Two Issues

With this said, there are actually two different issues when it comes to this question of the canon. They are:

  1. What are the books of the canon?
  2. How can we recognize the books of the canon?

So often in this debate, people get confused over these two issues of “what is the case” and “how can we recognize the case.” The 66 books of the Bible are the Word of God by virtue that they came from God. This is the case. The longer issue is how can we recognize the case.

From here, the objective is to let God from His Word determine the canon from a self-establishing/self-authority perspective and merely follow His thoughts after Him. And then we will address how we can recognize these authoritative works.

But first, let’s analyze how many Christians approached this subject in the past and why the approach they often used fell tragically short.

Proposed methods of “canonization” of the books of the Bible

The method of canonization is an issue of authority. Either God is the ultimate authority or not. If God is not the ultimate authority, then the ultimate conclusion is that nothing matters. But in a sin-cursed world, where mankind seems to be in constant rebellion against God, mankind, even Christians who strive to follow God, still demote God (in their own minds) to being less than the final authority in a host of arenas—and the canon is no different.

But when people reject God as the ultimate authority on a subject, even in subtle ways, they elevate man (by default) into a position of greater authority on the subject than God. This should be a red flag to any Christian who trusts in God, and they should constantly humble themselves, submitting to the Word of God above the words of others—even their own.

The Bible repeatedly warns against elevating the ideas and traditions of men over the Word of God (emphasis added):

that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5)

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:6-9)

With this in mind, a number of “methods” for canonization have been proposed over the years (mostly in regard to the New Testament, which is the more controversial of the testaments, but that will be discussed later).[4] It needs to be specifically pointed out where the ideas of men have been elevated to the position of authority over God’s Word in these faulty views. Let’s look at some errant methods:

  1. If a book proclaims the gospel, then it is Scripture.

Naturally, there are a host of problems with this viewpoint. First, this idea does not originate in Scripture, but in the minds of man, so man is the ultimate authority over God. Furthermore, not all of the books of the Bible proclaim the gospel, and yet books that are not in the Bible often proclaim the gospel. This is clearly not a sufficient basis for canonicity.

  1. Christians have always agreed on the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

Who is in the position of authority here? Not God, but fallible, imperfect Christians who made up this rule. And further, Christians have not always agreed! This is obvious when the history is studied and Christians debated over these books—in fact, Christians still do today!

  1. If a book claims to be from God, it is Scripture.

Who is the authority behind this method? Again, it does not come from Scripture, but from man. But some books of Scripture do not claim to come from God (e.g., Jude) and other books outside of Scripture do claim to come from God (e.g., Book of Mormon, Koran, etc.) but are not Scripture. So this is not an acceptable method either.

  1. The witness of the Holy Spirit allows each of us to determine the canon.

This one sounds like it gives the Holy Spirit, who is God, the authority, but does it? People can come up with thousands of variations of this and all claim it was the Holy Spirit that led them to a particular canon list. How can we know that one person was led by the Spirit and the other thousand were not? Ultimately, this leads to man’s authority and even though all Scripture came about by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit did not say in His Word that He would guide each of us to know the canon. This too, falls tragically short. The Holy Spirit is indeed important to this issue, but not by the methodology proposed here.

  1. Identifying internal tensions after beginning with the 27 books of the canon (Luther’s original view, though he recognized this was not sufficient), e.g., James seems to be in conflict with Paul, so James should not be “full” canon.[5]

This is like a canon within the canon—start with the 27 books of the New Testament, then reduce as need be. Luther, coming out of the Roman church, was questioning a great many things about what he had been taught. But essentially, this is based on our own perceptions of the content of the books. With this false position, if I am having an issue reconciling Mark 16:16a with Mark 16:16b, then I would have the right to remove the book of Mark from the canon. In other words, I would be the authority over God, so this is clearly not the correct position.

There is no internal conflict with Mark 16:16, but the ideas are complimentary. The point is that is a conflict of human perception, not an actual conflict within the Scriptures. So clearly this method does not work correctly either.

  1. Magisterium determines the canon.

This view, commonly held by the Roman church, essentially allows them to claim the authority over canon. But they have elevated themselves to being greater than God in this instance. This is similar to Mormons and others, who have their leadership sitting in the position of authority to determine what God actually said.

