Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 11, 1964
NUMBER 6, PAGE 5,10a

Why Were Our Biblical Books Accepted As Inspired?

Edward Fudge

This question becomes more valid when we realize that many books were written during the life-time of the Apostles and during the first hundred years thereafter which are not included in our Bible today. Some of these books, such as "The Shepherd of Hermas," were accepted by some Christians for several decades as inspired, but later rejected.

The problem of distinguishing between inspired and uninspired books is complex, but may be briefly explained by three different tests which were applied to these books. We might say books were accepted or rejected on the grounds of (1) internal evidence; (2) external evidence; and (3) the effect which the writing had on its readers through the years — this would involve also the applicability of the book to circumstances in different periods of time and in different locations.

We shall briefly consider three types of internal evidence. The first is that several times within a book, the writer claimed inspiration and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. i.e., Peter said, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy" (2 Pet. 1:19), then explained by saying that that prophecy came by the Holy Ghost. (2 Pet. 121)

John, the writer of five of our New Testament books, declared, "This then is the message which we have heard of him...." (I John 1:5) He also begins the Apocalypse with the words: "The revelation of Jesus Christ,....sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John." (Revelation 1:1)

The Apostle Paul claimed the Holy Spirit as his guide in writing. Paul stated that "Our gospel came.... unto the Holy Ghost." (I Thess. 1:5) Possibly the most plainly stated assertion of inspiration in writing is in Ephesians 3:3-5, where Paul affirms: "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit...."

Another example of internal evidence is the "token of every epistle" spoken of by Paul in 2 Thess. 3:17; that is, his own signature affixed to the writings. Examples of this may be found in 1 Corinthians 6:21; Colossians 4:18; and 2 Thessalonians 3:17.

A third type of internal evidence is seen in the thought expressed by Paul when he commanded that the Colossian epistle be read in the church of the Laodiceans and that the epistle of the Laodiceans be read in the Colossian church. (Colossians 4:16) Some authorities think that all of the early inspired writings were circulated among the churches. This would give each congregation opportunity to profit by epistles other than those specifically addressed to that congregation, and also seems to indicate that the teachings of the Apostles are of a general nature and fulfill a need in perfecting Christians of every age and locale.

External Evidences. Since this deals primarily with the witness of men through the years, we shall not involve ourselves at this point with these witnesses, but will make an investigation of these witness later in the discussion.

Witness of the Spirit. Calvin stated this point when he said, "Scripture will suffice to give a saving knowledge of God when its certainty if founded on the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit." This is in fact the same truth expressed in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, where we are told that the Word of God "effectually worketh also in you that believe."

What Evidence Of Inspiration May Be Seen In A Book?

"The answer to this problem is three-fold. First.... by their intrinsic content. Second.... by their moral effect. Last, the historic testimony of the Christian church will show what value was placed on these books, even though the church did not cause them to be inspired or canonical."

The History Proper. We now come to a look at the history itself of the New Testament Canon. In order to study this in the most profitable manner, let us break it down into a time order, First we shall consider the picture of the first hundred years. This deals primarily with the "Gospels" and the Pauline epistles.

At first, the "Gospel" was conveyed orally. Mark's account was first written, then Matthew's, then Luke's, and finally John's. The writing was probably to preserve the accuracy of the record. These four gospels soon began to be noted as the "Four-fold Gospel." "The earliest order of the collection was probably just that familiar to us today: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. It thus began with the most Jewish of the gospels, and ended with the most Greek, being intended to be read through, from beginning to end...."

Many other "local gospels" sprang up. Among these were "The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Heathen" and "The Shepherd of Hermas." In the latter, Hermas, a Roman "prophet" who claimed inspiration, told of new parables and commandments which he had received by "visions" from the Lord, "The Shepherd of Hermas" was evidently accepted by the early church as authoritative. However, as to the "Four-fold Gospels"....

"when half a century after their first collection, the New Testament came into being, their inclusion in it was a foregone conclusion. They had become a unit.... and without them it was unthinkable."

Thus, of the New Testament, it can truthfully be said that "the four-fold gospel became its cornerstone."

Concerning this collection and acceptance of the Gospels, Goodspeed adds:

"The four gospels were not collected and put forth as authorities, but they were not long in coming to be so regarded. The authority which of course attached to numerous sayings of Jesus that they contained naturally extended to the gospels that contained these sayings, and within twenty-five years of their publication these "Memoirs of the Apostles" were being read in Christian meetings side by side with the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible."

If we may know what was in the Apostle's mind, we might say of Paul that he....

"did not expect his letters to be preserved or collected, still less to be regarded as Holy Scripture. He wrote them with no literary intention but simply to meet immediate local needs in various pressing situations in his work of preaching the gospel among the Greeks....Upon some matters he spoke with....the authority of the divine spirit. This was no mere manner of speaking with him, for he is sometimes very careful to absolve the spirit from responsibility for views which he himself held and recommended. (1 Cor. 7:25,26; 2 Cor. 11:17)."

We now turn from Paul's attitude to the history of the collection of his epistles. A collection of Paul's writings was possibly already in existence at the time of the writing of Revelation. This may be seen in the fact that John used the collected-letter "form" as a model for his book. Since John's letters to the seven churches were "not collected writings, but a written collection," we surmise that the immediate readers would be familiar with this type manuscript. Therefore we place the time of the "Pauline collection....after the publication of Acts and before the writing of the Revelation of John."

Peter evidently possessed a very unique library of "Scripture" for his day. The four gospels, the Pauline epistles, 1 Peter, and Jude were all in it. With the exception of Acts and the Apocalypse, this collection was as complete as the "primitive New Testament."

Concerning the existence of the New Testament books at the end of the first hundred years after Christ, we may summarize by saying:

"By the end of the 1st century all of the books of the New Testament were in existence. They were, as treasures of giving churches, widely separated and honored as containing the word of Jesus or the teaching of the Apostles.... Just when and to what extent 'collections' of our New Testament books began to be made it is impossible to say, but it is fair to infer that a collection of the Pauline epistles existed at the time Polycarp wrote to the Philippians and when Ignatius wrote his seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor, i.e., about 115 A.D. There is good reason to think also that the four Gospels were brought together in some places as early as this. A clear distinction, however, is to be kept in mind between 'collections' and such recognition as we imply in the word 'canonical.' The gathering of books was one of the steps preliminary to this."

— 503 Chandler Drive, Athens, Alabama