Defending the Inerrancy and Canon of Scripture
It has always been common for non-believers to argue against the innerancy of Scripture. More recently, however, some Christians have joined their ranks. In light of the attack that is being leveled against the reliability, inspiration, and truthfulness of Scripture from those both outside and inside the ranks of Chistianity, it is important that Christians be able to defend the inerrancy of Scripture against the attacks based on faulty reasoning. A common argument against the inerrancy of the Scripture goes something like this:
P1 The Biblical books were written by men.
P2 Men makes mistakes.
C1 Therefore there are mistakes in the Biblical books
It is true that men wrote the books of Bible. They most assuredly did not write themselves! The Bible openly confesses its human authorship, but it also claims divine authorship, thus teaching a dual authorship of Scripture. Non-Christians err in that they ignore and/or deny divine authorship (while Christians often err in minimizing or ignoring the Bible's human elements). The relationship between the divine and human elements of Biblical authorship is debatable. Several theories have been made as to the exact nature of the relationship, but the Biblical evidence favors the notion that God used particular men to write that which He desired to be written, utilizing each author's writing style, past research, and understanding in the process for His purposes. (See my article titled The Nature of Inspiration for further information)
It has already been established that men wrote the Bible, and it goes without saying that men make mistakes, but must we conclude that the men who authored the Biblical books must have made errors in the process? No. Such a conclusion errs in two ways. First, it eliminates the very possibility of a dual authorship (human and divine) of Scripture. The assumption of a God-excluded authorship of Scripture cannot be proven, yet it is a necessary assumption to the non-Christian's attack on Scripture, because only after having excluded the possibility of divine supervision in the writing process can one logically conclude the inevitability of mistakes being made in the writing of the Biblical books. But it would be very reasonable to conclude that error-prone men could avoid error if they were being supernaturally supervised in their writing.1 If God was inspiring and supervising the writing of Scripture, God has the power to make sure that the human authors will not make mistakes in their writings.
Secondly, even under the presupposition of human-only authorship, the argument mistakenly assumes that because man can make mistakes, that he must always make mistakes. While all men make mistakes, not all men make mistakes in every area possible. It is entirely within reason to believe that men, even without being superintended by divine direction, could have written the Scripture without erring. I will admit that there is a high probability for error in a work of such magnitude, but probability does not spell certainty. A non-Christian must allow room for an inerrant Bible if he is to be true to both reason, probability, and experience, all of which speak to us of the possibility of that which is claimed to be impossible.
Another argument made by non-believers against Scripture is directed toward the canon of Scripture. The canon is that which establishes which ancient literary documents contain the inspired words of God, and thus are authoritative in the life of the Christian believer. It is often argued that men decided what to include in the canon, unjustly ruling out some books while including others without just reason. The process is pictured as authoritarian and arbitrary. The goal of such argumentation is to cause Christians to doubt that they truly possess God's word, if such a word truly exists at all.
It is true that man made a historical decision as it pertains to which books would be included in the canon, but this fact does not mean that the decision was made by man alone. Only if one presupposes that God does not exist could one rule out divine intervention in the process. Such a presupposition is unfounded and not provable. It is entirely possible that God could have led the ancient church to know which of the many extant literary works made in the name of Christ truly contained His word and which did not. This is even more telling if we allow for the fact that God was also responsible for the content of the books. If God could move on certain people to record His words, certainly He can move on other people to preserve His word in a canon dedicated to the presentation of His word.
It should be understood that the development of the canon was not a one-time historical event. While it is not my goal to present the historical development of the canon, let it suffice to say that the contents of the canon was not a decision made by one particular person, or even a group of people on one particular day. The establishment of the canon was a process that developed over time and in many diverse geographical areas of the ancient church.
What came to be accepted as the canon of Scripture was not exactly what one would call an announcement either. What had been officially accepted as the contents of the NT canon was not much of a development over what the church had held on an unofficial level for centuries. While there were a few books that had been disputed as to whether or not they were truly the inspired word of God, most of the books in the present canon had been accepted by the church at large by the end of the first-century. In fact, it took so long for any formal canon to develop because the church saw little need for such a pronouncement because there was such widespread agreement on the issue.
Several factors led the church towards making an official NT canon of Scripture. First, was the persecution by Emperor Decius, who killed Christians that would not turn their sacred writings over to the authorities to be burned. At such a point it becomes very important to determine once and for all which books you are willing to die for and which you are not!
Secondly, heretics arose, such as Marcion, who denied the inspiration of many books contained in the traditionally accepted, yet informal canon. The church reacted because the church had a long-time unofficial acceptance of the authority of those books. When one challenged this general acceptance the church saw the need to officially decide and set forth which books contained God's words and which ones were merely man's words. The very fact that the church reacted to Marcion demonstrates the traditional and widespread acceptance of the books in today's canon. The church reacted so violently to Marcion because he was rejecting the books they had traditionally believed to be God's inspired words. This demonstrates the existence of a very early, informal cannon, not an arbitrary decision made hundreds of years after the writings to which many would have found objectionable.
Let's just assume, however, that the formation of the canon was a purely a human work, God having no part in it because He does not exist. If so, reason would cause us to confess that all books that belonged in the canon are in the canon because ultimately the decision was a purely human decision.2 The church could include and exclude whatever books it wanted to and nobody could fault them for such. One could not say that they put the wrong books in there, or that there are lost books that should be in there. Such a notion presupposes a superior ideal to which the canon had to conform, but failed to do so. But such an ideal could only come from something higher than man-some higher purpose to which some of these writings were directed. If there is no God, none of the books under consideration had any more significance than a grocery list. If there is no God then there is no purpose or ideal, and thus the church could not have messed up on their selection for the canon. What was put in the canon belonged in the canon, and what was excluded did not belong because that is what those particular people decided, and they could do whatever they so desired to do. If we exclude God from the development of the canon we cannot fault those who established it, claiming they failed in some way.
The argument of an error-laden canon will not work if we assume the existence of God either. If God was involved in the formation of the canon He would not have allowed the church to decide for the wrong books. God does not try. He accomplishes that which He purposes (at least according to the Christian understanding of God's person). If there was a God who inspired individuals to record His words for the benefit of others, then God possessed the motive, power, and ability to direct His people to include the books He truly inspired and exclude those He did not. If we reason that God does exist it is most reasonable to conclude that the books in the canon are there because God wanted them there, because they are His true words.
In conclusion, whether one views the Bible as a purely human work or as a divine work, the canon cannot be argued with. It is complete and perfect. If there is no God then it is a complete and perfect collection of worthless thoughts of men. If there is a God it is a complete and perfect collection of the words He desired all of mankind to hear. The Christian can have every bit of confidence that the canon contains the books God inspired, and excludes those that He did not inspire. There are no missing books of the Bible, and there are no extra books. We have been given the word of God, preserved for us through divine inspiration and preservation.
1. Greg Koukl, "Does God Try?"; available from http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5209; Internet; 08 December 2010.
2. Greg Koukl, "No Lost Books of the Bible"; available from http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5473; Internet; accessed 08 December 2010.
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