Scripture on Determining which Writings are Scripture

If there is a theme verse to this website it may be this:

So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter. (2Th 2:15 WEB)

This website is focused on original Christianity and the standards that were set there.  Specifically, the apostles charged the church to keep the traditions that they themselves started.

And we know that these traditions were not just for the time of the apostles because of prophecy by the apostles to that effect:

Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood. For I know that after my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Act 20:28-30 WEB)

If what the apostles taught was only for their time on earth, then no one would be concerned if others after the apostles taught different things. These verses show that that is not the case.

This is part of a theme in the New Testament that there will be people that fall away from the faith in our church. There are other prophecies like the one in Acts chapter 20, for example, 1 Timothy Chapter 4.

But the Spirit says expressly that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding marriage and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer. If you instruct the brothers of these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which you have followed.  (1Ti 4:1-6 WEB)

This section ominously talks of great deviations from the faith taught by the apostles that will happen after the passing of the apostles, confirming again that the traditions of the apostles were not to end with the apostles.  “Of the good doctrine which you have followed” refers to the truth that the teaching of the apostles is the standard of the church age, even beyond the life spans of the apostles themselves.

And the church is to continue following the apostles’ traditions until the return of Christ:

For from you the word of the Lord has been declared, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone out; so that we need not to say anything. For they themselves report concerning us what kind of a reception we had from you; and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1Th 1:8-10 WEB)

There it is, the church that the apostles set up is to continue as such until the return of Christ, and that hasn’t happened yet, so we are still under the charge of the apostles’ directives.  And again, here we read how we are to wait for the return of Christ.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself. (Php 3:20-21 WEB)

Our topic today is on scripture, specifically, what scripture says about itself being authentic.  Not what tradition says about what is scripture because tradition says that we have a canon of scripture that establishes what books are scripture.  Is the canon of scripture really part of the apostle’s tradition?  It would be awesome if scripture itself listed the canon of scripture, but unfortunately, it does not.

(The text of the actual canon of scripture is listed at the very bottom of this article.)

In other parts of this website, I have pointed out how worldly philosophy has crept into the church and been used to make assumptions and extrabiblical assertions about the teachings of our faith. If extra-biblical assumptions are not allowed elsewhere as in the development of the Trinity with the term homoousias (See T 1.10 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 10, The Apostles taught the Father alone was God, one of the Most Hidden Truths in Christianity Today), the doctrine of Dyothelitism (Jesus had not one but two wills, something never found in scripture), crucial to the coherence of the Trinitarian logic, then we must be careful of them everywhere.  As I discuss in Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning? it is only the allowance of extrabiblical reasoning that enables the Trinitarian to present an argument of any coherence.  And this is acknowledged!  As I wrote there, “Gonzalez here, as do others,  acknowledges that these decrees go outside the pure framework of Scripture. The Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as God’s mother were generated with extra-biblical patterns of thought, mainly philosophy, and were the result of many years of intellectual, theological debate.”

“But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation.”[1]

Gonzalez is saying here that the deeply held conviction that the word of God made flesh is literal as opposed to the figure of speech personification is an overriding factor to them and allows for arguments outside of the bible to be used to proclaim not only that doctrine, but that Jesus has two wills (to counter the argument that if Jesus is God how could Scripture say he was tempted in all thing as we are yet without sin while Scripture teaches that God cannot be tempted), and other arguments in orthodoxy.

When you start with preconceived beliefs beyond the limits of what is spelled out in Scripture the only way to prove these extrabiblical beliefs is to abandon strict adherence to Scripture and use assumptions and extrabiblical “proofs” to teach these extrabiblical doctrines.

So Gonzalez and others freely admit that doctrines like the incarnation and the Trinity are so important to them that they are justified in using extrabiblical arguments to prove their case.

At this point, it is important to identify the issue here. And it is a precise one.  The issue is proclaiming the Canon of Scripture divinely inspired as opposed to a collective decision of people, albeit believers, over time.

We are not throwing away all the Scriptures! We are attempting to clarify which books are the word of God, and which books, though accepted by large numbers of people, don’t meet the test of being divinely inspired.

All through this website, you will see references to writings of the Law, the Prophets, the Apostles, and even other writings.  And they are presented as being authoritative, they are presented as the word of God. When Jesus or Paul quotes a verse that legitimizes it as scripture if anything does.

