What has God given us to combat the evil that is present in our world?
Despite the evil that exists in our world, the Bible says that God keeps it from unraveling.
So, for now, God allows evil to be unleashed– at least to a degree– while keeping it in check so He can fulfill the plan He has for all ages— and until He establishes His eternal reign after the defeat of evil and all evildoers.
Even now, even with free will, God is actively doing something about evil.
He’s given us the church. The presence of believers and churches restrain evil. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus commissions Peter to be the ‘rock’ of the church, a church that will not be overcome by the influence of sin and evil.
We’ve also been given the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:1-6). The Holy Spirit guides us and acts within Christians. We also have our consciences and our concern for our reputation. God has given us a conscience and a community around us that helps restrain the influence of evil in our lives.
We’ve also been given external structures and influences to act against evil. First, God has given us the governmental structures to create laws and regulate people’s actions. God tells us to submit to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7). He has also established our family units to bring stability into our communities. Parents discipline their children and promote Godly influences in their lives (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13).
Finally, God has given us His Word (Psalm 119). Studying and learning God’s Word is a shield against the influence of evil and the work of Satan.
In my posts on evil, I’ve discussed the influence and spread of evil, how evil exists under the sovereignty of a good and powerful God, and how God works to restrain evil. I hope you have grown in an understanding of evil and its limited role in our world.
We’ve seen a lot of death, pain, suffering, and evil in our world during the last few years, so today I want to address a few questions having to do with evil, pain and suffering— questions that, I believe, all ‘thinking’ people ask.
First, I want to help us understand evil—
The reality of “evil” isn’t something that has its own existence… but it is a corruption of something that already exists. Evil is like rot, decay, or rust. Rot can only exist as long as the rotting thing exists. Rust isn’t something in and of itself– it doesn’t have its own existence… it exists because there is something ‘to’ rust. Decay only occurs ON something.
So evil is like rot, rust, or decay: it feeds on & corrupts that which is good.
That is what happened at the Fall: humankind made the willful, deliberate, and conscious decision to disobey God and His Commands. This rebellion produced wickedness, and this vile product of evil entered time and was unleashed against all of the created cosmos.
When we discuss evil, there are three issues we must deal with: God’s goodness, God’s power, and evil itself.
When we talk about all the entailments of evil, we begin to ask ourselves about God’s goodness, like “If God is good, why would He let this happen?” But we also begin to ask questions about God’s power. “If God is all-powerful, why won’t He stop this from happening?”
God isn’t finite or powerless against evil.
The fact is that God is able to do something about evil. God is all powerful. But the fact is that God’s timing isn’t always human timing. (As we see when Jesus allowed his friend Lazarus to die, read John 11). The fact that God hasn’t yet defeated evil doesn’t mean He isn’t going to or isn’t able to.
God and the existence of evil is not a contradiction.
Most people either decide, because the world has such problems, that either GOD DOESN’T EXIST or that He can’t do anything about it or isn’t a good God. All of these are wrong answers.
God allows evil and that means that He has allowed it to become a part of His ultimate plan. It wasn’t originally that way, but because of human rebellion, God allows it to exist, as it was ushered into existence through free-will and angelic/human agency (choice). And because God is sovereign, He is able to let it exist and still oversee His purposes and plans for the universe and all its peoples, without contradicting Him.
So the POINT of evil’s existence is that the ONLY WAY for people to have free will or a choice in anything is for people to have the possibility of making a WRONG “choice.” If you don’t have the opportunity to make a ‘wrong’ choice, then it’s not a choice at all, and you aren’t free.
‘Choice’ is a real thing and it has REAL consequences. God didn’t create ‘choice’ and free will and it not MEAN anything. No– when we do something wrong, there are REAL consequences. And real ramifications occur– and that is the tragedy of evil.. That people do it anyway… but free will is the only way that people can show true love– and that goes for human relationships with one another, as well as our relationship with God.
What is God’s ultimate purpose in allowing evil?
C.S. Lewis reminds us that the God-given freedom of choice and human sin didn’t take God by surprise: “And God knew, in His ultimate wisdom, that He could allow a world of free creatures and, even though they fell, He could work out a deeper happiness and fuller splendor than an automatic world would produce.”
If God is to preserve freedom and to defeat evil, this is the best way to do it. Free will allows each person to determine his own destiny. But ultimately, God will separate evil from Himself and those who want to do good. That’s when evil will be overcome because God will confine those who choose sin to live in sin, and sin will cease its harm and will be eternally quarantined— unable to upset the perfect world that is to come (heaven).
