The Canon According to Jesus

It has been a very long time since I last wrote.  I have been very busy with teaching, family, and taking courses myself.  I must also admit that I simply haven’t had anything to say.  However, I have just finished a course on Canon and Criticism and had to do some writing (and still have some to go), and thought that I would share with you what I have written.  I pray that this is insightful and helpful.

Hoky Bible

The canon of Christian Scripture is the foundation of the Christian system.  Therefore, it is the final authority for Christian thought, belief, and action.The question that must follow concerns authority: by what authority has this canon been determined? Men have put forth great effort into determining exactly which books belonged in the canon, but fallen man is not the final authority on such issues. If the books contained in the canon are indeed God-breathed, then He is the Authority to which man must turn to determine the canon of Scripture. This paper will examine the testimony of Jesus Messiah, the second person of the triune godhead, in order to argue that Scripture’s own testimony settles the debate over canonicity. In the end, the reception or rejection of the canon, and thus the testimony of Jesus, will depend on the faith, or lack thereof, of the reader.

Two Expectations

The apostle Paul informed Timothy that all of the “sacred writings” are profitable the end result being that “the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, NASB) This flows well with his teaching that believers are God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB) Since Christians are the result of God’s workmanship, and He has prepared works for them to complete, then it is reasonable to believe that the sacred writings that He supernaturally delivered to man, and providentially preserved through the centuries contain what must be known by His people in order to complete their work. To this end, it is also reasonable to believe that He gave and preserved His own testimony concerning what writings constitute the sacred writings. Jesus offered such testimony concerning both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.

Jesus and the Hebrew Canon

That the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was unquestioned in the early Church is settled fact. As F.F. Bruce wrote, “They accepted the Old Testament scriptures as they had received them: the authority of those scriptures was sufficiently ratified by the teaching and example of the Lord and his apostles.”[1] However, as has already been stated, it is Jesus’ own testimony that gives the final, authoritative stamp upon the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus testified concerning Scripture He was offering God’s own perspective and stamp of authority on the words of the Old Testament. As John wrote, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (John 3:34).

There are three traditional divisions of the Hebrew Scripture, the Torah (also known as the Law of Moses, or the Pentateuch) the Nevi’im (the prophets), and the Ketuvim (the writings). These three divisions consist of the same basic books that are in the present day canon the only difference being the divisions in two books that were originally combined, i.e. Samuel (1 & 2) and Ezra-Nehemiah. Although this is not the focus of our investigation, it is necessary to understand in order to properly interpret Jesus’ testimony concerning the Scriptures for this division comprises the Hebrew Scriptures to which Jesus consistently turned during His earthly ministry. Jesus directed His disciples to this division as “the key to the Scriptures…all that which concerns Himself in the Law of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets.”[2] Luke 24:44 reads “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”[3] In fact, the recorded words of Jesus are filled with references to or quotations from these three sections. Rene Pache states that “One tenth of His words were taken from the Old Testament….180 of 1,800 verses which report His discourses are either quotations of the written revelation or else direct allusions to it.”[4]

Further, when one looks more closely the quotes and allusions may be seen to identify each of the divisions separately. First, in Jesus’ confrontation with Satan three times He quoted from the Torah, in particular from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13, cf., Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). He also validated the Genesis account on multiple occasions as well as the creation of Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-5). In these two accounts alone He addressed the beginning and completion of the Torah. Second, Jesus identified Jonah as a prophet and used Jonah’s time of being swallowed by the great fish as an illustration of His own impending death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:40-41). In doing so Jesus validated the latter prophets. Jesus also did the same for the former prophets when He used the example of Elijah and the widow, Zarephath, in Luke 4:26. Finally, Jesus included the Ketuvim, the writings, as He quoted from the Psalms on numerous occasions, as well as quoting Daniel including His favorite title for Himself, “Son of man.” Each of these quotations, or allusions serves to demonstrate that Jesus viewed the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures as the God-breathed, authoritative canon.

