Systematic Theology I - Lesson 10

Illumination; Canonicity

The definition of illumination, why it is necessary, and how we come to know truth. The critceria for canonicity is then discussed and why the canon is now closed (i.e., why no more books would be accepted into the Bible).

Bruce Ware
Systematic Theology I
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Illumination; Canonicity

Doctrine of Scripture

Part 4

IV. Illumination

A. Definition

B. Need for Illumination

1. Moral Antipathy (Truth known but rejected)

2. Spiritual Blindness (Truth not known)

C. Three Paradigms regarding Coming to Know Revealed Truth

1. Fideism

2. Rationalism

3. Critical Realism


V. Canonicity

A. Definition

B. Criteria for Canonicity

1. Written by recognized prophet or apostle

2. Written by those associated with recognized prophet or apostle

3. Truthfulness (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

4. Faithfulness to previously accepted canonical writings

5. Confirmed by Christ, prophet, apostle (e.g. Luke 24:44; 2 Peter 3:16)

6. Church Usage and Recognition

C. The Closing of the Canon

1. No revelation contrary to the gospel

2. Jesus is the Final Revelation

3. Jesus commissioned apostles to convey His revelation

4. Warning not to add or take away from revelation given

  • An introduction to theology, answering the questions of what is EST (Evangelical Systematic Theology), why study EST, and how it relates to other theological disciplines.

  • Introductory issues of how to do EST and the criteria for assessing theological formulations.

  • Issues of cultural Christianity, and the evangelical position of "contextualized normativity."

  • Begins with a discussion of the background to the discussion (Pelagius, Augustine, Council of Carthage, and semi-Pelagianism), and then a discussion of Luther, Calvin, Arminius, the Synod of Dort and the Five Points of Calvinism.

  • Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and their views of Israel and the church

  • A discussion of these three positions and the key figures in each (Schleiermacher, Ritschl, von Harnack; Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr; Carnell, Henry, Graham)

  • The beginning discussion of revelation and the specifics of General Revelation

  • A continuation of the discussion of revelation with an emphasis on Special Revelation, moving into the topic of Inspiration (definition and key passages).

  • A survey of the recent debate, defining inerrancy (including the relationship of hermeneutics and inerrancy), and its relationship to authority.

  • The definition of illumination, why it is necessary, and how we come to know truth. The critceria for canonicity is then discussed and why the canon is now closed (i.e., why no more books would be accepted into the Bible).

  • Why there is a need to know God, and "theism" (arguments as to whether there is a God or not).

  • Can God be known? The Doctrine of the Trinity (Scriptural basis; historical background; Monarchian heresies)

  • Continuation of the discussion of the Trinity and the church's rejection of Monarchianism

  • Beginning of the discussion of the attributes of God's character, and how the discussion is organized.

  • The related doctrines of God's self-sufficiency and his love. (The lecture begins in the middle of a sentence but not much content is missing. Point V., subpoints 1 and 2 were covered in lecture 14. See Outline tab.)

  • God's incommunicable attributes are those that he does not share with us: self-existence; self-sufficiency; infinity; omnipresence; eternity

  • Completes the discussion of God's incommunicable attributes by discussing immutability, the doctrine that God does not change.

  • Discussion of those attributes of God's character that he shares (to some degee) with his creation, beginning with his intellectual attributes (omniscience).

  • A continuing discussion of God communicable attributes, both intellectual (Omnisapience; truth) and moral (goodness; love).

  • Continuation of the discussion of God's communicable moral attributes (love, grace, mercy; holiness, righteousness, justice) and the attributes of God's rulership (freedom; omnipotence).

  • The Scriptural teaching and issues related to this central question

  • Hyper-Calvinism, Process Theology, Arminianism, and Calvinism

  • Concluding discussion on Calvinism

  • An introduction to the doctrine of humanity and the doctrine of humanity's origin (Adam and Eve)

  • Theories on the structure of the human soul (Monism, Dichotomy, Trichotomy) and the transmission of the soul (Creationism, Traducianism).

