How Were The Books of the New Testament Chosen?
Turning to the New Testament. There's a passage in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that says this; "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
When I grew up that was THE verse that proved the Bible was true. Is it really? Let's be honest, just because one of the writers of the Bible, Paul in this instance, says the Bible is true doesn't "prove" it is. At the time Paul wrote this letter, what we now call the New Testament hadn't even completed, or been compiled yet so at best it's a statement about the Old Testament, not the New. So, why are Christians so confident the New Testament is true?
Most scholars agree three of the four gospels were written no later than 70AD. (Jesus died between 30-33AD) The rest of the New Testament books were likely written between 50 and 95 AD, not hundreds of years later as some critics claim.' By 175 AD most Christian leaders had accepted as true and authentic almost all the books in our current New Testament, but other writings kept circulating. Clearly something had to be done to give guidance to Christians.
In 367 AD, Athanasius, the highly respected Bishop of Alexandria wrote an Easter letter that proclaimed all twenty-seven books of our present New Testament to be inspired. In 393 AD the Synod of Hippo met, debated and then affirmed them as well. Finally in 397 AD the Council of Carthage published the same list, deciding once and for all which of the many letters, books and writing the Christian church should rely on as true, and authoritative. Could some of the other writings they rejected, be true? Sure, I think that's possible.
Why these books or letters?
The Old Testament books we have today were never really in serious dispute. But with hundreds of other writings circulating in the first 400 years of the church, these Councils had to establish some criteria they could all agree on. They ruled out any writing that did not meet all three of these criteria:
Every New Testament book, or writing, had to have been written by someone who had personally heard Jesus speak and teach, or on behalf of someone who did. For instance, Mark was Peter's companion and assisted him in Rome and wrote what we call the Book of Mark in Peter's lifetime, based on what he and others told him. Obviously if Mark hadn't gotten it right, for sure Peter would have corrected him.
Every New Testament book had to agree with one another. In other words, they would allow no writings where an apostle who actually heard Jesus speak, later disagreed with another apostle's teaching. They wanted unity and mutual confirmation. This is a similar idea to what good journalists do today. They will often obtain several eyewitnesses who will verify the facts of a story, to insure its truth. Then they will write the story and if none of those sources object, we have a much greater confidence that what they reported is accurate.
For instance, in the Book of Acts, even though Paul and Peter disagreed over a number of issues, (Acts 15:5-29), they settled their dispute and later, Peter went on to write these affirming words about Paul, "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things which are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures." 2 Peter 3:15-16.
Peter, the leader of the early church and someone who openly disagreed with Paul on occasion, would never give that kind of praise to someone if he didn't have complete faith in what he wrote.
3. Every New Testament book had to have been accepted by the early church as being true. Why was this so important? First, thousands of Christians in the early church heard Jesus, Peter, Paul and others actually speak. If they read a writing that disagreed with what they had heard with their own ears, why bother belleving it? So some writings were almost immediately dismissed by the early church as being inconsistent with what they had personally heard. The council gave greater weight to the earliest writings, not someone's hearsay remembrance a hundred years later.
Here's another observation I find compelling. Because of persecution in some areas of the Roman Empire, anyone in possession of a Christian writing was automatically assumed to be Christian and therefore guilty. So, no one would be foolish enough to intentionally keep any writings that they were not absolutely convinced was true. So many questionable writings were discarded and by this self- selecting, darwinian process, only the most reliable and trustworthy writings survived.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and Prophecy
Time doesn't permit discussions, the importance of the Dead Sea scrolls found in 1948, testifying to the reliability and accuracy of many books in our current Old Testament. If you want to know more, go to https://www.imj.org.l/en/wings/shrinebook/dead-sea-scrolls
There are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible, and many have already come true. Here's just seven prophecies about Jesus made hundreds of years before ne was born:
. He would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2)
. He'd enter Jerusalem riding a donkey. (Zec 9:9)
. He'd be betrayed by a friend. (Ps 41:9)
. He'd be sold for 30 pieces of silver. (Zec 11:12)
. The betrayal money would be thrown in the temple and used to purchase
Potters Field. (Zec 11:13)
He'd remain silent before his accusers. (ls 53:7)
. He'd be crucified. (Ps 22:16)
You can view others at www.100prophecies.org
However, there are serious scholars who doubt that all the Old Testament prophesies people claim are about Jesus, actually refer to Jesus. I have to admit, a few seem like a real stretch. But even throwing those ambiguous ones out, what remains is still impressive! Other critics believe some New Testament writers just added facts in the New Testament to make it appear that Jesus had actually fulfilled a number of prophesies. All things are possible, but given the scrutiny given to the gospel books, most theologians doubt that accusation as well.
The universally accepted ideas, every New Testament writer believed was that Jesus Christ was the son of God, gave us a body of moral teaching, died on the cross for our sins, rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven and reigns over his kingdom even today - the Gospel. But if you're still not sure the Bible is true, I can certainly understand why it's difficult for you to accept it's teachings. Then next weeks teaching may encourage you.
Next week, I'll make the case that you do not have to believe the entire Bible is true to become a Christian. Sounds heretical? St