Five centuries ago, Protestants sounded the call, “Sola Scriptura!”ii This epochal motto has echoed down the years, fortifying the church through many battles. Yet, there are cracks beginning to show in this beloved slogan- and some are questioning its validity. What is the meaning of this phrase? The Westminster Confession of Faith defined it as follows: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”iii
Since this Confession was written, many Christians and denominations have jettisoned the “authority of Scripture,” in favor of their own private interpretation—“Solo Scriptura.” The concept of a “Priesthood of all believers” has persuaded some that we are entitled to our personal interpretations, independent of any outside, objective criteria. However, the Bible teaches that God works through the church, and at times it will receive the gift of Prophecy. This charisma is sent for edification, counsel, reproof and correction of the church. Although some prophets’ messages have not been included in Scriptureiv, they were authoritative communications from God to His people at the time they were given. The Bible, therefore, doesn’t stand as the ONLY guide for the Christian—but as the determinate rule for all other sources of revelation. In other words, a clearer way of stating “Sola Scriptura” would be “Sola Prima Tota Scriptura”v- Scripture is the “measuring rod” (i.e.-kanon) for all other communications.vi
As we have moved away from the great Protestant awakening, this bedrock principle is being challenged. Increasingly, one can find references such as:
The reformers’ view of the Holy Scriptures is itself unscriptural.vii
No biblical passage teaches that Scripture is the formal authority or rule of faith in isolation from the Church and Traditionviii. Sola scriptura can't even be deduced from implicit passages.ix
Sola scriptura is an example of the logical fallacy of begging the question, inasmuch as the canonical scriptures never identify what is and what is not scripture. The only evidence that the 26 books of the New Testament (excluding the self-attesting Revelation) are inspired is the authoritative proclamation of the Catholic Church.x
“The idea of sola Scriptura was an invention of the sixteenth century.”xi
Unfortunately, some “Protestants” are also echoing this viewpoint:
Mark Noll . . . is hardly the only evangelical Protestant raising questions about the viability of sola scriptura. . . What he said resonates with others criticisms of that formal Protestant principle–at least as it has been interpreted and applied especially by Baptists and other free church evangelicals. Tom Oden and D. H. Williams and many others have raised serious questions about it.xii
Five hundred years after the Reformation and about 1900 years since the closing of the Canon, we must ask: Is Sola Scriptura Biblical? If it is not, and we are honest, we really have only two choices: 1) Set the Bible aside as a book of myths, half-truths and contradicting revelations or, 2) Rely on Church counsels and scholars to tell us what is or is not Scripture. If, however, “Sola Scriptura” is Biblical--then there should be self-validating, self-authenticating criteria for determining what is scripture.
Dr. Gerhard Hasel explains this concept:
Because of inspiration the biblical canon is self-authenticating, self-validating, and self-establishing. This means that the origin of the canon of the OT, and we may respectively add the canon of the NT where the same principles are at work, is not the same as its recognition by the respective faith communities . . . The inherent nature of canonicity reveal that a distinction needs to be made between the origin of the canon and its recognition by the religious community . . . The religious community does not bestow canonicity on Scripture; it recognizes canonicity.xiii (emphasis mine)
In the previous study (See Spectrum of Scripture), we saw that the New Testament identified 15 markers which describe the nature of Scripture.xiv If we apply these keys to the writings of the Bible, we should see if Scripture is self-authenticating or not.
Word of God
As we saw, the phrase “word of God” (including synonyms- “word of the Lord,“ “the Lord said,“ etc.) is one of the keys to denote Scripture. After collating the occurrences, this phrase is used in 34 of the 39 Old Testament booksxv and 24 of the 27 New Testament booksxvi. Therefore, of the total 66 books, 56 of them use this expression (Ruth, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Philemon, 2, 3 John excluded).
It is Written
The phrase “it is written” (including synonyms- “written,” “are written,” “write,” etc.) is also a marker to identify Scripture. The Old Testament uses this phrase in 12 of the 39 booksxvii, while the New Testament uses it in 20 of the 27 booksxviii. “It is written,” and its variations, are used in 32 of the 66 books of Scripture. More importantly, two of the nine remaining books left over from the “Word of God” use this phrase (2, 3 John). This leaves seven books which in this study we have not yet identified as “Scripture“- Ruth, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Philemon.