It is a subtle distinction. I believe in the Word of God. But, others like Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Luther, and other Christian writers of note disputed certain books, and so, like them, I really don’t know about some books in the different canons being the Word of God, books like Jude, James, Hebrews, Ecclesiastes, or even Revelation.

So, instead of accepting the proclamation that the 66 books of Protestant Bibles like the King James are divinely inspired and without error in the original form of the original texts upon which they are based, I am looking for proof from the scriptures themselves to tell me which writings are sacred, i.e., “the Word of God”.

Jesus and the apostles quoted from the law, the prophets, and the writings, although what “writings” means is part of the issue.  So, writings from Moses, Isaiah, David, and the other prophets are unquestionably the word of God in its original form in the original texts!

But the book of Esther is not written by a prophet and has no mention of the Savior. No one knows the author of the Book of Job, and, again, although it is an inspiring book, it doesn’t mention the Savior. (Countering this argument about Job, however, is that Paul quotes Job in 1 Cor 3:19 with the classic “It is written” phrase giving credence to the book.) Those are a couple of examples from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the epistles state that the doctrine they receive is by revelation from God. That makes them the word of God! And, as second Thessalonians 2:15 states, we are charged by the apostles to follow what they say.

But the Gospels make no claim of divine inspiration themselves, rather they present themselves as reliable eyewitness accounts by the apostles or their agents as to what happened in the life of Christ and the apostles.  That makes them believable while not having the precision of every jot and tittle being exact.

This is not a new issue.  It is well documented that there were widespread disputes over a number of books in the New Testament like second Peter and revelation. See Early Christians disputed Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2 John, 3rd John, Jude, and Revelation. Gospels were Called Memoirs in the Second Century, Proof That There Was Refutation of The Book of Revelation for more.

So, As much as I would like to proclaim the 66 books in the Protestant Bible as the complete and inerrant Word of God, there is a red flag that pops up in my head every time I look at the Bible in those terms.  The flag has this question on it, “What do the verses that people use to prove the authenticity and inerrancy of those 66 books say exactly?  That is what we are talking about here.

The prime verses used to prove that the 66 books are all inspired are 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:16-17 WEB)

The verses above says that all scripture is “God-breathed” which means inspired.  It doesn’t say that “all Scripture” is the 66 books in the Protestant Bible, the 73 books in the Roman Catholic Bible, or the 81 books in the Orthodox Tewahedo bible, all of which claim divine inspiration.

In fact, there was no New Testament collection of books when Paul was writing.   Everything points to the “all Scripture” that Paul wrote about to mean “the law, the prophets, and the writings”.  The concept of a bible with Old and New Testaments was still centuries away.

Still, this is not an easy issue for many in the Protestant churches. In fact, over the years I have asked more than one person about the surety of whether all the books in the bible should be there. And I got responses like the canon of scripture is like, honestly – this analogy was used, a sacred cow, and no one wants to mess with the canon of scripture because to many people the theological structure of their beliefs falls apart without it.

However, if you know how coherent systems of logic[2] work you will know that that premise is not true.  In fact, it is available to stick with precisely the truths presented in the known scriptures to see a coherent set of beliefs of the Christian faith.

The canon of scripture is an extra-biblical statement. Extrabiblical statements like the canon of scripture and others are not required to establish a coherent set of beliefs that falls entirely within scriptural statements.

It’s not that there aren’t persuasive arguments for accepting the canon of scripture as being divinely inspired. has, I believe, as good a presentation as any justifying the canon of Scripture as Christian doctrine.[3]  However, the same site allows for the worldly philosophical tools that are used to construct the Trinity and other doctrines that allow for countless divisions in the church.[4]

“philosophy serves as the handmaid of theology by bringing clarity and precision to the formulation of Christian doctrine. “For example, philosophers help to clarify the different attributes of God; they can show that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are not contradictory; they can shed light on the nature of human freedom, and so on.”[5]

Those 66 books in the canon were ratified as the bible three centuries after the apostles.  Didn’t we just read the warning that bad things were going to happen after the passing of the apostles that we need to keep in mind about anything that happened after the apostles?

