the Bible complete?
the Bible itself. Read the statements of preachers. And you will understand
that God is the most desperate character, the worst villain in all of
esteem the Gospels to be thoroughly genuine, for there shines from them
the reflected splendor of a sublimity proceeding from the person of Jesus
Christ of so Divine a kind as only the Divine could ever have manifested
Wolfgang von Goethe
The Old Testament.
The destruction of Jerusalem
by the Romans in AD 70 ended the Jewish sacrificial system. At that time,
Yochanan ben Zakkai, with the permission of Rome, reassembled the Jewish
religious leaders of the Sanhedrin. Called the Council of Jamnia, they met
to reconfirm the books of the Old Testament; books that were to remain the
unifying text of the now scattered Jewish people. The Old Testament collection
has remained as it is since its coalescence between 400 and 300 BC. 1
A total of thirty-nine
books make up the Old Testament. In English translations, the Old Testament
is categorized as follows: Genesis to Deuteronomy comprise the Torah,
also called the Book of the Law, or Pentateuch; Joshua to
Esther comprise the historical books; Job to Song of Songs are the
books of poetry and ethics; and Isaiah to Malachi are the books of
Josephus, a first century
Jewish historian, confirms that no Hebrew scriptures were added after the
time of the Persian King Artaxerxes. Josephus states, "Because the exact
succession of the prophets ceased... no one has dared to add anything to
them, or to take anything from them, or to alter anything in them."
2 He then goes on to list those books which
confirm the Old Testament of today.
F. F. Bruce uses the
writings of Philo also as one confirmation of the O.T. canon:
Philo, the learned
Jew of Alexandria, whose life overlapped the life at Christ by about twenty
years at either end, seems to have known and accepted the Hebrew canon.
The Law to him is preeminently inspired, but he also acknowledges the
authority of the other books of the Hebrew canon (although, as an Alexandrian,
he used only the Greek version). He does not regard the apocryphal books
as authoritative, and this suggests that, although these books were in
circulation among them, they were not really accorded canonical status
by the Alexandrian Jews. 3
5.2 The New Testament.
While the Old Testament
was the main text used by the Jews who were looking for the coming Messiah
(or Christ), the New Testament is a collection of writings by those who
believed Jesus was that Messiah; the Messiah promised by O.T. prophecies.
After his crucifixion, Jesus' apostles, his closest disciples, carried out
Jesus' command to care for and expand the now combined group of Jewish and
Gentile believers (Christians). This group Jesus collectively called
his church. But the Christians, like the Jews, were decentralized after
the fall of Jerusalem.
occasioned the apostles to make many travels. They also wrote letters to
the scattered churches; passing on in writing the teachings that Christ
had commissioned them to share. The letters applied Christ's teachings to
various situations among the churches. The
apostles claimed authority based upon
- Christ's discipleship
- appeals to corroborating
eyewitnesses of his teachings and miracles,
- their consistency
with and Christ's fulfillment of the Old Testament, and
- the miracles God
worked through them.
The early churches received
the apostles' letters as authoritative and retained them for teaching purposes.
Bruce offers further
insight to the apostles' authority:
Jesus, on the eve
of his crucifixion, promised his disciples to send them the Holy Spirit,
his other self, of whom he said among other things: 'He will teach you
all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you...
He will guide you into all truth... and he will declare to you the things
that are to come' (John 14:26; 16:13). 4
5.3 After the apostles
The need to collect
the apostles' letters grew as they died and the church expanded. There exists
evidence in correspondence to the Corinthian church by Roman church leader
Clement in the year AD 96 that he knew of the letter Paul had written to
the Roman church, as well as of at least one letter to the Corinthians.
But Christian churches, not having shared a common geographic home but for
a short time, had no single collection of all the apostles' writings. A
formalized set was desired to provide the churches with the complete teachings
that God had spoken through the apostles. A formal set of the inspired,
apostolic writings would also serve to discourage any and all other writings
from being introduced as equal in authority.
Within the first century,
the four Gospels came together as one group. The gathering together of Paul's
letters and the others followed this. In AD 180, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons,
confirmed a collection of all but seven of today's twenty-seven letters.
The early church fathers Eusebius, Polycarp, Augustine, and Origen contributed
to confirming the resulting canon of today's New Testament. These letters,
though they had always been accepted as inspired, were declared official
at the Synod of Hippo in AD 393.