Writings of the Prophets
Deuteronomy 18:21,22 and Jeremiah 28:9 testify that “Prophecy” is a hallmark of God’s revelations. Many writings claim divine authorship, but a God who can accurately foretell the future possesses absolute knowledge. Scholar Robert Vasholz notes: “the Old Testament endorses the fulfilled prediction as a hallmark of canonicity, . . .”xix During the time of the Old Testament, short term prophecyxx validated a prophet’s message to his own generation as authoritative communication from Godxx. He goes on to say that Prophetic fulfillment functions:
as proof that the prophet was genuine, and the Old Testament society understood them that way. . . Once a prophet and his contemporaries passed from the scene there would be no way for a prophet to be established. The prophet proved himself by short-term prediction and miracles to his peers. . . Prediction was the crux of the matter for canonicity in terms of its origin as the ’word of the Lord,’ but it also provides the internal criterion of acceptance and recognition by the community. On that basis, the written product of the prophets was recognized as both authoritative and canonical.xxii
Whether Old Testament or New, the communities to which a prophet spoke recognized the inherent quality of their writings as Holy Scripture on the basis of their prophetic nature.xxiii
The word “prophet,” (including synonyms “prophecy,” “prophesied,” etc.) are used in 19 of the 39 Old Testament books, and 5 of the New Testament booksxxiv. The book of Lamentations is a written fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Of the 39 Old Testament books, all of them but Ruth, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon contain non-Messianic prophecies fulfilled near or at the time of their proclamation.xxv The New Testament is saturated with fulfilled Messianic prophecies. There are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies confirmed in the life of Jesus.xxvi In fact, only five New Testament books do not contain a prophetic fulfillment that the original hearers could verify (2 Thessalonians, Phile., James, 3 John, Jude)xxvii. This leaves Ruth, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Philemon still unaccounted for in our study of the corpus of Scripture.
Quotations of Scripture
A significant “interlocking mechanism” defining “Scripture,” is its reference of other inspired writings. Many commentators see explicit quotations from all the Old Testament books except: Judges, Ruth, 2 Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Zephaniahxxviii. The fourth edition of the United Bible Societies' Greek Testament (1993) lists 343 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, as well as no fewer than 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels. If clear allusions, names or places are taken into consideration, the figures are much higher: “C.H. Toy lists 613 such instances, Wilhelm Dittmar goes as high as 1640, while Eugene Huehn indicates 4105 passages reminiscent of Old Testament Scripture. It can therefore be asserted, without exaggeration, that more than ten per cent of the New Testament text is made up of citations or direct allusions to the Old Testament.”xxix
The books most referenced are Psalms (79 quotations, 333 allusions), and Isaiah (66 quotations, 348 allusions). The book of Revelation has no fewer than 620 allusions, including a direct nine-word quotation (formal quotation) in chapter 14:7 (from Ex. 20:10). Furthermore, the Old Testament is quoted or alluded to in every New Testament book except Philemon and 2 and 3 John. The books of Ruth, Lamentations and Jonah are not directly quoted, but there are names and allusions that are referenced. For example—Ruth is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1), Jonah is referred to by Jesus in Matthew 12:39-41, in Lamentations 3:52 and John 15:25. Esther, Song of Solomon and Philemon are the only remaining books to be included in our study as a part of “Scripture”.