I rarely use all caps but I’m going to make an exception this time. Acts 20:28 is Paul speaking by revelation i.e. prophesying, that we are to TAKE HEED! We are to take heed because after the apostles passing, there are going to be men rising from both outside the church and inside the church twisting the truth. Paul warned us to watch out for that.

The canonization of the 66 books of our Bible happened long after the passing of the apostles. The canonization happened at the same time a number of unscriptural things were also happening and had happened. By this time, worldly philosophical methods had long been embraced as the church abandoned the original Unitarianism of the original Christian church and the Jews before them and was in the process of refining the newly proclaimed doctrine of the Trinity.  The church had been nationalized and part of a world government.   The new doctrine of sacraments (rites that imparted grace from God) was being developed and included baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. The priesthood of all believers was abandoned to the class structure of clergy and laity.  Capital punishment for heresy was now part of this nationalized Christian religion. The radical change from beliefs and happenings in the New Testament books to the beliefs and practices of Christianity in Constantine’s Roman Empire should be obvious!  The absence of the leadership of the holy spirit in these human decisions is the first thing to be seen.

Many of the decisions and practices discussed in Constantine’s Christianity are simply not the traditions of the original apostles. That is not to say that believers in the pews couldn’t be saved by recognizing that Jesus died to pay for their sins and calling him Lord. But a lot of Catholic practices are unscriptural.

The Roman Catholic Church canonized the 66 books of the Protestant Bible in 382 AD at the Council of Rome. But they also canonized what are called the Apocryphal books at that time  They later reiterated that canon with the Apocryphal books after the Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545-1563).  Martin Luther actually added the apocryphal books to his bible in the sixteenth century to demonstrate that there may be usefulness in reading these writings without proclaiming them as sacred scriptures defined, as a unit, as the word of God in its entirety.

Despite the claim of the Catholic Church that it has apostolic authority by succession, these are all the actions of very intelligent men using all the intellectual tools of the ages especially worldly philosophies in contrast to the original apostles following the leading of the spirit.  What does Scripture say about who can determine whether something is the word of God or not? First of all, it says that we got the word of God from prophets, spokespeople for God. And in First Corinthians 14 we read:

Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others discern. (1Co 14:29 WEB)

This verse tells us a few things. First, it tells us that the church to which you and I belong is still supposed to have prophets. Next, it tells us that when believers get together two or three should prophesy. And, last but not least, it says that one of the jobs of these prophets is to discern, i.e., judge, the authenticity of the message.

I know this looks like a scary proposition. I know there have been many instances in Christian history where so-called prophets misspoke and prophesied all kinds of things that never happened. Nevertheless, Paul himself says this about the things he wrote concerning the administration of God’s church:

If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. (1Co 14:37 WEB)

That statement declares that what Paul is writing is of God, it is putting what he wrote in the category of holy men speaking as they are moved by the holy spirit.

Surely the Lord Yahweh will do nothing, unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets. (Amo 3:7 WEB)

So then, let’s look at this process that was used to canonize Scripture. The first lists of acceptable scriptures were actually by Marcion who heretically disregarded the Old Testament writings because he taught that the God of the Old Testament was cruel and a different God than the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In response different churches and writers starting debating and compiling their own lists. Different Church Fathers debated the merits of some books.

Church Bishops in councils debated about the merits of individual books based on the b­­­­est opinions of scholars that they could find.  I am not saying that this wasn’t a valiant or well-intentioned effort.  The problem is that those were not proclamations of the word of God by prophets no matter how much the Roman church argues for its apostolic status and their doctrine of apostolic succession that says that they have replaced the Apostles to the point where what they say is the same as if the original apostles said it.   And, again, the Roman Church canonized those books at the same time it was incorporating numerous non-scriptural elements into the church including the firm establishment of clergy and laity classes, the integration of church and state in numerous ways, the promotion of Mary as Theotokos (the mother of God), capital punishment for heresy, and other things.  In fact, the entire Roman Catholic canonization process is unscriptural.  These proclamations of church councils are not now, nor were they ever the product of the succession of power from the original apostles on earth.  They do not nor did they ever continue to write words that are on a par with the original apostles because they were not prophets, and they did not speak words given to them by divine inspiration.

