Christian Apologetics Free Course 04, Lesson 03
The Reliability Of The Canon
The Integrity Of The Canon
While radicals and atheists attacked the accuracy (purity) with which the Canon was transmitted, another group was busy in attacking the integrity of it. They claimed that not all books in the Canon are canonical, while many books that are canonical have been excluded from it. Ahmadiya Muslims are one group that would want some books of their interest (such as the Apocrypha book falsely labeled The Gospel Of Barnabas). These claims have resurfaced at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and many are innocently swept by such baseless argument. Part of the reason is the ignorance of the layman concerning the Canon and how it was formed.
The Need to Fix the Canon: There was no need to fix the Canon in the period before 400 BC because people generally knew which books came from divine source. However, after the last book of the Old Testament was written, many Jewish people felt the need to clearly spell out the books that were part of the Canon.
The first reason was distance from the original events. People who lived during the times of Prophets and great High Priests recognized the way God communicated with them. However, as new generations came up there was a great time-gap between them and the original revelation. This gap would automatically make them less familiar with the Scriptures, specially if these books were not introduced properly to the posterity.
Further, this distance would also enable forgers and cheats to advance their writings as Scriptures. Thus it was necessary for the posterity to know the boundary. Thus the Jewish fathers were alert to recognize and organize the Canonical books. Of course the correct order of their actions should be realized: these books did not become Canonical by the recognition of the fathers. Rather, when non Canonical books started to claim divine authorship, the Jewish fathers felt it necessary to recognize the books that demonstrated Canonicity. Thus it is not the recognition that brought Canonicity, but it is their Canonical nature that brought recognition to them. The fact that Lord Jesus and the Apostles honoured this Canon demonstrates that the Jewish Fathers were spiritually competent to recognize the Canonical books.
Recognizing Canonical books was necessary also for protecting them from being lost accidentally or through deliberate destruction. People attacked divine revelation both in the Old as well as in the New Testament period. The rationalist Porphyry wrote more than 12 volumes to attack the Bible. In 320 AD the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered that all religious books be destroyed. In all such cases it became necessary for the children of God to know which books to hide and protect from destruction.
Many other practical considerations also contributed to the demand to spell out the Canon. Thus when the Jews who adopted Greek as their mother-tongue wanted the Scriptures in this language, it was necessary to know which books to translate. With the easy availability of writing materials and the wider dissemination of the Scriptures, the demand to spell out the Canon became all the more important.
As mentioned above, the recognition of the Canonical books was not done randomly or arbitrarily. Rather, the people of God used very strict criteria for recognizing which books were divine. Further, many of these books were given to the children of God under such circumstances that they were recognized as inspired Scriptures soon after these books were written. The divinity of these books helped them to be included in the Bible.
Old Testament Canon: The earliest books of the Old Testament were written almost 1400 years before the Christ, while the last book Malachi was written about 400 years ago. Since these books came from authoritative sources, people were quick to recognize their divine origin. The sacred books of divine origin were given special honor and protection by the Jews. The priest as well as the people of God always stood up when a public reading of the Scriptures was done.
Many spurious books began to claim divine authorship for them about a hundred years after the completion of Malachi. The Jewish leaders were quick to realize that these writings are not from God, and thus they guarded the books of Bible against all kind of infiltration.
The Apocrypha: The Apocrypha books are not part of the Canon. Thus none of the things said in this chapter are applicable to them. These books are neither inspired by God, nor are they in any sense a part of the Bible.
There is a mistaken belief among some that the Apocrypha books were part of the Bible, and that these were rejected by the Protestant Reformers. On the contrary, the Apocrypha books were never a part of the Old Testament Canon. Thus there is no question of the Reformers dropping out some books from the Canon. Rather, it is the Roman Catholic Church which ADDED these books to the Canon by a proclamation made at the Council of Trent. The story is something like the following.
When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Hebrew, a number of other books were also translated. These were translated as a help to the Jews who did not know Hebrew or Aramaic. Many of the translators felt that the additional books would benefit the readers by providing them historical and background information about the Jews and their culture. Some of these books were appended to the Septuagint by them. The addition was not as part of the Canon, but as study helps. This is similar to the large number of articles often added at the end of study Bibles like the Scofield, Thompson Chain Reference, Dake’s Bible, or The Ryrie Study Bible. Though these articles are placed within the same Cover, and though the outer cover contains the word “Bible”, none of the modern readers confuses them with the Scripture.
