I have been noticing a disconcerting trend in my age group and those younger, that trend being a growth in Bible ignorance. I am normally optimistic, and I am not changing my tone here, so rather than seeing this as a “sign of the times.” I would rather focus on addressing some foundational issues.
First of all, many people have no understanding of how to even approach the Bible. ie. Is it the Word of God? Is it a Holy Book? Is it really a living book? I believe that the answer to all these questions is an unequivocal yes, and amen.
Yet one of the questions that I seem to be hearing quite often from the younger generation is “How do I know that the Bible is complete?” The question is asked in many different contexts, for example, some want to eliminate the books of the Old Testament that seem to say offensive things such as remarks about homosexuality, tattoos, slavery, etc. Or on a similar thought there are those that want to leave the Canon of Scripture open ended, “Perhaps there are other writings that should be added to the Bible so that it is more relevant for modern culture?”
I have two responses.
- The main reason that you want to change the Bible is because you don’t understand the interpretation and context of what you are reading. If you understood the Bible better, you wouldn’t have a need to change it.
- There is absolutely no need to question if the 66 books that comprise the Bible are right. This is the point that I shall elaborate on further.
In the book of Revelation it is written that we should not add or take away from the writings, yet that alone is a shaky argument. It is shaky because the Apostle John was speaking of his letter, not necessarily of the entire New Testament, or the Bible. Although he may not have intended to say the following regarding the entire Bible, I believe that his words do in fact apply to the whole Bible.
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” Revelation 22:18-19
By the time that Matthew 1:1 begins, the Old Testament writings had already been completed for four hundred years. There is no real debate as to whether we have picked out the correct books to comprise the 39 books of the Old Testament. The main debate has raged regarding if the New Testament should have more, less or the same 27 books.
I believe that when the early church council determined in 325AD that 27 books comprise the whole NT, that they were completely correct. One of the main determining factors in their decision was that they pulled together the letters which people were specifically willing to be martyred for. Nobody up to that time was willing to die for the Apocryphal books, the Pseudopigrapha, or the Gnostic gospels (Google these is you are unfamiliar). Also the Early Church knew the Old Testament much better than most modern Christians and used this as a backdrop, which helped them see that 66 books was the perfect number.
One verse that they would have been aware of, which many of us have probably sang at VBS or summer camp, would have been, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” - Psalm 119:105
The Word of God is a lamp, which in the context of Psalm 119 would have been reflective of the lampstand in the Tabernacle, which we read about in Exodus 37.
“They made the lampstand of pure gold. They hammered out its base and shaft, and made its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. Six branches extended from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms were on one branch, three on the next branch and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand were four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud was under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. The buds and the branches were all of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. They made its seven lamps, as well as its wick trimmers and trays, of pure gold. They made the lampstand and all its accessories from one talent of pure gold.” -Exodus 37:17-24
I know that this may seem like a long boring passage meant only for the artisan commissioned to create it, but actually there is amazing relevance for us. If you read this passage carefully you will find that the Lamp is made up of exactly 66 decorations. This corresponds to the 66 books, that make up our Lamp, the Bible, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
Also the Lampstand is made of seven lamps. The middle lamp of the seven represents Christ and divides the three lamps on the left, which represent the OT from the three lamps on the right, which represent the NT. (Even as Jesus’ life divides the Old and New Covenants)
Also if you add up the decorations on the three lamps on the left plus the decorations on the middle lamp you arrive at 39 decorations representing the 39 books of the OT. Then if you add up the remaining three lamps on the right you arrive at 27 lamps representing the books of the NT.
I have recently heard a few other people explain the Exodus 37, Lampstand picture of the Bible and I am glad to hear others understanding it. I actually remember my mother explaining this picture to me many years ago. Thanks Mom! ;)
Another amazing picture that the early church would have had in mind while compiling our Bible would have been the book of Isaiah, which in and of itself gives us a pattern for our Bible. (Although I learned this many years ago, rather than reinventing the wheel, I will quote another author here which states my point rather well.) The book of Isaiah is a picture of the Bible.
“In fact, the chapter structure of the two divisions is quite remarkable, possibly even providential. The first book (chapters 1-39) contains the same number of chapters as the Old Testament has books. The second book (chapters 40-66) contains 27 chapters, the same as the number of books in the New Testament. The New Testament portion begins with John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:1-5), just as the New Testament itself does, and ends with the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65 and 66; compare Revelation 21 and 22).” (http://www.icr.org/article/4188/299/)
Even before the Bible was complete, it was prophesying to us what it would look like when it was finally complete. I guess the (Christian) cartoons I watched as a child were right; it is a “Super Book!”