Has the Canon of Scripture Been Corrupted?
Thanks to the efforts of men like Brad Harrub PhD., who warmly embrace demonstrating science as perfectly validating the Bible, my son has developed an energetic desire to study science. Science has many men of great learning. However, many scientists today promote theories, such as evolution, which fly in the face of already established scientific laws. Because of such error, the theories ought to be rejected, even though men of great title or reputation believe in them. Scientific laws are identified as laws because they do not falter, they are always true. Many people hold the Bible to be an unfaltering law unto their lives. They hold the Bible to be truth, not fiction. The Bible is rejected as law by some based on claims of man’s supposed corruption of its origin, collection, preservation, and completion. Do such claims have any validity?
The Bible is very specific regarding its origin. The passage 2 Timothy 3:16 reads:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God…”
In its original Koine Greek, “by inspiration of God” literally means “God breathed”. Furthermore, 2 Peter 1:20-21 states:
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
None of the writers (approximately 40 men over approximately 1500 years) claimed the words to be of their own origin, but singularly of God. As a whole, scripture demonstrates the Bible’s claim that God is responsible for the origin of scripture, not men. These verses do not, however, demonstrate whether or not the scriptures are infallible. More of the Bible must be considered. Deuteronomy 32:4 and I John 1:5-8 establish God does not sin. Titus 1:2 states “God cannot lie”. Psalm 18:30 and 19:7 declare what God does is perfect. John 17:17 proclaims “[God’s] word is truth”. Examining the scriptures presented thus far, the individual must conclude that if the Bible’s origin is from God, then at its beginning it was perfect and, therefore, infallible. If it is found with fault, then it cannot be from the God of the Bible and must be rejected.
Now that an origin has been established, the question of the collection of the scriptures must be raised. Many of those who are ignorant in the scriptures have proclaimed them to have been gathered together, centuries after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. They declare that the scriptures are a product of councils of the Roman Catholic Church. While Jesus was upon the earth he declared:
“These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44).
Jesus’ Words are verification that the Old Testament scriptures of the time were known by Him. As Messiah of the world and Deity, He did not raise a single word against the recognized canon of scriptures of that time. Manuscripts for the 39 books of the Old Testament canon have been found dating prior to Jesus. Moreover, lists of all 27 books of the Bible have an earlier dating in the 3rd century. All New Testament manuscripts have also been found dating long before any so called canonization of the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century. It is quite apparent that the collection of the Bible canon was not conceived by an official body of men, but a collection of the body of the Churches of Christ handed down by the prophets and apostles. In fact, the writings of the post apostolic fathers practically quote all of New Testament scripture on their own long before the arrival of Catholicism.
Some may question, “what about the apocryphal books”? Beyond the 66 books of the current canon of scripture which agree one with the other, the apocrypha have been rejected widely for discrepancy with the Bible, including errors in history, geography, self-professed lack of inspiration, writing style, and a host of other reasons. They simply cannot stand the “proofing” which is required to be “law” and therefore absolute truth. Man tried to push his way into the canon, but man cannot know the thoughts of God, save God providing the knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:11). God is not a God of Chaos (I Corinthians 14:33). He declares men understand His Word (Ephesians 3:4), but how could men understand the Word of God if it were not presented complete? God has provided all that is needed for life and Godliness according to the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:2-3). The gospel was taught in complete (Acts 20:27) and it was proclaimed throughout all creation (Colossians 1:23). God’s Word will not be destroyed (Isaiah 40:8). The folks of the early centuries were quite prepared to defend and “proof” the truth as they received it from the apostles and indeed they embraced the canon as delivered. If the current collection of the canon of God isn’t found lacking in instruction or in error, it cannot be rejected.
Due to the age of the gospel, concern has been expressed over its preservation. Since the formation of the original manuscripts, have the scriptures become corrupt? Is the truth there, but buried in widespread copying errors? What about the multiple translations and versions of the Bible, are they not proof of discrepancy? How can anyone know what is truth with such variance?
Certainly there are a great deal of translations and versions of the Bible. The wide majority of the world’s population has a translation or version of the Bible written in their primary language, but not all these writings are equal or sound. A vast sea of dynamic and paraphrase Bibles has corrupted feeble, undisciplined minds. Not even the more sound literal translations should be accepted without a critical eye. The blessing that safeguards these issues is the ability of man to go directly to the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek) and verify the words and reading of the text. But the critic declares these manuscripts are not the original text. They are only manuscript copies. How can they be viewed as accurate preservations of the gospel message?