Yet, much of Protestantism has incorporated Roman Catholicism and its accompanying orthodoxy into its doctrines including its tradition of Orthodoxy, council decisions, and doctrines developed over long periods of time.

With that, the canon of scripture has grown beyond being a canon proclamation of the Catholic church to just a canon of the church in general.

So, specifically, what is the canon of Scripture?

“The biblical canon is the collection of scriptural books that God has given his corporate people, which are distinguished by their divine qualities, reception by the collective body, and their apostolic connection, either by authorship or association.”[6]

The above quote is a commonly accepted view in Christian theology. Notice what is emphasized and what is missing. What is emphasized is that God has given these with the implication that he has authorized them. What is emphasized is what are labeled “divine qualities”. These divine qualities are; one, reception by the collective body, and two, apostolic connection, either by authorship or association.

The apostolic connection above does line up with the charge for us to follow the traditions of the apostles.

So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter.  (2Th 2:15 WEB)

The letters of the apostles would certainly qualify here.

However, the first term, reception by the collective body is not a scriptural standard. There are too many times in Scripture where the body of believers would have received something that was definitely not what God wanted. Think of the children of Israel having Aaron make the golden calf and think of Israel getting tired of pheasant and manna. Think of the whole body of Israel at the time that Christ arrived. They had developed the Talmud, a body of laws that were supposed to augment the Law given in the Torah. No collective reception by any body of people is ever something that can qualify whether or not something is of God or not. It simply lists what the people have decided they think should be or that they want to be of God.

Now, what is missing? What is missing is God speaking about whether something is or is not the word of God. And, as we just read above, God has a system in place for doing just that. That system is called prophecy. Now it doesn’t matter whether or not you and I want to believe in prophets. It doesn’t matter whether or not people in the past have erred and given false prophecies. What matters is that the very books that we consider the word of God tell us that prophets are the ones that both give the word of God and discern whether or not something is the word of God.

Again, the actual words of the canon of scripture are at the very bottom of the page.  It does not cite the Spirit as the authority for its proclamation, rather it cites the “universal Catholic Church” as the authority, and then lists the books that the Catholic Church says are acceptable.

Even though there was a Septuagint version of the Old Testament available in Jesus’ time it is not mentioned because it was really relegated to Greek-speaking areas rather that the nation of Israel.  Although it could be argued that since it was extant at the time of original Christianity the fact that it is not mentioned as the word of God works against establishing the 39 books of the Old Testament (although the Septuagint compiles our 39 books into 24 books) as all being scriptural.

So, in the scriptures, references to OT writings are never to a collective Bible, rather they are always to individual scrolls or books.  For example,

The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, (Luk 4:17 WEB)

It doesn’t say someone handed a bible to Jesus and Jesus found some verses in Isaiah.  It says the book of Isaiah was handed to him and he found some verses.

The scriptural model is that books are accepted as scriptural on an individual basis. That is the standard that we too should follow.

There are some incredible claims made about the bible, but there is no scriptural basis for some of them.  Look at this.  For example, Andrew Wommack is a popular minister with a large ministry including television, and he writes:

“The Bible, on the other hand, has been supernaturally preserved by God in all the evidence we have supports it was written by the inspiration of God.”[7]

And, on his website, Womack writes, “We believe the Bible is inspired and empowered by God, infallible, and authoritative.” Implicit in this statement is that the Bible is the 66 books of the Protestant Bible.

Other leaders and churches make similar claims. The Church of Christ says this on its website:

“God’s providence gave us the 27 book New Testament Canon, not the church. God, not men decided the canon. This providence does not mean that church leaders were inspired in their selecting the canon, only that God had his eye on the scriptures the whole time and brought about His will to form the Bible we see today!”[8]

This is a doctrinal statement about which books are Scripture. The statement says “God, not men decided the canon.”  What a stretch! We read in history how the canon of scripture was changing over decades and decided by men in councils arguing the merits of different books.

In contrast, we read above that God speaks through prophets!  Who is the prophet that said that about how God decided the canon? Is the source of that statement a prophet or is it somehow scriptural in any manner?  None that I could find

On the same page as the above quote,  The Church of Christ acknowledges that the New Testament has no references to Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, but still calls them inspired.