  • Sin is one of the most foundational and significant topics in Scripture. The doctrines of salvation and sanctification are meaningless without an accurate understanding of sin. The Old Testament teaches both the personal and corporate aspects of sin. New Testament teachings include the essence of sin and total depravity.

  • The facets of the Fall, theories of Original Sin, and God's triumph over sin

What value is there to attempt to know the unknowable or to try to understand someone that, by their own description, is beyond our understanding?

Even though we cannot know everything there is to know about God, there are some things you can know because he has revealed them to you. You can develop a systematic theology as you contemplate what you experience in nature, what you can read in the Bible and what you can know from history. This will give you insights into who God is, how you can have a relationship with him, and how you will live your life differently. Dr. Ware begins by giving you a systematic theology definition and explains systematic theology teachings and concepts that you will find in systematic theology books. He also helps you to learn both the inductive and deductive approaches in assessing various criteria so you can determine for yourself the validity of any theological position.

Some of the first lectures in Dr. Ware’s Systematic Theology I give you the core theological positions of major movements like Calvinism, Arminianism, Covenant, Liberalism and Neo Orthodoxy and help you compare and contrast their different perspectives. Also, since the Bible is the primary source for determining your systematic theology, Dr. Ware defines and explains key terms like inspiration, revelation, inerrancy, illumination and canonicity. God’s existence and attributes make up a major part of this class. The final lectures in Systematic Theology I focus on what the Bible teaches us about humans and sin.

The study of systematic theology is a mixture of science, art and faith. Join Dr. Ware as he leads you in understanding the core teachings of Scripture in a way that help you articulate your systematic theology, deepen your relationship with God and live out your life as a changed person.

This is the first of a two semester class on systematic theology. We recommend the book Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem as a companion book for this class. Dr. Grudem also wrote an abridged version entitled Bible Doctrines that includes discussion questions that are helpful for using in a small group/classroom situation. 

Dr. Bruce Ware

Systematic Theology I


Illumination; Canonicity

Lesson Transcript


IV. Illumination

A. Definition


Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit by which he makes the Scriptures understandable and applicable. I already mentioned to you what is controversial about that is the phrase, "understandable and." Most people are content with the applicable side of it but not understandable. But my reading of Scripture leads me to say that we have to have both of those terms in there. We have to have understandable and applicable, and I showed you from I Corinthians 2:14, that it looks like that is what Paul says there; it is both a matter of understanding and application.

B. Need for Illumination (Categories of Scriptural teaching)

1. Moral Antipathy (Truth known but rejected)

The heart of a person, because of sin, looks at the truth and despises it, hates it, is repulsed by it.

Jn 3:19 Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Jn 3:20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

My point is that you cannot hate something that you do not know. If this were all that Scripture taught, then I think that we would define illumination with just application. Because here it clear, the point is that they get it, but they just don't like it; they won't accept it as truth for themselves. But that is not all the Bible teaches; this is the problem, and hence we have retroductive work to do. We have to put pieces together and make sense of all that Scripture says.

2. Spiritual Blindness (Truth not known)

We also have passages that speak of a kind of spiritual blindness

2 Cor 4:4 In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

In anther text, Acts 26, where Paul is recounting his own conversion experience, he speaks of Christ coming to him and giving him this message.

Acts 26:15 And I said, "Who are You, Lord?" And the Lord said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Ac 26:16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; Ac 26:17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, Ac 26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God..."

So here is another theme in Scripture: spiritual blindness. People are in the dark; they can't see; the god of this world has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving.

When you look at these two sets of texts, you ask the question, which is it? Do they see truth for what it is and hate it, or do they not see it? Which is it? It is both. What does Paul mean in 2 Cor 4:4 that Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ? What does that mean in light of John 3, that people see the light and hate it? Here is one passage that says they can't see the light and another that says they can see the light. Do we have contradictory statements in the Bible, or do we have perspective on something from different angles that need to be united?

C. Three Paradigms regarding Coming to Know Revealed Truth

In Apologetics there are these approaches (and for that matter in evangelism) that are predicated on one or the other of these two understandings above.

