THE CANON OF SACRED SCRIPTURE
We concluded our last article on the canon of the sacred Scriptures with a quotation from Josephus, a noted Jewish historian. He writes that there are only twenty-two books (the Old Testament) which have been justly believed to be divine, and that the Jews have been led instinctively from the moment of their birth to regard them as decrees of God, and to abide by them, and, if need be, gladly to die for them.
It is not difficult to show that these twenty-two books which are mentioned by Josephus are exactly the same as are now contained in our Old Testament. And we may add to this that Josephus does not catalogue the apocryphal books with the sacred Scriptures. However, what is most important is the fact that Christ and the apostles plainly witness that the Old Testament Bible already existed. They quote from most of these books; they speak of the whole of the Old Testament as the Scriptures, the Holy Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets; and this Scripture is to them the Word of God, the end of all argument, authoritative for faith and life. That God saith and the Scripture saith are for the Apostle Paul exactly identical.
Besides, the question must be asked: who collected all these books so as to constitute one volume? And the answer is: the church collected these books into the one volume of the Old Testament. But how was the church guided in its collection of these books? We may safely assume that the sixty-six books of our Bible were not the only books written by divine inspiration. The apostles must have written other ‘inspired books besides those which constitute our Bible. The apostles were always inspired in speaking and in writing whenever they functioned apostolically. Even Rome, be believing in the infallibility of the pope, declares that the pope is infallible only then when he speaks officially. The pope is not always infallible. And the apostles were not always infallible. This is clearly established in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. In this epistle the apostle Paul accused the Apostle Peter of deception, and it is clear that Peter was not guided in his deception by the Holy Spirit. But the apostles were inspired whenever they functioned apostolically. What, then, enabled the church to declare that these books, and not others, constitute the written Word of God? To this we answer that the church was led to do this by the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures contain within themselves the testimony that they are the Word of God. And the church was led by the Spirit of God to recognize these books as the Canon of the Holy Scriptures. Rev. Hoeksema has used the following example to illustrate this thought. We quote the following, see Volume IV, page 163: “But by what was the Church guided in fixing the Canon? Our answer is twofold. In the first place, she was guided from within by the Spirit of Christ that was given unto her and dwelled in her. It was the very Spirit that had inspired the organism of the Sacred Scriptures. The author of the whole Bible dwelled in the Church. But was there nothing in the books that guided her? We think there was. There was in all the books together the revelation of the fulness of Christ. It was that picture of the Christ, as He was revealed in all the colors of hope in the old dispensation, that must have guided the Church of old; and it is easy to see, that the Church of the new dispensation must have noticed before many years passed after the apostles had de parted, that their writings furnished exactly that which, with the possession of the Old Testament only, was still lacking of the whole of the image of the Saviour. If a life-size portrait of my mother is torn into several fragments, and mixed with parts of other pictures, I will be guided by the knowledge of the features of my mother from within, and by the lines in the various fragments from without in collecting the whole and determining when the picture is complete. Thus, it seems to me, it was with the Church. There was in the various books of the Old and of the New Testament a full revelation of the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus. And there was within the Church the Spirit that was the Author of the very picture of Christ in the Holy Books. The organic operation of these two factors enabled the Church to separate the sacred books from, others and to fix the Canon.” So, two factors guided the Church of God in determining the canon of the Holy Scriptures: first, the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the church of God, and, secondly, the objective testimony of the Word of God itself, that it is the revelation of the fulness of Christ.
Finally, one may object that the Bible as originally inspired is no longer in existence. And this is true. The original manuscripts have disappeared. So we have no Bible, it is alleged, no inspired Word of God after all. However, in connection with this we may say the following. It is true that all we have today is a copy of the original manuscripts. We have almost 4000 copies of the New Testament alone. And these copies are characterized by approximately 150,000 deviations and differences. These copies, we understand, are human copies of the original manuscripts, or, stated more exactly, copies of each other. However, concerning these differences, ninety-five per cent of the differences is of no significance whatever. And not a single difference affects any article of our faith. This simply emphasizes that the Lord also watched over the translations. He not only wrote the Bible, but also watched over it while it was being copied and translated. And this is surely a marvelous thing. Is it not a marvelous thing that a book can be copied thousands of times and never lose its original significance? Is this not also the wonderful word of the Lord? Now we must bear in mind that the original manuscripts of the Old Testament were also no longer in existence when Christ was among us. Only copies of those original manuscripts were in existence. But our Lord Jesus Christ quoted from those copies of the Old Testament Scripture. And He quoted them in such a way that they are the infallible Word of God, the only authoritative rule for our faith and life. Never did He quote them in such a way that He questioned their authority because they were merely copies and not the original manuscripts.
