The Bible and a Closed Canon:(Should There Only Be 66 Books?)

One of these days I’m going to have time to do justice to the series I was doing on the appearance of Paul from 1 Thessalonians 2. There’s one post on exhortation I really want to get to, but I have to have a good amount of time to write it.

I got another email from the Eastern Orthodox fellow I wrote to a couple days ago. It made me realize there’s some very un-Protestant ideas I hold to.

What I’m about to write is not going to be very popular because most Protestants prefer to trust their intellect than to trust God.

There’s 2 reasons for this:

  • Protestants greatly overestimate their ability to understand something as spiritual as the Scriptures.
  • Protestants greatly underestimate God’s ability to reveal his will to men.

1. Having an official canon of Scripture is bad

It’s not historical.

Even as late as A.D. 399, Augustine wrote …

Among the canonical Scriptures [the skillful interpreter] will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. (On Christian Doctrine II:8:12)

While most of the books we have in our Bible were accepted by all churches, some were in dispute. Other books that didn’t make our canon, like The Shepherd of Hermas and First Clement, were accepted by some churches.

The Apocrypha, subject of much dispute between Catholics and Protestants, were in dispute until modern times. Even Martin Luther quotes the Wisdom of Solomon as though it were Scripture.

It leads to a "magic book" mentality.

Protestants today honor the Bible almost to the point of idolatry. They won’t set another book on top of it, and they’d certainly never toss one or set a coffee cup on it.

Protestants would never allow anyone to say that the Bible has contradictions or scientific errors in it, nor would they ever acknowledge disbelieving anything in the Bible.

Nonetheless, a majority have never read the whole thing. There are dozens of verses no self-respecting Protestant would ever repeat. It’s okay if the Bible says it, but we shouldn’t!

(For example: God will give eternal life to those who pursue immortality by patiently continuing to do good—Rom. 2:6-7. Or, there’s the well-known, "so we see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone," which is, as you may or may not know, the only occurrence of the phrase "faith alone" in the whole Bible.)

We use the Bible like a magic book. We proclaim verses in defense of our traditions as though they were incantations from a spell book, driving away evil beliefs. Other verses—the ones that directly contradict the things we believe—we ignore. They are true, we acknowledge, but we can give no practical way in which they are true, nor can we ever say them ourselves.

Not having a closed canon of Scripture means that the faith has to be handed down, as it was meant to be. It means that we have to find our own answers to many problems of life, guided by the Holy Spirit, as one of the undisputed books of Scripture commands:

I have written these things to you about those that are trying to seduce you. The anointing you have received from the Holy One remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. As that same anointing teaches you everything, and is true and not a lie, so you will remain in him, just as it has taught you. (1 Jn. 2:26-27)

Paul agrees:

… the house of God, which is the church of God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15)

Oh, wait. I’m not supposed to say that. That’s one of the verses we don’t believe. It’s only true when Paul says it. We’re not allowed to repeat it.

Protestants Overestimate Their Ability To Understand Something as Spiritual as the Scriptures

This should follow from what I’ve written above.

The very fact that we have Scriptures we don’t believe, don’t agree with, and can’t repeat, all the while saying we do believe them, should be enough to prove that our intellectual approach is failing badly at understanding the Scriptures.

Our incredible, widespread division ought to be proof enough that we are not able to understand the Scriptures.

But we don’t get it.

The Scriptures were not meant to fuel our debate. The Scriptures were meant to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). They were meant to get us to obey Christ.

Not perform religious rituals … obey Christ.

Have you ever paid attention to what you’ll be judged for?

Look at those Scriptures you claim to believe (but mostly don’t; you believe your traditions instead). They say you’ll be judged by whether you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. Other verses say "good works," leaving things kind of general. 2 Peter 1 adds things like virtue, knowledge, goodness, patience, kindness, and love. (And I highly suspect that "knowledge" is a knowledge of what’s good, not a knowledge of systematic theology.)

You search the Scriptures because you think that you have eternal life in them, but these are they which testify of me, and you refuse to come to me so that you may have life. (Jn. 5:39-40)

What’s my point? Some new doctrine different from Protestant doctrine.

No, my point is that Christianity is all about exalting and obeying Christ. That’s what the Scriptures teach; they don’t teach something else.

In fact, they don’t teach anything else.

Protestants Greatly Underestimate God’s Ability To Reveal His Will to Men

Protestants—in general, I’m not speaking of all of them—don’t trust God.

Protestants really prefer to trust their interpretation of the Bible. They figure that if you start following the Spirit, being led by God, as the Scripture commands, then you’ll go astray.

Figure that one out.

The Scriptures—that set of 66 books you say you believe—say that if you follow the Anointing, it will be true and not a lie.

God is able to make his will known.

If we gave any indication—an honest indication—that we cared what God had to say, rather than saying the Scriptures are wrong wherever they disagree with our infallible Protestant traditions, then we’d find God has myriads of ways of getting our attention.

In the 1st century, back when John was on the Isle of Patmos, he actually appeared to John and sent letters to seven local churches.

Wouldn’t you like to get a letter from Jesus?

No, I don’t mean the Scriptures. Those are written to everyone. I mean a letter just for your church and its situation.

We might see things like that if we gave any indication we cared.

But as long as someone can read us a Bible verse telling us that the church is the pillar and support of the truth and we can reject that Bible verse because we believe the Bible is the pillar and support of the truth, then why will God speak to us? If we reject 1 Tim. 3:15, which we claim is the Word of God, and warn people against Rom. 8:14 because they might go astray, then why would God bother speaking through a human by letter or by prophecy? If we reject 1 Timothy 3:15 and Romans 8:14, then we’re certainly going to reject the letter or the prophecy.

Final Note

Well, that’s an abrupt ending. This post isn’t very organized. The paragraphs in each section don’t all fit the section they’re in.

What I wrote is true, though. I hope you’ll look at it without being offended by my generalizations about Protestants. Obviously, those things are not true of all Protestants, nor even all denominations of Protestants.

The magic book mentality, though, is pretty pervasive in conservative Protestant circles.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to The Bible and a Closed Canon:(Should There Only Be 66 Books?)

  1. Nate M says:

    Great word!
    One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Pet 1:12 For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth.
    God has been "unveiling" His truth to us since the Garden of Eden and it is reprehensible to teach that the "canon" has been closed.
    We are limiting our own growth and develpment into the Body He wants us to be when we close our hearts to the ongoing revelation of God to His people. In fact all of creation is groaning in eager anticipation of the manifestation of the sons of God here in this life (not in the sweet by and by). I am afraid we have been so out of contact with the truth of God, His Spirit, His Church and His purpose that most of us wouldnt recognize it if we saw it!
    God please help us!

    • shammahbn says:

      Hi Nate.

      If I can clear something up. I'm not really open to adding modern revelation to the "canon." I believe the NT Canon should only be writings that are apostolic–seen or approved by apostles.

      On the other hand, my agreement with you lies in the fact we are not led by the canon of Scripture; we're led by the Spirit of God! At least, that's what a letter we all agree on (Romans) says. The canon of Scripture is useful for all the things said in 2 Timothy 3:16. Scripture corrects us. God leads us. We can trust him.

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