With moral antipathy, people can know the truth, so there is common ground, and you can appeal to truth that can be commonly observed. The Holy Spirit has to move their hearts to accept what is otherwise unacceptable, to soften their hard hearts to truth that they find despicable. There is a tendency in that line of apologetics to follow more of an evidential approach; you appeal to evidence and the Holy Spirit has to work in their hearts to accept the evidence and yield to it.

In the presupposition approach there is more of this recognition of spiritual blindness. People can't get it; our world views are incomprehensible, and it is impossible for unsaved people to look at the same truth and understand it correctly.

You have these two different views; I've called them in terms of epistemological theories.

1. Fideism

A term given to the notion that until someone is a part of the faith (hence the term Fideism from fidis, the Latin term for faith) or in the faith, he or she cannot see the truth correctly. They can't understand what it is. You are really out of it altogether. Karl Barth is a good example of a very strong fideist. He did not write a prolegomena to his Church Dogmatics (his theology) because he saw no point in it. What is the point of trying to convince people of the truth of the Bible or the truth of the Christian faith? Unless you believe it, you can never be convinced of its truthfulness. There is no point in even trying. You have to step into the faith, believe, and then you can understand.

It is taking the medieval concept of I believe in order to understand, in its sharpest form. You really cannot have any understanding prior to belief.

That is the fideist view. That view does pretty well at accounting for the spiritual blindness group of texts. If people are blind, the first thing they need is regeneration; they need to see in order to see the truth and then embrace it. But it does very poorly at accounting for the moral antipathy texts, where you see the truth and hate it; you know what it is and you don't like it. There are more than I gave you. Romans 1 is a great passage supporting this moral antipathy.

Rom 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

He is talking about unregenerate people who can see from the heavens, the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, and his divine power, and they don't like it; they worship creatures rather than the creator who is blessed forever.

Fideism does a great job accounting for the blindness theme, but it does not account for the moral antipathy theme.

2. Rationalism

Rationalism holds the view that anyone can see words on a page and understand what they mean. Anybody can see evidence before them, or truth in front of them and get the point if they have a mind, and it is functioning normally. The problem is not understanding the concepts or seeing what the truth is; that is not the problem. The problem is a moral problem of not yielding to it, not accepting it. A strong advocate would be Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas developed natural theology, in which he would appeal to the created order and by that prove that God exists: his five ways. Thomas Aquinas was a firm believer that human being's minds were still intact, almost as they were in creation, even after the fall. The fall affected the moral disposition of people, but their minds could think correctly.

If you hold this rationalist view you are going to account for the moral antipathy passages and circumstances. People see it but just don't like it. But what about the blindness passages; what does Paul mean in 2 Corinthians 4:4, that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers that they cannot see? That is in the Bible, too.

3. Critical Realism (A middle position in epistemology)

It recognizes both of the forms. The fideist form and the rationalist form are reductionistic. They are partial truths pushed to an extreme.

An Aside: It took me a lot of years to notice this, to figure it out, but I have noticed it and I will pass it on to you. The most dangerous errors are usually not flagrant falsehoods that stand obviously in contrast to the truth. Usually the most dangerous, tempting, appealing deceptions are partial truths without the accompanying balancing side. They are partial truths that are pushed to an extreme. All of the truth is reduced to this one partial thing. I think this is what has happen in the fideist tradition and the rationalist tradition; partial truths have become the whole. So all of our understanding of epistemology is pushed to this or the other.

