Lesson 46 - The Authority of Scripture


I. How the books of Scripture were established

The complete canon of the Old Testament wasn't completed until after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but parts had been recognized far earlier. The books of the law (also known as the Torah or Pentateuch—Genesis-Deuteronomy) were acknowledged as early as 2 Kings 22. The prophets were identified as Scripture by the end of the second century BC. The Psalms were accepted, but the remaining books varied depending on Jewish sect. The rabbinical school of the Pharisees in Jamnia arrived at a final list of twenty-four books, which equate to the thirty-nine books of the Christian Old Testament. Ten books interpreted in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) were rejected because of the strict guidelines for canon: books must have conformed to the Torah, and had to have been written in Palestine, in Hebrew, and not after the time of Ezra (about 400 BC). Although the Catholic Bible today includes the Apocrypha, the vast majority of Hebrew scholars considered them to be good historical and religious documents, but not on the same level as the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, have a few minor differences, but they are remarkably similar to the accepted Hebrew Scriptures we have today.

The process for recognizing and collecting the books of the New Testament began in the first centuries of the Christian church. Very early on, some of the New Testament books were recognized as inspired. Paul considered Luke's writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter referred to Paul's writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Clement of Rome mentioned at least eight New Testament books (AD 95). Ignatius of Antioch acknowledged about seven books (AD 115). Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, acknowledged fifteen books (AD 108). Later, Irenaeus mentioned twenty-one books (AD 185). Hippolytus recognized twenty-two books (AD 170-235).

The first "canon" was the Muratorian Canon, compiled in AD 170, which included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. The Council of Laodicea (AD 363) concluded that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Councils of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (AD 397) reaffirmed the same twenty-seven books as authoritative.

The principles used by the councils to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit were fourfold. First, the author must be an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle. Second, the book must have been accepted by the body of Christ at large. Third, the book had to contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching. Finally, the book had to bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit as the divine Author. Most importantly, however, it must be recognized that it was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible. God, via the inspiration of the Spirit, imparted to His followers what He had already decided. The human process of collecting the books of the Bible was flawed, but God, in His sovereignty, and despite the limitations of sinful man, brought the early church to the recognition of the books He had inspired, and those books are recognized today as the canon of Scripture.

II. What does Scripture say of Inspiration?

A. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

B. 2 Peter 1:20-21

C. Mark 12:36

D. John 10:35

E. Matthew 5:18

F. Acts 1:16

G. Acts 3:18

H. 1 Peter 1:11

III. Inspiration in both Testaments

A. 2 Peter 3:2

B. Acts 5:2-4

C. 1 Corinthians 14:37

D. 2 Corinthians 13:3

E. 2 Peter 3:15-16

F. 1 Timothy 5:17-18

G. Luke 10:7

IV. What this means for us

A. Based on what we have learned from the previous passages, what can be said of the Bible’s inerrancy and authority?

B. How is this to impact our behavior?

C. What message are we to convey to a world where anything goes?

  August 2022  
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