Commentary On Scripture: Canonicity

Today, I have begun a serious study of the nature of Scripture: its reliability, the process of its canonization, and matters of translation and interpretation. This morning, I began the painstaking process of learning biblical Greek, that is, Koine (common) Greek. As I began the fourth chapter of William Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek, I was paralyzed from reading any further by a matter of paramount importance in translation and interpretation: the structure of the Greek language itself. It turns out that the Greek in which the New Testament was originally recorded contained no word breaks, punctuation, or differences in capitalization. Stunned by this fact, I was prompted to find out why, and, in the process, reinvigorate my affirmation of the Bible as God's Holy Word.

Unfortunately for some of you, and to the delight of others, today's thoughts on canonicity will be relatively brief and by no means an exhaustive summary of the canonical process. I merely was compelled to post the "Aha!" experience I encountered just a few moments ago, while reviewing Bruce Metzger's Appendix I (pp. 273-276) in The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content.

Backing up a bit, during my eight day binge of Church History, my curiosity was ignited with regard to the authoritative nature of Scripture, as I studied the way the early Church interacted with the various letters and writings that were circulating. Unlike the 10 Commandments given to Moses directly by God on stone tablets atop the fiery mountain, the New Testament writings went through a process whereby they were "tested by fire" to prove whether they were truly God's infallible words, holding complete and binding authority. The preeminent test or criterion was that of apolostolicity, that authoritative writings had to come from apostles or "apprentices" of apostles (Mark under Peter, Luke under Paul). Additional criteria included harmony with the rest of the NT writings, and continuous circulation, acceptance and usage in the churches as authoritative texts.

In lieu of this, it is easy to wonder, then, where the locus of authority lay: in God, or in the Church? The Roman Catholic Church has historically affirmed, "Both" (the practical implication of which has been that the Church, meaning the pope and bishops to differing degrees, held ultimate authority over its interpretation, and thus its message altogether). The predominant non-Catholic view, primarily Protestant and Pentecostal, is that God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) alone has granted ultimate authority to the Scripture. But what does this mean in terms of actual relevance for faith and practice?

The closing remarks of Metzger's Appendix (p. 276) holds the key:
The slowness of determining the final limits of the canon is testimony to the care and vigilance of early Christians in receiving the books purporting to be apostolic. But, while the collection of the New Testament into one volume was slow, the belief in a written rule of faith was primitive and apostolic... In the most basic sense neither individuals nor councils created the canon; instead they came to perceive and acknowledge the self-authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church.
(emphasis mine)

This is no semantic smokescreen. Notice the way he affirms God as the source of authority. The Holy Spirit is God. Who was it that testified to the authority of the Scriptures? It was the Holy Spirit--God--indwelling the believers, those who had been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who affirmed their authority. The canonicity of Scripture was not the logical product of a democratically-derived consensus of mere men. Nor was it the product of academic speculation. No, God Himself came down into the hearts and minds of men to prove the writings were His, the same way He came down into the hearts and minds of the NT "authors" and instructed them what to write down. It is God who wrote it, and God who affirmed it. And guess what? It is God who affirms it today.

In John 14:17, Jesus calls Him "the Spirit of Truth", and in verse 26 states that He "will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." In chapter 15, vs. 26, Jesus promises that "the Spirit of Truth...will testify about me," and again in 16:13, that "when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth."

Is this great news or what?! If God's Spirit lives inside of you, that is what testifies to the Truth of the Bible as God's Word in your life. Without question, we need to utilize every available means to bolster our faith in it as a defense against the Lion who is prowling around, doing everything he can to get us in a place where he can devour us. But ultimately, when the answers are not at our fingertips and we are suffering from doubt, as I often do, the Seal of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is the guarantor of the authority of God's Word. I may not be able to prove much (yet) by way of empirical data with regard to this, but I can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, by way of experience. Even amidst times of doubt, God's word encourages, convicts, builds faith, and transforms.

How has it transformed your life?

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