In Critical Realism there is an acceptance of the notion that we all can really see the world; we can really understand what is there, hence realism. It is a form of realism which says, yes, we can have access to the real world. But it is not naive realism. It is not a realism that would say; well anybody and everybody will see everything just the same way. No, it is critical realism. The word "critical" qualifies the term "realism." The term critical means that there is a recognition that we are responsible for doing something with that truth, with that evidence, with what is out there in a way that we receive it. It is possible for distortion to take place or for valuing of data to take place which effects how we understand it. It is possible that we might not get it right because it is siphoned through biases, experiences, worldviews, and presuppositions

which keep us from seeing it exactly correctly. That's true in everyday life. I will use an example. Say you went to a primitive tribe where the people believed in the spirits, were animists and believed that the spirits governed nature. So here you are standing with an animist, a primitive tribesman, and a storm comes. You, with your worldview, think of checking on the internet and seeing what the weather conditions are and what is moving the storm. You will think in terms of a naturalistic explanation of these things. The tribesman is going to think the gods are very upset, so they are bringing in this horrible storm that is going to blow everything apart. There is a sense in which the modern person who is there can see the same thing that the tribesman sees; they see clouds; they see wind blowing, trees bending, and darkened skies; they see the same thing, but they don't see the same thing. One sees it as this, and one sees it as that. But both can sort of give common agreement in describing what they see. But interpreting it is a different level of understanding.

Let me define our issue here. We have to talk about illumination as it relates to seeing the truth. We have to see this as both of these happening at the very same time. This is how I resolved this problem. I went back to 2 Corinthians 4:4.

2 Cor 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Look carefully at what Paul says the unregenerate person is blind to, what the unregenerate person cannot see: The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. What they really can't see is the truth of the gospel that is about the glory of Christ.

Think of the people in Jesus' own ministry, i.e. the Pharisees in John 8:58.

Jn 8:58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

Did the Pharisees understand what Jesus said? Yes, we know they did because they wanted to stone him. They did not take his statement as a silly statement, that he was 2,000 years old. If that is what he was saying, they would have laughed and called the men in the white coats (if they had such a thing at the time) to come pick up this lunatic. They knew that was not what he was saying. They knew he was claiming to be the I AM of Exodus 3. "Before Abraham was, I AM." I am YAHWEH; that is what he is claiming, so they took up stones to stone him. Would you say that they see Christ and understand what he said? Yes, but do they see Christ and understand what he said? No. Is it possible that what this is about is that although they can see Christ, they can see his miracles, they can hear his teaching, they can observe his ways with people, though they can observe all of that, what they can't see is the glory of Christ. They can't see Christ as glorious. If they saw Christ as glorious, they would fall down before him and worship. They would wonder in amazement at what he said and what he did. So they can see him, but they can't. They get it, but they don't. Both take place at the same time. You cannot see the truth as truth without the illumining work of the Spirit. You cannot see the truth as truth. You can get the concept of it to the point that you say, I hate that, but what you don't see is its glory.

Think of Romans 1. The heavens declare the glory of God; the heavens are displaying the wonder and magnificence of God. What do people see, according to Rom 1:18 ff. as they look at the heavens? They don't see a creator before whom they bow; they see a universe that is theirs to do with as they want. So they fashion gods of their making and create idols that they bow down to, made from their own hands. They don't see in the universe the glory of God manifest. They can see the stars and everything that is out there, but they can't see the glory of God in it. So what does it take to see the wonder, the beauty, the glory of truth? It takes illumination.

I did a M.A. in philosophy one year at the University of Washington in Seattle. There were twelve philosophers in this department and most had Harvard PhD's, a couple from Yale and one or two from elsewhere; it was a very highly educated department. They were all either atheist or agnostic. One was a full fledged vehement Marxist. It was a very interesting department to come into. This was after I had finished seminary and before I did my Doctrinal work. I had one teacher who taught a course on medieval philosophy and we ended the course bumping up to the reformation. Right at the end of that quarter he spent about fifteen minutes talking about Martin Luther. He spent five minutes of that going over the doctrine of justification by faith. I sat there in utter amazement as I heard this antagonist-to-Christianity atheist philosopher describe with pretty good clarity and accuracy Luther's doctrine of justification by faith. Then he made some comment at the end of it, something like, "Can you believe that people believe that silly thing?" It was total write-off of it. Here it is, you can see the truth and reject it. What you can't do is see the truth as truth; you can't see its wonder; you can't see its glory; you can't see its beauty; therefore, you can't see it right. So do you really say you see it? It depends on what you mean. If you don't see its glory, you don't really get it.

