Is Scripture Complete? Is It an Accurate Source for the Central Doctrines of the Faith?
by Dr. Dennis Dirks
In this issue
- How Did the New Testament Canon Come Together?
- Revising the Roots of Orthodoxy
- Dean's Column
- Alumni Focus
- Campus News
- Faculty Activities
It should come as no surprise that Scripture is under attack; attacks have been continuous since the Words of God were placed in written form. Assaults have centered on the Bible’s authenticity, its authority, whether we possess Scripture in its entirety, and more.
Questions abound, some of which may be asked even by thoughtful, committed believers
- Do we really have the books God intended us to have?
- Are they all the books that belong there? How do we know?
- Is it possible some books are missing, awaiting discovery in an attic or another archaeological dig?
- What characteristics distinguish the writings of Scripture from other writings of the same period?
- Writers of the Old Testament mention books not found in the OT collection (Num. 21:14, Josh. 10:13). Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:9 about a letter he wrote that is not found in the Bible. If not all writings mentioned in Scripture were included, why are some while others are missing?
- Could it be that apocryphal (non-inspired) books have somehow found their way into Scripture?
- If the process of forming and finalizing our Bible took several centuries, as scholars indicate, is it not likely that significant human error crept in?
- More ominously, is it not also likely that mere human decisions determined the content of Scripture?
- Is it possible that new revelation not found in the Bibles we study has occurred and is occurring?
- Could it be that writings of other religions are equal to those of Scripture?
The term “canon” is used to refer to Scripture, the definitive and closed (finished) collection of divinely inspired writings that meet agreed upon criteria of authenticity. “Canon” means rule or measuring rod; in the case of Scripture, it is those books by which other books are compared and evaluated. Decisions in the first several centuries A.D. determined which books were to be included in the biblical canon. Those decisions were made primarily on the basis of authorship, historical accuracy, and spiritual reliability. Ken Berding’s article that follows provides a helpful overview of this process. But Berding emphasizes a crucial point: in the end canonicity depends not on human reason and decision but on the inspiration of God.
The central doctrines of the church (“orthodoxy”), those essential teachings we hold dear as evangelicals, have their source in canonical writings. So challenges to the canon become challenges to orthodoxy. Recent aggressive confrontations against orthodoxy charge that these central doctrines were the result of political fighting in the early church. Wars of words and demonstrations of power, according to some, resulted in gagging and suppression of other views of truth. In an article that follows, Alan Hultberg describes charges against orthodoxy and demonstrates that Scripture is the only reliable source for orthodox doctrines.
Our desire is that these articles strengthen confidence that “the sum of Your Word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Ps. 119:160).