All the contemporary readers know that the study-helps and articles are not part of the Canon. In the same way the readers of Septuagint also knew that these books in the appendix are not part of the Canon. These books found a place in the translation known as Vulgate, which was commonly used by Roman Catholics. In spite of its presence in the Vulgate, the Catholics did not accept the Apocrypha as part of the Canon.
With the Protestant Reformation, many of the Reformers challenged the Catholic Church to prove their doctrine by supporting these from the Canon. To their dismay the Roman Catholics discovered that many of their doctrines are not derived from the Canon. At the same time they realized that at least some of these erroneous doctrines are supported by the Apocrypha. Thus for their survival it became necessary to add the Apocrypha to the Canon.
In 1545 the Roman Catholic Church convened what is called the Council of Trent. Here they passed numerous resolutions, including many curses against the Protestant Believers. In April 1545 the Council declared that the Apocrypha are also part of the Bible. Thus for the first time in history the Apocrypha books were ADDED by the Roman Catholic Church to the Bible. This was done in order to justify their doctrinal errors (for which support was available only in the Apocrypha), and also to oppose the Protestant believers. The first Vatican Council held 1869-70 reaffirmed the decision of the Roman Catholic Church to add the Apocrypha to the Canon.
Historically and theologically the Apocrypha was never part of the Canon. Protestant Reformers were very zealous about the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Everything is to be tested in the light of Bible, and Bible alone). Thus they did not allow any kind of leaven to be mixed with the Bible.
The Apocrypha books contain numerous historical, chronological, and doctrinal errors. Some of these are:
1-Prayers And Offerings For The Dead: The Apocrypha encourages prayer for the dead and also the offering of money for the souls of the dead people. It should not be forgotten that the Roman Catholic Church collects millions in money every year on the pretext of praying for the dead that they might be transferred to heaven.
The Catholic Church needed the non-canonical Apocrypha in their Bibles to support such practices that are actually not found in the Canon. 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 is the passage that supports this. Verse 46 says, “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sin”. This is a blasphemous idea.
2-Atonement And Salvation By Almsgiving: Salvation is by grace alone and through faith alone (Eph. 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; 1 John 1:9). However, the Roman Catholic Church adds “good works” as a condition, and collects billions in money worldwide from gullible people seeking salvation. Apocrypha books support this (Ecclesiasticus 3:33. Ecclesiasticus of the Apocrypha is different from Ecclesiastes in the Bible). According Tobit 4:11 of the Apocrypha, “For alms deliver from all sin, and from death and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness”.
3-Preexistence Of Souls: The doctrines that souls have always existed and that the human body receives a preexisting soul is taught in Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19, 20). This is contrary to what is taught by the Canonical books.
4-The Doctrine Of Emanations: Emanation is the theory that just as the web used by the spider comes out of the spider’s own being, the Universe and everything in it is an emanation from God. This idea is contrary to what the Bible teaches, but the Apocrypha teaches it (Wisdom Of Solomon 7:25).
5-Suicide Justified: Bible is totally opposed to suicide, and warns believers against contemplating such activities. The Apocrypha justifies it (2 Maccabees 14:41-46).
6-Cruelty To Slaves Justified: While the Canon asks believers to be merciful to slaves (Deu. 23:15,16), the Apocrypha says that the best way to treat a slave is to pile work upon him. It also justifies cruelty to them when needed (Ecclesiasticus 33:25-29).
7-Other Fallacies And Blasphemies: There are numerous historical errors, doctrinal errors, and even blasphemies. Hatred for Samaritan people, sanction for lying, encouragement for magical incantations, assassination, the power of angels to intercede for man, and many other s are found there.
Worse of all, the doctrine of Purgatory has also come from Apocryphal sources. This is a doctrine totally opposed to all what the Bible says.
Though many people claim that books of the Bible have been altered and manipulated, the historical data opposes this idea. Right from the beginning the Canonical books received special preservation and protection from the Jews as well as the Christians.
They Apocrypha are not part of the Canon. These books were never considered by the Jews or by Christians as part of the Canon. It is the Roman Catholic Church which ADDED these non-canonical books to the Canon in 1545 as a reaction against the Protestant Movement. They needed to do this to justify their doctrinal errors.
The Canon of God is pure, free from error, and preserved for our instruction and edification.
The Biblical Stand Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone Is God’s Word) Sola Fide (Faith Alone Is The Way Of Salvation) Sola Gratia (Grace Alone Is The Divine Means) Solus Christus (Christ Alone Is The Saviour)