All believers at some point in their Christian lives (hopefully sooner than later) will have to wrestle with the question of whether the books that they have in their Bibles are in fact the very books that God intends to be there.
Many Christians take the canon of Scripture (the books given to us by God and thereby being authoritative) for granted, never thinking about how these 66 books came to be in our Bibles and others didn’t. Many never give the canon a second thought until they are forced to consider the issue when challenged by unbelievers on why they believe the books in their Bibles to be from God.
Beginning with the Ten Commandments (Ex 24:12), God graciously began to leave His people a written word. God, through His prophets, continued to add to His written revelation throughout the Old Covenant until Malachi where He left His people with an expectation of a visitation from the Lord Himself (Malachi 3:1, 4:5).
When the Lord Jesus appeared as promised (Luke 2:10) and began His earthly ministry amongst the Jews, there were interestingly no debates between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning which books were to be regarded as Scripture. The canon of the Old Testament had been made evident by God and was recognized by the Jews. As much as Jesus argued with the Pharisees and Scribes about the meanings of the Old Testament Scriptures (John 5:39-47), they never argued about which writings were Scripture.
Even though Jesus and His apostles often quoted from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, a translation that actually had additional Apocryphal writings included in it, neither Jesus nor did any of His apostles ever refer to the Apocryphal writings as “Scripture” or even quote them at all. The canon in Jesus’ day was settled, and it consisted of the same 39 books we have in our Old Testament today.
So what about our New Testament books? These are often the most attacked and challenged books by skeptics. How do we know these 27 books in our New Testaments are the correct books to be added to the canon of Scripture since Jesus has since returned to the Father before their completion and cannot confirm them for us?
Jesus, in John 14:26, left this promise to His disciples who would later be known as His apostles,
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
Recognizing the special ability and role that Jesus gave to His apostles is a good place to start in establishing in your mind just how God was going to reveal to us which books He intended for us to recognize as Scripture.
Just as in the Old Testament, God used prophets to interpret and inscripturate the redemptive works of God; likewise in the New Testament, the apostles were given the ability by the Holy Spirit to not only recall the teachings of Jesus but to interpret His words and deeds and to recognize inspired writings of their associates.
Those given the title “apostle” in the New Testament wrote themselves the majority of the 27 books that we have. There are however 5 other books in the New Testament which were written by others not deemed with the title of “apostle”; the Gospel of Mark, Luke and Acts, Jude, and the book of Hebrews. Although these 5 books were not written by any of the apostles, the authors were all closely tied to at least one of the apostles who would have attested to the validity of the writings as being in fact inspired by the Spirit of God.
Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark was a close associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13, Acts 12:12).
Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts actually travelled with the apostle Paul on some of his missionary endeavors (“we sections of Acts” Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-28)
Jude was the half-brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55) and the brother of James who was deemed to be an apostle by Paul in 1 Cor 15:7 and Gal 1:19.
Last but not least we have the book of Hebrews included in our New Testaments. Hebrews is a tougher book from a historical perspective to directly link to its apostolicity as the book is anonymous. We do not know the author of the book of Hebrews and cannot therefore draw a direct line to an apostle who would have then verified its canonicity. It is safe to say however, that based on all of the other books that are included in our New Testament having apostolic origins and links, Hebrews likewise had similar apostolic attestation which would have led the early church to copy and spread its contents so that it could gain enough exposure to become widely accepted and affirmed.
There is also another quality of canonicity to consider as well that God used to make His Scriptures apparent to His church.
As the Lord Jesus said in John 10:27,
The writings of Scripture are θεόπνευστος or God-breathed, and because the Spirit of God resides in us, the church, we recognize and hear truth in what God has in fact inspired.
The book of Hebrews rings true to the saints of God as a text that glorifies and reveals the Lord Jesus Christ as the rest of the Scriptures do.
Praise God for orchestrating in His providence the production and reception of the books we collectively have as our Bibles. He has given us all that we need to grow up in Him (2 Tim 3:17)
So then brethren, be thankful, contend earnestly for, and be fully satisfied with the revelation and the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3)!
Written By: Chris Matthews
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.