What Is Scripture?


Series: No Series

Title: What Is Scripture? The #canon, and how the #Bible came to be


  • 2018-02-17: White Rock Lake

Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:14-17

  1. Intro
    1. Some time ago, a member of my church told me that he had read Dan Brown’s novel The DaVinci Code and had developed some serious questions about whether the Bible was really as reliable as we say it is.
    2. Before responding, I checked the book out from my local library (so as not to support the author by buying the book) and read it. I found it to be an exciting story which makes many explosive claims. Due to the way it is written, an uninformed person could easily be led astray by what appear to be well-researched facts. However, as I had studied many of the issues raised not long before reading the book, I was able to spot many of the misrepresentations contained in the book.
    3. To be clear, anyone reading the book should regard all the so-called facts presented with deep suspicion as the author has made many false claims.
    4. Central to the story is the idea that there were other books of the Bible that were suppressed by corrupt church authorities; thus, according to Dan Brown and others who hold similar views, the 66 books of the Bible which we use represent an incomplete, politically-correct version of what was originally inspired.
    5. In recent months, I’ve had conversations with several people at this church about which books should be considered inspired, what exactly is the Bible, etc.
    6. I’m addressing this issue because Seventh-day Adventists firmly hold to the reformation idea of sola scriptura, the Bible and the Bible only for establishing doctrine. If the questions about the Bible are true, then the Bible is undermined and the logical next step would be to abandon sola scriptura and instead join the Catholic church.
  2. Inspiration of the Bible
    1. Inspiration basis
      1. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 p. 1144: Inspiration: God-breathed.
        1. Our starting point is that scripture is divine in origin.
        2. Scripture gives us wisdom for salvation
        3. This means that what we have as scripture is what God intended to be scripture. Furthermore, if there are other books out there which God intended to be scripture, but which have somehow been lost, then that would mean that God was unable or willing to make His will known to us.
      2. 2 Peter 1:21 p. 1166: Prophecy in scripture (and in a sense all Scripture is prophecy) is the result of the Holy Spirit moving upon the Bible writers.
    2. Two theories of inspiration
      1. Verbal inspiration—

        The focus of verbal inspiration is on the words of the Bible rather than on the author. All the words are said to be inspired by God, who chooses from the vocabulary and educational background of the writer. According to this view, only the original writings of the biblical writers are inspired, not the copies, which might have errors.1

      2. Thought inspiration—The focus is on the writers, not the words. Primarily the thoughts are inspired, while the writers are prevented from making theological errors, so that the Bible “is declared to be the infallible revelation of God’s will.”2
        1. 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12 p. 1103—Paul didn’t always have direct words from God
        2. 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 p. 1099—If God had inspired the specific words here, He would be either forgetful or a liar. But the point Paul is making still stands.
        3. Revelation 1:17-19 p. 1174—The prophets were to write what they saw, but there was no dictation
        4. Sometimes, God’s exact words are quoted, as in the Ten Commandments
        5. Thought inspiration summarized nicely (Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21):

          It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the Word of God.

