The authority of Christ and canonicity

        “The first link in the chain of revelation ‘From God to Us’ is inspiration, which concerns what God did, namely, that He breathed out (spirated) the scriptures.”[1] Norman Geisler and William Nix were very clear in emphasizing the importance of the inspiration of scriptures. It is through inspiration that the Bible receives its authority. In their book, A general introduction to the Bible, the authors also state: “Inspiration indicates how the Bible received its authority, whereas canonization tells how the Bible received its acceptance. It is one thing for God to give the scriptures their authority, and quite another for men to recognize that authority.”[2] With the understanding that Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, it must also be understood that canonization of scripture relies heavily upon the authority of Christ. It is thesis of this article to show how the authority of Christ is a determining factor for canonicity.

            In order to show the importance of the authority of Christ in determining canonicity, we must first review who Jesus Christ is. In the Gospel of John we find that Jesus is the Word that was with God, was God, and is God. He is also the creator and sustainer of the world.  He came to earth for the purpose of atoning for the sins of the world. He came to set the captive free. It is the understanding of Christ as God that gives His authority place in determining the canonization of scripture. There is no greater source in testifying to what texts are inspired other than Jesus. There are several factors that we see from the authority of Christ that aids us in determining the canonicity of a text. Those factors include: the very words of Jesus, the scriptures that He referred to, and His post-resurrection appearances to men who would write inspired texts.

            First of all, let us examine the very words of Jesus. Since Jesus is God, one would assume that the words that Jesus spoke were inspired, and thus worthy to be included in the canon of scripture. His very words have a weight of divine authority. The Gospel writers give us a great deal of what Jesus said and taught. There are a total of 1,934 words that Jesus spoke in the Gospels. He taught as one with authority. In Mathew 5-7 we have the Sermon on the Mount, where we find the authority of Christ in His teaching. “Throughout the discourse statements such as, ‘you have heard….but I say to you’ occur and reflect Christ’s authority. He taught contrary to the tradition and the rabbis; moreover, He quoted no other teachers (as Israel’s teachers customarily did); He was the authority within Himself. When the discourse ended the people were amazed at the authority in His teaching; He was most unlike their scribes.”[3] Due to the authoritative nature of the words of Jesus, any document that contained the words of Christ; had to be carefully and seriously considered to be included in the canon of scripture. It is very easy for one to accept the Gospels as canonical, due to the volume of the words of Christ that they contain. It is also very simple to come to the presupposition that the words of Christ are a good test for canonicity due to the fact that He is Divine.

            A second factor in determining canonicity through the authority of Christ is not only the very words of Christ, but also the scriptures that He referred to. If Jesus referred to certain passages of Old Testament scriptures and certain Old Testament writers, one would assume that those particular texts or documents are indeed canonical. There are several examples of this that we see in the life of Christ. In Matthew 22:40, Jesus refers to the ‘law and the prophets’ in reference to the two greatest commandments. Matthew 5:17 states, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” This statement alone testifies to the fact that Jesus believed the law and the prophets were indeed inspired texts and must be an accepted part of the canon. Jesus also mentions names of people found in the Old Testament. He had a high regard for the Old Testament text. He treated the Old Testament as scripture. The question, therefore, is concerning what exactly are the law and the prophets. The law is commonly known as the first five books of the Old Testament. The prophets would include the prophetic writings of both the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. It is the Hebrew scripture that are shared by both the Jewish people and followers of Christ. In his book, the canon of the scriptures, F.F. Bruce writes: “Jesus, according to all the strata of the gospel tradition, regularly appealed to the Hebrew scriptures to validate His mission, His words, and His actions.”[4] If Jesus appealed to the Hebrew scripture to validate Himself as the Messiah, why would we not consider the Old Testament as canonical? Certainly, since Jesus is God, any text that He would consider as inspired, we too should consider as inspired.

            The acceptance of the word of Jesus to be included in the canon and the acceptance of the Old Testament by Jesus gives substantial validity to those areas of scripture. However, what could be the more difficult part to accept, are those writings that Jesus did not refer to and words that Jesus did not directly speak. These would include the writings of the apostles. Here we find the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as a determining factor in the canonization of scripture according to the authority of Christ. Though it may be difficult to determine, the acceptance of the apostles writings do come with substantial evidence that they do have a rightful place in the canon. The apostles were special men that were given a special authority and power through Jesus Christ. The authority of the apostle’s rest upon the fact that they saw the resurrected Christ and had discourse with Him. Apostolic authority proved to be a determining factor for canonicity by the early church. “The determining factor in New Testament canonization was inspiration, and the primary test was apostolicity.”[5] Acceptance of apostolic writings as inspired scripture is widely accepted. However, books such as, the book of Hebrews is more difficult for some due to the fact that its author is virtually unknown, though there is significant evidence that point, however, to an apostolic authorship of Hebrews. There are other books of the New Testament that were not written by apparent apostles; however, this should not create a problem. The acceptance of the New Testament canon is based on inspiration and apostolic authority, not necessarily limited to apostolic authorship. To summarize, the books of the New Testament are “apostolic,” not because they were written by the apostles, but because the early church recognized that the apostles themselves, as
well as the other very early church leaders accepted them as being inspired by God. The point here, however, is that these apostles were men who had seen the resurrected Christ. It is easy to make the assumption that writings by men who saw the resurrected Christ should be held in high regard. Seeing the resurrected Christ gives a greater weight to the acceptance of the apostles writings.

            As we see the authority of Christ in relation to canonicity, we must understand also the element of faith. We must ultimately have such a faith in God that we trust that He had a hand in putting together of the canon of scripture. God has supernaturally preserved His word. For believers in Christ, there should be no doubt in our minds that the Bible we have today, is indeed the Bible that God intended for us to have and, thus, is inspired by God. No matter what the argument or how much evidence is before us, the real question is whether or not you believe.

[1] Geisler & Nix, A general introduction to the Bible, Moody, 1988. p. 203

[2] Geisler & Nix, A general introduction to the Bible, Moody, 1988. p. 203

[3] Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Moody, 2008. p. 241

[4] F.F. Bruce, The canon of Scripture, IVP Academic, 1988. p. 27

[5] Geisler & Nix, A general introduction to the Bible, Moody, 1988. p. 283

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