I talked with a Rabbi that said that the Jews did not consider all the books in the Septuagint to be true, but rather they were a Jewish term “truer than true”.  While the Torah was absolutely inspired by God some books like Job were poetry and stories that held valuable spiritual lessons. They were not however considered literally true, for example, Job did not actually exist in real life. However, since Job is referenced as “It is written” in 1 Cor 3:9, I am not ready to say it is not scripture. But that is the perspective of at least some Jews.

First of all, I agree that there is an abundance of evidence to help reconstruct the books of scripture. But there are issues with Wommack’s statement that the bible is supernaturally preserved.  First, for example, Jude quotes from the book of Enoch.  Either Enoch was not preserved or it is apocryphal, not really the word of God.  Second, there are undisputed discrepancies in numerous texts.  For example, the Johannine comma refers to the fact that 1 John 5:7-8 are added verses. Another example is the great commission text, Matthew 28:19 which includes the trinitarian phraseology that was never carried out in scripture. This is either like the Johannine comma in that it was added by translators, which I believe happened, or the apostles really blew it, not carrying out a command of Jesus, which I do not believe.  I was taught in Catholic High School that Matt 28:19 was probably changed because the Catholic Church centuries after the Apostles decided that it was important to change it to reflect the importance of the Trinity. Numerous believers believe that the Catholic Church changed Matt 28:19 and I am one of them.

There are too many errors like this to make the claim that God preserved the scriptures intact.  Are we grading God on a curve, crediting him for doing something pretty well?  I think that is offensive to Yahweh. Much more likely is that our understanding of the status of the books of the Protestant bible is at fault.

Another case for the 66 books of the Bible to be the sum and substance of divine revelation is made on the Answers in Genesis website. There they have a page that discusses how you can be sure that these are books of God’s revelation.[9]  They make citations and statements such as these:

  1. “The church inherited the Old Testament, and Jesus defended, encouraged and exemplified faithful submission to these writings as an inspired canon.”[10]
  2. “Jesus verified that the Old Testament writings were always Scripture when He quoted from the Old Testament and claimed, “It is written” and “Scripture cannot be broken”
  3. Several statements in the Bible indicate that the New Testament would be written by apostles or approved by them. Peter called Paul’s writings “scripture” (2 Peter 3:16), and Paul said he and other apostles spoke “the word of God””
  4. “Even though no one church or leader had the authority to dictate to the others, it is amazing that close to AD 150 the Muratorian Canon could list all but four of our New Testament books.”

The problem is that these statements are not completely accurate. Regarding points 1 and 2 Jesus did make statements saying like “It is written” and spoke of the Law, the Prophets, and even the writings, but he in no way specified that all the books in the Septuagint were in those writings.  His famous quote about searching the scripture, in fact, does not endorse all the books, but rather distinguishes the books to be valued as the ones that testify of him.

You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which testify about me. (Joh 5:39 WEB)

At face value, this verse may appear to some to have Jesus endorsing the Old Testament. The fly in the ointment is the “and”, kai in Greek.  Kai is translated “and”, “also”, “but”, “both”, “even”, “indeed”, “moreover”, “yea” and other ways in the KJV. Look at this:

He declared, and didn’t deny, but he declared, “I am not the Christ.”  (Joh 1:20 WEB)

The word “but” above is the Greek word kai used in refuting the idea that John the Baptist was the Christ.  It sets a contrast between who John the Baptist was and who Christ was.  This illustrates that kai can be used to set up a contrast.

So, John 5:39 is not a blanket endorsement of the Septuagint. The phrase “these are they that testify about me” is a qualifier. Jesus is pointing to specific scriptures and defining the scriptures as those that testify about him.  A better translation is:

You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; but these [the scriptures] are those that testify about me.

Jesus did not blankly endorse the whole Old Testament.  He only referred to 24 of the 39 books in the OT.[11]

Furthermore, some of the OT books have real problems as part of God’s plan of salvation.  While a wonderful and inspiring story that I have particularly enjoyed, the book of Esther has been challenged because it has no mention of God and it has a bloody resolution that some have questioned as godly.[12]  My issue is that I have to admit it doesn’t directly testify of Jesus Christ, which is the issue Jesus brings up in John 5:39.

Point 3 is legitimate in that Peter did call Paul’s writings “scripture”, and Paul said he and other apostles spoke “the word of God.

