Are All the Biblical Books "Self-Attesting" and Self-Evidently Inspired?
Monday, June 19, 2006
This is an excerpt from my book, The One-Minute Apologist; to be published by Sophia Institute Press in Fall 2006.
* * * * *
BIBLE AND TRADITION
We know which books are inspired and belong in the Bible by reading them
Biblical books are self-attesting, so no church is needed to determine the biblical canon
There are indeed several internal biblical evidences of inspiration and canonicity, yet (despite this fact), there were many differences in the early Church regarding biblical books. Many now-accepted books were questioned, and many non-biblical books were thought to be canonical.
Internal evidences for inspiration vary greatly. For example, the author of Hebrews doesn't identify himself (nor does the author of 2 and 3 John), and denies being an apostle (Heb. 2:3). The author of the book of James does not, in his epistle, make the claim to being an apostle (Jas. 1:1) - though the likelihood is that he probably was. Jude was questioned because it cited the Book of Enoch (Jude 14-15) and possibly the Assumption of Moses (Jude 9). Only the author of Revelation claims direct inspiration.
But nothing illustrates the falsity of the claim of "self-attesting" books better than the history of the process of canonization itself. Church authority was needed to establish the canon once and for all. If everything were so obvious, how could there be so many differences? The awareness of a canon itself didn't even become prominent until the end of the 2nd century. St. Athanasius was the first person to list our present 27 New Testament books, in the year 367: more than 300 years after the death of Jesus. Many other "anomalous" facts indicate the numerous substantial difficulties of canonicity.
It is historical fact that many biblical books were slowly accepted. St. Justin Martyr (
Moreover, we observe that many non-Scriptural books were regarded as Scripture by many important people and lists of canonical books in the early Church. The Gospels of St. Justin Martyr contained apocryphal materials. The Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache were regarded as Scripture by St. Clement of Alexandria (d.c. 215) and Origen (d.c. 254); so was the Shepherd of Hermas, by St. Irenaeus (d.c. 200), Tertullian (d.c. 225), Origen, and St. Clement of Alexandria. The Muratorian Canon of c. 190 included the Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon. The well-known Codex Sinaiticus of the late fourth century still included the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.
The existence of disagreements on the canon doesn't prove that it was unable to be determined by a close study of the biblical books. All this shows is that Church fathers were fallible men, just like everyone else. The more the Bible was studied, the more men came to understand which books were truly inspired and which were not, by the clear indications in the books themselves.
Reply to Objection
It's very easy to make such (somewhat logically circular) claims, and "hindsight is 20-20"; however, there is no way to test or disprove (or, for that matter, prove) them other than by looking at what actually happened in history. Are we to believe that the same people in the early Church who developed doctrines like the Holy Trinity, didn't understand which books belonged in the Bible as well as we do today, because they were poor readers or slow to comprehend the relatively obvious? The fact remains that there were disagreements because some books were not all that clearly inspired (and other non-biblical books seemed to be). Indeed, we expect men to disagree; all the more reason to need an authority.
Thus, the Church decided on the issue of the canon in the councils of Hippo (393) and
F.F. Bruce (Protestant Bible scholar)
When we think of Jesus and his Palestinian apostles, then, we may be confident that they agreed with contemporary leaders in
While the New Testament writers all used the Septuagint, to a greater or lesser degree, none of them tells us precisely what the limits of its contents were . . . We cannot say with absolute certainty, for example, if Paul treated Esther or the Song of Songs as scripture any more than we can say if those books belonged to the Bible which Jesus knew and used.
. . . only one book of the New Testament explicitly claims prophetic inspiration . . . It is unlikely, for example, that the Spirit's witness would enable a reader to discern that Ecclesiastes is the word of God while Ecclesiasticus is not . . .
(The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 41, 50, 280-282)