THE INSPIRATION OF THE SCRIPTURES
We assume and are led by the unalterable conviction that the Holy Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. We believe that we may never assume any other attitude toward the Scriptures than that of humble submission, recognizing the Word of God as the only and absolutely authoritative rule of all doctrine and life. We believe that the Scriptures must dictate to us what we must believe and how we must walk and conduct ourselves in the midst of the church and of the world. All higher criticism is from below. A critical approach toward the Holy Scriptures is simply out of the question. And a neutral attitude toward the Word of God is utterly impossible. This is our position, individually, and also as Protestant Reformed Churches.
The opinion has been advanced that we must be neutral as we approach the Word of God. We must be unbiased in our attitude toward the Word of God. Such a neutral approach, it is claimed, is dictated by honesty. It is always wrong to be biased in one’s opinion. And this also applies as we approach the Word of God. We must not simply assume them to be true. We must examine the Bible and determine for ourselves which parts of it are true or false. That is the only possibly honest approach. We must be fair in our judgment. All prejudice and bias is unfair and unjust. A neutral approach is the only fair and just approach.
This view is completely impossible and contrary to fact. And, it is decidedly dishonest. It certainly does not state the issue correctly and honestly. Fact is, no man is neutral as he approaches the Word of God. If the believer be accused of approaching the Scriptures with a biased attitude, the same accusation may also be lodged against the unbeliever. We concede that the believing child of God approaches the Holy Scriptures in faith, never questions their truth or veracity, submits himself humbly to the Word of the Lord, and recognizes the fact that they stand above him even as the living God stands above him and above every living creature. This we gladly concede. But we hasten to add that the unbeliever is characterized by the very opposite as he approaches the Word of God. He hates the living God. And he is governed by that hatred as he reads the Word of the Lord. He denies that the Bible is the only authoritative rule for doctrine and life. He elevates himself above the Scriptures. And we hasten to add that this lies in the very nature of the case. We will either submit ourselves to the Word of the Lord or elevate ourselves above it.
Besides, what right do we have to assume any other attitude toward the divine Scriptures than that of humble submission? God wrote His Word. That the truth of divine inspiration is based directly upon the Word of God we know. We read in II Tim. 3:16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” And in II Pet. 1:19-21 we read: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” However, the truth of divine inspiration is not merely based upon certain individual passages of the Word of the Lord, but upon the entire testimony of the Scriptures. The Lord does not approach us in His Word apologetically. He does not introduce Himself and then attempt to prove His existence or His authorship of the Bible. He has simply revealed Himself. Very majestically the Word of God begins with the solemn declaration: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” And throughout the Bible the Lord speaks to us with divine authority. He does not ask of us to believe in Him, to accept His Word. He does not confront us as a beggar, requesting and begging us to believe all that is recorded in the Scriptures. He simply speaks to us as the living God; throughout the Bible we have the constantly recurring refrain: “Thus saith the Lord.” And why should the Lord be apologetic in His revelation to us? He is the living God, is He not? He has written His own Word. Imagine if a father were to write a letter to his son, and that son were to question his father’s authorship of that letter! It is surely the abyss of abominable conceit to question any part of the Word of the Lord and to assume a so-called neutral approach in our attitude toward the Holy Scriptures. Imagine: God Himself wrote His own Word; and man should assume an attitude of neutrality over against it? Indeed, no man has the slightest right to question the Word of God. No man had anything to do with its composition. And no man has therefore any right to doubt the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God. And that Word of God must come to us with divine authority.