Commonly, it is claimed that the Scriptures became authoritative about 300 years after their writing with a church council. Does this mean that for 300 years, the church was not subject to 1 Corinthians? Not at all. When the books were written by men, who were led by the Holy Spirit, the books were immediately Scripture.[6] If anything, this reveals how long it took for fallible, sinful people to recognize the books of the New Testament. The church is an outcome or result of the Scriptures, not the other way around. So this view is found wanting as well.

  1. The Holy Spirit led the church to the canon.

This sounds good at first, but the Bible does not make this claim. In an inadvertent way, it places the church—which is made up of people—as the actual authority. Furthermore, the church disagreed over the canon for quite some time. So this view falls short as well. The Holy Spirit is important in this discussion, but not via the means listed.

  1. The canon was determined by consensus.

It should be obvious that having people “cast their vote” on the issue is not an attainable means to determine the canon. Clearly, man would be the ultimate authority on the issue in this view.

  1. Apostolicity Plus: the canon includes things written or affirmed by the apostles, or their associates, or the brothers of the Lord, or others, and tests must be applied to find out if they are Scripture.

This has become the most popular view among evangelicals as of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It sounds easy enough and even has some merit, but falls short on the grounds of human authority as well. It is good in that it begins with Christ conferring authority to the apostles (which is biblical, as we will see later).

Regarding apostolic authorship, books like Matthew, Peter, Paul’s letters, and so on were written by apostles, so they are authoritative according to 2 Peter 3:2. This works for some New Testament books, but in regard to Luke or Acts, written by Luke, who was not an apostle, the apostolic authorship falls short. But all is not lost. Paul, an apostle, actually quotes Luke as Scripture in 1 Timothy, giving Luke’s writings direct apostolic affirmation.

Jude and Hebrews, though, are not quoted as Scripture by an apostle nor written by an apostle according to any part of Scripture, so the argument of apostolic authority seems to fail. So this method deviates here. The easy answer for those adhering to this position is to add in “close associates” of the apostles and “brothers” of the Lord or whoever else to include them with some form of apostolic authority as well. In other words, other people also had the same power to speak for Christ as the apostles.

But here is the problem: there is no biblical basis for this line of thinking, as Scripture does not confer any authority to brothers of the Lord nor to “close associates” of the apostles or anyone else. And what does “close associate” mean anyway? Yes, Luke was a close associate, but so were Timothy and Clement and others, yet there is nothing that is part of the canon that was entirely written by them.

Ultimately, this decision about who to include as a legitimate author of Scripture comes from the mind of man trying to reconcile the problem. So man becomes the authority over God’s Word regarding some of God’s Word.

This view has enjoyed great popularity since, unlike the previous erroneous views, it is not entirely based on human authority, but has only a few books based on human authority. But in an absolute sense, and although this viewpoint did get some things right, it is still not good enough.

  1. The canon is the canon because here it is in my Bible.

Of course, if someone decided to print a Bible with more books, then are those books part of the canon? In fact, a Bible that is produced by the Roman church it has a different set of books. This position is arbitrary and would allow man entirely to determine what should be Scripture, removing God as the authority.

With each of these ten views above (and there may be more obscure faulty views floating around out there), man is somehow elevated to the position of authority and God is somehow demoted, which defeats the purpose. If I were to claim that I am the ultimate authority on the subject of God being the ultimate authority, I have just refuted myself! In essence, this is what each of these positions has done: yielding to man as the ultimate authority on the subject of God’s Word, which is actually the ultimate authority since God’s Word comes with the authority of God!

To be clear, apostolicity and the Holy Spirit are indeed very relevant to this discussion, but not in the ways they were used in these previous arguments. The Scriptures need to act as the authority for determining the canon. With this in mind, let’s start with Christ’s view of the Old Testament in the Scriptures and then use this to springboard to the New Testament—all the while using the presupposition that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the Word of God.

What about the 39 books of the Old Testament?

Regarding the 39 books of the Old Testament, God in the flesh—Jesus Christ—confirmed these books. Hebrews 1:1–2 states:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds

Jesus, being God the Son but also being a prophet (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:15–18; John 6:14; Matthew 13:57; Luke 24:19), or more specifically the prophet who lived under the Old Testament, made this easy for us. He affirmed the Jewish canon list, being in the position of authority both as Creator and prophet; we have a listing of the Old Testament books.