It is easy to accept that Jesus identified the Torah and Nevi’im, but the question of the Ketuvim may need more explanation. In Matthew 21:42 Jesus asked the religious leaders if they had never read a particular passage from “the Scriptures.” He then quoted from Psalm 118:22-23. This illustrates Jesus’ words to the disciples in Luke 24:44 when He referred them to His teaching from the Psalms. The Jews often used the first words of a Hebrew book as its title, which is similar to what Jesus did by using the term Psalms. In fact this form of shorthand was quite common, as Greg Gilbert has described it, “the Jews often used a shorthand to refer to the books of their Old Testament, either “the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings” or, more simply, ‘the Law and the Prophets.’…(the book of Psalms representing the Writings as the largest book in that collection).”[5] And when using this form in His teaching Jesus “was endorsing and ratifying the authority of the entire Old Testament from start to finish.”[6] Dr. Chris Cone concurs with Gilbert, asserting “Psalms is the name of the first book of the section called the writings, and it would be consistent with the practice of using that as the name for the entire grouping of books. In other words, Psalms would be the title for the entire section called the Writings, the Ketuvim.”[7]

It is clear from this short examination of Jesus’ view of the Hebrew canon that one may conclude that the existing canon found in Protestant Bibles is the same as that of Jesus’ day. Gilbert offers a fitting conclusion; “Here’s why all those large books [on topics such as transmission, canonization, etc.] will begin with the belief that the Old Testament is the Word of God: because Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, said it was. And therefore we believe it.”[8]

Jesus and the Greek Scriptures

Jesus told the eleven disciples that He was going to send “the Spirit of truth” who would “guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). He, in turn, sent them out to make disciples using what He had taught, and what the Spirit would teach (Matt. 28:19-20). The disciples were given apostolic authority in the new entity, the Church. New Testament scholar N. B. Stonehouse addressed the topic of apostolic authority:

“[apostolic authority] which speaks forth in the New Testament is never detached from the authority of the Lord. In the Epistles there is consistent recognition that in the church there is only one absolute authority, the authority of the Lord himself. Wherever the apostles speak with authority, they do so as exercising the Lord’s authority. Thus, for example, where Paul defends his authority as an apostle, he bases his claim solely and directly upon his commission by the Lord (Gal. 1 and 2); where he assumes the right to regulate the life of the church, he claims for his word the Lord’s authority, even when no direct word of the Lord has been handed down (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Cor. 7:10)…”[9]

 Jesus passed His authority to the Apostles, and Paul’s testimony is only a sampling displaying the same authority given to the others. Thus, as Paul’s writings carry the authority of Jesus Christ, so, too, the writings of the others of whom we have the written messages. Therefore, when one reads the Gospels of Matthew and John, or the letters of John and Peter, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to the Apostle John he may be sure that he is reading the inspired word of God with all of the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the “amazing chain of authority”[10] that Jesus described in the aforementioned passage in John’s gospel. When an Apostle wrote under the leading of the Spirit what he wrote was God-breathed and authoritative, and therefore, must be accepted as canonical. how to handle the influx of Gentile believers (Acts 15:13-22). Further, Paul confirmed James’ apostolic authority in his letter to the Galatians (1:19). It should also be noted that both James and Jude were present in Acts when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come upon them all (1:13-14).

That leaves the question of the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and Acts. Although neither Mark nor Luke were Apostles, both received endorsements from Paul. For instance, Paul said “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11), thus commending Mark’s ministry and, by implication, his writing. Paul also affirmed Luke in the same passage when he identified Luke as the last man standing with him at the end of his ministry. Paul’s authority was directly from Jesus (Acts 9:4-6, 15-16), and it was in Paul’s warning to Timothy concerning false doctrine that he offered these commendations. At this point, one must reiterate that this is the chain of authority that had been established by Jesus, through Paul, and down to Mark and Luke.

However, there remains one book that has not been established as authoritative, and thus canonical. That is the book of Hebrews. The great difficulty lies in the fact that the author is unknown. What may be stated as fact about the author is he must have been a second-generation believer (Heb. 2:3).  Many arguments have been made in attempts to promote various biblical figures as the author, but without historical confirmation, all of these arguments are merely conjecture.  Beyond this point, the only argument that may legitimately be made is that the Christology and other doctrines addressed in the letter are completely in line with the other authoritative, canonical writings.  Based on that fact alone may it be deemed canonical.


Peter offered an excellent example of the Church’s recognition of canonicity in his remarks concerning Paul’s letters; “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Peter clearly understood that when Paul spoke he spoke with the authority of Christ Himself. As stated in the opening remarks of this paper, in the end, the reception or rejection of the canon, and thus the testimony of Jesus, will depend on the faith, or lack thereof, of the reader. However, acceptance of the Bible is not founded on blind faith for the Bible attests to its authenticity and authority in many ways, but none more authoritative than that of the Savior Himself. Because of this, we can agree with Gilbert’s summation; “In the end,…the answer a Christian will give to the question, “Why do you trust the Bible?” is, “Because King Jesus the Resurrected endorsed the Old Testament and authorized the New.”[11]

[1] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 255.

[2] Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 215.

[3] All Scripture quotes from New American Standard Version, 1995 Update.