But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. (1Co 2:10-13 WEB)

This verse testifies that the apostles spoke what the Holy Spirit taught them.  The next verses do come from a book that has been questioned since early times but it does call Paul’s writings “scripture”.  This is significant to our discussion here because it is a reference that calls the apostle Paul’s writing scripture while there has long been debate over whether 2 Peter itself is actually written by the apostle Peter.  It has a couple of problems.  One is that it appears not to have been written until the 2nd century, long after the apostle’s death yet it states that when it was written Peter knew that his death was near.

An article on says this about 2 Peter:

As stated at the outset, 2 Peter is commonly held to be pseudepigraphal in nature. Pseudonymity is the practice of writing under someone else’s name; this is not simply a “pen name,” as we have today, but it is the deliberate taking of a real person’s name for the purpose of influence in publication. [13]

Considering all that, 2nd Peter has one verse that calls Paul’s writing scripture when he says:

Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you; as also in all of his letters, speaking in them of these things. In those, there are some things that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unsettled twist, as they also do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2Pe 3:15-16 WEB)

Paul’s writing here is clearly labeled as part of scripture.

In fact, a major point of this website is that we are charged to follow the apostles’ traditions; what they taught whether by word or by letter.  Since we only have their letters now that is what we use to look for the traditions to follow.  However, not all the books in the NT have known authorship and there is some question about the authenticity of, for example, 2 Peter. I have to admit I have an affinity for the book of Hebrews, especially chapters 11 and 12, but no one knows who wrote it. The book of James is attributed to the brother of Jesus and “brother” is a term in James 1:1 but it is used in other places in the epistle to refer to our Christian brothers, not familial, so that argument is not conclusive. Martin Luther referred to James as an epistle of straw, especially had problems with the faith vs works discussion and said he did not “hold it to be of apostolic authorship”[14]  Additionally, according to the same article, Luther, our heroic Reformer, also had problems with Revelation. While I have heard preachers extol the wonders of the Book of Revelation I have also heard some preachers admit openly that they just don’t know about the prophetic book.

Point 4 was discussed in Early Christians disputed Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2 John, 3rd John, Jude, and Revelation

The issue is that if we are going to make the statement that scripture is our absolute standard for truth, then we need to use scripture exclusively and not allow assumptions, a priori statements, and traditions to define what our beliefs are. And assuming the canon of scripture to be true is making it an a priori assumption.

Now, as you will see, I am not saying at this point that any of the books declared scripture are not scripture.  So, yes, Martin Luther called James an “epistle of straw” even though he did include it in his bible.[15]  I personally have no spiritual insight to say it is not scripture at this point.  But it looks suspicious.  It is not like Acts, the Pauline epistles, the 1st Epistle of Peter, and so forth which are on much firmer ground when saying they are the writings of the Apostles.

This article has been an exercise in looking at scripture to determine what is scripture.

Why? As much as it may seem that the bible you have in your hand is the actual word of God, it’s not that simple.  Our bibles are translations of copies of texts that, yes, the Roman Catholic Church first “canonized”, made officially biblical, three hundred years after the apostles.  Again, this is the same Catholic Church that instituted clergy and laity, that instituted severe and even unbiblical capital punishment for anybody that disagreed with it, that merged the hierarchy of bishops with its civil leadership, that went on to send armies to kill the unbelievers in the holy land, sent armies after reformers like the Waldenses, and not only started the inquisition but still talks about it like it was a good thing, necessary for the times!  All the while the papacy grew in world power and wealth.  The Roman Catholic Church is one if not the largest landowner in the world.[16]

Luther, Calvin, and other reformers called the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church the antichrist. Martin Luther “denounced the pope as antichrist, refer to the Roman hierarchy as the “whore – church of the devil”, and burned the whole corpus of canon law as well as the papal bull that had excommunicated him.”[17] Calvin called the Roman church a perpetrator of superstitions. John Calvin said, “so obstinately addicted to the superstitions of the papacy did I remain that it would’ve been hard indeed to have pulled me out of so deep a quagmire, I did nothing, the word did it all.”[18]

Some of what this powerful church did traces back to right after the time of the apostles.  I’ve told people that there are no clergy and laity in original Christianity and gotten blank looks or questions like “how could that work?”

