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 Vol. 3, No. 5 

Page 4

May, 2001

Editorialsfountain pen

Canonicity: Critique and Reply

By Louis Rushmore

Dear Friend,

Thank you for reading my article on canonicity and your subsequent letter to correct my "omissions and misstatements." Though I wonder, how seriously should one consider a critique in which the critic is neither named nor introduced? However, I will presume that you are sincerely interested in this topic and that the omission of your name, etc. was an oversight on your part.

I must admit that I am saddened by your apparent low regard for the Bible. Uninspired men writing equally uninspired Scripture is hardly a useful transmission of a divine message from God to man. It would seem, then, we can truly know little if anything certain about God, redemption, worship, Christian service or eternity. You wrote:

Most of the writers did not know they were writing Scripture. Paul certainly did not. . . . The first 100 hundred [sic] years of the writings of the New Testament, the early Christians did not know or believe these writings were the word of God. That is when all the differences in the early manuscripts crept in. That is why we have 5,000 Greek manuscripts of all or parts of the New Testament, yet there is not one verse in the New Testament were [sic] there is absolute agreement.

The King James Version . . . the original version contained the Apocrypha. We hold ourselves up to ridicule (the unnecessary type) when we don't get our facts straight.

First, though you, from the overall tenor of your letter, appear to embrace some degree of Christianity, you, indirectly and perhaps unintentionally, indict God. Either the God you perceive is incapable of providing a divine revelation and providentially guarding its transmission to us in our language, and therefore he is neither omnipotent nor omniscient - not God; or, God is capable but unwilling to present such a revelation to mankind, though he holds mankind accountable for his sins, in which case God is not omnibenevolent and not good - again, not God. It may be that you rather opt for a degree of universal salvation, in which case, to you, the Bible would be relatively insignificant. Then, though, I wonder how a person could know about God, sin, redemption and eternity despite the void of a definitive, divine and reliable message from God.

Second, the New Testament writers assuredly did know that they were speaking and writing "Scripture." The original apostles were told that the words they would use in conveying the Gospel were not their own but would be chosen by God through the Holy Spirit.

"But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Matthew 10:19-20).

That the apostles were not speaking their own choice of words, but the words were miraculously provided is self-evident in Acts Two. They were speaking, on that occasion, the Gospel in languages in which they were not schooled.

The purpose of miracles was to confirm Gospel preaching as from God rather than men.

"And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen" (Mark 16:20).

"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4).

The apostle Paul was equally qualified as the other apostles.

"For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:5).

"Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (2 Corinthians 12:12).

He commended Thessalonian Christians for receiving his teaching as divine in origin.

"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Paul further claimed to be the recipient of divine revelation.

"If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant" (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

"For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12).

Paul claimed his writing was on par with Old Testament Scripture regarding the divine origin of it and his preaching (2 Timothy 3:16 - 4:5).

The apostle Peter claimed equality in divine origin for both the Old Testament and what he and Paul wrote.

"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).

"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:15-16).

The apostle John, of course, claimed a divine mandate to pen the Book of Revelation. 

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw" (Revelation 1:1-2).

Third, early Christians who were contemporary with the apostles received the epistles of which they were recipients as inspired (noted above) and epistles addressed to other congregations, also of which they were recipients.

"And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea" (Colossians 4:16).

Beyond the first century and the inspired record of the Bible, early Christians quoted from the New Testament books and embraced them as Scripture. From about A.D. 150 translations of the New Testament were being circulated. (H.S. Miller, General Biblical Introduction, p. 133.)

Fourth, regarding another unsubstantiated assertion, 5,000 Greek manuscripts, with variant readings, DID NOT accumulate in "[t]he first 100 hundred [sic] years of the writing of the New Testament . . ." Contrary to what you imply, the otherwise careful and reverential copyists sometimes created unintentional scribal errors. For instance, consider the fidelity and accuracy with which, in this example, the Old Testament Book of Isaiah was transcribed compared to the discovery of a 100 B.C. manuscript of Isaiah. (The 1,000 year span here parallels the time-period during which New Testament autographs spawned manuscripts and translations - with the same degree of fidelity - which is also demonstrable.)

. . . 100 B.C. Such an early manuscript of Isaiah is of great significance, inasmuch as the oldest manuscript up to that time [1948] dated from about 900 A.D. Even more important was the close agreement between this newly found Jerusalem manuscript and the traditional Hebrew text, which was copied much later. . . . there is nothing in this manuscript that can be called "a major addition or omission" . . . The substantial agreement between this ancient manuscript and those of a thousand years later shows the care with which biblical manuscripts were copied and adds to our assurance concerning the substantial accuracy of the later manuscripts from which our English translations were made. (Joseph P. Free and Howard F. Vos, Archaeology and Bible History, p. 176.)

Fifth, your statement that ". . . there is not one verse in the New Testament were [sic] there is absolute agreement" is a gross, unqualified overstatement. Variations between the Greek manuscripts largely pertain to misspelling and other inconsequential circumstances. No certain doctrine is either dethroned or enthroned owing to these variations. The doctrinal message of the New Testament survived transmission to us through the witness of these Greek manuscripts and reliable translations.

The remarkable agreement among the various manuscripts of the Bible has long been recognized by scholars. Regarding the New Testament, Hort pointed out that only one word in a thousand appears with sufficient variation in different manuscripts to make necessary the services of a scholar in deciding between the readings. (Free and Vos, p. 132.)

. . . on the whole such evidence as archaeology has afforded thus far, especially by providing additional and older manuscripts of the books of the Bible, strengthens our confidence in the accuracy with which the text has been transmitted through the centuries . . . they have also shown that not only the main substance of what has been written but even the words, aside from minor variations, have been transmitted with remarkable fidelity, so that there need be no doubt whatever regarding the teaching conveyed by them. Regarding what Amos, Isaiah, Jesus, or Paul thought and taught, our knowledge is neither increased nor altered by any of the manuscripts discovered. (Millar, Burrows, What Mean These Stones?, as quoted in Archaeology and Bible History, p. 133.)

Sixth, the Apocrypha, as a unit of extra-biblical epistles, was once contained in early editions of the King James Version - as an appendix of uninspired, but useful helps. (Miller, p. 117.) However, the Apocrypha was no more worthy to be considered of divine origin for its inclusion than are Bible dictionaries, maps, charts and comments frequently included in contemporary Bibles today.

My short article on canonicity was merely a summary synopsis of that subject. The intent was to legitimately assure Christians of the reliability of the Bible to which they appeal to learn about God, redemption, worship, Christian service and eternity. I re-affirm "Biblical Canonicity" to be a source of comfort and uplift for children of God today. Your low view of the Bible can comfort and uplift no one.

Finally, it occurs to me that more nearly, "[W]e hold ourselves up to ridicule (the unnecessary type) . . ." were we to undermine the integrity of the Bible as you have while still purporting to have some sacred affinity for it. Further, indeed, we need to ". . . get our facts straight." Several written works are available that confirm great hope regarding the dependability of reliable translations. Two are cited above. A third is: Introduction to the New Testament by Henry Clarence Thiessen.

I turn to the Bible, and especially to the New Testament, for authority in religion today. To what, if anything, do you appeal for authority in religion? The foregoing is respectfully submitted for your review and consideration.

Copyright 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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