      3. Many Bibles contain material that isn’t inspired, such as notes, subject headings, etc.
    3. Is all of the Bible inspired?
      1. Our key text for today, 2 Timothy 3:16 (p. 1144), asserts that it is.
      2. We earlier read a passage written by Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:12 (p. 1103), in which he states that a particular point he’s making doesn’t come from God. We should regard that as an exception, not a rule. All scripture is inspired, except where it explicitly says otherwise.
      3. Often, questions of inspiration are the result of trying to wrestle with a difficult passage.
        1. There are certainly some passages which are difficult to understand.
        2. 2 Peter 3:15, 16 p. 1167: Peter explicitly calls Paul’s letters Scripture, and acknowledges that they contain some difficult passages.
        3. Thus, difficulty isn’t a measure of inspiration. Rather, it should cause us to study more carefully.
    4. What about other books outside of the 66? Were they also inspired? Before we can answer this question, we need to consider how the canon was formed.
  3. How the canon was formed
    1. What is the canon?
      1. The spelling of canon is important. It doesn’t mean a gun; rather, it means a rule, or in this context, the list of books considered to be a part of the Bible.
    2. Formation of the Canon (κανων, “rule” or “principle”, from קָנֶה, “reed” or “stalk”)
      1. OT
        1. Books were written at different times in different situations
          1. Not all books that were written were included in the canon (ex.: Book of Jashar, Joshua 10:13; Book of the Wars of the Lord, Numbers 21:14; Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, Chronicles of the Seers, 2 Chronicles 33:18, 19)
          2. God guided His people to recognize which books were authoritative; however, we have no record of how it happened for the OT books. We do know, though, that by NT times the OT canon was established, so that Jesus could speak of the law, the prophets, and the psalms (Luke 24:44), reflecting the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible
          3. Council of Jamnia (AD 90)
            1. Jewish scholars gathered to discuss questions regarding the OT canon
            2. Esther: Does it belong, since it doesn’t mention God?
            3. Jonah: Does it belong? Did God really care about the wicked Assyrians?
            4. In the end, they answered a number of questions, but left the canon unchanged
      2. Apocrypha—the term originally meant “hidden,” not “fictitious”
        1. Referring here to OT apocrypha—Jewish books that were included in the Septuagint, but not considered canonical.
        2. Because of their presence in the LXX, Jerome grudgingly included them in the Vulgate, and the Council of Trent (1546) declared some of them to be canonical.
        3. Protestants reject them as canonical3
          1. The Jews never accepted them
          2. NT writers never quoted from them (however, there are other OT books never quoted, and Paul and Jude quoted other non-canonical books)
          3. Sermons recorded in the NT completely ignore the intertestimental period, where the apocryphal books provide the history
          4. Persistent uncertainty regarding the books in the early church testifies against their genuineness—resistance to these books was only suppressed by ecclesiastical authority
          5. They sometimes contradict the Bible.
          6. Poor evidence of inspiration; e.g.: 2 Maccabees 15:37, 38

            37 This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor, and from that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I will here end my story. 38 If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do.”

          7. They do have some value; for example, 1 Maccabees is a fairly good history of the Jewish revolt against Greek rule
          8. The main reason that Catholics accept the apocrypha is because they can find support for some of the things the Protestant Reformers were beating them up over. For example:
            1. Catholic doctrine of purgatory is based on 2 Maccabees 12:39-45, a passage that contradicts the rest of Scripture.

