Sunday, May 5, 2013

Scripture Alone

Steve Finnell invited me to visit his blog, A Christian View, a few days ago, which was very kind of him.  His blogs are extensive, so I’ve only had a chance to read a bit of them.  The first one that I have even begun to had a chance to actually do justice to was “The Exact Truth”, posted April 30 

Unfortunately I must respectfully disagree, not with his knowledge of Scriptural text, but with his conclusions concerning Scripture.  There’s a question that is being missed.  It’s one that most people don’t think to ask themselves:  where did the Bible come from?  I don’t mean the “inspired by God” sort of come from, but how did such diverse writings as Leviticus and Revelation come to be gathered into the work that Christians call the Bible?

In truth, if we are to take every statement about Scripture that occurs in the New Testament as evidence that Scripture alone is enough for Christian faith, then Christians would need to abandon that very part of the Bible.  What we call the New Testament did not exist at the time that Jesus and his followers spoke and wrote, nor did it exist as a collected work for centuries after.  They had only the Old Testament – the stories and letters of the New Testament era had yet to be written, sifted through, and selected to be the authoritative works, or canon, of the Good News.  Each reference to Scripture that occurs in Scripture itself is a reference to the Old Testament.  The King James Bible did not appear at Pentecost. 

John himself tells us that not everything concerning Christ’s work is in Scripture in John 21:25, saying “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world could contain the books that could be written.”   Indeed, even if they had been written down, a large part of the population could not have read the books, let alone afford them since they were not as blessed with literacy or ability to buy books as we are.  That is why the New Testament letters repeatedly describe a process of oral teaching and traditions:  “And what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.” (2 Tim 2:2); “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”(2 Thes 2:15); “Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17).  Lacking a written New Testament those first years, it was a preaching church: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life; to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).  That does not mean, of course, that there was no study of the Old Testament - indeed, those are the Scriptures they searched - and with about 80% of the quotations of the New Testament coming from the Greek Septuagint, we've been left with a good idea of what the Old Testament they studied looked like. 

The New Testament writers themselves quoted from sources outside of the Old Testament:  Jude quotes Enoch, a book considered canonical by only a few, in verses 14 and 15 when he says “Enoch, of the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied also about them when he said, “Behold, the Lord has come with his countless holy ones to execute judgment on all and to convict everyone for all the godless deeds that they committed and for all the harsh words godless sinners have uttered against him.””  Jude also recounts a dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over the body of Moses, yet there is no written record of this story – it seems to come from Jewish tradition (Jude 9).
There is nothing in Holy Writ that says that it ALONE is sufficient.  And in the end, somebody had to make the decision and declaration that THESE writings and THESE alone constitute the New Testament and declare that no more would be added.  In 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, listed the 27 books we know as the New Testament and used the word “canonized” in regard to them.   The Council of Rome of Pope Damascus I in 382 issued a list identical to it, and the commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible by the same pope fixed those 27 books in the mind of Christianity as the New Testament for all the centuries since then.  Even Luther’s opinion that James was “an epistle of straw” could not change that.  The Bible of Christianity did not come first – the Christian Church did. 

The Bible is indeed inspired by God and many more should be reading it and paying attention to its teaching than to the seemingly endless adventures of Lindsay Lohan, especially in this multi-media age.  But if each one of us could truly interpret it clearly with no need of anything or anyone else then Christianity would not have fragmented into thousands of pieces, each piece built on someone’s interpretation of the Bible.  
All quotes from Scripture are from The New American Bible.  Because that’s the version I have that has big print…


  1. Being a Christian myself, I've often wondered at some of the things I read in the Bible, or have been taught are "Christian" or "Biblical" ways of living. Had a discussion with a co-worker on how far the translations have drifted from the original Aramaic/Hebrew over the centuries, how some passages were "edited" by a well-meaning cleric or scribe (check out the original translation for "Thou Shall Not Kill" brings a whole new light to why God would give that Commandment and then send His people out to kill everyone else), or were left out entirely because they didn't fit with how the Bishop/King at the time felt the Bible should read. Whenever I run into a sticky passage nowadays, I try to find a Hebrew translation of the passage, see what its REALLY saying.

    1. There is indeed an issue of translation. Other languages and English don't necessarily mesh exactly. Nuances can be lost.

  2. And, Lo, the LORD brought forth Gideons, and the Gospel was spread... Acts of Gideon 5:32


    1. I was thinking of the "Wicked Bible", in which a "not" was accidentally left out of "Thou shalt not commit adultery", earning the poor printers the ire of King Charles I and a hefty fine.

    The prevailing thought of many is that since the Bible was not canonized until sometime between 300 and 400 A.D. that the church of Christ did have New Covenant Scriptures as their guide for faith and practice. That is simply factually incorrect.

    The Lord's church of the first 400 years did not rely on the man-made traditions of men for New Testament guidance.

    Jesus gave the terms for pardon 33 A.D. after His death and resurrecting. (Mark 16:16) All the words of Jesus were Scripture. Jesus did not have to wait for canonization of the New Testament in order for His word to be authorized.

