Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (2010) [Chapter 2 – Part 2]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Revelation: God Speaks

(Part 2: pp.47-64)

A) About the author(s):

Mark Driscoll has a Master of Arts degree in exegetical theology from Western Seminary. He was the founding and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, and former president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Gerry Breshears is a Professor of Theology at Western Seminary and earned his PhD in Systematic Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

B) Chapter Summary:

iv) Who wrote the Bible?

“The human authors of the Bible include kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, a doctor, and scholars. The books of the Bible cover history, sermons, letters, songs, and love letters. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents.”[1]

“People who were providentially prepared by God, and motivated and superintended by the Holy Spirit, spoke and wrote according to their own personalities and circumstances in such a way that their words are the very Word of God. God’s supernatural guidance of the writers and their situations enabled them to receive and communicate all God would have us know for his glory and our salvation.

We call this divine inspiration. Putting it a bit more technically, the writings themselves have the quality of being God-breathed. It is not the authors or the process that is inspired, but the writings.”[2]

“The belief that God wrote Scripture in concert with human authors whom he inspired to perfectly record his words is called verbal (the very words of the Bible) plenary (every part of the Bible) inspiration (are God-breathed revelation). Very simply, this means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but also the very details and exact words that were perfectly recorded for us as Scripture. When we say verbal, we believe that the very words are inspired and important, chosen by God, so every word does matter … When we say plenary, we mean there are no parts of the Bible we don’t believe, don’t like, or won’t teach or preach or obey.”[3]

See 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:19–21.

“The biblical authors knew they were writing Holy Scripture.”[4]

See 1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Pet. 3:15–16.

[1] pp.47-48

[2] p.48

[3] pp.48-49

[4] p.50

v) What is the Canon of Scripture?

“The canon of Scripture is the collection of books that the church has recognized as having divine authority in matters of faith and doctrine. The term comes from the Greek word kanon and the Hebrew word qaneh, both of which mean “a rule,” or “measuring rod.” The canon is an authority to which other truth claims are compared and by which they are measured.”[1]

F.F. Bruce: “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa—at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397—but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”[2]

“Time after time Jesus and his apostles quoted from this distinctive body of authoritative writings. They designated them as “the Scripture,” “the Scriptures,” “the holy Scriptures,” “the sacred writings,” and so forth. They often introduced their quotations with “It is written”; that is, it stands firmly written.

We call these authoritative writings the Old Testament. Jewish people call them the Tanakh, an acronym formed from the first letters of Torah (Law), Naviim (Prophets), and Ketubim (Writings).”[3]

For the different designations, see John 7:38; Acts 8:32; Rom. 4:3

Matt. 21:42; John 5:39; Acts 17:11.

Rom. 1:2.

2 Tim. 3:15.

Walter A. Elwell: “It is important to note that the Tanakh includes the same material as the Protestant Old Testament, though they arrange the books differently.”[4]

“Beginning two hundred and fifty years before Christ, Greek-speaking Jews living in Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek, calling it the Septuagint. For some unknown reason, they changed the content of several books, added many books, and rearranged the order of the books.”[5]

“There was a long and complicated debate about the validity and status of these books. Eventually the Roman Catholic Church adopted many of the books of the Septuagint into its Latin version, called the Vulgate. They referred to them as deuterocanonical, meaning they were canonized later. As the Reformers attempted to rid the church of many traditional teachings and get back to the Bible, they also rejected the deuterocanonical books, calling them the Apocrypha. They kept the ordering of the Vulgate but returned to the authoritative books of Jesus, the Hebrew-speaking Jews, and early Christianity.

The early church immediately recognized most of the books of the New Testament as canonical. The four Gospels, written to preserve and spread the story of Jesus to the whole church, were received gladly and universally, as were the writings of Paul, including 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus (also known as the Pastoral Letters). Acts, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Revelation were also universally recognized. However, Hebrews remained in dispute for several centuries, especially in the West, because of the anonymity of its author. The status of James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude fluctuated according to church, age, and individual judgment and are occasionally omitted from canonical lists. Some works of the apostolic fathers, such as the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the first and second epistles of Clement are sporadically cited as potentially Scripture but are not usually included in formal canonical lists.