In regard to the Old Testament, due to the testimony of Jesus, if the Bible is true, there is no reason to doubt the manuscripts of His time. There are not a large number of Old Testament manuscripts in existence. The reason for this situation is directly tied to the practice of the Jews destroying the manuscripts if an error was made in the creation of them. Therefore, up to recent times, the only copy man had of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Texts of 980 AD. However, with the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, text dating from before the life of Christ substantiated the validity of the Masoretic text. The manuscripts were almost completely identical and the differences were found not to be doctrinal but penmanship or spelling errors. Further substantiation of the Old Testament is made with the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, made in the 3rd century B.C.), the Talmud, Targum, and other minor manuscripts. Thus, the Old Testament text man has today can safely be trusted to be that of the time of Jesus.
In regard to the New Testament, for verification of its preservation, there exists over 5000 Greek manuscripts. In other languages there are over 4000 additional manuscripts verifying the New Testament. Yet, the validation does not end there. Outside manuscripts including quotations of the New Testament are in the tens of thousands. Because of the mass amount of data, scientifically speaking, the probability of missing or inaccurate text is essentially non-existent. The greatest harm today being done to the text of the Bible is the creation of non word-for-word texts (literal) which cause confusion about the doctrinal message of scripture. However, the original text of the Bible is certainly preserved, widely available, and provable. If it were not an accurate preservation, all that man would need to do is demonstrate where the Bible is incomplete or in error, and then of necessity it would have to be rejected.
The final examination of this article will focus on the completion of inspired scripture. Has God provided additional revelation beyond the time frame of the Old and New Testaments resulting in an incomplete Bible? Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles provided what man currently has in the form of the Bible through the inspiration of God. However, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, Charismatics, and others believe that God still directly interacts with man providing further information for their lives. If revelation continues today, then the scriptures are not complete, the Bible is not all that is needed for life and Godliness, and the Bible is not perfect or true.
Looking at the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out as Joel and the prophet Isaiah had prophecied. The miraculous was given to men. The Apostles from that point on had the ability to lay hands on others to impart the miraculous (Acts 19:1-6). However, the miraculous could not be passed on by others (8:14-19). Consequently, it is logical to conclude that the miraculous would die out with the last person living who the apostles had laid hands upon. At the latest miracles would last until the second century. There would be no more revelation or prophecy.
Further examining the claims of continued revelation, the words of the apostle Paul must be read. In I Corinthians 13:8-13, he speaks the following inspired words:
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
In these verses there are unmistakable statements that the miraculous will end. Tied to this understanding is the maturity of man. Also noted is the coming of the “perfect” which is not immediately understandable from the given verses. However, it can be observed that the coming of the “perfect” is what brings about the end of the miraculous and results in the maturity of man. Finally, note that through all of this, love abides.
To bring further light on the time frame and the text, consider Ephesians 4:8-16.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
In this passage, Jesus is pictured as having ascended from earth to heaven. With Him, he took away the captivity of sin from man. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and as mentioned, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. However, the Ephesians text as well as the Corinthian text mentions the end of the miraculous. The end would come with the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus by which man could be “perfect”. The perfection would eliminate man from ignorantly following sin. Jude 3 speaks of the “Faith once delivered”. The faith is the gospel. The faith is the knowledge of Jesus which provided everything necessary for life and Godliness in 2 Peter 1:2-3. The Gospel is called the perfect law of liberty in James 1:25. I Peter 2:2 establishes that the Gospel enables growth to maturity which was mentioned in both I Corinthians and Ephesians 4. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, speaking of the “God Breathed” scriptures, also states the application of the Faith produces men who are “perfect”. They become complete, mature, as the Word of God is. When this occurs, the end result is as stated in I Corinthians 13 – Love.
We are able to deduce from Ephesians 4 and the supporting passages that the term “perfect” is the full presentation of the Bible. The “perfect” has come. That full presentation of scripture came once the writing and confirmation of the book of Revelation was written. With it, man no longer needed the miraculous. Man no longer needed revelation. Man no longer needed the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. In his hands was the ability to know the Son of God such that he would no longer stumble as a child.
Modern claims of revelation and inspiration have only resulted in two things: restating what scripture already has said or contradicting what scripture has said. If it is simply a restatement, it is not the miraculous. If it is contradiction, it is not truth and therefore must be rejected.
Understanding the origin, collection, preservation, and completion of scripture is vitally important for those who would seek to trust the Bible. It is either all man needs to be complete or it must be rejected. The Bible has stood the test of ages. It has been proven over and over. It has been tried scientifically, historically, geographically, morally, and still it rings true every time. This is why Christians hold it as a “law” for their life. It is the “faith once delivered” which stands on its own, guiding men in the path of righteousness.