The result: The goal of a perfect world comes about… and people still had a free will to make their decision and choose their destiny, and those who abused the freedom and harmed people will be cast out of the perfect world they didn’t want to be a part of.
So, it’s not that this current world is a perfect world, but now that we spoiled it, it’s the best way TO a perfect world.
So, one day evil will be done away with— and time continues to unfold until that day.
Evil is obviously present in the world, seen in murder, child abuse, terrorism, and natural disasters. Many Christians and non-Christians don’t understand why evil is present in the world. What’s important for Christians to remember is:
None of this was originally supposed to happen.
God created the world ‘good’— everything that was created God considered “good,” and that word actually means ‘perfect’ (Genesis 1:102; 31). The world was a world of goodness, harmony, vitality, hope– even ‘bliss,’
In Genesis 3, we read of the Fall. Adam and Eve were innocent– unfallen and without sin, but not necessarily perfect. In other words, they were at least ‘capable’ of committing wrong acts. When the rebellion occurred, it was a volitional, willful, deliberate act. Though Eve was deceived, God’s command was broken by the eating of the excluded fruit– and to do that was forbidden. Giving in to temptation, they rationalized their desires, justified their behavior in their own eyes, and did what they wanted to do. The Fall occurred as a result… it set into motion ruin, spoil, contamination, corruption— and every human evil and disposition that there is. As a result, each was cursed for playing a role in what happened (Genesis 3:16ff)
The effects of the Fall were: a broken relationship between God and humanity, strained relationships between human beings, and the injection of evil into the world. This is the cause of every bad and evil thing in our world– disorder, loneliness, heart disease, physical problems, pain, aging, death, and corruption. These effects of sin entered the cosmos (the world God created and everything in it).
The Fall of Humanity was the fault of mankind– and mankind alone. God’s goodness was in no way eclipsed by their actions, and it was because of people that there was unleashed EVIL on a cosmic/global and personal scale. The sin of Adam was like turning a lock and opening the door for the spoiling of the universe and all humanity.
Evil had three expressions: bad things or evil as a direct consequence of deliberate human choice (making a decision to do something bad– killing someone), as an indirect consequence of non-deliberate human choice (unintentional killings and lesser situations; things going wrong even though people didn’t mean to do things wrong), and bad things ‘just going wrong’ without any humans being involved (natural disasters).
All of these things are effects/consequences of the Fall or “Expressions of the Curse”
Jesus came to address the problem of Evil. He did so by attacking and defeating ‘sin.’ He did this through giving his life on a hill called Calvary on the cross of crucifixion. When He did that, he won the war, but now all things must unfold to that great end of the age— as He continues to work out His plan on earth. The Bible (end of time/beginning of eternity) ends with the destruction of the Curse— and the resolution of all human pain and suffering forever– UNDOING THE EFFECTS OF SIN.
God does not introduce evil into the world, it entered through the Fall, through our sin. When Jesus returns, the effects of sin will finally end. God will come to judge and to undo the effects of sin.
The Protestant or Roman Catholic (or other) canon represents very complex arguments that are hard to place in sound-bite format, so it’s really an impossible task.In addition, much of what we know and many of the arguments we might reference are, themselves, built upon arguments of others– however diligent we may be in researching them or crafting them together into reasonable comments.
Here are some observations and remarks I have, though, about the canon.
Point 1: The Canon Argument isn’t Catholic v. Protestant only.First of all, technically we know that ‘Protestant’ is a general pejorative tag given to reference non-Catholics, and though I will use it here for the purpose of convention, it should be noted that it isn’t technically historically-correct and its pejorative nature is disappointing.Protestantism is a movement that grew specifically out of the 16th Century groups who specifically challenged the weakened religio-political status of the Roman Church.Other non-Catholic groups exist which are not “Protestant.”But for argument-sake, we’ll use the Protestant term.
Here’s why that is important: There was not/are not only two competing views of the canon (i.e., it’s not as if there is a Catholic and a Protestant canon only—multiple canons exist). So one could say that this “either RCC or Protestant” is a classic either-or fallacy… though I happen to accept the dominant prevailing, popularized ‘Protestant’ canon (27 NT, 39 OT inspired books). I share this feature only to clarify the assumptions that are embedded into the question itself.
Point 2: Canonicity Completely Depends on Authority. Different ecclesiastical authorities have spoken as to their understanding of canonical ‘collections.’ Either one assumes that one authority is supreme over the others or that they represent the best perspective those individuals (like Athanasius, Origen, Jerome, Luther, Pius IV, etc.) or those groups (Different Roman Catholic voices over the centuries, Ethiopian Orthodox, the Reformers, the Syrian Church) at the time.
