Since everything I planned to work on this weekend got put on hold until this coming week, so I decided to do some research I’ve been wondering about.
Just by coincidence, 2 days ago I received 3 separate calls from people asking me what is and is not scripture. They wanted me to justify my reasoning for my answer. It made me think back to when I first decided what ISN’T scripture. To my surprise, I realized it was 25 years ago. God, I hate it when something reminds me just how old I am now!
I was 25 years old when I had that epiphany. I came to understand this beautiful gospel of grace and peace for all of humanity close to 10 years before that. However, right before I turned 25, I had a “fall from grace.” Legalism crept back in and got a toe-hold somewhere in me. I started grappling for over a year with the inconsistencies and flat-out contradictory statements that the New Testament is literally overrun with. It caused a huge mental and emotional turmoil for me.
In my frustration at my own inability to reconcile all of the obvious errors in the supposedly “inerrant Word of God,” I looked to scholars who claimed to resolve the conflicting NT statements and make them agree. Their contortions in reasoning away contradictions were on par with listening to a mental health patient explaining the mysteries of the universe. My logic just couldn’t accept their explanations because you can’t make 2 statements agree when they totally disagree, I don’t care how much you mangle what the writers obviously wrote.
Then one day, I made another attempt to re-read some of the contradictory passages I was having trouble with in the New Testament and I remember thinking, “Why am I wasting my time? These are just a bunch of letters some guys wrote decades after the cross that had been copied over and over and circulated for hundreds of years. They’re just opinions or accounts from their memories! Why would anyone expect them to be accurate, much less agree exactly with letters written by other people? The ‘noble Bereans searched the scriptures.’ The only scriptures they were searching were in the Old Testament! These ‘letters’ are not SCRIPTURE! ‘Inerrant Word of God’ my a–!” And I slammed my Bible shut. Case closed.
It just so happened that a short time after that day, I read a chapter in Luke that I must have read 100 times in my life before but never really paid much attention to it. In Luke 24, Jesus was talking about what the scriptures are and concluded by saying, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
After I read that, I remember thinking, “See, Jesus proved my point! LOL”
From time to time in recent years, I’ve considered the absolute “sloppiness” of some of the New Testament writings. It’s been proven that many statements were added or changed in later manuscripts that are nowhere in the earliest known manuscripts. And even then, the earliest manuscripts we have are just copies that were made a couple hundred years after the actual letter was even written. I got to thinking about the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Hebrews were chosen by God to be the keepers of the “oracles of God” – the scriptures. They had strict laws for the scribes to follow. The Hebrew alphabet has a numerical aspect that the scribes used as a quality control mechanism to test the accuracy of the “written word.” It’s one of the earliest known quality assurance programs. Each section of scripture had to add up to an exact number. Also, the sum of a specific letter of one section with corresponding specific letters of other sections also had to add up to an exact number. If just one thing didn’t add up precisely to the exact number, the whole document had to be destroyed.
In recent months, I also realized that Jesus said he came to fulfill the scriptures. If they are fulfilled, then he had to fulfill what was written before he came along and if he fulfilled the scriptures, that means the scriptures are now finished…done! There is no more scripture. However, since Christianity doesn’t believe all scripture has been fulfilled, they won’t even consider that as a valid point to discredit the New Testament as scripture.
So, let’s just see if the New Testament was even created according to the “rules.”
The New Testament writings never went through any quality control and weren’t even written by Hebrew scribes. Who could possibly have had the audacity to put those writings in the same classification as “scripture?” Well, to keep it simple, what became known as the “Bible” we have today came from the early Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. The Protestant Bible we have today contains all the same books that the Catholic Bible does with the exception of a section of books called the Apocrypha.
So, the Bible I have is the Protestant version, but I guess I’m supposed to thank the Catholic Church for it. Not yet…
When quoting “scripture,” the New Testament writers only quoted from the Old Testament. They never quote anything in the New Testament and say it is scripture.
So I know I can confidently say at this point that the New Testament is not scripture. And, since Jesus even backs me up on that by telling me the scriptures are the law, the psalms and the prophets, can I say something in the Old Testament is NOT scripture?
Not if I’m using my Christian Bible as a guide, no.
The writer in the New Testament I rely on the most is Paul. In Romans 11:3, Paul quotes from 1 Kings 19:10 and 19:14 in the Old Testament. In Romans 11:4 he quotes 1 Kings 19:18. In Hebrews 1:5, the writer (presumably Paul) quotes 2 Samuel 7:14 as well as Psalm 2:7.
