Archive for category Christianity

Molinism, Calvinism & Arminianism

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I received a very interesting email from a friend of mine this week, and he shared with me the fact that he was standing on the edge of a soteriological shift. I found his ideas provocative, and therefore I thought I would share them here for comments . . .

Hello Ruth (and another recipient)

I am, I believe, standing on the edge of the second significant shift in soteriology of my Christian life. I suspect that watching the link to the panel discussion at the THINK conference on TULIP was the catalyst, although other things doubtless also played their part.

The first significant shift happened when I was about 18 when I moved, (more as a result of reading Scripture rather than any Reformed literature), from what I would now understand as an Arminian perspective (albeit a very garbled one) to what I would now understand as a Calvinistic perspective (counting my dalliance with Kendall-Eatonism as a sub-set of Calvinism). I have tended in the past, if asked to define my viewpoint on this issue, to label myself as an “infralapsarian Calvinist” or a “moderate Calvinist” or a “Simeonite Calvinist” (after Charles Simeon’s statement, regarding the conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom, that the truth lay, not at either extreme, nor in the middle, but at both extremes) depending on who is asking.

However, when discussing these issues with non-believers and newer (or less academically minded) Christians, I have been finding it difficult to present the Reformed viewpoint in a way which avoids advocating (or seeming to advocate) either determinism or the heresy of predestination to sin, I have wanted to remain faithful to Scripture and to be intellectually coherent, I have wanted to show God as responsible for salvation and humanity as responsible for sin, and, to be honest, I have increasingly found myself tending to shy away from overtly “Calvinistic” answers to questions and instead drawing on ideas found in C. S. Lewis and J. P. Holding’s work, which I would now understand as, respectively, Thomist and Molinist solutions.

Now, I still have a lot of reading to do on the subject (I have at least one book on order), but I am finding myself moving slowly toward a Molinist perspective on salvation (albeit at the Calvinistic end of Molinism), and, as people whose musings on matters theological I hold in high regard, and with whom I have spoken already at inordinate length on these topics, I would be interested to hear your views.

As I know that you are both very busy, I have appended the text of a good blog post (from The Wardrobe Door blog) which was part of a three “flowers” of salvation series (i.e. the Calvinist’s TULIPs, the Molinist’s ROSES and the Arminian’s DAISY) and which I found to be a very clear and balanced explanation of the three systems. The entry appended below is, of course, the one on the ROSES (or Molinist) system.

The home page for the articles on all three flowers can be found here if you wish to read the author’s views on TULIP and DAISY and his general outline.

I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Yours

Please read:

Ring Around the ROSES: Molinism in Brief

http://wardrobedoor.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/ring-around-roses-molinism-in-brief.html?m=1

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‘Christian Beginnings’ by Geza Vermes

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A friend at work forwarded me this link yesterday:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/11/christian-beginnings-geza-vermes-review

I was quite surprised that an academic book on theology got a review in the Guardian, and by Rowan Williams no less. Perhaps I wouldn’t be, if I read the Guardian more! I’m always one to read the headlines on BBC News, rather than dig my teeth into the more comprehensive broadsheets/mini-broadsheets (as I call them). Although, if I had time, the Guardian would be a paper I’d pick up.

The article reviewed a book called ‘Christian Beginnings’ by Geza Vermes. This article was the first I’ve heard of the book. But after reading the article I thought I may purchase it because of the questions it raised (not new question, in a theological sense, but question from a fresh perspective)
As I read the article, these were the question that I asked myself, and perhaps the book will answer for me if I bought it:

(it must be noted that I am not a church historian, so my knowledge is a little rusty)

Vermes argues that Christianity brought such new concepts to the world that a new vocabulary needed to be created to understand them. I assume he must be talking about ancient equivalents of ‘trinity’ and ‘incarnation’. My question is this: is this a new question? Or, to put it another way, is this revelation about Christian vocabulary meant to be controversial? It seems obvious to me that Christianity must have created a new ‘language’. Perhaps the book is highlighting this point to develop a theme rather than bring something new to the table. Perhaps?

