Scripture: Ancient and Modern

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What is Scripture?

Most Christians would consider the Bible and nothing else to be Scripture. (Whether the Deuterocanon and other apocryphal books are included is out of the scope of this post.) Typically, the Bible is separated into the Old Testament, which has ancient Hebrew writings from before the time of Christ, and the New Testament, composed of writings of the Apostles after the time of Christ. In between is called the intertestamental period, which is traditionally taken to be about 400 years. During this intertestamental period, God was silent (though not inactive), as evidenced by the absence of prophets between Malachi and John the Baptist.

Old Testament Authority

Of the Old Testament, the primary law-books are Deuteronomy and Numbers. The question of whether or not we modern Christians should follow these ancient Hebrew laws is an oft-asked question, as demonstrated by these questions on Christianity.SE (mouse-over to see question titles): [1], [2], [3], [4]. As this answer to [2] shows, there are four general ideologies, three of which definitely teach that not all laws of the Old Testament apply to Christians today. In particular, I especially like the division of Old Testament laws into moral, civil, and ceremonial laws as it naturally follows that Christians need only follow the moral laws. In addition, Jesus elaborated on many of these moral laws. What’s for sure though is that we are not under the old covenant anymore, but rather, Jesus established a new covenant with us (Luke 22:20).

New Testament Authority

What parts of the New Testament still apply today is actually a bit murkier. Sure, most of it does, but some of it doesn’t or shouldn’t, and figuring out which is which typically requires much careful study. For example, there is 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that says that women should be quiet and submissive in church and that they shouldn’t teach men, but rather just listen. Ideally, study of this passage would include Biblical context as well as historical context. For starters, the Biblical context shows that Timothy was writing from his own desires and customs. Well, there is one place in the New Testament where God explicitly sets out rules that Christians should follow:

Acts 15:28-29 (NLT)
28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

Clarifications and elaborations of each of these can be found elsewhere in the New Testament. Yet, even the New Testament isn’t the perfect authority for these days.

The times have changed.

Now, before you accuse me of being Captain Obvious, the main changes I speak of are of new things appearing. New technologies, like movies and the internet, make it possible for widespread distribution of pornography, a subject not directly covered in the Bible. On the flip side, the internet also makes it possible for virtual churches to exist, which prompted these two questions. Another (relatively) recent development is contraception, which was the subject of our first set of posts on Eschewmenical. Yet other topics that have come into play only recently and thus aren’t really covered by the Bible include abortion and extraterrestrial aliens. Finally, homosexuality, once ample reason to be ostracized, is now well on its way to being socially acceptable, even among Christians.

Nonetheless, even proponents of Sola Scriptura can (usually) figure out what the Bible’s stance is on these modern topics, but wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus could just tell us?

God is still speaking.

(The following draws significantly from chapter 6 [The Speaking Voice] of A. W. Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God.)

John 1:1 (NIV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The most straight-forward way to read this verse indicates that it is the nature of God to speak. The whole of the Bible supports this. God created by speaking (“God said…and it was so”), God lead Israel before they had a king, and He spoke through prophets. Then, Jesus was born. Besides miracles, Jesus was most commonly recorded as teaching. That is, speaking. The Holy Spirit also speaks, as evidenced by Mark 13:11, 1 Timothy 4:1, and John 14:26.

Yet some people believe that God stopped speaking after Revelation. They believe that the God who spoke the universe into being, spoke throughout Israel’s history, and spoke to the Apostles suddenly clammed up, leaving us with a book. Plain, simple words on a page whereby much meaning and context is lost, and translation confuses matters. If the Bible is God’s Voice today, it is a pitiful shadow of its true self.

No. This dull Voice of the Bible is not God’s Voice.

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The Word of God is living, and active! It is not dead, it is not silent. No, it is as powerful and vigorous as ever.

Why then, does the Bible have only these 66 books?

Why is the Bible closed?

This question came up while my dad (a recently-licensed minister!) and I were discussing The Speaking Voice (in The Pursuit of God). If God spoke throughout history, including the last 1900 or so years, why then is the Bible’s canon closed? Why take only what was experienced/spoken and recorded in the first century? The answer we settled upon was that the Bible as we have it is the foundation and standard. God is revealed in many ways all throughout the Bible that allow us to get a large-scale sense of God’s character. As God does not change, more revelations should not contradict what has already been revealed, but rather, reinforce it. In this sense, the Bible is a foundation because successive revelations add to it, and it is a standard because God will not contradict Himself, so later revelations can be cross-checked with the Bible for truth. In addition, the spiritual authority of the authors is pretty much undisputed. So…if God continues to give people today revelations that are on-par with the Bible and therefore effectively Scripture, what is Scripture then?

Really, what is Scripture?

A friend once put it this way: Scripture is the Story of what happened, as understood by those who wrote it, listening to God.

