“We should not imagine a committee of church fathers with a large pile of books and these five guiding principles before them when we speak of the process of canonization. No ecumenical committee was commissioned to canonize the Bible.”
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible
The Ecumenical Council by Salvador Dali, 1960
Our church’s Statement of Faith is pretty minimal. We only list eight core beliefs, the second of which states that we believe “in the inspiration of all the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, and that they are the final authority for our faith and practice.”
“…final authority for our faith and practice?” Really?!
Our founders didn’t draft up this idea—it is delineated in the historic confessions of the Christian church. Consider the absolute implications of this statement. It means the Bible contains the foundations for Christian faith and practice, and that we are bound to it in all matters. We don’t get to impart our personal, alternative views. We don’t get to cherry pick which parts we like or which parts we would write differently. We don’t get to interpret what it says in ways that are contradictory to it. When we disagree with someone else’s view or interpretation, we submit to the final authority of the Bible. No appeals. We believe the Bible comprises God’s special revelation to us.
If you’ve been reading Veracity for any length of time, you know that we are big on personal discipleship—which we define as the process in which a believer or seeker takes personal responsibility for investigating the claims and content of the Bible. Personal Discipleship is based on the Bible.
Exactly how did we get the Bible?
Welcome to our latest Veracity series. If you’re like me or Salvador Dali you may have developed some loose derivative notions such as:
- God told a select group of human authors what to write,
- Their writings were evaluated by committees of men in silly hats,
- These ecumenical councils voted on which writings would be in “the Bible,” and
- Later ecumenical councils clarified and solidified the final selection (and some modified it).
In fact, if you read what Wikipedia has to say about Ecumenical Councils it sounds like a pretty cut-and-dried historical process. But is that all there is to it? For that matter are these notions even correct? Are we to live our lives under the complete authority of documents that were assembled by ancient and medieval committees? How do we know that the Bible we hold in our hands today is what God intended for us to have? What if it was corrupted in its translations or transmission? How do we know that we have the right books, and why do we disagree along denominational lines about what should be included in the ‘Holy’ Bible?
In preparing for this series I read a lot of texts that come at these questions from a canonical perspective (focusing on how the official list of biblical texts was created and adopted). I must confess, that was originally my interest as well. But Drs. Norman Geisler and William Nix have a more comprehensive, full-orbed understanding, which they explain in From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible. So let’s dig in and see what these and other scholars have to bring to our understanding of how we got the Bible.
Over the course of this series we will look at the inspiration, canonization, transmission, and translation of the Bible. But before we dive into the topic of inspiration here’s a Mini Bible College audio clip from Dick Woodward to give us the big picture.
Dick did a masterful job summarizing the basics for us, and Geisler and Nix will delve more deeply into the details (particularly when we get to the process of canonization). We’ll go slowly and see what we can learn about the book that comprises the authoritative basis for our Christian faith and practice.
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible.
Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate.
Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College Audio Download.
Robert Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible: An Historical and Exegetical Study.
Jack P. Lewis, Jamnia After Forty Years.
Brooke Foss Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament during the First Four Centuries.