‘I said a moment ago that this is not an unfamiliar account for scholars of Christian origins. It has much in common with the picture elaborated in the great theological schools of the European universities, especially in Germany, from the late 19th century onwards. What makes Vermes’s version new is his refusal to follow these earlier scholars in their negativity towards Judaism and in the fact of his unparalleled familiarity with the entire spread of Jewish thinking in the age of Jesus and Paul. His Jesus is very much the representative of an intensified version of Mosaic and prophetic faith, set against a Jewish world that is dramatically diverse and bubbling with new and radical bids for defining Jewish identity.’

My limited understanding of current theology is that the Jewishness of the New Testament is being taken very seriously, especially by scholars in the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ camp. To see my comments on NNP, see here:

https://emmausattwilight.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/what-is-the-new-perspective-on-paul/

So my question would be what new work does Vermes bring to the table? It would be interesting to find out.

‘The creeds are the product of a very secular chain of political and intellectual influences, serving to obscure the historical core of what was new in Jesus’ life and work. But the story is not so simple. Vermes shows how the sort of thing that was being claimed in the creed of 325 had very clear antecedents within a century of Jesus’ crucifixion – so that it is odd to speak of a “revolutionary” position advanced in 325. Everyone at the Council of Nicaea believed they were defending immemorial tradition; and they were right to the extent that extravagant language about who Jesus “really” was goes back a long way.’

I’m pleased that Vermes has highlighted that the Council of Nicaea did not insert revolutionary ideas into the Christian faith. It was, rather, a formalising of what was generally understood, and a measure to those who went against the consensus.

‘it is hard simply to deny that Christian scripture does show people praying to the exalted Jesus from very early indeed. Someone reading the convoluted texts of early Christian argument might well see them less as a series of baroque elaborations on a theoretical theme than as a series of attempts to capture an elusive but inescapable insight.’

This is a very descriptive way of saying that Christian thought, and the discussions of early Christianity, might not so much represent dialogue between church leaders on theology, but rather a struggle of semantics where the new vocabulary of Christianity was being nit together.

‘This is a beautiful and magisterial book; but it leaves unsolved some of the puzzles that still make readers of the New Testament pause to ask what really is the right, the truthful, way to talk about a figure like the Jesus we meet in these texts.’

This seems to be true of many books about Jesus. I often wonder why more faith is not placed in the New Testament itself. Even the most sceptical of scholars recognise that there are remnants of truths of the ‘real’ Jesus in the New Testament. But I have yet to be convinced that the New Testament obscures him as much as some suggest. I know I am merely a layperson spouting my opinion, but why is it that we search and search for the ‘real deal’, when it seems rather plain to me that it is plastered over the best selling book in the western world: the Bible.

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RE: Quote-Down: Atheists’ Point Of View on Quoting Scripture

I recently wrote an article complaining that it has been my experience in discussion of my faith that on occasion my discussion partner has provided me with some ad-hoc anti-religious quotes for me to go away and think about. I explained that, depending on the content of the quotes, it can sometimes just come across rude, and is often counter productive, even if they don’t mean to be. For the full article see here:

https://emmausattwilight.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/quote-down/
However, one of my good friends pointed out an obvious point I had missed: the fact that it is very frustrating when Christians quote scripture as authority when trying to defend thier faith. And I do, in part, agree with her.

Obviously, some caveats are in order: when a non-Christian asks about what the Bible says, or about what Christians believe, then of course quoting scripture is appropriate. This is because the question is directed at ‘what’ Christian belief is, rather than ‘why’ we as individuals believe it.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was reading a blog by a Muslim who was trying to defend the principles of Islam. And I take my hat off to him because He attempted to tackle the issue of polygamy. And not many do in our Society! To be honest he didn’t argue the case very well, and made reference to the fact that there were more women living in America than men, so it was a kindness to marry more than one women, or there will inevitably be women who are left single (as if no-one would EVER choose to be single???).

