hammer02I received the following question:

I have recently been in a discussion with a friend who doesn’t seem to find the Bible God inspired but is a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  He brought up how the Bible was put together by the catholic church and that man voted on which books/letters go in to it.  I don’t really know the history of how the canon was put together or what the Catholic Church had to do with it and how man could decide what was God breathed?  I believe from scripture that it is God’s word and yes things are lost in translation but that the scriptures in their original language are inspired by God.  Can you share any of that history with me and any advice of how I can continue that conversation?  Or point me in a direction?  He’s also said that inspiration can be like how someone may be inspired to draw a picture of flowers after seeing a field of flowers but it’s not going to be the same or mean that God drew the picture.  Is there another way to say “God-breathed” or what that Greek word is in 2 Tim. 3:16?  Thanks for your help.

To say that the Bible was put together by the Catholics and voted on by them is not really correct. The Bible, as we know it, was written by the apostles of the Lord. It is likely that they left a record of which books were written by them and were God-breathed. We know that the true books of the Bible were in circulation in the first century AD, including collections of all Paul’s books. However, many uninspired books were written, as we know from verses like II Thessalonians 2:2:

2. not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ (Nathan: should be “the Lord”) had come.

or Luke 1:1:

1. Inasmuch as many have taken in hand (Nathan: Greek implies that they have failed in this attempt) to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us,

So it should not surprise us that, as time went on, some confusion occurred regarding which books were actually written by God. In the second century, men began to try to compile lists of what they viewed as “canonical” books. This was done in light of the many books of questionable origin and spurious content. Sometimes these lists were done with ulterior motives or axes to grind. Yet they reflected a desire to separate the true books of God from the false.

It is just plain incorrect to say a church council got together and voted on which books to put into Scripture. There was no council (that we have record of) that voted on the canon until the Council of Trent in the 16th century, and that was pretty much to establish the Catholic canon in opposition to the Protestant one. Though some councils may have discussed canonical issues, there was no council for which that was a primary topic of concern. There was no council that set the canon.

There really is no way to say exactly why all the books we have in Scripture were carried forward as inspired. It seems that they were all used and accepted by the common, everyday believers, and they went along contentedly using the books God had given them while the theologians debated their value. The reality was that the use of these books by Christians disallowed the expunging of them from the role of Scripture. In spite of much opposition, for example, Revelation was never removed from use among believers, and eventually came to be accepted by all canonists. In reality, while scholars would like to credit their fellow scholars with “voting on” or deciding this issue, this was just not the case. The people had these books, they clung to these books, and they were not going to let them go for the arguments of scholars and self-styled canonists. The scholars just had to get on board, and they all did eventually. The end of it all was that no scholar dared to question the canonical Scriptures after the fifth century.

That said, there were books included in various canons that have more recently been rejected by the Protestants. Many of these books were part of the Old Testament, but were not recognized as authoritative by Jewish scholars from the earliest times. They formed part of the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament, but had no place in the Hebrew Masoretic Text. As for the New Testament, except for the extra books of the Ethiopians, the same 27 books were finally accepted by all with no additions. No one ended up recognizing the Shepherd of Hermes, though some early fathers argued for it. This book shows great inconsistency with the rest of the New Testament Scriptures.

Protestants generally accept as canonical books that were apostolic in origin (written by the apostles or those who were associated with them,) were accepted universally by all traditions, were used in ancient religious services as part of their worship, and are consistent in their message with the rest of the inspired writings. Only the 27 books currently in our New Testament fit these criteria.

Ultimately, the canon of Scripture was decided by the people, who received the books given them by God and clung to them. The scholars had little choice but to accept the books already in use. Those who question the canon today are usually those who don’t accept that God has spoken through the Bible, and therefore who are willing to accept and promote books of poor quality and foolish teaching that no one in his right mind would suggest was given by God. For those who take the Bible seriously, the Godly origin of the books we do have is clear, and the human origin of those books that have been consistently rejected down through the ages is also clear.

If he wants to say with Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less,” there is little you can do to stop him. Yet the Greek word means “God-breathed,” not what the Greeks talked about when they thought they had been “inspired” by a muse.

As you know, the Bible is the basis for our faith. Our obedience to God is based on it. If we believe what It says, we have faith. If we believe merely what we want to believe, then we become the masters, and our “faith” is just caprice. It is good that he is a believer in Jesus Christ, but his faith is on a shaky basis if it is not on God’s Word.

I don’t know how to convince someone who doesn’t want to believe. But one thing is certain: his history is bad, as no “vote” ever took place on what books were Scripture. If you want to call the early Christians the “catholic church,” I suppose you can do that, if you take “catholic” as it originally meant. But the choice of the books was never made by any official church body. It was decided before what we think of as the modern Catholic Church ever thought of writing an official canon. And no official canon of the Catholics existed until the 16th century in answer to Protestantism.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the great question!