So, if I adhere to my Bible, can I say everything Paul quoted here is scripture? No.
The above quotes from 1 Kings and 2 Samuel are books not listed in the “Prophets” section of my Christian Bible.
So, can I say that 1 Kings and 2 Samuel are NOT scripture? NO!
I do believe the law, the psalms and the prophets are scripture, not only because Jesus said so, but because he also qualified the scriptures as “they are they that speak of” him. And I can show you in all three where they are speaking about none other than Jesus and what they are specifically saying about him. However, I have to ask myself, “What books did Jesus consider to be ‘the prophets?’”
To answer that, I need to consider who his audience was. He was speaking to Jews. He was referring to what they knew were the scriptures – the Hebrew Scriptures. So, how did the Hebrews group the scriptures?
The Hebrew Scriptures have 3 divisions. The first division is called “the law.” The second division is called “the prophets,” and the third division is called “the writings.” The Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament in my Protestant Bible contain the exact same books. The difference is how they are grouped and my Bible also breaks up some of the books into 2 or more books.
The first division of the Hebrew Scriptures is exactly the same as my Christian Old Testament. They are the 5 books of Moses and appear at the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures and my Old Testament.
The second division of the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets, differs with my Old Testament division that is classified by Christianity as “prophet books.” My Bible also places them as the last division of the Old Testament. The Hebrew “prophets” division includes the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 & 2) and Kings (1 & 2). My Bible does not include those 6 books in the “prophets” section of the Old Testament, but completely separates them into a different grouping of books Christianity classifies as “the history books.”
So, can I say when Paul quoted 1 Kings and 2 Samuel that he was quoting scripture? Yes, according to the Hebrews’/Jesus’ definition of scripture, I can say Paul was quoting scripture because he quoted from the division of Hebrew scripture that Jesus referred to as “the prophets.”
Here’s where it gets tricky. The last division of the Hebrew Scriptures is called “the writings.” This is where the psalms are located. This is also where Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job and several other books are grouped. What might surprise some Christians is this is also where the books of Daniel and Lamentations are found. The Christian Bible has those 2 grouped in the prophets section of the Old Testament.
So why did Jesus say the scriptures are the law, the psalms and the prophets and not the law, the psalms and “the writings?” Can I say that Jesus was saying books like the book of Daniel is not scripture? I can’t say that.
So now I have to consider again who his audience was and when he said it.
Back then (and in some cases even now), Judaism relied heavily on oral tradition. Historically, we know much of the Jewish population at the time was illiterate. When they went to the synagogue, they always heard a reading from the law. Most of the time, they also heard a reading from the prophets after that. Sometimes after that they would then hear a reading from the Psalms. Law, prophets and psalms and always in that order. That was their liturgical tradition in the synagogue.
Since Jesus was speaking to an audience of people that weren’t all literate, it’s a reasonable explanation that he would speak to them in terms they were all familiar with since not all of them had ever read the Hebrew Scriptures.
I can’t say that’s why Jesus used that particular choice of words, but I also cannot say that out of all the books in the Hebrew Scriptures called “the writings,” the only book that Jesus considered “scripture” was the book of Psalms.
The reason this was so tricky for me was because in Romans 2:6, Paul quotes something that is found in both Psalm 61:12 and Proverbs 24:12. So, which one was he “thinking of” when he wrote that? I can’t say. Can I say it had to be the psalm because the proverb is not scripture? Again, I cannot say that.
I can’t say that the books of Joshua, Judges, Kings and Samuel are not scripture just because they aren’t in the prophets group of my Christian Bible that uses the primitive Catholic Church’s reshuffling of the Hebrew Scriptures. But I can say they are scripture according to Jesus’ definition and the divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures.
I cannot say that any book like the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel or the other books in “the writings” division of the Hebrew Scriptures are not scripture just because they are not Psalms, or in the prophets or law divisions of either the Hebrew Scriptures or my Christian Bible.
The only thing I can say is definitively NOT scripture is the New Testament. I CAN say that because Jesus said the scriptures are the law, the psalms and the prophets, and because the New Testament is inaccurate and was not written according to scribal law. (I can also say the scriptures were fulfilled and therefore there was no more scripture to be written after the cross, but that’s just for those who understand the gospel.)