In T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, we discussed that a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another. We also looked at the verses that charged believers to follow the tradition that was handed down by the Apostles:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
(2Th 3:6 ESV)

These verses elevate the importance of the Apostles’ writings.  That makes at the very least the church epistles. Romans through Thessalonians to be scripture written for us as a church.

So, what do we end up with if we recognize the challenges to some books like Ruth, Esther, Jude, Revelation, and more?

As I wrote in LP0.1 Only The Law and the Prophets Had Divine Status,  the Law and the Prophets are what both Jesus and Paul referred to as the writings that should be believed. Jesus and the apostles directly quote from a lot of these books.

The epistles themselves proclaim themselves as having the revelation messages from God himself.

Then there are the Gospels.  As written in The Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts, the gospels proclaim that they are eye-witness accounts written by the apostles or their agents so they are a valuable and reliable testimony by men who were under Christ’s tutelage.

With that, we have most of the books in what we call the bible providing reliable information on the movements of God and the tenets of our faith.

Yes, there still are questions concerning some of the books in what we call the Old and New testaments.  In the Old Testament, we are not sure about Song of Solomon, Esther, Ruth, and a couple of others as to their status as God’s revelation before Christ.  In the same vein, books like 2nd Peter, James, Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, and a few others have doubts about their status as being revelations from Yahweh also.

Paul, writing to the church, made this one of the things we are to follow as a tradition:

prove all things; hold fast that which is good; (1Th 5:21 ASV)

Proving all things includes even proving which scriptures are really scriptures.  By doing that we are evaluating scripture by scripture’s own terms, not the proclamations of church leaders hundreds of years after the apostles who had already deviated far from the apostle’s traditions in many areas.

[1]The Story of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 2010, p. 301-302

[2] Coherentism in Epistemology,

[3]7. The Bible: The Holy Canon of Scripture,


[5] ibid

[6] The Biblical Canon,

[7] Christian Philosophy, Andrew Womack, Harrison House publishers, 2012, P. 57



[10] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 4 (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1999), p. 407.




[14] Martin Luther’s Problem With the “Epistle of Straw”, see next note

[15] The “Epistle of Straw”: Reflections on Luther and the Epistle of James, Martin Foord,

[16] Mapping one of the world’s largest landowners,

[17] Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George, B&H publishing, Nashville, 2013, P. 56

[18] Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George, B&H publishing, Nashville, 2013, P. 181


The Canon of Sacred Scripture *
[From the same decree and the acts of the same Roman Synod]
84 Likewise it has been said: Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun.
The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis one book, Exodus one book, Leviticus one book, Numbers one book, Deuteronomy one book, Joshua Nave one book, judges one book, Ruth one book, Kings four books, Paralipomenon two books, Psalms one book, Solomon three books, Proverbs one book, Ecclesiastes one book, Canticle of Canticles one book, likewise Wisdom one book, Ecclesiasticus one book.
Likewise the order of the Prophets. Isaias one book, Jeremias one book, with Ginoth, that is, with his lamentations, Ezechiel one book, Daniel one book, Osee one book, Micheas one book, Joel one book, Abdias one book, Jonas one book, Nahum one book, Habacuc one book, Sophonias one book, Aggeus one book, Zacharias one book, Malachias one book.
Likewise the order of the histories. Job one book, Tobias one book, Esdras two books, Esther one book, Judith one book, Machabees two books.
Likewise the order of the writings of the New and eternal Testament, which the holy and Catholic Church supports. Of the Gospels, according to Matthew one book, according to Mark one book, according to Luke one book, according to John one book.
The Epistles of Paul [the apostle] in number fourteen. To the Romans one, to the Corinthians two, to the Ephesians one, to the Thessalonians two, to the Galatians one, to the Philippians one, to the Colossians one, to Timothy two, to Titus one, to Philemon one, to the Hebrews one.
Likewise the Apocalypse of John, one book. And the Acts of the Apostles one book.
Likewise the canonical epistles in number seven. Of Peter the Apostle two epistles, of James the Apostle one epistle, of John the Apostle one epistle, of another John, the presbyter, two epistles, of Jude the Zealot, the Apostle one epistle, see n. 162 ff. * The canon of the New Testament ends here.


(c) 2023-24 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. last revised 1/26/24

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