For the month of October, The Remnant is advancing its daily posts to Tuesdays, in order that our fifth and final post in this series will be released on 31 October, the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation’s beginning.
Why these sixty-six?
It’s an oft-asked question. Why, for example, is the gospel of John included where the gospel of Thomas is not? Where do we draw the line between divinely inspired scripture and too-late heretical writings? And why do we listen to these 66 books anyway? What’s so special about them? Just who says they’re divine work?
The Old Testament
Well, the answer starts over four and a half millennia ago in the midst of Arabia, wherein the events of the book of Job occurred. Chronologically, however, both the writing and the events of the Torah precede the events described in Job, despite what you may have heard. Most likely, the book of Job was written in the last millennium BC, leaving Genesis as the most likely candidate for the first chronologically written book. And thus Genesis and all other books of Moses’ work must necessarily be considered Biblical canon, as they form the very basis, heart, and soul of the Bible.
Most other books in the Old Testament are beyond dispute. Many claim divine inspiration, others contain clearly interpreted prophecies, and the remainder lends credence to the Bible’s historicity (for an example, the books of Chronicles contain both accurate prophecy and historical credence).
However, the Jewish Bible numbers fifteen books fewer than the typical Protestant one, and this is for good reason: Protestant Bibles typically split several books which Jews do not. In the Jewish Bible, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are each one book, as in the original manuscripts; the twelve minor prophets are one book (a decision which sits somewhat uncomfortably even in the most traditional of Jewish circles, since many of these books were written hundreds of years apart); and Ezra and Nehemiah are considered one book, as they detail two parts of the same story. (This is a similar situation to the two-part writings of Luke, namely Luke and Acts.)
Additionally, Catholic Bibles include a swath of additional books, such as Tobit, Judith, I and II Maccabees, additions to Daniel and Esther, and several other noncanonical books. The decision by the Protestant Church during the Reformation to reject these books is founded on their lack of historical credence, the scant evidence for divine inspiration, and their failure to include accurate prophecy.
The New Testament
But it is on the New Testament which articles such as this typically focus, since their development is less of an even progression of writings with occasional dissension and more of a haphazard piling of books written in the sixty years or so after the resurrection of Christ. Deciding which of these hundreds of mostly heretical books to include in the final Bible is an unenviable task, and one which caused large amounts of trouble in the early church. This also gave rise to the Gnostic dissenters, who have rebounded in modern colours due to Bart Ehrman’s popular 2007 historical study Misquoting Jesus. An excellent rebuttal, Timothy Paul Jones’ Misquoting Truth, points out Ehrman’s errors, but nevertheless, Misquoting Jesus has led to difficulties for many who don’t investigate further.
Many have argued that the modern New Testament is a Romanisation of the original books, and Constantine bastardised the real, accurate Bible. Such accusations are inaccurate, however. The Council of Nicea, in 325 AD was the founding point for our modern, complete Bible. The absolute latest that any respectable church disagreed with our modern New Testament was in the early fourth century.
Such a sixty-six book Bible, divinely inspired, was reaffirmed in the 1546 post-Reformation Council of Trent, which was followed by the 1563 Thirty-Nine Articles and other Christian affirmations. Our sixty-six books, concurrent and non-contradictory, are no accident. They are the complete and inspired word of God.
I can’t accurately express how useful of a book Misquoting Truth is. If you wish to go further in depth with the study of the development of the Biblical canon, it’s an impeccable and unrivalled source to do so.
Overall, however, such things are ultimately unimportant. The issues of whether or not certain small doctrines are true or false pale in comparison to the key teaching of the Bible: justification by salvation by repentance and belief in Christ. And that is the core of the Protestant Reformation.