Scripture is

the Story of what happened,
The overwhelming majority of Scripture in the Bible is presented in a story. The Genesis account of creation, Exodus, Joshua, Job, the Song of Songs, the Gospels, and Revelation, to name a few, are all stories. The laws given in Deuteronomy and Numbers are part of the story of the establishment of the nation of Israel. The Psalms consist of over a hundred little stories. Jesus typically taught lessons in parables, a.k.a. stories. The Bible as a whole has an over-reaching Story of God’s Creation, Man’s Fall, and God’s Redemption of Man.

as understood by those who wrote it,
This part implies that Scripture is not perfect, since a flawed writer’s understanding will invariably be flawed. Well, yes, that’s correct. The Bible is not textually inerrant, as can be seen by a number of examples, particularly the example of the angels at Jesus’ tomb after He resurrected. Four different accounts, differing in number, position, timing, and a couple other details. However, the important parts of all four are in harmony, such as the empty tomb, the women being the first observers, and the like. Analogously, the Bible may not be completely inerrant in all of its theology, but the crucial parts, like God’s love and mercy, are consistent. This extends to later revelations as well; they may not be (and won’t be) perfect, but that’s fine. Paul once said:

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

God does not use us in spite of our weaknesses…but because of our weaknesses. In our imperfections, He is glorified.

Another aspect of this is that a perfect Bible invites idolization. That is, when we have a perfect Bible that has the answer to every important question, there isn’t a need to turn to God. And so…we rely on the Bible more and more…to the point that we become the Pharisees of this age. The Pharisees and Sadducees were guilty of many things, but the one that Jesus chewed them out the most over was their legalism. So bound were they to following their rules that they would dare to keep Jesus from healing people. A prime example of this today is the veritable war over legalization of homosexual marriages (in the United States). Too many Christians are blinded by their adamant stance that homosexuality is a sin to see that they are driving away the very people Jesus is reaching out to. Ha, most of the unsaved groups of people (the homeless, the drug addicts, etc.) are the very ones that Christians stay away from to remain “clean”. A new culture of legalism has risen up among Christians, and part of this is that every law, every page, every jot of the Bible is perfect.

On the other hand, an imperfect Bible invites one to look to God, the Perfect one. An imperfect Bible also allows one to more closely identify with the authors of Scripture. If even such great, mighty men of God such as David (an adulterer), Paul (a murderer), and Moses (a stutterer) can mess up from time to time, then there’s less pressure on us. Imperfect authors, imperfect (but still Good) writing…from people like you and me. God can use anyone.

listening to God.
Just about every author in the Bible had an intimate connection with God, and they drew on this intimacy while they wrote. Consequently, they weren’t just writing human-inspired words, but rather, God-inspired words. The Holy Spirit guided them, the love of Jesus underlied their words, and the Father spoke to them. This is why so many of their words have the quality of timeless Truth; Truth Himself inspired them. This is why the Bible has the authority it does; Truth and Goodness are its foundation.


What does this mean?

Brothers and sisters, we are writing the Scriptures of this age!


By their fruit ye shall know them.

Of course, now the question is: how can we know that a particular Scripture or revelation has authority? There are three major qualities to look for: consistency, truth/goodness, and whether they lead to God or away from Him.

As I already said earlier, additional Scriptures and revelations will not contradict the Bible. God does not change, but we do. Hence, Scriptures (and revelations) that clarify, simplify, expand, or highlight prior Scriptures are in general, okay. However, if a new “Scripture” clearly and surely contradicts established Scripture, burn it (with fire!). As all Scripture is inspired by God, it will all be self-consistent.

Truth and Goodness
This is certainly a more subjective quality. I know I have often read or written something and known that it was True and/or Good. (By the way, I capitalize those words to show that I mean an intrinsic quality.) Yet, it is hard to explain with words what I mean. Therefore, I will provide a few examples to show instead of tell.

The first is one verse from the “A Wife of Noble Character” section in Proverbs:

Proverbs 31:30 (NLT)
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
        but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

The second comes from the end of Song of Songs:

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (NLT)
6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
      like a seal on your arm.
   For love is as strong as death,
      its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
   Love flashes like fire,
      the brightest kind of flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
      nor can rivers drown it.
   If a man tried to buy love
      with all his wealth,
      his offer would be utterly scorned.

(Incidentally, these verses are the inspiration for You Won’t Relent, a fantastic song and one of my favorites.)

The third comes from the end of the Armor of God:

Ephesians 6:18-20 (NLT)
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Of course, there are more examples, like Romans 12:9-21 and Ephesians 4:2.

Finally, what was the fruit? Does it lead others to God, or does it lead them away from Him? Is it revealing, or obscuring? Is it edifying, or confusing? Is it constructive, or destructive? Does it come from love, or sin?

Matthew 7:18 (NIV)
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Thus, by its fruit will you evaluate Scripture, ancient or modern.

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  • Jon Ericson says:
    Brothers and sisters, we are writing the Scriptures of this age!

    I wish I could agree with this! I’ve often said that my personal canon would include most of C. S. Lewis. Lately, I’ve been exposed to even more great stuff by Bonhoeffer, Augustine, John Piper, and etc. But there’s something about the closed canon of scripture, our Bible, that transcends even these brilliant and Spirit-filled writers. On a surface level, I prefer The Screwtape Letters over Job. But the more I dig into Job, the more treasure I find. God, in all His mystery, is hidden there. The more I dig into Screwtape, the more I’m drawn to Romans, Revelation, and the Psalms. Lewis was inspired by God’s Word as much as by the Holy Spirit.

  • I especially like the division of Old Testament laws into moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.

    Otherwise known as the commands not to do things I don’t want to do anyway, but can use as a convenient stick to hit other people with, the commands about government, and the commands not to do things I do want to to.

    In other words, “civil” is a real category, but the distinction between “moral” and “ceremonial” is purely arbatory and self-serving. That, at least, is my opinion. And what’s that worth?


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