There are analogies in everyday life to this. Say you took a total musical novice to an exquisite symphony, and this person sat there in the auditorium and heard this marvelous symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony or the New York Symphony or some great musical group. Sitting next to this musical novice was a professional musician, trained in every intricacy of what he was hearing. Would it be true to say that both of them heard the symphony? Yes. But wouldn't it be right to say that one of them heard something the other didn't? Wouldn't you have to say that? Wouldn't you say that of an art gallery? There is someone who had great background in art appreciation or perhaps was a professional painter and another one who the closest he ever came to art was coloring in coloring books as a kid. So you take these two people, and they go to an art museum. Even at a human level there is such a thing as an ability to grasp what something really is which is reserved for some, even though we can all see it. Then all the more true is 1 Corinthians 2:14 to spiritual truth. Apart from the Spirit opening our eyes to see, we do not accept the things of the Spirit for they are foolishness to us; neither do we understand them because they are spiritually appraised. That is what 1 Corinthians 2:14 says. Both of those things are in that verse; they get it, but they don't; you see it, but you don't. Both have to be true.

I have read ''The Chronicles of Narnia'' series to my girls, twice. The first time was when they were little. The first time I read through ''The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe'', for my two girls it was a wonderful story about a lion and a witch and children; it was just a wonderful fantasy story. I read it to them again about eight years later. We read through the entire series, and it was an entirely different experience because now those very two same girls had eyes to see what they could not see before. And that was that these books are packed with theology, jammed packed with theology. We had theological discussions that we didn't have earlier because they didn't have eyes to see it then. But they heard the same words (honestly I read it the same way). You hear it, but you don't; you see it, but you don't. They saw Jesus, but they didn't see his glory.

I was listening to John Piper's message that he gave shortly after 9/11 in 2001. He had a totally different perspective on 9/11 (which really did reflect a Christocentric, God-centered understanding of that calamity) compared to what there is in the world. It was a marked difference. But John Piper saw the same scenes on television; he heard the same news reports as Tom Brokaw and all of the rest of us did. And yet, why do Christian people interpret things differently? Of course then you begin to really worry when "Christian people" interpret everything the same way as the world does. There really ought to be this work of the Spirit which opens our eyes to see the world as God sees it. This is part of sanctification. It happens continually, all through life, and it is why we need to pray regularly for God to continue this eye-opening process to see things as he sees them.

V. Canonicity

When I refer to "canon", I am speaking of the word with one "n"; we are not talking about things that go boom in the night. We are not talking about those big metal things with balls that go flying out of them.

A. Definition

This is a term that is not common in our English usage, but it is a very important term for us.

The term canon comes from the Greek word ''kanon''. For example, Galatians 6:16 uses this term.

Gal 6:16 And as for all who walk by this rule...

It refers to a rule, a rod or a standard of measurement. It is something by which you measure something else. A ruler is a canon, or the laws of the land are a canon. They judge or measure whether or not actions are appropriate or not, whether they are right or wrong. There are all kinds of different canons. A watch is a canon because it helps you judge whether the time that is stated is correct or not and so on. A canon is a rule or rod or a standard of measurement.

In theological usage, the canon or doctrine of canonicity refers to the list of books that the church recognizes as inspired and therefore as canonical. Now do you see what that word means? Canon is the rule, the standard, the measurement for how we should live our lives. So it is the list of books that the church has recognized as inspired. So those books (the 66 books of the Bible), then, become for us the rule and the standard by which we measure our lives. "The only rule for faith and practice." You sometimes hear that phrase in referring to the Bible as the canon. It is the rule by which we evaluate how we live and what we should believe.

Let's be clear; canonicity has to do with acknowledging or recognizing that these 66 books that make up the Bible have inherent authority. Canonicity is not the church investing these books with their authority or the church establishing the authority of the Bible. There is a huge difference there. It not because of church proclamation or because councils have met or because the church has decided that this book is authoritative, that it is therefore authoritative. No, the church merely recognizes, acknowledges, that these books have intrinsic, inherent authority because they are inspired. They are the Word of God, and therefore they are authoritative.