As I suspected, a western women had made a comment. In a nutshell she wrote something like this: ‘I’m not a Muslim. I found your article on polygamy quite offensive. Your arguments are weak and bizarre. Do you have any better arguments?’ It is the response to this that we shall focus on. The answer this lady was given was a string of Qur’anic ayat stating that polygamy was ok:

‘And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.’ (4:3)

Do you think that is a satisfying answer?  No? Why not?

It is not a satisfying answer because the lady doesn’t believe that the Qur’an is authoritative. So quoting the Qur’an is no more persuasive than quoting any other work, that is, in the perception of the western lady.

Also she was not asking ‘what does the Qur’an teach about polygamy?’, but rather, ‘why do you, Muslim, believe that polygamy is ok?’ Therefore, it is not a question about Islam, rather it is a question about why the individual believes Islam is ethically sound. She is asking for individual thought, not confirmation of an ideal that one has subscribed to without any evidence of personal consideration.

It might be that the Muslim’s answer is: ‘because the Qur’an says so’, which is called a circular argument because he believes the Qur’an is true because it says it is true. I.e. there is no outside reference to support his belief. If that is the case then it is honest that he admits this. However, I would imagine, and hope, that this conversation would prompt the Muslim to think about why he believes polygamy is right.

Christians can do exactly the same. How many times have you seen a conversation like the following on the Internet?

Christian: Jesus loves you!
Non-Christian: How do you know that?
Christian: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
Non-Christian: But I don’t think I believe the Bible is accurate.
Christian: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’

I don’t think the last comment was helpful, and might just annoy the non-Christian. The reasons for this are that either the Christian has not listened to what the non-Christian has said, or the Christian hasn’t understood. The Non-Christian confirms that they do not believe the Bible in accurate, so quoting scripture is not going to help! Unless of course the Christian’s answer was something like this:

Christian: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’. I believe this because I have studied the History of the 1st century and am persuaded that the New Testament is accurate. I’m also convinced because the ethical principles of the Bible, I feel, are still very relevant today. On top of all of this I have met God personally, and it a similar way as described in the Bible.

I.e quoting scripture isn’t the problem – its quoting scripture without explaining why we believe it that can aggravate those who do not believe the Bible is authoritative.

Therefore, lets try to be attentive to the objections of our friends and colleagues, and aim to ‘always be ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is in us’ (You see, I can use that quote because I’ve just spent an hour explaining it, and I am also directing it to Christians who already view the Bible as authoritative ;))

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Prometheus and the ‘who made us?’ question.

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The following was written by Rachel Giles here: http://www.licc.org.uk/engaging-with-culture/connecting-with-culture/entertainment/monster-questions–1357#fbcomments

Maybe they were hiding from the rain, but an awful lot of people went to see Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster, Prometheus, over the Jubilee weekend. The prequel to his 1979 film Alien, it grossed £6.24 million over those four days – and it’s still topping the UK box office.

There’s plenty to please fans of the Alien series: a strong female lead, shocks, slime, a rapidly dwindling spaceship crew and, of course, scary aliens. But it also asks some big questions: where does human life come from? Who, or what, made us?

The film’s mythology – that humans were created by extraterrestrials who visited Earth – isn’t original, alluding to Erich von Däniken’s 1968 Chariots of the Gods. Nor is it one that would sit too happily with most Christians.

But here’s a surprise: the heroine, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist determined to find answers to these questions, is a Christian; she wears a cross and is ‘a true believer’. She trusts that the evidence (cave paintings and stone carvings from ancient civilisations) points to something ‘out there’. And she has faith that when the crew of the Prometheus arrive on LV223, two years from Earth, they will, literally, meet their makers – and ask them ‘why they even made us in the first place’.

Her beliefs aren’t shared by the crew. It’s 2093, and Darwinism, the prevailing explanation of life on earth, has been around for three centuries. Interestingly, her hunch about the aliens doesn’t clash with her faith in God, for if they exist, ‘who created the aliens?’ she says.

