Lecture 21: Practical Advice
Course: Why We Trust Our Bible
Lecture: Practical Advice
I. Practical Advice
One of the interesting things about the canon debate is that it has reached a layman’s level unlike a lot of other Biblical Studies issues. People almost target laypeople with these issues. They will read an article in Newsweek or read a blog post. I tell pastors all the time that their congregation is hearing this. They come up at Christmas and Easter where people question the Bible where it is canon related. I tell pastors that they need to make sure they are addressing these issues. They should not be late in doing this. They need to give their congregations understanding of Biblical origins that is solid and foundational, so that when they come across things like Dan Brown and DaVinci Code or a book by Bart Ehrman, they are not bothered to the core. We need to inoculate our church against these challenges. You don’t wait until they are affected by these things and then do something about it; they need to do something now. To the layperson, not just the pastor, there are answers to these questions that people are asking. People are often confused in not having an answer and others with there not being an answer. That is understandable, if they don’t have an answer, there must not be one. Solid Biblical Scholars have dealt with these points for generations. There are good answers out there. You can find them; you can go to people who can help you find them. There are good books that can explain the answers to these questions. Another thing that I would tell the layperson when they hear these things, that is to recognize that they are not new; I can’t tell you how many times that people present these challenges to the Bible as if they are some new discovery. You hear things like, ‘now we know this or that’ or ‘it’s clear now that.’ You realize that Augustus was dealing with these same issues in the 5th century. We look at the 2nd century and realize that people were raising the arguments even then against Christianity and where they were being answered by Biblical Scholars. These issues are not new and the church has gone around and around on them. I tell people to take solace in the fact that they are not the first ones that have to deal with these issues.
II. What about the lost letter to the Corinthians, if found, would it be put into the canon now?
The question about lost letters are very common and indeed it is very complicated. There is a lot dispute about what we would do with that letter. In essence, my answer would be that it would not be part of the canon. I think I made the argument that the canon by definition is a foundational document. These books that God gave the church are what the church was built on. They are foundational books and providentially speaking God did not use those other letters. God did not intend for the church to use them as a foundational document. Nevertheless, I could see why someone would go the opposite direction. I think it would be difficult to authenticate given that part of authentication is time. At this point, I would say that it would not be part of the canon.
III. Why are these 27 books of the New Testament, the right 27 books?
I think it would help to walk through the model. A preliminary reason would be that they are the books we process. If God wanted you to have books, he would have preserved them for the church. The fact that we have them is a starting point in saying that they are the books that were intended for us to have. The second reason I think we have the right twenty-seven books is because all of them have the attributes of canonicity. You do see in them the divine qualities, amazing harmony, and an amazing unity; theological congruity, fitting in with the Old Testament and finishing the Old Testament story. You see the beauty of Christ in these books; you see his Excellency and wonder. These books teach us and give us wisdom; they convict us and challenge us. These books are alive, they are applications, and they are powerful. We see the power of God in these twenty-seven books at work. These books are all apostolic books; they have been vetted, we have traced them back to the 1st century. We have every reason to think that they are linked to the apostles who are God’s authoritative spokesman. If they are linked to the apostles, that gives us reason to think that their words are distinctive and they are to be listened to. Thirdly, and I think more powerfully, these are the books that the church has been reading for two thousand years. These books are the books that the church has rallied around and by the Holy Spirit, the church has recognized and affirmed and have said that these books are from God. That history has weight and power and meaning. That consensus of the church is noticeable. When you put all these things together and join it with the testimony of the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately, what I conclude is that Christians have every reason to be confident that we can know that these are the right twenty-seven books.