The doctrine of canonicity is the church's affirmation of the belief that the 66 books of the Bible comprise the only inspired books that there are. And because they are inspired, no other books are; they have a unique divine authority by which we follow in our life and belief what they teach.

B. Criteria for Canonicity

How did the church come to the decision about these 66 books being the normative standard for faith and practice?

1. Written by a recognized prophet or apostle

This did not cover every book of the Bible; in fact there are some books for which we simply do not know who the author is. Hebrews is one book that took a long time for the church to recognize; now, don't have in mind that the church just decrees that now this is authoritative. But it did take longer on some books than others for the church to come to recognize as authoritative. The book of Hebrews took longer because who is the author? By a number of other criteria (which we will come to), it is clear that Hebrews is inspired; it belongs in the canon, but authorship caused it to be accepted late.

But many of the books of the Bible are able to be accepted by the fact that they are written by a recognized prophet, by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses, Paul or Peter. So there are a lot of books that are pretty clear cut because of the author.

2. Written by those associated with recognized prophet or apostle

These are books written by those associated with a recognized prophet or apostle who obviously learned from the apostle or prophet, and therefore the book is recognized really as under his supervision or teaching or instruction. The clearest case of this would be Luke and Acts. They comprise a lot of the New Testament in terms of total pages. That is a big volume of our New Testament that is not written by an apostle, but Luke traveled with Paul and learned from Paul. As he explains in Luke 1, he worked very hard to represent accurately from sources which he gathered what was true about Christ, his life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection. So close proximately to an apostle or prophet was an important aspect.

3. Truthfulness (Deut. 18:20-22)

Truthfulness of the writing. If anything were found in a writing that was not true, it would be dismissed as not from God. God himself said in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 that if a prophet claims to be speaking from me, and what he said is not true, then he has not spoken from me. It is not from the Lord if that is the case. You can see why inerrantists are so insistent on the accuracy of the Bible. God himself goes on record. If it is from God, it has to be accurate.

4. Faithfulness to previously accepted canonical writings

This is where Hebrews shines, in terms of the Church's acceptance of it. Hebrews not only agrees with, but helps explain and bring to greater clarity, what has been taught in the Old Covenant (Old Testament); it is now seen anew in Christ and the New Covenant is so beautifully displayed.

It was on this criteria that Luther wanted to throw the book of James out of the canon. "That straw epistle," as he called it, "with its justification by works doctrine." How dare James say that we are justified by works when Paul makes it clear that we are justified by faith, not by works? Read Romans 2 to be reminded of the fact that it is not James verses Paul, it is Paul verses Paul. Luther really has trouble with this particular book, but thankfully the Church didn't follow him on it. But that is what he was thinking; it just wasn't faithful to what Paul said. But in fact it is; Luther just misunderstood what James was saying.

5. Confirmed by Christ, prophet, apostle (e.g. Luke 24:44; 2 Pet. 3:16)

The whole Old Testament, although this was not convincing to Jewish scholars (to Judaism in the first century); the Christian Church has had no difficulty accepting the 39 books of the Old Testament because of what Jesus said in Luke 24:24-27,44. You will recall when Jesus met the two on the road to Emmaus and was talking with them.

Luke 24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but him they did not see. Luke 24:25 And he said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Luke 24:26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?" Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.

That is clearly a reference to the Old Testament that was used and accepted in the days of Jesus.

Even clearer is Luke 24:44.

Luke 24:44 Now he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

These are the three parts of the Old Testament: The Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Luke 24:44 is Jesus' stamp of approval on the Old Testament.

Now the New Testament becomes, as we have alluded to, a more difficult matter in some books. 2 Peter 3:16 is interesting. There is obviously an awareness in the first century, an apostolic awareness, that more Scripture was being written. Paul himself understands what he wrote was the Word of God. Peter, in 2 Peter 3:16, understands what Paul wrote as Scripture.