The mission has potentially disastrous consequences for Earth. But the film is less about humans overreaching themselves (like the Prometheus of Greek myth), and more about our unquenchable thirst for truth. Writer Damon Lindelof, who wrote the series Lost, said in a recent interview, ‘The entire point of being alive is to ask these questions and search for some meaning.’

It’s encouraging to see a popular film grapple with these ideas, even if it doesn’t provide answers. We’re regularly told that science has explained everything, but some questions won’t go away. Prometheus presents huge opportunities to share what we believe about God’s creation and purposes with others. But it challenges us, too. Would you pursue the truth, even if it cost you? And if you met your maker, what would you ask?

Not every slime-shocker blockbuster makes you wonder that.

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Anxiety, Depression & Knowing God

I wrote this a long while ago, whilst in the middle of it all. Now having gained some perspective, I think it may be helpful to re-publish. (it was first published here: http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/knowing-christ-in-the-dark)

I was giving a public talk in defence of the Christian faith. Having answered the first question without any difficulty, I proceeded to address the second. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a fear rising within me that was somehow different to the nerves I am used to. I had been exhausted that day, and I found it difficult to collect my thoughts and understand the flow of the argument I was attempting to deliver. The audience of 100 people looked at me expectantly. I remember stumbling over my words as my mind raced. What was happening? Panic rose within me, and I thought ‘I just can’t do this, I have to get off the stage.’ I had no choice – I gave my apologies and walked off the stage to the bewilderment of all around.
A month or so after this incident, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which had been brought on by stress. This soon led to a form of depression which cost me my job and I had to step down from many of my responsibilities at church. This season has caused me to ask many questions about God and his character:

“We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!
Has some Vast Imbecility,
Mighty to build and blend,
But impotent to tend,
Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?”

Thomas Hardy once wrote these words in contemplation about the seeming contradiction between God’s omnipotence and the existence of evil. For both experiential and philosophical reasons this has been an ancient question. In our universities it is known as the ‘problem of evil’. How can God be good if he allows suffering?

Forms of this question are pondered by many who suffer. We may be able to sympathise with Hardy’s sentiments, although I imagine we might come to different a conclusion. It has led many to believe that God does not exist at all. However, what does the Christian do with a question like this?

Having experienced depression and fear as a Christian, I have struggled at times to trust in the goodness of God. These times have generated within me an interest in understanding what being a Christian really means, and how I can judge if I am keeping the faith. When I was first filled with the Holy Spirit I believed that perhaps the inexpressible joy would last forever, the sufferings I read about in the Bible did not fase me, because I assumed the internal joy and certainty would last, and I would be able to overcome anything! The reality was quite different. Instead in times of trouble it seemed that God had abandoned me, my joy was gone, my mind left racing with the thoughts ‘Is God really . . .?’, ‘Can I trust him with this?’, and ‘I don’t think I am strong enough to do this, will God really be there for me?’. I am sure there are many readers who recognise these thoughts. Indeed, the Psalms are filled with these questions.

The main question for me was this: Do I still know Christ if I cannot feel his presence? Encouragingly Asaph describes a very similar dilemma in Psalm 77:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

In the depth of despair in which he found himself he says:

10 “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’”

Asaph remembers the times when God moved in power, and he puts his faith in God’s character, as shown to be true and good by the miracles he performed in Israel’s history. Asaph does not say, ‘because I feel that God is good’, but rather that “I will remember . . .” I am sure that even when Asaph remembered God’s works, there was still a temptation to think, ‘but, has God’s unfailing love vanished forever, despite this?’ Instead Asaph goes on to praise God saying “With your mighty arm you redeemed your people”, and in so doing he is sure that God still desires to redeem him from the trouble in which he finds himself.

So what is the basis of Asaph’s faith? Is it his feelings or his experience? It cannot be either, for the psalm clearly shows that Asaph is in emotional turmoil. Is it his morality? Again, it cannot be, for the psalm itself does not mention any of Asaph’s deeds. Does he place his faith on the strength of his conviction? No, for he is questioning this very conviction by asking “has your unfailing love vanished forever?” Instead Asaph places his faith in the person of God, and his character as demonstrated throughout history.

