You head down to your local book store. In the “Religious” section, you find a Bible. Picking it up and looking at it, one finds what they expect to find. In the front, Genesis. At the end, Revelation. It’s the Holy Bible, the Word of God, the “Good Book”. That’s what we call it, and that is how we tend to look at it. However, for the sake of this discussion we’re going to have to look at the Bible a little differently. Moreover, we’re going to have to look at it factually. Not as a single book, rather as two compilations of books brought together into one volume. The Old and New Testaments.
II Timothy 3:16 tells us that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God”. More literally translated in the NIV as scripture being “breathed out” by God. Hence, we call it the very “word of God”. But how can we guarantee that what we hold in our hands today is actually the word of God? A quick study of that question finds we need to break the Bible down into sections to answer that question. In Matthew 15:3-4 Jesus himself calls Tanak (or the Old Testament) the Word of God.
…”And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded ‘Honor your Father and Mother,’…”Matthew 15:3-4
Since this is a high level attestation, I won’t belabor the point. Tanak or the Old Testament is certified over and over again by multiple authors in the New Testament and by Jesus himself as being “scripture” and the “word of God”. However, the New Testament is written hundreds of years later. It wasn’t compiled into one work accepted my most Christians until around 400 years after it was written. So how can I know that they got it right, and that the New Testament is the word of God?
Is the New Testament the word of God?
If you ask this question of a Christian Pastor, he is going to quickly take you to II Timothy 3:16. A surface reading of this verse will most likely lead you to the conclusion that the New Testament is indeed inspired by God. The verse reads as follows.
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,II Timothy 3:16
As you likely guessed, this isn’t the end of the article. Why not? Because I would argue that this verse is ripped out of it’s context and used as a proof text for a claim it isn’t even beginning to make. To see this, we need to simply back up one verse to 15.
And how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.II Timothy 3:15
The author of II Timothy is alleged to be Paul, although Biblical scholars dispute this claim. However, the author is writing in the 50’s of the first century to a man Timothy, who was born between 15 and 20 of the common era. Since Paul is the earliest New Testament author, and his first writings came around the year 50, Timothy would have been at a minimum 30 years old when the first New Testament book was written. In fact, he would have been at least 10 years old when Jesus was crucified. Therefore, the author can’t possibly be suggestion that Timothy was instructed in the New Testament when he was a child.
Furthermore, Timothy’s mother was Jewish. Hence, she would have instructed her son in Tanak as a child. Therefore, we can conclude that the author is establishing that the Old Testament is indeed sacred writings, not the New.
What about II Peter 3:16?
In a twist of irony, this leads us to another chapter 3 verse 16. Moreover, it leads us to a book that is also of disputed authorship. However, the disputes over Peter writing the book of Second Peter date all the way back to the time of it’s writing. In chapter 3 verses 15 and 16, we read the following.
and regard the patience of our lord as salvation. So also our brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.II Peter 3:15-16
This is, in my opinion, the strongest evidence for the authority of any New Testament writings. However, in my opinion it is quite weak evidence. It appears in a book of unknown authorship. Furthermore, one has to understand what “scriptures” meant at the time. It simply meant “writings”. Notice, this passage doesn’t use the previous qualifier “sacred writings”. Hence, to me it is not evidence that the author considered Paul’s letters to somehow be official religious canon. It is possible that this is what he meant, but far from conclusive. However, let’s assume that is what he meant by it and consider what that means.
If Peter is correct, what does that tell us about Paul’s writings?
This would tell us that Peter considered the writings of Paul to be official religious texts of the church. However, Paul’s admonition to Timothy clearly identifies inspired scriptures as writings that Timothy was taught in his childhood, before the New Testament was written. Thus, this still leaves us short of the conclusion that the New Testament is the inspired word of God. Moreover, it says nothing of the Gospels, nor the other New Testament books written by other authors. More importantly, it says nothing of the writings of Peter himself. In other words, since there is nothing to make the claim that II Peter is inspired by God, then what we really have here would simply be Peter’s opinion that Paul’s writings are official religious canon.
This is an obvious case of circular logic. The New Testament is inspired because Paul says “all scripture”, and the New Testament is scripture because Peter says “other scriptures”. This problem is simply the tip of the iceberg. At the Time Paul said “all scripture”, the only New Testament writings in existence were the letters of Paul. Moreover, these letters of Paul wouldn’t be combined with the other New Testament books for over 300 years. Furthermore, there is no list of official canon anywhere in the New Testament. Thus, following this logic leads me to a very dangerous position.
What the church is really saying here is that any writing of man that they combine with the book of II Timothy becomes the word of God simply by them placing it in close approximation. Consider Revelation. Going back to the early church fathers, authorship of this book was highly disputed. Yet even though we don’t know who wrote it, we declare it to be the “word of God” simply because the church voted it into the New Testament. If this authority truly belongs to the church, than the church itself has the authority to declare the writings of man to be the very words of God.
Does the church even agree that it has this authority?
Notice, today’s Christian churches don’t even agree on which verses should be in the Bible. The Catholics have a different official canon than do the Protestants. However, if the Protestants truly believe that that the church can declare the writings of man to be the word of God, then on what grounds do they claim the authority to remove books from the Bible that Catholics have declared to be the word of God? If they concede that the Catholics got it wrong, then they are conceding that this is indeed a declaration of man not based on divine authority. If they fail to concede this point, then they are saying that their church has the authority to override the word of God.
I am just a man. I lack the authority to tell you positively what is and what is not the word of God. However, I can easily conclude the following things.
- The New Testament makes no real attestation to itself being the word of God.
- The fact that there are different Biblical canons establishes that the church itself rejects the notion that man can declare the writings of man to be the word of God.
- Since the men declaring the New Testament to be the word of God are admitting that the church has no such authority, their assertion itself is non authoritative.
Therefore, it is highly problematic for me to conclude that the New Testament is indeed the word of God. This becomes not an authoritative truth taught by anyone, but rather a matter of opinion that I must accept or reject for myself. Moreover, since the New Testament is largely commentary on the Old Testament, and is telling me to change the way I view said Scriptures, this is a very dangerous dogma. If I presume that the New Testament is the word of God and I am wrong, not only do I believe false doctrine, but I have thereby corrupted the true doctrine found in the known word of God.
This is a question we must each answer for ourselves. I do not believe that the New Testament is the word of God because the evidence is lacking to draw such a conclusion. Rather, I see it as commentary written by men, some of whom sat at the feet of Jesus himself. As such, it contains value, but this value falls far short of authoritative scripture.