2 Pet 3:16 As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,

When he says, "hard to understand," that is comforting; you are not the only one who thinks some of the things Paul wrote were hard to understand; Peter thought so, too.

2 Pet 3:16 ( some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Paul himself refers to his own writings with language like that.

1 Thess 2:13 For this reason, we also constantly thank God that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

6. Church Usage and Recognition

Ultimately, what happened was that these letters circulated and more and more groups of Christian people were edified by these writings and came to witness together that these writings were from God. J. B. Phillips has a paraphrase of the New Testament; ''The Phillips Translation'' it is called. (My dad used that when I was a boy growing up; he memorized lots of Scripture in the Phillips translation. I can hear my dad quoting it; it is a beautiful translation.) J.B Phillips has this little book called ''The Ring of Truth'' describing his own conversion and how he came to the Bible, he began reading it, and it had this ring of truth to it that was compelling to him. It is interesting, Hugh Ross (the Physicist who came to Christ after his training in Physics as an adult) gives the same testimony. He had this spiritual pilgrimage and was reading different writings and, "When I finally came to the Bible and started reading the Bible in Genesis 1, I just know that I was reading something different; it had this ring of truth to it." He described it in very similar ways to J.B. Phillips.

The Church used these writings and was deeply edified by them; they were believed over time that they were from God, and so the final acceptance of the recognition of the 66 books of the Bible as Scripture took place at the Senate of Carthage in A. D. 397. That is not to say that prior to that there was not wide recognition of most of the Bible (we are talking here mostly about the New Testament; the Old Testament Books were never in question because of the dominical approval in Luke 24 when Christ says the Law, the Prophets and the Writings). Some of the New Testament books took longer for them to accept, but most of them were accepted by the first century. There were some that took longer: 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Hebrews. Those took longer. But by 397, at the council of Carthage, they were accepted by the Church and have been ever since as canonical.

C. The Closing of the Canon

The church has held for its entire history, that once the apostolic interpretation of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus was completed, that was the end of inspired writing (in the technical sense, writing by which God inspired these books ended with the end of the Apostles). The book of Revelation is usually dated the last book written in the New Testament. After that the canon is closed. The canon was closed means no more canonical books, no more books recognized as inspired after the 27 books we have as the New Testament.

1. No revelation contrary to the gospel

This eliminates about 98% of the new revelation that has come. The book of Mormon is contrary to the gospels. The Koran is contrary to the gospel. Look at the religious books and the claims that are made of them and the words of Paul just come ringing in are ears.

Gal 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

In terms of practical benefit, this one item rules out the vast majority of any subsequent revelation claims.

 2. Jesus is the Final Revelation

In Hebrews there is this sense of finality that comes with the revelation of Christ.

Heb 1:1 God, after he spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, Heb 1:2 in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the world.

There is an intended finality to the revelation of Jesus. So what about the apostolic writings that come after Jesus? I will come to that in just a moment. My point here is to say that it looks clear that everything in the Old Testament points to Christ.

Mt 5:17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

Rom 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Everything points to Christ; everything is pointing to this climatic revelation of Christ in the last days. That means that the revelation that God brings has to be about Christ. There is a sense in which revelation that is not focused on Christ, his kingdom, his purposes, his mission, or his church is not what God is doing. God is speaking about Christ in these last days.

3. Jesus commissioned apostles to convey his revelation

We ought to think of the Apostolic witness to Jesus that gets recorded as New Testament writings as those commissioned by Jesus to teach and write what he had not finished teaching and writing during his earthly ministry. I get this from John 16 as one example; there are other statements of it but this one is particularly forceful. He is speaking to his disciple in John 16:12. Sometimes these words are taken by Christian people as speaking to ourselves, but I don't think that is the point of it. He is speaking to his disciples.

Jn 16:12 "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

Why couldn't they bear them; why couldn't they get it now? (Now meaning when Jesus was with them, before his death and resurrection) What happened when he ascended that would help them: The Spirit. This goes back to our discussion on illumination. I have more things to tell you, but you wouldn't get it; you could not comprehend what I was talking about. But in the very next verse he says,

Jn 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak...