In the fourth century the church moved to settle the issues of the New Testament canon. In the East it was done in the Thirty-Ninth Paschal Letter of Athanasius in AD 367. In the West the canon was fixed at the Council of Carthage in AD 397.”[6]

“How did the church know which books ought to be recognized as canonical? What were the criteria for canonicity? They used three primary criteria:

1) Conformity to “the rule of faith.” Did the book conform to orthodoxy, Christian truth recognized as normative in the churches?

2) Apostolicity. Was the writer of the book an apostle or did the writer of the book have immediate contact with the apostles? All but a few New Testament writers were eyewitnesses to the events they recorded. Though not eyewitnesses, Luke received his information from Paul and numerous eyewitnesses, while Mark received his information from Peter, who was an eyewitness. James and Jude were closely associated with the apostles in Jerusalem and were probably Jesus’ brothers, which would have also made them eyewitnesses.

3) Catholicity. Did the book have widespread and continuous acceptance and usage by churches everywhere?”[7] (emphasis mine)

[1] p.51

[2] F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), p.22

[3] p.52

[4] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988), 301

[5] p.53

[6] pp.53-54

[7] p.54

vi) Why were some books not accepted as Scripture?

“There is no reason to be concerned about any lost gospels containing truth that we need about God. Anyone curious about their truthfulness should simply read them.

The Gospel of Philip supposedly says that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. In fact, it says, “And the companion of the [ . . . ] Mary Magdalene, [ . . . ] her more than the disciples [ . . . ] kiss her on her [ . . . ]. The rest of [ . . . ]. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’” (The ellipses in brackets indicate where the papyrus is broken and lost.) To say the least, this is extremely slender evidence for Jesus’ marriage that some purport, even if this very late, clearly Gnostic gospel was accepted as authentic, which it is not.

The Gospel of Thomas is one of the earlier and most widely affirmed of the Gnostic gospels. It is not a gospel in the sense of a narrative that tells the story of Jesus. Rather, it consists of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, some of which clearly parallel sayings in the canonical Gospels. But that is where the similarity ends. It was written at least a century after the four biblical Gospels, long after the eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ were dead. It clearly reflects Gnostic theology built on a belief system that despised earthly and material realities and exalted the “higher” spiritual plane. The “god” of Thomas is a second-rate angelic being who rebelliously created this physical world. Humans are presented as spiritual beings ensnared in a wretched physical body. The only attention given to the humanity of Jesus was when trying to excuse it. The canonical Gospels, however, provide a very different picture of Jesus: a man who is fully human, in body and spirit, and who had disciples and friends, both male and female.”[1]

Craig Blomberg: “In no meaningful sense did these writers, church leaders, or councils “suppress” Gnostic or apocryphal material, since there is no evidence of any canon that ever included them, nor that anyone put them forward for canonization, nor that they were known widely enough to have been serious candidates for inclusion had someone put them forward. Indeed, they would have failed all three of the major criteria used by the early church in selecting which books they were, at times very literally, willing to die for—the criteria of apostolicity (that a book was written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle), coherence (not contradicting previously accepted Scripture), and catholicity (widespread acceptance as particularly relevant and normative within all major segments of the early Christian community).”[2]

“To be fair, there are a handful of other ancient books that have some good content. Books such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache were appreciated by the early church and are akin to some popular Christian books today that can provide some insight but do not rise to the level of Scripture or fall to the level of heresy. But only a few individual churches and teachers wanted them included in the canon. In simplest terms, they were not accepted because they were not God’s Word for his whole church.”[3]

[1] p.56

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, “Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters” (Deerfield, IL: Christ on Campus Initiative, 2008), http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/cci/Blomberg.pdf, 25–26

[3] p.57

C) Review of Part 2 of Chapter 2:

  • Readability: 8/10
  • Theological depth: 6/10
  • Any other comments: This part contains information every Christian should know in order to have a proper understanding of the Doctrine of Scripture.

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