              44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

      3. NT
        1. The threat of heretical teachings raised the necessity to make a list of which apostolic books were inspired
        2. The four gospels and the Pauline epistles were generally recognized early on, but early lists varied when it came to the other books; many omitted Hebrews and one or more of the general epistles, and in the east Revelation was disputed, and some accepted additional books, such as the Shepherd of Hermas
        3. In 327, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote an Easter letter containing the first list of canonical books that includes the same 27 we have today. However, his list wasn’t the last word.
        4. Series of church councils (didn’t declare the canon, but merely recognized it)4
          1. Synod of Laodicea (363) forbade the reading of non-canonical books—so we can infer that people knew what was canonical
          2. Council of Hippo (Africa; 393) declared our current NT to be scripture
          3. Synod of Carthage (397)—only canonical books may be read in church, and gave the same list as we have today
          4. Council of Carthage (419)—reaffirmed the canon
        5. Criteria for acceptance5
          1. Apostolic authorship
          2. Teaches truth
          3. Universal acceptance by the churches in all areas (not subject to perhaps local corruptions)
          4. Written in the period from the birth of Jesus to the death of the last apostle
          5. The self-evidencing quality of the books; i.e., they gave evidence of inspiration
          6. Whether they were read in the churches
      4. Some may object that the people who decided the canon may have been corrupt. However, if we believe in sola scriptura, the authority of the Bible, and the idea that the Bible is the source of all doctrine and knowledge of salvation, then we must believe in God’s ability to preserve His word and ensure that the correct canon got accepted.
  4. Noncanonical books
    1. I want to address several noncanonical books that are popular today and explain why we must continue to consider them to be noncanonical.
    2. So-called Gospel of Thomas
      1. So-called because there are significant reasons to doubt that it was written by Thomas.
      2. The most popular of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, which some people (including the DaVinci Code and many secular scholars) consider to be genuine gospels suppressed by the church.
        1. The list of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) was accepted from the earliest period, without controversy, accept from a few people who advocated theology which contradicts scripture–and more than just the gospels.
      3. The idea of Thomas and the Gnostics is that Jesus gave many sayings which have a hidden meaning, and that this secret knowledge is essential for salvation. Think of the Buddhist koans for comparison.
      4. However, the sayings are far, far from what any Bible student would expect to come out of Jesus’ mouth.
      5. Here are several examples6
        1. Logia 11: “Jesus said, ‘This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?’”
        2. Logia 12: The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”
          1. Is salvation though James? Was the world created for James?
        3. Logia 14: Jesus said to them, “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.”
          1. Directly contradicts scripture.
        4. Logia 114: Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
      6. When people talk about books being lost from the Bible, the Gospel of Thomas is most often the one they mean. Yet we’ve seen that it is totally opposed to the Bible. It’s obvious why it should be rejected.
    3. The Book of Enoch
      1. This is the other most commonly cited noncanonical book that some believe should be included.
      2. It has never appeared in any list of canonical scripture outside Ethiopia and Eritrea until the modern time. That it was never considered canonical is a powerful argument, as that’s how we got the canon in the first place.
      3. While ancient writers, and even Jude (vv. 14, 15) sometimes appear to quote from it, it was lost for many years until a copy was discovered in 1956.7
        1. If it were possible for genuine scripture to be lost for a period of time, then we would be able to have no confidence in scripture, because it would mean that God were either unable or unwilling to preserve His Word.
      4. Some inconsistencies with the Bible
        1. Enoch 10:1-5: “1. Then the Most High, the Great and Holy One spoke, 2. And sent Arsayalalyur to the son of Lamech, 3. Saying, Say to him in my name, Conceal thyself. 4. Then explain to him the consummation which is about to take place; for all the earth shall perish; the waters of a deluge shall come over the whole earth, and all things which are in it shall be destroyed. 5. And now teach him how he may escape, and how his seed may remain in all the earth.
          1. According to the timeline in Genesis 5: Enoch died before Noah (Arsayalalyur?) was born. So, how could Enoch have recorded the message God gave Noah?
        2. Enoch 22 teaches that there are physical locations where conscious spirits of the dead are held until the judgment. Abel is heard to accuse his brother, and the wicked are kept in torment prior to the judgment.
          1. This directly contradicts the Bible doctrine of the state of the dead. The Bible teaches that the dead are in unconscious sleep until one of two post-judgment resurrections: the resurrections of life and of death. The wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire after the judgment.
        3. I could have found more inconsistencies, but I didn’t want to take a lot of time, and the case against Enoch is strong enough.
        4. So, if Enoch isn’t inspired by God, why did Jude quote from it?
          1. Several Bible writers quoted from non-canonical, even pagan sources. Most of those sources no one would consider including in the canon.
          2. Merely quoting a source doesn’t constitute an endorsement of the entire document as being biblical.
          3. It would be a bit like visiting a pastor’s house, looking at all the books in his library, and concluding that they must all be part of the Bible because they were found at a pastor’s house.
  5. Why does this matter?


  1. Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, lesson for January 26, 2009. 

  2. ibid. 

  3. The first four reasons are from David Ewert, A General Introduction to the Bible: From Ancient Tablets to Modern Translations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), p. 79. 

  4. See Ewert, p. 129 

  5. See Ewert, pp. 130-132 

  6. Source 

  7. Source