Unity and the Canon
The unity that exists between the books of Scripture is profound. The great truths of the Bible, such as sin, redemption, the gospel, God’s law and character, etc., are interwoven into the fabric of the Bible. “This is sometimes called ‘the-unity-of-ideas’ approach to the Scripture. . . There is in both the Old and New Testaments the revelation of one and the same God. The God who created all things at the beginning of time is the God who is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. Both Old and New Testaments are one grand story of redemption, accomplished, to be sure, in stages. The God who delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage offers salvation to the world through Jesus Christ . . . Israel’s founding father [Abraham], is the prototype of all those believers in the NT who, like him, are justified by faith. Other themes could be mentioned but these three (God, salvation, the people of God) will suffice to show that the two parts of the Bible are tied together by great themes.”xxx
Unity is also seen in typology. Great events, things or people are prefigured by something or someone else at a former time. The Passover, the Jewish feasts, sanctuary, sacrificial system are all symbolic of a real and greater later event. “The typology method is validated by the Bible itself, particularly by the NT, where Christ is seen as the fulfillment of that which was typified in the OT.”xxxi The great themes of sin and redemption, God’s law, and judgment are seen in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. They testify to God’s character, the futility of man apart from God, and the many ways in which humans can edify or destroy themselves.
The Providence of God
Sometimes called “the hidden face of God”, Providence could be summarized as God’s continual involvement in the created world. It affirms that God cares for, preserves and watches over the affairs of men and women. Several biblical examples are: Moses in the bulrushes, Isaac and Rebecca, Joseph in Egypt, Ruth and Naomi, Jonah, etc. The books of Esther and Ruth fall into this category. Although there is little or no mention of God in these stories, they clearly show God’s hand guiding behind the events.
Writings of Paul
2 Peter 3:16 affirms that the writings of Paul are to be included in Scripture. Although Philemon does not contain several of the markers used to identify scripture, it can be included in the basis of this affirmation. Philemon could also be included in the “Great themes” of Scripture- since it manifests the love of Jesus Christ for each one of us as seen in what He did for us before God in pleading our case. This is one the finest illustrations of the doctrine of Substitution.xxxii
There may yet be some lingering questions about the book of Esther. It is the only book where God’s name is not explicitly mentioned and has no explicit prophetic message. But Esther should be included in the Canon for several reasons. Firstly, as we have seen, the “Providence” and miraculous power of God is clearly seen in the bookxxxiii. Secondly, we see an example of obedience to God’s law (Mordecai not bowing to Haman)xxxiv. Thirdly, there is implied supplication and humiliation for protection—strongly intimating that God is the object of their fastingxxxv. And finally, the courage of Esther, Mordecai and the Jews resulted in the conversion of many Persiansxxxvi. Behind the play and interplay of human events, we clearly see God’s omnipotent hand at work in this book.
Song of Solomon
What about the Song of Solomon? At first glance, it appears as an evocative love story with little spiritual value. But a more careful look reveals several reasons for its inclusion into the Canon. First, this is a song written by Solomon. At the time of this writing, he was a monogamous king, living a godly life. This song reveals the deep love and intimacy that is shared between a husband and wife. It shows us romance and marital love within the confines of the institution of marriage. Secondly, in a broad sense, the song is a Type and Antitype of God’s relationship with His people. “The love of Solomon and the bride are seen as typical of the love of Christ and His church. The love of marriage is made to illustrate the love between Christ and His Bride. Compare the New Testament picture of Christ and His Bridegroom in Eph. 5:22-23 and Rev. 22:17.”xxxvii Third, there are a number of words, allusions and places from other OT books that are referenced.xxxviii This shows that Solomon relied on the history and geography of the Jewish nation for this song. Fourth, the name of God (not seen in KJV, NKJV, NIV, etc.) is mentioned in 8:6 (mentioned in YLT, ESV, NASB, JPS, ASV, etc.). Fifth, there are New Testament quotes and allusions that most likely find their source in this Song.xxxix For all these reasons, the Song of Solomon should be included in the Canon.
In conclusion, a convincing argument can be made that the Canon recognizes itself! The New Testament was closed around A.D. 100, and from that time on, Christians could perceive which writings belong to it. Scholar Bruce Metzger concluded that the believers “came to recognize, accept, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church.”xl “The ‘self-authenticating quality’ is the divine revelation inscribe in the Word of God by inspiration. The canon was created by God through inspiration and its divine authority and canonicity is inherent in the revelation-inspiration phenomenon.”xli The Bible isn’t a book that can be added to and changed by church counsels, scholars or leaders, because it isn’t “just a record of revelation, but the permanent written form of revelation.”xlii The “Church” didn’t create the Bible—rather, God through Scripture “created” the church!
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