Recently my wife told me about a friend of hers who didn’t feel that the Bible was necessarily complete. She felt that there were “more books” to discover.
For this reason she’s open to considering such books as: The Book of Enoch, The Gospel of Thomas, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and other historical literature as potential scripture.
What my wife’s friend doesn’t know is that these books are considered Pseudepigraphal Writings or False Name Writings. That’s because scholars have determined that these books are titled after people who DID NOT write them.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the criteria needed to be a book of the Bible.
How We Got Our Bible
First of all we need to ask ourselves, “What makes scripture inspired?”
The Bible tells us that scripture is inspired by GOD (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, it isn’t up to man to determine which books HE THINKS are inspired. It’s up to man to determine which books GOD SAYS are inspired.
So how do we know which books God says are inspired?
Ephesians 2:19-20 tells us that scripture came to us through the Apostles and Prophets. On top of that it says that Jesus is CHIEF Apostle and Prophet.
You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the APOSTLES AND THE PROPHETS, with CHRIST JESUS himself as the CHIEF CORNERSTONE.Ephesians 2:19-20
That means inspired scripture has to do with Jesus— He is the CENTER for all inspired scripture.
Therefore any scripture that is inspired would have to have a CONNECTION with Jesus.
Let’s take a look at the Old Testament first.
This is what Jesus said about the Old Testament:
And Jesus said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the LAW of Moses, and in the PROPHETS, and in the PSALMS, concerning me.Luke 24:44
Here Jesus says that certain scriptures speak about Him. In this, Jesus acknowledges certain scripture. Jesus says that the LAW, the PROPHETS and the PSALMS speak about Him.
- Inspired Old Testament scripture acknowledges Jesus.
- Jesus acknowledges inspired Old Testament scripture.
The above three categories of scripture, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, make up the WHOLE of the Old Testament. That Jesus acknowledges them is why we, as Christians, continue to include them in our canon of scripture.
Note: For some, choosing scripture based on whether Jesus acknowledges scripture or whether scripture acknowledges him, is “circular reasoning”. To some extent, that is true. But the fact of the matter is, all scripture HANGS on Jesus. If you don’t believe in Jesus you can’t believe in scripture. Because in the end, the 66 books of the Bible, written by 40 authors over a period of 2000 years, tell a unified story that leads to Jesus.
So with Jesus at the center, let’s discuss other ways of determining which books God inspired:
1. Were the books written by a Prophet or an Apostle of God— or were they closely LINKED to a Prophet or an Apostle of God?
This corresponds to the fact that Jesus is CHIEF Prophet and Apostle (Ephesians 2:19-20). The men that wrote the Bible are operating in the OFFICE of Prophet or Apostle— just like Jesus. In fact they are speaking under the direct tutelage of Jesus Himself— even in the Old Testament.
Jesus is often seen as a THEOPHANY in the Old Testament. A theophany is Jesus appearing in pre-incarnate form. One example of this is in Genesis 18:1-3.
2. Were the books accepted by the body of believers at large?
3. Are the books consistent with orthodox teaching and doctrine?
4. Do the books bear evidence of high moral and spiritual value as reflected by the work of the Holy Spirit?
Here is a list of all the books that meet these criteria in the Old Testament.
What about the New Testament?
Here is a list of all the books that meet these criteria in the New Testament.
All of the books of the Bible were officially acknowledged as inspired by God by the Council of Laodicea in 363 A.D..
Like the Old Testament, the books in the New Testament were included because of their close association with JESUS.
All of the authors of the New Testament were Apostles— except two. These two, Luke and John Mark, were personally connected to the Apostles.
Peter endorses John Mark. Peter calls John Mark his “son” in 1 Peter 5:13. When he was imprisoned, it was John Mark’s house that Peter went to after the angel of the Lord freed him (Acts 12:12). John Mark was just a teenager at the time. John Mark also accompanied the Apostle Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary tour (Acts 12:25).
Luke the Physician
The Apostle Paul acknowledges Luke by calling him the “beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14.
Did the New Testament writers realize that their words were inspired? Yes.
Paul quotes Luke in 1 Timothy 5:18 and calls it scripture. The quote is taken from Luke 10:7 and isn’t found anywhere else in scripture.
The Apostle Peter, one of the Twelve, calls Paul’s letters scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
How Does the Apocrypha and Other Historical Literature Compare to Canonized Scripture?
While considered helpful historically, the Apocrypha and other historical literature can’t compare. For one reason or another, they don’t meet the full spectrum of what it takes to be considered inspired.
For those who think that another piece of literature could show up that meets the criteria for inspiration, consider this admonition:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.Revelation 22:19
Yes, this passage is referring to the book of Revelation, but you have to wonder. With a collection of 66 books written by 40 authors spanning history from Genesis to Revelation— hasn’t God given us His Word? I believe He has.
Only Satan would attempt to give us more.