Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Was the Bible Put Together...Apocrypha

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

"When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.....My sheep hear My voice..." (John 10:4,27...emp. added)

The bible's fundamental view of itself is that it is God's personal words to us. It is communication from Persons (tri-personality of Trinity) to persons, via the medium of human language. That would make it more precious than all the gold and diamonds in the world times infinity...because the Word of God is divine, as well as human (much like Jesus) We have the Incarnate Word and the inscripturated Word.

 How do we distinguish between words that are merely human, and those that are from the very mouth of God? God did not want that left to guesswork, so He intended all along to give us the bible.What books comprise the Word of God are an issue of canon. Canon refers to the body of writing that God has given to guide and rule the church...the constitution of His covenant community.

Recently there has been much controversy concerning books that were rejected from the canon. I read this on Facebook often, "Certain books were rejected due to church politics, but they should be included." This is not an option for Christians due to the fact that it is unthinkable that God was unsuccessful in communicating effectively to us a permanent and specific record of His personal words to us.

 I am not going to discuss the historical process of how the canon was established (as interesting as that is, and how we can see God's providential Hand), because this inductive approach can never lead to certainty. Rather, let us look at the bible itself and see what it says that would be relevant to questions of canonicity. God's intention was to speak personal words to us that would govern our use of all other knowledge. We have to have a canon so that we can know which words are divine and which are not. "...no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." ( 2 Peter 1:20-21)

God spoke personally to us from the outset (Adam/Eve), but it was not until later that He began to inscripturate His Word.

When God started the process, the words given to us were to be kept as a permanent record. Some say (Brunner, Barth, ect) that we should not see the Word as an objective canon, because this causes the personal-ness and subjective aspect of the communication to be lost. That is hogwash because the Word has to be objective first, before it can have a subjective affect.

At every stage of Israel's history there was a canon--a definite body of divine writing to guide His people. The first canon was the two tablets of the covenant--written by the very hand of God. (Ex 32:16)..later Moses added more (Deut. 31:24)...and then more via Joshua (Joshua 24: 25-28) As the OT progressed, later writers quoted earlier ones....because they had access to this precious deposit. In order for the canon to be preserved it had to be written. This Book of the Covenant was placed in the holiest place on earth--in the Holy of Holies, and deposited in the ark of the covenant, and were the basis of the covenant relationship  between God and His people..

And Jesus quoted from  the OT often...showing His belief in the divinely inspired nature of the canon of His day--which is the exact same as what is in our OT. Jesus and His opponents disagreed about many things but they never argued about which texts in the OT were authoritative. The Pharisees got that right!

God will not let His people walk in darkness, and so He made sure His personal words were put in a public place, like the tabernacle and the temple. That is, salvation depends on our access to the words of Jesus (John 6:68) and the gospel preached by the apostles (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 1:6-9; Eph. 1:13) However, in the NT the church is the temple (Eph. 2:21) But guess who the foundation is for this living temple? The prophets and the apostles! ( Eph. 2:20...this is key for understanding how the canon was formed, as we shall see)

The early church struggled with numerous controversies (the Person of Christ, the Trinity), but there was remarkably little squabbling over which books were canonical in the NT. In A.D. 367 Athanasius published a list of accepted books, and there was no clamor. From that time on,  Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestants all agreed on the NT canon.

How did this happen? (this is key) Jesus' people heard His voice! (John 10:4,27) It is self-attesting...That is, the Holy Spirit illumined the texts so that God's people recognized their divine quality. There was a supernatural element to canon formation because it is a supernatural book. How can we be sure the voice is God? Again, the answer is primarily supernatural. When God speaks, at the same time He assures us that it is He who is speaking. When it comes to the canon, our ultimate assurance is supernatural.Just as when the Lord spoke to Abraham, He assured him that it was God who was speaking to Him....same with canonicity. The Good Shepherd speaks in the prophetic and apostolic writings in such a way that is unmistakably discerned as His voice. The sheep in the early church knew when an epistle/letter was from their Shepherd because they could distinguish His voice from that which was merely human.If you are one of His true sheep, then you too can sense the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit while reading the bible--you will hear the unmistakable voice of Your divine Shepherd. I have experienced this countless times while reading God's Word--there is a singular, unmistakable sense of hearing God Himself speak. Other religious books are insightful, but they lack this quality.                                                                                                                            

