What belongs in the Bible and what does not belong?
EXPLANATION AND SCRIPTURAL BASIS
The previous chapter concluded that it is especially the written words of God in the Bible to which we are to give our attention. Before we can do this, however, we must know which writings belong in the Bible and which do not. This is the question of the canon of Scripture, which may be defined as follows: The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible.
We must not underestimate the importance of this question. The words of Scripture are the words by which we nourish our spiritual lives. Thus we can reaffirm the comment of Moses to the people of Israel in reference to the words of God’s law: “For it is no trifle for you, but it is your life and thereby you shall live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deut. 32:47).
To add to or subtract from God’s words would be to prevent God’s people from obeying him fully, for commands that were subtracted would not be known to the people, and words that were added might require extra things of the people which God had not commanded. Thus Moses warned the people of Israel, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2).
The precise determination of the extent of the canon of Scripture is therefore of the utmost importance. If we are to trust and obey God absolutely we must have a collection of words that we are certain are God’s own words to us. If there are any sections of Scripture about which we have doubts whether they are God’s words or not, we will not consider them to have absolute divine authority and we will not trust them as much as we would trust God himself.
A. The Old Testament Canon
Where did the idea of a canon begin — the idea that the people of Israel should preserve a collection of written words from God? Scripture itself bears witness to the historical development of the canon. The earliest collection of written words of God was the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments thus form the beginning of the biblical canon. God himself wrote on two tablets of stone the words which he commanded his people: “And he gave to Moses, when he had made an end of speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31.18). Again we read, “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God graven upon the tables” (Ex. 32.16; cf. Deut. 4.13; 10.4). The tablets were deposited in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10.5) and constituted the terms of the covenant between God and his people.3:1
This collection of absolutely authoritative words from God grew in size throughout the time of Israel’s history. Moses himself wrote additional words to be deposited beside the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31.24-26). The immediate reference is apparently to the book of Deuteronomy, but other references to writing by Moses indicate that the first four books of the Old Testament were written by him as well (see Ex. 17.14; 24.4; 34.27; Num. 33.2; Deut. 31.22). After the death of Moses, Joshua also added to the collection of written words of God: “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (Josh. 24.26). This is especially surprising in light of the command not to add to or take away from the words which God gave the people through Moses: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it … ” (Deut. 4.2; cf. 12:32). In order to have disobeyed such a specific command, Joshua must have been convinced that he was not taking it upon himself to add to the written words of God, but that God himself had authorized such additional writing.
Later, others in Israel, usually those who fulfilled the office of prophet, wrote additional words from God:
Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord. (1 Sam. 10:25)
The acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer. (1 Chron. 29:29)
Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, from first to last, are written in the chronicles of Jehu the son of Hanani, which are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel. (2 Chron. 20.34; cf. 1 Kings 16:7 where Jehu the son of Hanani is called a prophet)
Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote. (2 Chron. 26:22)
Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his good deeds, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz, in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. (2 Chron. 32:32)
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Source: Wayne Grudem