Prior to Christ giving the final seal of approval to the Old Testament books, it was the prophets who had the authority to speak for God and impose various written documents on the Israelites as authoritative (e.g., 2 Kings 17:13). Basically, they gave the stamp of approval to things that were Scripture, being entrusted with the oracles of God (e.g., Romans 3:2; Luke 11:49; 2 Peter 3:2; Ephesians 2:20).

The overall Hebrew breakdown of the Old Testament books puts them in three major categories: [7]

  1. The Law (Torah): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
  2. The Prophets (Nebhim):
    1. Early prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings
    2. Later prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (minor prophets)
  3. The Psalms/Writings (Kethubhim):
    1. Poetic books: Psalms, Proverbs, and Job
    2. Five Rolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes
    3. Historical books: Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles

The Jewish canon included exactly what is in the Protestant Old Testament and was used in the early churches as the New Testament was being written. The number of books in the Jewish canon is different (commonly 24), but it is the same text. Where Protestants divided Kings, Samuel, and Chronicles into two books apiece, the Jews had them as one. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were also one book in the Jewish list. The twelve Minor Prophets were also compiled into one book.[8]

Jesus confirms all three divisions of the Old Testament in Luke 24:44, showing that they are authoritative.

Luke 24:44
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”

Even other New Testament authors openly confirm the Old Testament books. For example, Paul affirms them as oracles of God (Romans 3:1–2). But Christ or the New Testament apostles never indicated or suggested that any of the Jewish Scriptures be removed or others added. This should be reason enough to reject the Apocrypha (which is discussed a bit more in the next section) as Scripture.

And further, Christ used the Old Testament as authoritative on many occasions—too many to list. But for one example, when Satan tried tempting Jesus in Matthew 4, Jesus quoted three times from Moses’s books.

Was the Apocrypha canon Scripture too?

The Apocrypha (meaning “hidden” or “unknown”) are books written prior to the time of Christ, many during the 400 years of silence between Malachi and Christ’s entrance into the world. These books provide some history and insight into the times. These books were seen as historically valuable but not as Scripture.

However, some of these books have been “canonized” by the Roman and Orthodox churches. The Orthodox churches have some that are distinct from the Roman church, so the number of apocryphal books varies to some degree. In particular, the more popular ones are:

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. 1 Maccabees
  4. 2 Maccabees
  5. Wisdom of Solomon
  6. Ecclesiasticus (Book of Sirach)
  7. 1 Esdras
  8. 2 Esdras
  9. Baruch
  10. Letter of Jeremiah
  11. Additions to Esther
  12. Prayer of Azariah
  13. Suzanna (often inserted as Daniel 13)
  14. Bel and the Dragon
  15. Prayer of Manasseh

The books of the Apocrypha were never classed as Scripture by Christ or the Jews, nor did the writers of the New Testament quote from them—this should settle the issue. But let’s review the history of these books regarding canon status.

The Apocrypha appeared in the Latin Vulgate in the 5th century AD and copies of the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from about 250 BC, denoted as the LXX). However, the earliest extant copies of the LXX are from the 5th century AD, and that does not tell us whether or not the original LXX contained the Apocrypha.

The Apocrypha also appeared at the end of a biblical manuscript called Codex Sinaiticus about the 4th century AD, but the presence of the Apocrypha in any of these documents does not necessarily mean that they were regarded as Scripture, any more than commentary notes in Bibles are to be seen as Scripture. Regardless, modern Roman Catholic Bibles now contain the Apocrypha—as did the KJV in 1611 (the first edition of the King James Version) and early editions of the Geneva Bible.

Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate in the 5th century for the Roman church, made it abundantly clear that the Apocrypha was not Scripture, even though it was included with the Vulgate. But Jerome felt that it, like many other ancient pieces of literature, was worthy to be translated into Latin, the common tongue of the day. Even many early church fathers, such as Melito, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, and others, rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture.