Remember the context; here is Jesus teaching them. He says, I have more things to teach you and you can't get it now, but when the Spirit comes he will speak. So the Spirit will speak. If you are tracking with Jesus you will understand him implying by that, he will speak my words, he will speak the teaching I want to teach you, but you can't get it now. When the Spirit comes he will teach you that.

Jn 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears,

Presumably from Jesus; I take it that is what is implied there.

Jn 16:13 ( whatever he hears, he will speak; and he will disclose to you what is to come.

  Jn 16:14 He will glorify me, for he will take of mine and will disclose it to you.

So here we have Jesus' own testimony to the fact that there will be post-ascension revelation of Christ, by Christ, through the Spirit, to the Apostles. And by that, the church understands in ways we could have never gotten it, ways we could have never seen it, the meaning of the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It has to be after the Spirit comes because the Spirit works through these people and they teach the truth to us.

It does look like that the Apostles see themselves as having a unique authority in the church. You might think about Galatians 1 we talked to a moment ago,

Gal 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

  But this really is the gospel, the authority of the gospel as opposed to another gospel.

I am talking about the Apostles themselves. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul has been extolling the spiritual gift of prophecy. He worried about tongues, because tongues may not communicate a cotton-pickin' thing to anybody. Evidently they were being used in ways that they weren't interpreted and people weren't benefiting from it. Now prophecy, that's the gift. So he has been extolling the gift of prophecy and then you come to the end of chapter 14 and you read these words in verse 37. This kind of puts you in your place, you prophets out there.

1 Cor 14:37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. 1 Cor 14:38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Here is Paul the Apostle pulling his Apostolic trump card over the prophets. I don't care if you are prophet; if you don't accept what I say, as an Apostle, you are not acceptable.

There really is a clear sense of the finality of Apostolic authority in the Church, and this is directed to Jesus' point. Why did Paul have to defend his Apostleship? Because he wasn't one of the twelve; he wasn't there when Jesus said in John 16:12, "I have many more things to teach you." Paul wasn't present. So how does this guy, who wasn't among the twelve get in? He has to defend that constantly. Having defended it, he speaks with full Apostolic authority.

This is an aside. It scares me that there is, in our day, a rise in the view that there are current Apostles and that the office of Apostle has continued. C. Peter Wagner is just frightening on this. He has really gone off the deep end and I say that as one who at one time had a great respect for C. Peter Wagner. I went to Fuller Seminary, and he had, in many ways, a positive influence on the church and missions and evangelism. But the past decade or so has not been a good one. And Peter Wagner even holds to two levels of Apostles. There is this highest level that he and a very few others are, that speak teaching that cannot be challenged, period. It has full divine authority. There is this other second tier of Apostles that are only under the first Apostles but all of their congregations have to accept everything they say. Paul insisted on that, but he was an Apostle. You don't like what I say, then your not accepted, that what he said in I Corinthians 14. But are there current Apostles? No, the Church has not held this. This is wrong. Think of the requirements for an Apostle: that they have seen Jesus. This is what made Paul's defense of his Apostleship so difficult, but he did see Jesus; Christ came and appeared to him.

4. Warning not to add or take away from revelation given

I take the warning at the end of the book of Revelation to indicate (I don't think that this can proven without any question but I do think that a strong case can be made for it) that in all likelihood that there is no further revelation about Christ that will given to the church.

Rev 22:18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; Rev 22:19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

This warning against adding or taking away was in the law as well. Moses said something very similar to this regard to the law in Deut 4:2. Now it is being said here in the book of Revelation. Obviously it refers to the book of Revelation. That is the clearest, most basic level meaning of this statement. The book of Revelation cannot be added to or taken away from. What is the book of Revelation? Remember how it begins.

Rev. 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and he sent and communicated it by his angel to his bond-servant John,

So I think it is arguable that we are view the book of Revelation as the final revelation of Christ. I have many more things to say to you, but this is his final word. So adding revelation is in a sense adding to this book, which is the final revelation of Christ.

Blessings on you.