Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 16

CANON: Divine Qualities

A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 16
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CANON: Divine Qualities


Something that would defeat our confidence in the canon


A. The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other

B. Defeater: the Bible is a theologial “mess” (F.C. Baur)

C. Defeater defeater : Baur

1. Baur has been refuted

2. How can a non-believer assess theological harmony?

D. Defeater defeater: NT completes the OT


Can be hidden by sin

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Class Resources
  • In Part 1, Dr. Darrell Bock addresses the historical Jesus debate, some scholars actually question whether Jesus even lived. How can we show that he did live using sources other than the Bible and the writing of the early Church Fathers?

    We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit. We will re-record the seminar when we are able.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Darrell Bock adresses how some liberal scholars argue that because the stories of Jesus were first told by word of mouth, and since memory is faulty, that we cannot trust the gospel witness to Jesus. Dr. Bock discusses three views of orality and why the "informal controlled" model of the Bedouins best parallels the gospels and argues for the authenticity of their accounts. He also shows why the supposed "time gap" between Jesus living and the writing of ;the accounts is only a few years due to the witness of Paul, and not decades as some propose.

    We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit. We will re-record the seminar when we are able.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Darrell Bock addresses when the authenticity of the gospels is questioned due to faulty human memory. Some people claim that since we do not know for sure who wrote the gospels, we cannot trust their message. Others argue that there is nothing special about presenting Jesus as a common miracle worker. In this session, Dr. Bock answers each of these charges.

    We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit.

  • How scholarship has created a series of rules they use to judge the authenticity of a gospel passage. Dr. Bock critiques those rules and shows how they still can argue for the authenticity of the core events of the gospel message.

  • Two key events in the gospels, Jesus' trial and the resurrection. Using the rules of scholarship, he shows that even by those standards these events are authentic.

  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Blomberg addresses seven questions during a Q&A session.

  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • In this final talk, Blomberg addresses the final nine questions from the audience.

  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt, and how can you trust your translation where there are so many? This class walks you through the process of how we received our Bible and why we can trust it.

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallaces discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. Dr. Piper discusses the content, cohesiveness, scope and power of the Bible.

Course: Why We Trust Our Bible

Lecture: The Divine Qualities of the Canon


I. What is a ‘defeater’?

In the first part of the book, I argued for what I call an epistemic model of knowing, like God has given us a structure by which we can rightly know what books are from him. And before that model, there were the attributes of canonicity. You can know that a book is from God because it has divine qualities with apostolic origins and co-operate reception. But a model like that only works short of a defeater. Yes, you can have a model that give you reasons for knowing, but after a defeater comes along and shoots down your model negatively. So a defeater is something or someone that undermines your confidence in knowing something. You can have good grounds in thinking that you know something, but then a defeater comes along and says actually no. One example I give in the book is when Joe wakes up in the morning and sees that his alarm clock says 9:00 am and then reaches the conclusion that he is late for work. Joe is justified in that conclusion, but then his wife comes in and tells him that his son was playing with his clock last night and may have changed the time. Now he’s got a defeater to his justified belief. There was nothing wrong with his belief in being late for work. So, one of the things I do in the book, I say that our model works short of defeaters. Are there defeaters that can undermine our model? I walk through those one at a time in the book. The first has to do with divine quality. So we argue that the Bible contains divine quality and what I argue is, we have to explain what those divine qualities are and ask if there is anything that can defeat them. I mentioned three different divine qualities in the book: beauty in Excellency, power, and efficacy of these books and then unity and harmony.