The twenty-seven writings
of the New Testament are categorized as follows:
- Matthew to Acts comprise
the narratives (of which all but Acts are the Gospels),
- Romans to Jude comprise
the letters or epistles, and
- Revelation is the
The authenticity of
the New Testament documents, like that of the Old Testament documents, has
been confirmed by dutiful study and scholarship in the recent century. The
testimony provided by vast amounts of ancient writings, discovered since
the nineteenth-century, is evident as Bruce observes:
There is no body of
ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual
attestation as the New Testament. The evidence for the original text of
the New Testament is provided mainly by (1) early manuscripts of the New
Testament in its original language (Greek), (2) early translations or
'versions' of the New Testament in other languages, from the readings
of which we can often infer the underlying Greek, (3) quotations from
the New Testament in the works of ancient authors (principally Greek,
Latin, and Syriac, but also Coptic and Armenian), (4) lectionaries, both
in Greek and in the other languages mentioned, in which passages of Scripture
were arranged for systematic reading in church services. 7
5.4 Is the Bible open to future inclusions?
Jesus repeatedly endorsed
and often quoted from the Old Testament of his day without any indication
that it was flawed or lacking. This is the same Old Testament we have today.
The agreement of the early church to have received God's complete revelation
is quite clear: no apostolic book remains to be produced (should someone
desire to introduce a writing, old or new, by such a claim). With the
passing of the Christ's apostles, the New Testament closed.
Another indication of
the completeness of the known canon, especially for the New Testament, is
the sheer volume of early copies known to exist. If we only had three or
four copies, for example, there might be some question as to whether or
not our few collections lacked a major letter. Note that the world has 643
copies of Homer's Iliad. 8
Although none of the Iliad copies are closer to the original autographs
than 500 years, some suggest that only that kind of volume can provide today's
readers with a reliably complete and coherent translation.
This is responded to
by revealing that early copies of the New Testament and portions thereof
number in excess of 24,000, not merely 600 plus; and the earliest
copy perhaps only twenty-five years removed from its autograph, not a whopping
500 years. 9
Therefore, the possibility that a vital inclusion was commonly lost, missed,
or destroyed among each of 24,000 manuscripts is virtually zero, far too
small to threaten confidence in the completeness of the existing canon.
5.5 What about the existence of secret books?
about the existence of secret books or subsequent biblical texts as claimed
by various persons and religions?
Invariably, all such
discoveries and secret revelations have thus far proven to be inconsistent
with the confirmed Word of God. The Gospel of Thomas is an example
of this. Such a document, produced 300 years after the final apostle died,
cannot come along contradicting the uniform testimony of all previous sixty-six
books of the Bible and claim to be number sixty-seven. You can be certain
no such writing has been "wrongfully overlooked" for inclusion
into the canon.
Note that the prophets
and apostles partly claimed authority for their oral and written teachings
on miracles they were enabled to work or prophecies they were granted to
give. Remember that it was their writings which were found to have been
inspired by God that were collected together into the Bible, not just any
pleasant thought or novel idea that some person had to offer.
Furthermore, most cultic
literature always claims to supersede the Bible and seeks to establish its
own private organization as the true avenue of proper living. In anticipation
of such counterfeit claims, biblical authors included criteria by which
to judge all writings, even their own. Paul confronted the churches of Galatia
I am astonished
that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace
of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel
at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are
trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from
heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let
him be eternally condemned!
...Am I now trying
to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If
I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something
that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught
it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
(Galatians 1:6-8, 10-12)
Paul, of course, was
not the first author to protect the revelation that God has given humanity.
The very first author in the Bible, Moses, includes one of the initial warnings
against altering divine communications:
Do not add to what
I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the
Lord your God that I give you... See, I have taught you decrees and laws
as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them... (Deut.
4:2, 5a NASB)
As the first author
gives us warning, so the last author, John, similarly shares God's prohibition
against inclusions to the book which he penned: the apocalyptic book of
I warn everyone
who hears the words of prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything
to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if
anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away
from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are
described in this book. (Rev. 22:18-9 NASB)
Clearly the Old Testament
has remained intact and without extraneous inclusions since hundreds of
years before Christ. The New Testament has remained complete itself for
over 1,600 years. But just as the previous turn-of-the-century saw a rash
of new religions sporting lost gospels and their own revelations, so might
the next. That may or may not happen, but of one thing we can be sure: we
today possess the complete and unaltered Word of God.
NEXT: How were the manuscripts passed down over the ages?
What are the apocrypha and psuedepigrapha?