Jews, before and during the time of Christ, often used the Septuagint (whether it contained the Apocrypha or not) but never classed the Apocrypha as Scripture for various reasons.[9] One such reason is that it never claimed to be Scripture, unlike many other books of the Bible. Even one of the apocryphal books affirms there was no one speaking on God’s behalf at that time (1 Maccabees 9:27) when it says, “There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people.”

Today, the Roman church views twelve of the Apocryphal books as Scripture and has included them in its modern Bible translations (e.g., New American Bible and New Jerusalem Bible). The books that are excluded are 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. This decision to elevate some of the Apocrypha to full canon status was made in 1546 at the Council of Trent.

Some have claimed that apocryphal books were recognized as full scriptural canon by the church as far back as the First Synod of Hippo in AD 393 with Augustine. There are no extant records of this synod, so no one can say exactly what was decided, though the summary offered by the Council of Carthage in AD 397 is assumed to be generally accurate. However, the Synod of Hippo was regional, as was the following Council at Carthage where this new canon was approved; hence, it did not hold authority over the whole of the Roman church and it did not include all of the Apocrypha.

It was not until AD 405 that Pope Innocent I endorsed the Apocrypha—after the Council of Carthage—even though Jerome (who translated the Bible and Apocrypha into Latin) strictly opposed it as Scripture. Catholic Cardinal Cajetan, around the time of the Reformation in the 16th century AD, reveals that there were two different levels of canon in the Roman church (a strict canon and a non-official (i.e., second) canon that was still useful for teaching in the church). In regard to this council, he says in his commentary:

“Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.” [10]

This was presumably the real difference between the deuterocanonical (“second canon,” or books that were useful but not fully canonical) and protocanonical (fully inspired). Up to the Council of Trent in 1546, the view of Jerome dominated that Apocryphal books were not fully inspired canon, but were “second canon”; and the Catholic Polyglot Bible even left the Apocrypha out after the Council of Florence in 1451.

The official fully inspired Old Testament canon accepted by the Roman church was essentially the same as the canon being used by the Protestants and Jews until the Council of Trent; at this point however, the second canon books were promoted to the position of fully inspired canon by the Roman church.

This is why 1546 is the official date of the additions, because it was then that the Apocrypha was officially classed as full canon by the Roman church, even though the listing at Carthage (397) and Florence (1445) included some apocryphal writings. Of course, there were Catholic leaders on both sides of the issue between Pope Innocent I and the Council of Trent. But at the Council of Trent, there was no longer a real distinction between apocryphal books and the rest of Scripture in Roman Catholicism.

Brief Overview in History of the View of the Apocrypha

Date Event Apocrypha considered fully inspired?
c. 400 BC Malachi ends the OT Scripture. N/A
c. 100 BC–c. AD 100 The community who copies the Dead Sea Scrolls never refers to the Apocrypha as “it is written” or “God says” as they do with other canon books. No
c. AD 30 Jesus never rejects the Jewish canon (which is the same as the Protestant OT); Jesus never quotes from the Apocrypha as Scripture. No
AD 40 Philo, Jewish philosopher, refers to all but 5 OT books and never quotes from the Apocrypha. No
c. AD 40–90 The New Testament writers do not quote from the Apocrypha as Scripture. No
AD 90 The Council of Jamnia draws up a list of canonical books for Judaism at the time—the Apocrypha are excluded. No
AD 80–100 Josephus, Jewish historian, never lists the Apocrypha as Scripture. No
AD 170 The first verifiable canon listing from the church fathers is found in the writings of Melito of Sardis, and the Apocrypha are missing. No
AD 320s Another listing by Athanasius lists canon books, but the Apocrypha are missing. No
AD 382–405 Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, opposes the Apocrypha as Scripture, though he translates it. No
c. AD 350–370 Rufinius lists the canon books, and the Apocryphal books are not among them. No
c. AD 350–370 Cyril of Jerusalem rejects the Apocrypha. No
c. AD 343-381 Council of Laodicea rejects all of the Apocrypha except Baruch. No (except 1)
AD 393 Regional Synod of Hippo, influenced by Augustine, is the first listing of the Apocrypha as Scripture and is approved at the regional Council of Carthage (397). See the discussion above on Hippo. Yes
AD 590–604 Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, in his writings denies Maccabees as canonical but still says it is useful (according to Roman Catholic patristics scholar, William Jurgens). Openly denies 1
AD 1445 Council of Florence declares that the Apocryphal books are canonical. Yes
c. early AD 1500 Catholic Cardinal Cajetan (who opposed Luther) points out that there are two levels of inspiration, and the Apocrypha, Judith, Tobit, books of Maccabees, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus are lesser and seen as non-canon books. No (secondary canon)
AD 1520 Polyglot Bible of Cardinal Ximenes (approved by Pope Leo X) is published. No
AD 1517–1520s Protestant Reformation retains the Jewish canon and that of Jerome (and many others) with no Apocrypha. No
AD 1546 The Council of Trent finalizes the Roman Church additions of the Apocrypha as full canon. Yes

