Have you ever wondered just how big the Bible would be if books had been added with time? The Samaritans only have 5 books- the books of Moses. The Jewish Tradition has 24 books of canon, plus the Talmud which focuses on helping best understand the canon. The Greek Orthodox Bible has 79 books, the Catholic Bible 73, and the Protestant 66.
I think as we keep moving forward in time, determining what should and shouldn’t be added to scripture becomes a problem. The Samaritans play things safe by maintaining only the first 5 books of the Bible, and keeping up with their oral tradition on how to interpret the scripture. If you’re up for an interesting “commentary” (I’m really not sure I can call it a commentary, not in the traditional sense at least) on the Samaritan Bible, I recommend Memar Marqah by John MacDonald, with the caveat that it’s not regarded as the best translation it could be. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t either, after all their tradition holds that the schism occurred as early as Eli (the very one that took in Samuel), so their shared history really seems to end somewhere in Judges. Traditional Judaism wouldn’t include the New Testament because they do not regard Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but it’s a pretty good bet that when they have someone who is recognizable as a Messiah they would add books about him into their canon. It may even be reasonable to say that if God were to send another major prophet in accordance with Deuteronomy 18 prophet, they might add their story as well.
But what about us? Why do we consider canon closed, and won’t be open ever again? The Bible never says Canon is closed, that’s an opinion people have come to. That isn’t to say that it’s necessarily wrong, but it’s important to realize that as it stands, we do not have a verified prophet which has said “God says the canon is closed”. One, as many who believe in cessation do, could point to 1 Corinthians 13:10:
“But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away”
However, “perfect” has never been defined. Protestants have simply assumed that “perfect” means “The Bible”. By the time that Paul had written to the Corinthians, there was already at least one written account of Christ’s story: Matthew. That is, Matthew is regarded as being written in 41 AD by Eusebius (whom lived during the 3rd century), while the first Epistle to Corinth was written in 57 AD.
Even if we were to take into account that the gospels may not have been written until after 57 AD, it would be wrong for us to assume that “perfect” refers to a Bible, as that would mean that the early church wasn’t doing their due diligence to write down the account of Christ’s life for future generations. 57 AD would be a full 24 years from the latest date we have of Christ’s crucifixion. You might find that some people use Jame 1:25 to affirm that the this Corinthians verse means “The Word”, or “Bible”, but James was written by James not Paul, and although we could say that the two were teaching the same thing it would be inaccurate to assign exact meaning between the two. “Perfect” in Corinthians could easily mean the second coming. Perfect could mean “understanding” which can fail with time (just look at the Old Testament, God had to send several Prophets because people kept falling away from the last prophet’s instructions). It is my stance that this verse simply cannot be used to justify that canon is closed.
The second verse often quoted is one that if it applies to the Bible, then every Protestant would be condemned to hell.
‘For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.’
I am, personally, of the firm belief that this verse only relates to Revelation. Why? Because the Bible hadn’t been put together yet. It wasn’t until after this book is written (said to have been 95 AD) that we see the first collection of a New Testament written- and by a heretic no less. His list comes from around 140 AD, and ends up being the catalyst for discussion on what should and shouldn’t be considered canon. For the next couple hundred years the discussion continued until about 397. In 350 Cyril of Jerusalem created his own list of 60 books, omitting the Book of Revelation. It is believed that the Council of Laodicea approved Cyril of Jerusalem’s list in 363, but it has been highly disputed. At the Council of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) the 26 books of the New Testament were affirmed, and Revelation was added. This is about 200 years removed from the writing of Revelation. The list of canonical Old Testament books, however, is a bit more difficult to contain within a paragraph, so here’s a chart:
For reference, Melito’s Canon was recorded by Eusebius in the early 4th century, but Melito himself died in 180, meaning that if Eusebius copied his canon it would be from the second century.
Moving on, let’s say that John was given the revelation that this book would be part of a larger text, just for argument’s sake. Then in truth, all Protestants which do not regard the original 73 books of the Bible confirmed by the Council of Laodicea, or even perhaps we should refer to the Muratorian Fragment as the earliest canon (said to have been written originally circa 170AD). These are much closer dates than the current Protestant list which was created redone by Martin Luther in the 1500s. In truth, what is and isn’t scripture is not universal. It would be arrogant for anyone to claim that they know for a fact what should and shouldn’t be canon (either NT or OT) without God specifically coming to us and saying “Axe that, include this, that one is okay to read, but it’s not really scripture, etc”. All we really have, is guesswork- good guesswork, but guesswork none-the-less.
Where I do not believe that these two verses support Solo Scriptura, I do believe that the best argument in favor of Solo Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is that it is safe. It becomes very obvious that when we see people try to add to the scripture, it becomes very simple to add heresy to it. Although I do not believe God condemns anyone which lives by Solo Scriptura, I am in the Sola Scriptura camp. There is a difference, Sola Scriptura lets you check everything against scripture, whereas Solo Scriptura tells you that the only thing you need is the Bible.
To me, Solo Scriptura encourages the dangerous line of thought that sign gifts have ceased altogether. Not because I want to believe sign gifts continue, but rather that by saying such we may miss something vital God is telling us. Israel has provided us an example of just how easy is to fall away from God, and how simple it is to not recognize God’s Prophets. By completely shutting out the idea that sign gifts will never come into the world again, we are setting ourselves up for failure. But to take a healthy approach to the topic, and run what you find against Scripture (Sola Scriptura) or Scriptural Tradition (that is, the Bible outlines ways we can verify when we are still not sure – such as asking for a Fleece) seems the more responsible way forward.
With all of that said, should the Bible be larger? Should we have continued adding books over time? I think the early church had it right to consider the canon closed by the time they started ruling on which books should and shouldn’t be included. Though, I have to question whether or not Luther was right to get rid of some of the books he did. I think my next blog will be to look over whether or not books he axed should be considered worthwhile reading.