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In the same way we are to trust Christ and what he has done for us on the cross, and we can do that even when we do not feel his presence, or even when we are tempted to question his faithfulness like Asaph did.

We can trust Christ because we know him, and he has changed our lives. How can we be sure that we know Christ in times of trouble? Firstly, knowing Christ is not solely ‘belief’ or based on a theological system as is says in James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Therefore Asaph is able to question God’s faithfulness and his own belief in God’s goodness, but still rest his hope in God despite his doubts. Secondly, knowing Christ is not only feeling his presence, as clearly we all go through times when we do not feel close to God. Lastly, knowing Christ is not only doing the works of the kingdom, as Jesus says that on the final day some will claim that they did mighty works in his name, and he will say “I do not know you”.

Therefore, knowing Christ is a relationship by God’s own initiative: the cross of Christ. Knowing Christ will affect the way we think, feel and act, but our faith is not based on any one of them, but rather on the character of God displayed supremely in God’s unfailing love at the cross. Any of us who have felt abandoned by God, or any of us who have been tempted to believe that God might not be for us can take comfort in the fact that their acceptance by God is based on the sacrifice of Christ. It is not, at root, based exclusively on our thoughts, feelings of actions.

In this way I can know Christ when I feel that I am in the dark. Thank you Lord.

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Brighton Marathon

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I’m so glad to be part of a church that wants to help the local community, and does so. The Brighton Marathon is a great community effort, and generates a lot of money for charity. What a great thing to support! So, as a church hundreds of us got up, some as early as 530, and served as support team for as long as 8 hours – for free. Well done to all involved!

Here are some photos from the event:

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My brothers at the 22 mile point

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My brothers at the 22 mile point

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Why is the Canon Canonical?

Disclaimer: I haven’t yet finished my research in this area, so my thoughts below may change with further study. Or it is possible that some of the info needs to double checked before I’m happy to publish it as ‘finished’

Historically, the books that are inspired by God are called ‘Canonical’ books, or books that are in ‘the Canon’. The questioner is therefore asking about the nature of the canon, in terms of is composition and content. The word ‘Canon’ originally came from the root word ‘reed’ or ‘cane’ (point 16 in Bibliography). The cane was used as an ancient form of measurement; therefore the ‘canon’ can also mean the ‘standard/measurement of faith’. In other words, the books that are in the Bible are recognised to be the standard for our faith and practice, which is instituted by God.

The phrase ‘inspired by God’ means that each book was written in accordance with God’s design, even though they were written by different men at different times in history. God is both transcendent and immanent, which means he is both totally different to his creation, but also intrinsic to it. Therefore, this being true, he is able to create a book (or collection of books) that record his acts in history as a testament and documentation for us, and he can do this through human will and design. However, the phrase ‘inspired by God’ goes beyond mere historicity, these books represent the standard of God’s truth. The Bible also describes itself as . . . alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). As such, God the Holy Spirit often communicates through the words of the Bible, as they are synonymous with his own words and truth.               

The answer to this question will be determined by your presuppositions in approaching the topic. If you do not believe that God exists, it is likely that you will think the books that are in the Bible came to be recognised as ‘inspired by God’ through a mixture of religious politics, preference, and subjective opinions/feelings. However, if you believe that God exists and that he is able to act in human history then the development of a collection of books that are divinely inspired is not only possible, but also probable (especially if this God loves us and wishes to communicate with us). If God is able to inspire the recording of his acts in history, he is also able to cause their recognition within the church (and equally cause the church to recognise those books that were not inspired).

The Bible records God’s acts in history

The Old Testament is a collection of literature produced within and about the history of Israel, and the events therein. Likewise, the New Testament is a collection of books produced about the life, events, and purpose of Jesus Christ and his fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. For Christians it is the connection between the historical events and the words of scripture that hold so much meaning. You cannot have one without the other. For example, the physical death of Jesus would not have the same meaning if it were just a story, as it is the power of what God has actually caused to have happened in human history that restores our relationship with God. This is what makes Christianity different to a philosophical system, namely, that it is not based on just theory, but also events. These events caused the production of much literature; some of which are contained in the Bible. It is important to recognise the connectedness between firstly, the events, and secondly, the literature which was written in response to those events; because not all of the literature that was produced was recognised as inspired by God.

