Eavesdropping in my Conversation with a Friend about the Canonization of Scripture, Part 1 of 2

1 Mar

Question Posed To Me By a Good Friend (that I thought I might make available to you)

I’d like you to shed some light on the idea of “Divine Inspiration” of the Holy Bible and the selection of the books we consider to be the “Word of God.” Is there a theological concept of ‘divine selection?’ There are different ‘canonizations’ out there, like the Jewish Bible, the Deuterocanonical writings, and the various Vulgate versions (e.g., Jerome’s, Gutenberg, Clementine, and the Nova Vulgate).

My Thoughts

Good questions.

I started to write a really long treatise on this, because it is so important and needs treatment on any number of levels to be an adequate answer.

What I then did was to locate this “summary article” that is written by one of the best thinkers in the world, one whom I respect and who taught at a school that I formerly attended. I’m going to give the link below, but will also give some other perspective, just so you can get a few specific tidbits about the specific questions you have. Still, this article is so outstanding, it will help you clarify these issues greatly, giving you lots of inner peace.

Beyond that, here are a few other tid bits.

The key to divine inspiration is that the Bible represents the only divinely authorized sacred text in existence. Meaning, this is God’s self-disclosure and only authorized autobiographical/biographi

cal work in existence. But, as you’ve asked, beyond that– how do we think about the selection of the books?

It’s important to understand that the books “recognized” as authoritative and “scripture” were not haphazardly chosen, which is what some who wish to have unbounded moral freedom would have us believe. They believe that, if they cast doubt on the selection of books, then that jeopardizes the authorship and, hence, the authority of the Bible.

Essentially, it worked this way: The books were given by what conservative evangelicals and others call “Verbal Plenary Inspiration.” This is one of about 7-9 views of inspiration. Those theories of inspiration range from viewing “inspiration” as being nothing more than a slightly heightened sense of awareness… to the human writers being nothing more than entranced copyists who fell into a divinely-induced trance. Serious Bible-Believing Scholars generally agree that the Bible was given by verbal-plenary inspiration, meaning that God gave the content of the book and, while allowing freedom to the author to express his or her general attitudes, personalities, emotions, and so on– that God superintended the ULTIMATE PRODUCT so that (a) the writer was supernaturally enabled to ensure that the individual words chosen were in accordance with God intended and were free from error– and (b) that the final autographs (the original book the writer completed) were wholly, as a complete document, free from error (inerrant). Then, Bible-believing scholars agree (and insist, due to specific passages of scripture such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21) that though thousands of copies of those originals (autographs) were copied (viz., manuscripts), that the careful evaluation of those as a whole by qualified biblical scholars has given us a clear and still accurate understanding of exactly what God originally intended. This is a view called “preservation.” We know from textual evidence (the 24000 partial, whole, and fragmental pieces of ancient manuscripts, including the 5200 or so complete ancient manuscripts), that even the copyists of those originals were in 96% agreement, with (a) the remaining 4% of differences being on non-essential and non-doctrinal issues (unspecific, minor words) and (b) that those 4% can be explained by obvious slips of the quill of the copyists, alternative spellings for words between different dialects of languages, and obsolete words that were replaced by future generations, and the like. ALL OF THAT TO SAY that we have solid certainty about the authority of the text in general.

Then, 5 tests (described in the document I sent– I checked to make sure it was in there) were applied by the church and its global leadership to ensure that the books which were being evaluated for inclusion into the Holy Bible met each and every of these obvious and clearly biblical standards.

That said, though you are right in saying that there are some differences in opinion between Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism today, it’s more easily explained than it seems. But first note that, those branches of modern churches are not authoritative on these matters, because believers of the ancient Jewish faith before Christ and the Early Church, as a whole, established these facts about what was and wasn’t scripture. More recent waffling on these issues doesn’t change the global and collective agreement that stood for centuries. But the gist of it is this: Deuterocanonical works are just that– deutero (secondary) canonical (standards). Meaning, they are “edifying reading” but not authoritative– but still generally better than, say, a romance novel. So they have some historical or religious merit, but are not scripture. Think of them as ancient Christian novels or ancient Christian historical-narratives, with some bias and some potential errors (factual and/or theological), but still… somewhat valuable. Now, of course, we have newer reflections on things that exceed the value and accuracy of the deuterocanonical writings, so many of those newer writings are of greater insight, accuracy and worth than the DC writings– hence, I study those more than I take time for DC books like Judith, Ecclesiasticus, etc. But those DC books were NEVER considered scripture, equal to the Bible. But because of Roman Catholic elevation of them and their relative value in the early centuries of the church, they were sometimes included as Christian writings after the biblical writings– but never simply interspersed with the scriptures themselves.. They would appear in groupings, etc. Other words, such as the Pseudopigrapha in particular– (pseudo/false pigraph/writings– are known to be spurious, so they are even further out and less reliable than even the DC writings (apocrypha), so they hardly, if ever, appear beside scripture. These are books like the Gospel of Thomas (which wasn’t)… that things like the DaVinci Code was based on, and so forth.

When scripture was established by the global community of faith– there was nearly immediately universal agreement on the books of scripture. The Old Testament canon was established very early as it was being written (through the tests of canonicity) and the New Testament was as well. The only exceptions were very limited and regional differences among some smaller factions (such as a group that may have objected to including Esther because the name of God didn’t technically appear), but those disagreements were dispensed with quickly and global consensus cleared up those matters. Only later, as less informed people and even unbelievers crept into churches and began to push the legitimacy of some books (e.g., such as today, where many Roman Catholics value certain DC books– but aren’t, themselves, even bonafide and legitimate believers who honor biblical teachings on what salvation and the church are, for example). So, yes, on the surface, this seems to have confused the issue– but no Bible belieiving Christian who is abreast on the facts is confused by these things.

One other thing– differences in things like the Vulgate, though I’m not an expert on it– are due to a few things (a) the fact that the Vulgate represents a less technical and ‘vulgar’ or ‘low brow, colloquial’ type of language– as opposed to the higher, technical language that would be more appropriate for theological language– but less suited for a less-educated populus (think of how more accurate you could explain something with the complete English language versus explaining technical issues with only a 600 word vocabulary that is under the 7th grade reading level– you get the idea); (b) as time went on and language changed– as all living languages do, nuances and etymologies and meanings of some words changed, leading to variances of words between dialects, regions (just like Cuban Spanish and Mexican Spanish may differ), and so on– so that affected how some words were understood and written; (c) finally, for the sake of time and brevity, different publishers and scholars had varying opinions and budgets to work from, and some we know chose to include footnotes in the text and explanatory notes, historical pieces that shed light on some texts, and other glosses as they may be called, and this led to the differences. Just as different writing styles and formatting approaches (like APA, MLA, and so on are used today here, and different ones may be used elsewhere in the world), different companies publishing Bibles with different scholars included different things.

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