[4] Pache, Inspiration and Authority, 221.

[5] Greg Gilbert, Why Trust the Bible? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 135.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Christopher Cone, “Old Testament Canon, Part II” unpublished lecture notes.

[8] Gilbert, Bible?, 138, italics in original.

[9] Ned B. Stonehouse, “The Authority of the New Testament.” The Infallible Word (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1946), 117-118. Quoted in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc. 1972), 41.

[10] Gilbert, Bible?, 139.

[11] Ibid., 141.



A Letter Defending the Christian Worldview

For those of you who are still checking out my blog I appreciate your patience.  I’ve been very busy teaching classes, pastoring the church, leading the worship, and trying to be a god honoring husband and father.  I also have not had much time to write, nor have I had much about which to right.  I guess I’ve experienced a kind of brain drain.  What I have today grew out of past  online conversations, many that I can recall from years gone by , and others that I’ve only read.  I hope you find this useful.4.3.ArticulateChristianWorldview_316358693

My Dearest Friend,

It is encouraging to me that you have chosen to engage me in this conversation concerning my beliefs as a Christian.  The reason being is that I believe it simply reaffirms what God has revealed in Scripture; that it is He who has placed a desire to understand life and seek out our purpose (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and also He who moves in a person to cause him to seek Him (John 6:44).  I realize that you are not to the point where you can accept this point of view, yet.  But I am hopeful.

I have thought much about our last discussion, and would like to address a theme or two with you based on it.  First, I’d like to return to your view of what constitutes what is right, and what is wrong.  If, as you say, there is no God, what, then, is your basis for even attempting to differentiate between right and wrong?  If there is no one higher than man himself, then wouldn’t that mean that man is the final arbiter of right and wrong?  If that is the case, then which man is the final final arbiter of right and wrong?  It seems to me that the buck must stop somewhere, and if it were left up to a single individual wouldn’t that mean that somewhere there is a worldwide dictator?  By the way, God has warned that a final world dictator will come on the scene eventually, and it is not going to be pretty (see the book of Revelation for an explanation of that). We actually have a historical illustration of the harm that comes when a nation allows one man to be the final arbiter of right and wrong.  Germany bought into Hitler’s ideals, which not only led to World War II and the deaths of many millions of soldiers from multiple nations, but also to the deaths of six million Jews, and many millions of civilians from various countries. The reason for this is that a man is not a reliable source of absolute authority.  As in the case of Hitler, he was a man whose ideals were based not on facts, but on his own biases, misunderstandings, and hate.  Reality demonstrates time and time again that, when allowed, men will manipulate circumstances in such a way as to suit their own personal likes and dislikes.  And what happens when those personal preferences change?  Once again Hitler’s treatment of his own right hand man, Ernst Roehm, the founder and original leader of Hitler’s Storm Troopers, gives a great illustration of the, shall we say evil, things that can result.  My point is that if you believe that man in general makes the decisions concerning right and wrong, then the definition is left to a finite being incapable of infinite knowledge and thus incapable of establishing a universal ethical code.  You would also be subject to the changing ethical “tastes” of a finite being whose own requirements, or standards for determining right and wrong may change. The resultant consequences would be devastating.  God has warned us that the human heart (the innermost part of man) is sick, and desperately wicked; it cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9).  In truth, in His grace, God has built-in some protection against this sort of situation in that He has created each of us with an innate knowledge of right and wrong.  But I’ll come back to that.

If, then, there is no one man who is the final authority, does that mean that there is a group, or conglomeration of men and woman who make that decision?  That would ultimately end in a totalitarian government of sorts, would it not?  Once again history has provide for us multiple accounts of what happens when such a situation occurs.  The communist regimes of Russia, and China have killed, and imprisoned untold millions of their own people based upon the government’s idea of what constitutes right and wrong; right being whatever they said at the moment, and wrong being whatever they decide on the basis of what is best for the collective.  Any dissenting view is met with harsh retribution.  Is that the solution for determining ethical standards?  Can an authoritarian government establish universal ethical standards?  The answer is no.

Another alternative, if there is no God, is to allow each individual to establish his or her own standards of ethical behavior.  However, this is not realistic.  If I determine my own ethical standards, and the next guy establishes his own ethical standards, and we each have differing views of what constitutes theft, then how can I keep him from taking my stuff if he believes its okay to do so?  At that point we must turn to the courts, which have established their own standards that go against both of ours and determine that everything that was taken from me is actually theirs.  You can see the predicament that such a situation would put the world in; there would be mass chaos.