Because of the historical nature of the Bible, and Christian theology, the likelihood follows that there were more books written about the events that took place than are in the Bible. If such extraordinary events were really happening, one would imagine a lot of people (who were able) would have recorded what they saw/experienced. And this is precisely what Luke records at the opening of his Gospel: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us (Luke 1:1)

Old Testament Apocrypha 

Therefore other Christian and Jewish authors wrote books both about Israel’s history, and about Christ’s life and works. However, not all are considered canonical, some because although great Christian or Jewish writings, they were not considered inspired by God, and some because they were not Christian but instead Gnostic writings. I will discuss this is more detail in the third part of this article.

A question that is often asked when approaching the topic of the Old Testament canon, is the place of the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a collection of books that have been included in copies of the Old Testament from before the time of Christ, but although having been recognised as important, they were not considered inspired by God. These books are a mixture of different types of writings, some recording the history ofIsraellike the books of the Maccabees, and others containing proverbs and wise sayings such as books like Ecclesiasticus. There is evidence from both within the Bible and outside of it that these books known as the Apocrypha were not, and should not, be considered the inspired word of God.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament contains 39 books in our Bibles today. In past centuries some of these book were joined together, and therefore we find Josephus in the first century writing about the ‘two and twenty, and containing the record for all time’ (Bib. Point.6, p.35), which is referring to the same 39 books but with different divisions. This statement, among others (see bibliography), excludes the Apocrypha from the Canonical writings. As mentioned above the Apocrypha is a collection of books that the Jews did not recognise as part of the divinely inspired scriptures. Neither did the early church including Origen and Jerome, but they included them in the written copies of the Old Testament in Greek for edification. Likewise, there are many great Christian writers today, that Christians do read and consider extremely influential, but we would not consider them divinely inspired on a par with scripture. So it was with the Old Testament Apocrypha.

There was a progressive recognition of each book of the Old Testament right from inception; this can be deduced from certain passages of the Bible. Such as Daniel 9:2 written in sixth century B.C., which confirms that what Jeremiah wrote was ‘the word of the Lord’.

Moreover, he (Daniel) uses the article in the original Hebrew when he says, ‘I, Daniel, understood from the books (or the scriptures), according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.’ This is most instructive, because Daniel placed Jeremiah in a group of ‘the books’ that he regarded and received as ‘scripture’ almost contemporaneous with the time of its writing (i.e within some seventy five years of its composition) (Bib. Point.6, p.33)

Additionally, a book called Ecclesiasticus written sometime around 200-180 B.C. showed that the Old Testament has been organised into three sections: the Law, the Prophets and ‘the other books’ (later known as the Wisdom writings), which is a collection of writings that we have in the Old Testament today. Lastly, building on this point, Jesus mentions the three sections of the Old Testament canon, ’the law, the prophets and the psalms’, which teach about him (Luke 24:44). This further authenticates the 39 Old Testament books as inspired by God, in the same way that Josephus recognised the three sections of the Old Testament.

It is interesting that Jesus never mentions or quotes from the Apocrypha, as he often does from the Old Testament. This is further proof that the Apocrypha was not, and should not, be considered a part of the collection of ‘Scriptures’. Furthermore, in Matthew 23:35 Jesus makes mention of the death of Abel (the first person killed in the OT) and Zechariah (killed in 2 Chronicles, the last book of the OT according to the Hebrew order). He makes no mention of the many people killed in the Apocrypha, thus implicitly denying the authenticity of those books.