Protestants today would say that the books of the Apocrypha are useful for many reasons (historical and so on), but they would not label them as Scripture. This was the view of the Reformers and Puritans. The early editions of the Geneva Bible and KJV (1611) contained the Apocrypha. It was dropped, presumably, when it was realized that some readers might not understand the distinction. This view is very similar to the dominant Catholic view up until the Council of Trent.

Concluding remarks about Old Testament canon and the presuppositional method

The presuppositional method essentially starts with God’s Word as an absolute beginning and ends with God’s Word as the final authority on matters. There is no greater authority on anything than God.

Christ, as the prophet, gives the final affirmation of the Old Testament as Scripture. Other prophets had written or affirmed books of the Old Testament canon upon Israel. Though we may not know who all of them were, the fact is that Israel knew they had been given authoritative status. In some cases, we may know which prophet it was, such as Moses for the Law. But Christ is the authority on this and affirmed the 39 books of the Old Testament.

This method of presuppositional apologetics has proved vital in defending many attacks on the Word of God. And the issue of canon is no different. This method hinges on Christ for both the Old and New Testaments (as we will see in the next section). The protestant and Jewish Old Testament were confirmed by Christ, while the books of the Apocrypha were not.

BHodge

Cite this article: Hodge, B., How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are from God? A presuppositional response, Part 1: Old Testament and Apocrypha, Biblical Authority Ministries, August, 18, 2015, https://biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/how-do-we-know-that-the-66-books-of-the-bible-are-from-god-a-presuppositional-response-part-1-old-testament-and-apocrypha/.

[1] For more on these issues see Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, Texas: Covenant Media Press, 1996).

[2] Any other starting point will self-destruct, as the Bible must be true in order for knowledge, logic, morality, science, and so on to exist. By starting with God and His Word, the all-knowing God of the Bible informs that all other worldviews are wrong. Therefore, other worldviews must borrow from the Bible to argue against the Bible. For more on this, see Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009).

[3] Greg Bahnsen, “The Concept and Importance of Canonicity,” Antithesis 1, no. 5 (September-October, 1990): 42-45, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/bible/bahnsen_canon.html.

[4] Many of these past proposals for methods of canonization are based on the lecture given by Dr. Greg Bahnsen where he summarizes them entitled “The Question of Canonicity,” http://www.cmfnow.com/thequestionofcanonicity.aspx.

[5] To Luther’s credit, he did recognize this was a problematic way to look at the canon and really did not favor it greatly.

[6] Though it was not until an apostle pointed this out to the church that realized they were Scripture.

[7] Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), p. 35.

[8] Some Jewish counts have 22 books instead of 24, because Ruth was combined with Judges, and Lamentations was combined with with Jeremiah, but the text is the same. Interestingly, if there are 22 books of the Old Testament by this count and 27 in the New, this makes 49 books. But if we add in the Book of Life (which is in Heaven) mentioned in Revelation, that makes an even round number of 50.

[9] For more on this subject, see Brian Edwards,Nothing But the Truth (Webster, New York: Evangelical Press, 2006) and Why 27? (Webster, New York: Evangelical Press, 2007).

[10] From Cardinal Caietan (Jacob Thomas de Vio), Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, In ult. Cap., Esther; taken from William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (Cambridge University, 1849), p. 48. See also B.F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (Cambridge: MacMillan, 1889), p. 475.

How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are from God? A presuppositional response, Part 1: Old Testament and Apocrypha