“We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These are thus named in the Church of God. The books of the Old Testament are, the five books of Moses, viz.: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the, books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the two books of Samuel, the two of the Rings, two books of Chronicles, commonly called Paralipomenon, the first of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, the Psalms of David, the three books of Solomon, namely, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; the four great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel; and the twelve lesser prophets, namely, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Those of the New Testament are the four evangelists, viz.: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul, viz.: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, and one to the Hebrews; the seven epistles of the other apostles, namely, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.”
Article IV, The Belgic Confession
We may note at the outset that, this article and Article 5 are closely related. In Article 4 the Reformed Churches state which books they believe to be the content of the Holy Scriptures. The main point of this article is an enumeration of those books which the Reformed Churches accept as constituting the Holy Scriptures. With Article 5 the Reformed Churches state why they accept these books and these only as “holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.” Because of this close relationship it is somewhat difficult to discuss these articles separately. But this we shall attempt, limiting ourselves to the question of “Canonicity” in this article and treating the reasons why the churches receive these books as “holy and canonical” for the next article.
There are several points which ought to be made concerning the books of the Bible as listed in this article. There is and has been not a little criticism of this list especially on the part of those who wish to revise the Reformed Creeds. While we have no sympathy for this wish, we ought to face the criticisms and objections to this article. The reader will note that the books are listed in the order in which they appear in our Authorized King James Version Bibles. The fact that this listing does not follow the order of the Hebrew Old Testament is of no consequence. We may note too that the two books of Chronicles were given the name “Paralipomenon.” This term means “a brief passing over,” and was probably given to indicate that the books of Chronicles record events which are passed over in the other historical books of the Old Testament. Noteworthy is the fact that the book of Lamentations was omitted from the list. No doubt the reason is that this book was included under Jeremiah. The Psalms were ascribed to David, while we know that he did not write all of them. This too is of no consequence in the light of the fact that the Church has always referred to the Psalms as the Psalms of David. David after all was the human instrument of the vast majority of the Psalms. Liberal critics have made much of the fact that the creed ascribes Hebrews to the Apostle Paul. It is true that this is highly doubtful. A comparative study of the Greek of Hebrews and the Greek of the Pauline Epistles would lead one to the conclusion that Paul did not write Hebrews. There is the fact, too, that Paul mentions himself as the writer of his epistles but there is no such mention made in the epistle to the Hebrews.
In spite of these objections and criticisms the Reformed believer has no difficulty in subscribing to this article of our confession. There are several rather obvious grounds for this conviction. First, none of these criticisms is of major import. What difference does it make whether one believes Paul to be the human author of Hebrews or someone else? Second, none of these criticisms or objections affects in the least any point of the doctrine of the Word of God. They have nothing to do with points of doctrine. And finally, these objections do not affect the main point or thrust of this article of the confession. The point of this article is that these writings (irrespective of whom the Holy Spirit may have used to record them) make up the two books of the Old and New Testaments which constitute the Holy Scriptures. It certainly is not the intent of Article 4 to give the believer a detailed course in Biblical Introduction. Hence, while we admit the inaccuracies and omissions, we are not disturbed by them: for the truth remains both clearly stated and unscathed. And the truth which we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths is that these writings and these writings alone constitute the Holy Scriptures against which nothing can be alleged.
These writings are said to be “canonical.” The term “canon” is derived from the Greek and means literally “a straight rod or bar, especially to keep a thing straight.” Sometimes the term is used to indicate that the Scriptures are considered to be the Word: of God as measured and accepted by the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The term is also used figuratively with reference to the Scriptures. In this sense it expresses the faith of the church that the writings incorporated in the Bible are to be received as authoritative for the faith and life of the child of God. For reasons which will become obvious in our exposition of Article 5 we prefer this latter meaning. All truth is to be found only in the Word of God and all things are to be done and judged according to these holy and canonical Scriptures. Thus the Apostle Paul used the word, “And as many as walk according to this rule, (canon) peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16) There need be, therefore, no debate or theological discussion concerning the “nature and extent of Biblical authority.” Within the context of the Belgic Confession this is not a debatable issue. The writings listed in this article constitute the Holy Scriptures. They are of divine origin, according to Article 3. And for this reason the authority is absolute. It is the rule of God Himself which is expressed in the Scriptures. This is the authority of Him with whom we all have to do. It covers all of that which we believe and it is determinative of our walk of life. This is, as we hope to see, the testimony of the Bible itself which “the very blind are able to perceive.” (Art. 5)
There are two significant implications which flow out of this assertion of Article 4. The first is that the Reformed churches consider the Canon to be closed. These, and these books only, make up the Canon of the Word of God. There are no other books which may be added to the Bible. There has been no little discussion among theologians on this point, especially in recent years. This has resulted from recent archaeological discoveries such as the Dead Sea scrolls and the so-called Gospel according to St. Thomas. Others are concerned about what have been called “the lost books of the Bible.” When, for example, the apostle Paul writes to Corinth, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:” (I Cor. 5:9) he cannot mean his Second Epistle. There must have been another letter written to Corinth which we do not possess. The same apostle exhorts the Colossians to read the epistle from Laodicea (Col. 4:16), which would indicate that he wrote an epistle to that church which we do not possess. For some this seems to present a problem. Suppose either or both of these should be found? Would they then be included in the Canon? Article 4 provides the answer. By testifying that these books listed in the creed constitute the Holy Scriptures the Reformed believer means that the Canon is closed. Our position is that God in His providence saw fit to preserve these books, and only these, throughout the ages and entrust them to His Church. If others were needed by the church, the Lord certainly would have preserved them. Hence the sacred writings which we have are the whole Word of God, the holy and divine Scriptures “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.” (II Tim. 3:15) We need no others.
When Article 4 states that “the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged” it certainly implies that the Old Testament is of equal value and authority with the New. This may seem self-evident, but it does need saying. The authority of the Old Testament is under vicious attack in our time. Liberals say it presents a “low view” of God which the modern man has long since outgrown by his more spiritual insights. The God of the Old Testament is said to be a ruthless, hating tyrant, while the God of the New Testament is said to be a God of love. Besides the attack of the liberals there is the fact that certain strains of fundamentalism and dispensationalism have little to do with the Old Testament. The Old Testament, according to these, concerns the “Kingdom people,” the nation of Israel. Apart from wild speculation concerning the fulfillment of prophecy, these find no significance in the Old Testament for the “church” of the new dispensation. On the basis of our creed we confess that both are of equal value and authority. It is true that the Old is fulfilled in the New, and the New marks the end of the age of shadows, types, and promise. Nonetheless, we honor them equally as divine and inspired Scripture. Both are infallible, and against both “nothing can be alleged.” Without the New the Old Testament remains incomplete, but without the Old the New Testament becomes largely unintelligible. The church must preach both testaments in order not to “shun to declare . . . the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) Both of these books are essential to the believer’s understanding and enjoyment of the grace of God which is in Christ Jesus. They speak of the same salvation “by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:8)
This we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths concerning the Canon of Holy Scriptures against which nothing can be alleged. May God give us grace, then, to search the treasures of His holy and divine Word daily, for; “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Tim. 3:16, 17)