In short there is good evidence that the books we have in the Old Testament of our Bibles today, corresponds to the books that were recognised as inspired by God from before the time of Christ. As Walter Kaiser describes the process: there was a progressive recognition of certain books as being canonical right from there inception by readers and listeners who were contemporaneous with the writers and who were thereby in the best position to determine the claims of the writers. (6, p.31) 

New Testament Apocrypha and Gnostics Texts

A lot of the confusion that can surround this topic is largely due to unclear definitions. This can be a result of placing Christian and Gnostic texts under the same category of ‘Christian’ (this is precisely what Bart Ehrman has claimed, see point 4 in Further Reading). Equally, the difference between Christian non-canonical works and Gnostic works is very important.

New Testament

When considering the books that are not included in the New Testament Canon, one has to distinguish between New Testament Apocrypha and the Gnostic texts. New Testament Apocrypha is much like the Old Testament Apocrypha; they are Christian writings that were considered good to read in the church for general instruction, but were not inspired by God, and therefore not to be used to form doctrine. Gnostic texts, on the other hand, are quite different. They are texts written by a group of people who subscribed to a different religious system, and therefore were never considered for the canon (In fact often Christian leaders would speak out against such teachings, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Tertullian). The reason that these text have sometimes been misunderstood as part of the New Testament Apocrypha is due to the fact that Gnostic teachings were very much influenced by Jewish spiritual writings, and later Christian writings. Therefore Gnostics produced texts such as the Gospel of Thomas and On the Origin of the World. However, the differences between the New Testament Apocrypha and the Gnostic texts is only to clear with a basic comparison (which you can do with by following the links in the bibliography. Compare Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and On the Origin of the World, with NT Apoc 1 Clement and the Didache)

In fact, the early churches were extremely stringent in their requirements. Books were not accepted if they could not be historically verified.

Muratorian Canon (latter half of the second century): Contains all the books that we consider canonical today, But also the Apocalypse of Peter and the Shepard of Hermas, though the Apocalypse of Peter was not considered fully canonical by some churches, and the Shepard of Hermas was universally rejected. They were included in the list of books, because they were to be used to encourage and teach the church, but were not to be read publicly.

Origen (185-254) mentions all the books we now have in the Bible, and in addition the ‘Epistle of Barnabas’, Shepard of Hermas, Didache and ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews’. Of these books, the four already mentioned were under dispute (this can also been deduced from the Muratorian Canon mentioned above) as well as Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James and Jude.

Athanasius (367) sets out the books that we now have see in the Bible as alone canonical.

From available information, the gradual process which led to full and formal public recognition of a fixed canon of the twenty-seven books comprising the New Testament takes us down into the fourth century of our era. This does not necessarily mean that these scriptures were lacking recognition in their century before that time, but that a need for officially defining the canon was not pressing until then (9, p.67)

Bibliography/Further Reading

1. Bray, Gerald., Creeds, Councils & Christ, (Inter-Varsity, 1984)

2. Thiede, Carsten., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish origins of Christianity, (Oxford, 2000)

3. McGrath, Alister (Ed)., The Christian Theology Reader, (Blackwell, 1996)

4. Ehrman, Bart., Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament, (Oxford, 2003)

5. Shelley, Bruce., Church History in Plain Language, 2nd Edition, (World, 1995)

6. Kaiser, Walter Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are they Reliable and Relevant?, (Inter-Varsity, 2001)

7.Logan, Alastair., Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy, (T. T. Clark, 1996)

8. Chadwick, Henry., The Early Church, (Penguin, 1967)

9. The Origin of the Bible, Bruce, F F., Packer,JI., Comfort, P., Henry, Carl F H., Editors, (Tyndale, 1992)

10.Dunbar, David., ‘The Biblical Canon’, Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, (Inter-Varsity, 1986)

11.Bruce, F. F., The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?, (William Eerdmans, 1981 sixth edition)

12.On the Origin of the World, The Nag Hammadi Library. http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/origin.html

13.Gospel of Thomas.  http://www.goodnewsinc.net/othbooks/thomas.html

14.1 Clement. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-roberts.html

15.Didache. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html

16.McDowell, Josh., Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Volume One, Scripture press, 1990.

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