There was an objective criterion as well--in the OT it had to be written by a prophet, and in the NT it had to be written by an apostle, or from the apostolic circle--certified by the apostles (e.g. Mark, Luke-Acts, and Hebrews...though I think Paul wrote Hebrews, regardless of vocabulary and stylistic differences). Mark was a close associate of Peter, Luke traveled with Paul, and James and Jude were blood brothers of Jesus and leaders in NT church). When inspired by the Holy Spirit they spoke as Jesus' plenipotentiaries...Jesus spoke with His full authority through them. "whoever receives you receives Me." (Mat.10:40)

Here is another crucial point--the canon does not rest on the authority of the church. For example, Roman Catholics claim that the authority of the canon rests on the church's pronouncement. But the unanimous church's conviction (since at least AD 367) precedes any RC statement by pope or council.Also, God intends to rule His church by a book, and not on a church's authority. THIS IS KEY...the authority of the church rests on the authority of the canon, not the other way around. That is why the apostles are referred to as the foundation of the church, with Jesus as the cornerstone. The church simply recognized what was patently obvious; the canonical books were those which had unique, intrinsic authority. They recognized what was already true, so they did not create the authority of these books. God forbid, because He rules over us through His Book, and not us over His Book! The apostolic word gave birth to the churches (Rom. 1:15-17;10:14-15; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25)

From the outset, God communicated to us as people communicate. We should not doubt that God's intention to provide a written revelation was successful.We can be sure that the 39 books of the OT and 27 books of NT are God's personal words to us.

As the redemptive work of Christ was once for all, so the words of Christ through His apostles and prophets is once for all. For God to add more books to the canon would be like His adding to the finished work of Christ, something which the bible says cannot be done. God Himself will not add to it, and humans dare not add to it. Though the canon is closed. God continues to speak to us through Scripture day by day. These 66 books are the pastures to which Jesus' sheep from many folds continually come to hear their Shepherd's voice and to follow Him.

Application...remember that God's intent is that the bible act as the church's constitution; we are to be ruled, guided, and spiritually fed by a Book. Since the absolutely sovereign God has given His covenant community its constitution, then it creates an absolute ethical obligation in us. All other knowledge (paranormal or otherwise), all other experience, all of our gut-feelings or intuition or inclinations of our hearts, and all other truth-claims must be subject to the sacred deposit that our Lord has entrusted to us...the Holy Bible.Christians who are involved or interested in the paranormal often get tripped-up here due to the overwhelming power of the immediacy of direct encounters with the supernatural. But it is the sacred canon, and not our experience, which has the final word. And any experience (or interpretation of it) we have that runs counter to the Word, must be corrected in its holy light.

Despite claims to the contrary, I think that many (if not most) professing Christians who are paranormally involved, invoke their personal experience as having primacy over the clear teaching of God's Word. "When my mother died, she appeared to me a couple days later and assured me that she would be with me constantly...appearing from time to time to encourage me when needed." Uuummm, NO! Something like this is being said all the time, and it shows the dire need for Christians to realize that we have a canon which rules and overrules when needed.

THE APOCRYPHA

As originally used by Jerome (400 AD), the Apocrypha essentially meant "highly esteemed, though uncanonical. (lit. "hidden") The Jewish canon did NOT include these books (15 books written after the close of the OT canon). Around 400 AD, Jerome translated the bible into Latin and he included the apocrypha because it was useful for study, but he was careful to point out that they were uncanonical. Slowly over time, it became more and more accepted, until at the Council of Trent  (1545-1563) put it on same par as inspired OT books. The reasons for this are:1. Rome's exalted doctrine of oral tradition, 2.it's view that the church creates scripture, 3. its acceptance of certain controversial ideas (esp. the doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, and works-righteousness as contributing to justification) that were derived from passages in the Apocrypha. This Council was part of the counter-reformation, and it supplied support to the replies to Martin Luther and the other reformers. I should point out that the Council of Trent officially damned to hell anyone who believed in the notion of justification by faith alone. Indeed, it damned the doctrine itself to eternal perdition.

The Apocrypha is useful in a number of ways: early understanding of the OT, understanding of ancient customs, and history of what happened after close of OT (Malachi).They were all written after the close of the OT, written between 3rd cent BC and first cent AD. Considered individually, there are 15 apocryphal books. The following are doctrinal errors gleaned from some of the apocryphal books.

1. In Tobit 12:15 seven angels are said to stand before God and present the prayers of the saints.
2. In 2  Maccabees 15:13-14 a departed prophet is said to pray for God's people on earth.
3. In Wisdom 8:19-20 and Sirach 1:14 we are told that the righteous are were given good souls at birth.
4. In Tobit 12:9 and Sirach 3:3 we are told that our good deeds atone for our evil deeds.
5. In 2 Maccabees 12:40-45 the reader is told to pray for the sins of the dead to be forgiven.

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