I want to focus on unity and harmony as I believe that is the one that most people resonate with. One of the divine qualities that mark out books as canonical is the remarkable theological unity and harmony they have, not only with one another but with prior revelation. So, why do we think these New Testament books are from God; one point is the amazing unity and harmony with prior revelation that complete the biblical story. But also when you look at them, we can compare them with one another. They are unified, they agree and there is consistency among them. It is the kind of consistency that you can’t imagine that could be humanly constructed as the books were written over different periods of time and by different authors. All this is suggestive of divine qualities; this is a God book as you would reach your conclusion on. This is the Christian argument, that this unity and harmony points us back to the fact that these books belong in the canon. But once you say that, there comes along the defeater who basically questions what you say. They say, ‘you claim these books have unity and harmony, but they are a theological mess.’ And the defeater continues on, when you look at the New Testament, there are different theological camps present. They disagree with each other theologically. The main scholar that suggested this was a person by the name of F.C. Bower who said when you look in the New Testament you can’t see theological harmony but only diversity. In fact, everybody disagrees with everybody; Paul says one thing and James says another thing. Jesus says one thing and then Paul says something else. There are contradictions and differences; theological unity isn’t there. So this has been suggested as a defeater to the canonical model. How can we as evangelicals claim there is harmony in these twenty-seven books when Bower says there is no harmony at all? There is only a theological mess.

In my book I debunk that; I offer what is called a defeater, defeater. This defeat for Bower is multidimensional and I will not go into it fully here. But his arguments have been roundly critiqued. His arguments consist of different theological camps that run into a number of problems. For one, further studies show that Paul and James aren’t opposed to each other. Actually, they are fairly harmonious. They stand, in a sense, back to back arguing against different errors. And time to time, again, the supposed theological disparity have been shown and proved to be harmonious. So Bower has been refuted in that way. But I push back against Bower in another way; why do we expect the non-believer to be able to assess theological harmony in the first place? This goes back to our earlier point; when you read the New Testament books, you need spiritual eyes to be able to understand what they are saying and see what they mean. For someone who doesn’t even affirm the divine origins of the these books, who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, simply goes against what we know from 1st Corinthians 2 which says that the natural man has not received the things of the Spirit. Put differently, when we have critics that claim not to see harmony in the New Testament, that shouldn’t bother us to the degree that it normally does.

II. The Unity in the Overall Structure of the Old and New Testaments

There are different ways to look at the harmony of the New Testament books; one is the way that they relate to each other, but another way is how the New Testament Books complete the Old Testament. In comparing the New Testament to the Old Testament, you realize that the New Testament is actually finishing a story that was left unfinished in the old and completion is a natural conclusion. And so, when you look at it as a complete unit, you see that the New Testament is finishing up the Old Testament and structurally creating a complete unit. That can be ascertained a lot of different ways. Certainly, you can see that unity in terms of the story, itself. The Old Testament has a story that doesn’t have an end and the New Testament brings a proper end to it. You can see the unity in this way. But there are other ways to see the unity, the overall structure of both testaments make sense; Genesis starts with creation and Revelation ends with a New Creation. You have Genesis starting with a seven day week and then in Revelation you have the number 7 used over and over again. You look at the overall canonical structure of the Old and The New Testament; the Old Testament has a three-fold structure with the New Testament having a four-fold structure which is a totality of seven which is symbolic of completeness. There is observation after observation that begins to back each other up. So do I believe that human beings randomly connected these books together and have that sort of unified structure? Is that possible? One would have to say that there is more than a random human construct. There is a divine harmony amongst these books that point back to God.

III. The Holy Spirit and the Scope of the Beauty and Unity of the Bible

If the unbeliever comes along and says, look, I don’t understand; you Christians say that there is beauty and Excellency in these books, but I don’t see it. Once again, we must ask whether or not they have eyes to see this. What I am always amazed at, when you tell a non-Christian that the Bible has certain qualities and the non-Christian doesn’t see those qualities; they immediately assume that the problem is the Bible and not them. This is an interesting observation. No one ever pauses to think that something could be wrong with their sense of perception. They immediately assume that their sense of perception works perfectly fine, the problem is the Bible. But I would challenge this; we don’t do this in other areas of life. If you were listening to the radio and all of a sudden it stops playing, you would probably assume that there is some wrong with your radio. You don’t assume that there is something wrong with the signal at the radio station. You don’t conclude that, oh, my receiver is working just find, something must be wrong with the signal because everything is find on my end. No, you rightly assume that maybe my receiver is broken. And I would push back against the non-Christian at that point and say, when you say you don’t see these divine qualities, why do you assume the problem is that they are not there? Maybe the problem is with your ability to apprehend them.