    The terms for pardon were repeated by the apostle Peter 33 A.D. on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:22-42) The teachings of the apostles were Scripture. The words of the apostles were Scripture before they were canonized.

    The apostle Peter said the apostle Paul's words were Scripture. (2 Peter 3:15-16...just as also our beloved brother Paul , according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures...

    The apostle Paul's letters and words were Scriptures when he wrote and spoke them. Paul did not have to wait for canonization to authorize his doctrine.

    John 14:25-26 'These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to you remembrance all that I said to you.

    The words and writings of the apostles were Scripture and they did not have to wait for canonization to be deemed authoritative. The apostle did not use man-made creed books of the church or man-made oral traditions to teach the gospel of the New Covenant.

    Did the early church have written New testament Scriptures? Yes, and they were shared among the different congregations. (Colossians 4:16 When the letter is read among you, have it read in the church of the Laodiceans and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodica.) Paul's letters were Scripture and they were read in different churches.

    They were New Testament Scriptures long before they were canonized.


    Matthew A.D. 70
    Mark A.D. 55
    Luke between A.D. 59 and 63
    John A.D. 85
    Acts A.D. 63
    Romans A.D. 57
    1 Corinthians A.D. 55
    2 Corinthians A.D. 55
    Galatians A.D. 50
    Ephesians A.D. 60
    Philippians A.D. 61
    Colossians A. D. 60
    1 Thessalonians A.D. 51
    2 Thessalonians A.D. 51 or 52
    1 Timothy A.D. 64
    2 Timothy A.D. 66
    Titus A.D. 64
    Philemon A.D. 64
    Hebrews A.D. 70
    James A.D. 50
    1 Peter A.D. 64
    2 Peter A.D. 66
    1 John A.D. 90
    2 John A.d. 90
    3 John A.D. 90
    Jude A.D. 65
    Revelation A.D. 95

    All 27 books of the New Testament were Scripture when they were written. They did not have wait until they were canonized before they became God's word to mankind.

    Jesus told the eleven disciples make disciples and teach them all that He commanded. (Matthew 28:16-19) That was A.D. 33, They were teaching New Covenant Scripture from A.D. 33 forward. The apostles did not wait to preach the gospel until canonization occurred 300 to 400 years later.



    Posted by Steve Finnell at 4:22 AM No comments:

    1. I see I didn't make myself clear - the bane of blogging. I absolutely agree that the documents you list above circulated throughout the Christian community as soon as they were written, being read, preached from, and used for guidance by the churches that were being established. However, Christianity has never functioned in a vacuum and is intertwined with history. The authors of the books in the New Testament canon were not the only ones writing and not the only ones whose letters were being passed throughout the communities. Disciples had disciples - Clement and Ignatius come to mind. Early church ethics and rituals were being laid out - the Didache comes to mind there. My reference is to a couple points: 1) Nowhere in the New Testament does it list which writings were to be put in the New Testament - there's no internal table of contents. We call them Scripture, now, yes, but not one of the books says, in essence, "Put me together with these other 26 documents and that's that." That came together over time and prayer and study and discussion and it came together amidst others writing and others having their letters treasured and read to churches for spiritual guidance - others providing context and history for the first centuries. Which is why 1 Clement was considered as part of what we now call the New Testament well into the 300s and the Shepherd of Hermes was considered highly enough to show up in early bound volumes of New Testament writings. The canon, that particular collection of books, is, in a manner of speaking, a tradition of man that you and I inherited. To say that scripture is scripture because it's scripture is a circular argument that doesn't answer the question of "Who sez?" 2) "Scripture alone" is not scriptural. Scripture is indeed divinely revealed, but the words "alone" or "only" aren't in it as far as total sufficiency for Christianity. For good reason - even the devil can quote scripture and every heretic who ever lived has backed their beliefs with scripture. Scripture can enlighten us, build us as Christians, give us ears to hear God with, but it can be and has been used to support appalling evil.

      I return to John's statement that we don't even have a record of everything Jesus did and said. What we do have is a Church He breathed on and sent out into the world.

      However you got to this blog, you probably read enough to know that I'm Catholic. Maybe you even went back far enough to see that I'm a convert. And I can support core Catholic teachings from scripture all day long given the time to write. If the Holy Spirit makes plain to each of us the meaning of scripture with no need of anything else, how is it that you hold that a verse means one thing and I hold that it means another? Can you say with certainty that I am not prayerful? That I don't read the Bible? That I don't study? Yet we differ. I would say that those differences are because scripture is NOT sufficient.

      And that doesn't even get into issues of language and translation, or of the earliest manuscripts for most of the books being fragments rather than whole documents or of so much having to be reconstructed with fragments that are basically out of some scriptorium's garbage dump, relegated there when an error of transcription was found.

  4. PH, I've read Mr. Finnell's writings too, and we don't see eye-to-eye. But that's okay.

    1. I am so easily tempted, though...:-)

  5. Interesting site, and once again, the Bible IS open to interpretation (in a whole bunch of aspects), but on the whole I agree with you.

    1. Just the fact that many people speak English but I speak Hillbilly can be a problem...