Behind all of this discussion is another question.  Perhaps it is where we should have begun our discussion.  That question is, why should anyone be concerned about right and wrong to begin with?  I mean, if there is no God, and we are simply the product of random chance and time, evolution, then what difference does it make what one bag of protoplasm does to another anyway?  If I answer only to myself, why should I be concerned about anyone but myself, and maybe my immediate family?  Why would anyone care about anyone else at all?

Yet that is not what we see around us is it?  No.  We see that people and societies in one part of the world have ethical standards that are identical to people, and societies in every other part of the world.  We know that people in Thailand, or China, or England do not want anyone stealing their possessions, committing adultery with their spouses, killing them or their families, etc. in the same way that we don’t want any of those things to happen in our own lives here in the United States.  My point is very simply that there are universal standards of right and wrong behavior that transcend the boundaries of countries, ethnic groups, communities, and even religious sects.  How does a worldview (remember a worldview is, in the simplest of terms, the entire system, no matter how loosely organized, that every individual uses to understand, and interpret the world around them) that believes that the God of the Bible does not exist account for such universal ethical standards?  If you will allow me to answer, such a worldview cannot account for such ethical standards, nor can it justify their existence at all.  I will restate the question I asked earlier in the form of a statement: It doesn’t matter what one bag of evolved/evolving protoplasm does to another, whether good or bad, assuming there really is such things as good and bad.  In a world that is the product of random chance evolution there is no room for right or wrong.  There just IS.  Survival of the fittest is the rule of the day.

Now, within the Christian worldview we have answers for the questions that surround the concept of ethics.  We believe in the One God of Christian Scriptures who has revealed Himself in His creation, His Son, who has explained the unseen God to us (John 1:18), and through the Christian Scriptures, which He superintended in such a way that all that was written is correct, without error, and exactly what He wanted us to know.  He revealed that in the beginning He created all that exists out of nothing (Genesis 1 & 2).  He explained that He created man in His image, thus insuring that mankind both knows Him, and right and wrong (Genesis 1:26-31).  His creation was without flaw, but Adam rebelled against God by refusing to abstain from eating from the only tree that God forbade him from eating (Genesis 3), and at that point, sin entered the world that God had created.  For our purposes we can say that at that point in history the contrast between right and wrong was presented to the created order.

Adam’s sin, or rebellion, brought devastation upon the created universe to the extent that all of creation was placed under the curse of God’s impending judgment.  However, God was not content to leave things in such a state, but put in motion His plan to repair the breach culminating in the entrance of His own Son into the world.  He took on humanity, lived a sinless, perfect life among His creation, died to pay the penalty of man’s rebellion, rose again on the third day to be seated at His Father’s right hand where He now awaits His return to judge the world.  I tell you all of this to demonstrate first that the God of the Bible created all things.  Therefore, as the Creator He has the absolute authority, right, and responsibility to establish the universal ethical standards, which He has done.  These standards reflect His character and reflect who He is.  He has revealed His standards in the Scriptures, and He has put those same standards within the operating system of every man.  The apostle Paul explained this in his letter to the Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-19, 32).  Mankind, on the basis of being created in the image of their Creator, knows right from wrong because they know Him.  They cannot escape the testimony within themselves, nor can they escape the testimony found in the rest of creation.

My friend, the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can explain both the existence of the universal ethical standards, and their origin.  Only the Christian worldview, with its belief in and dependence upon the God of Christian Scriptures, offers the truthful explanation of the universal ethical standards that actually exist in reality.  Only the Christian worldview can explain the existence of evil, and why certain things are right, and why certain things are wrong.  Only the Christian worldview has a remedy for the evil that exists in the world.  In the end God will reconcile with evil, and all who have not turned to Him for forgiveness will endure His judgment.

The good news is that He has provided a way for our bad to be erased.  His own Son, Jesus Christ, became a man and lived among His creation.  His death on a cross paid the penalty of our sin, and made it possible for us to be forgiven for our wrong.  God will judge the wrong, or evil of the world, but those who have accepted the forgiveness purchased by the death of Christ will escape that judgment.  It is my prayer for you that you will come to know the God that you know by faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will find His saving grace.

Forever your friend,



Holloway Quarterly: Numbers Need Worldviews

I’m terrible at math.  I always did well in my math classes, but never could really understand, a.) how I did that, and b.) math itself, at least Geometry and Algebra.  However, I’ve always viewed math as a constant, unchanging system that reveals a greater universal truth.  I found this blogpost by Holloway Quarterly to be interesting. By the way, I found this blog while reading one of my favorite sites, The Domain For Truth,

Holloway Quarterly: Numbers Need Worldviews.