RCC Authority. If the Roman Catholic papacy and the morphing understanding of ‘Holy Tradition’ is considered the only legitimate Apostolic Church, then there is no way to resist the canon the RCC has dictated—regardless of however that body of literature has been, is now, or may be understood in the future. In that sense, their authority would trump any other argument—and that is the strength and the weakness of the RCC canon.
Non-RCC Authority. Authority does exist, but if it is not within the RCC, the authority of Christ must be dispersed in other places in the Body of Christ. The Orthodox make very powerful arguments that, I think, are more compelling than Roman Catholic arguments in many ways. But neither RCC or Orthodoxy establish the case in my mind, however. I believe that authority is not given to a visible body, but to the invisible Body of Christ, represented in the general perspective of committed, godly leaders in the church who accept the authority of Christ and His Word through His Spirit’s guidance. This is more ethereal and lacks the dogmatic clarity of Orthodoxy or Catholicism, but that is not a concern of mine. God has routinely worked outside of an identifiable, visible institution and continues to do so today in many cases.
So… if the self-imposed authority of the RCC papacy is a spurious argument, if Holy Tradition is not without error, and if the RCC is prone to mistakes, then the idea of the Apostolic Succession vested in the Holy See is illegitimate. That is my position with the authority of the RCC. And if the authority of the RCC is ruined, then the authority to “RECOGNIZE THE RECEIVED TEXT” is vested outside the papacy and Councils/Trent. This authority is the invisible church, the universal (Catholic, not Roman) Church.
Point 3: Many Early Lists and Essentially Every Later and Modern List of Canons Published Include the 66 Books Recognized Today. There are numerous historical ‘lists’ of canon that make it difficult to build a cohesive, iron-clad case for one single progression of thought—but the 66 books we understand as canonical have repeatedly been affirmed through the Early Church (from, if my facts are straight, the Synod of Hippo, to Athanasius of Alexandria in 367, forward) up until today.
Point 4: Only at Trent (1564, Pius IV) Were the Apocrypha Affirmed by the Papacy. Though the Vulgate had included the Deuterocanonical books in their Latin version, the fact that it took nearly 16 centuries and a counter-reformation to finally consider them ‘scripture’ is telling.That is what I call really late to the party.
Point 5: The Apocrypha were not cited by Christ or the Apostles. Though the NT quotes the OT some 250+ times, it not once quotes the Apocrypha.
Point 6: Jews Did Not Accept the Authority of the Apocrypha. It’s ironic that the Jewish people and Jewish believers did not ever see fit to recognize those books but 1600-1900 years after the fact, a Roman Catholic meeting would affirm them.
Point 7: Jesus Curiously Excluded the Apocrypha as Authoritative. When Jesus referenced what the scriptures were (prior to the New Testament being written, but centuries after the Apocrypha was written), he excluded it from consideration. Note Luke 24:44, where Jesus did NOT reference the “Law, Prophets, and WRITINGS” which Roman Catholics use to argue inclusion of the Deuterocanonical writings—but, INSTEAD, Jesus refers to the Law, Prophets, and the PSALMS. Quote: “Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Point 8: Jerome, Josephus, Phillip Schaff, and Others Honored the Apocrypha, But Rejected It As Authoritative. Even though they valued its contribution, they did not consider it scripture and canonical—even though Jerome was against its inclusion, he was compelled (forced) to include some of those writings in the Latin Bible, his Vulgate—but most were inserted after his death. Philo, the well-known Hellenistic Jew, apparently didn’t even mention the Apocrypha. I think that’s telling.
Point 9: No Apocryphal Writers To My Knowledge Lay Claim to Biblical Authority.
Point 10: Four Centuries Passed Before They Were Apparently Included In Anyone’s List of Scripture.
Point 11: Some Apocryphal Books Contain Fantastic Statements That Are Contradictory To Divine Scripture and that Cannot Be Historically Accurate. For example, I think that the books of Maccabes include multiple different accounts as to when Antiochus Epiphanes died and was buried. Also, we know that they teach things foreign to scripture like praying for the dead, sinless perfection of saints while on earth, purgatory, etc.
Point 12: Jerome, of the Vulgate, Was The First To Use The Word Apocrypha. The Word MEANS “Doubtful Authorship.” Authorship of scripture is one of the primary tests of canonicity—so the very fact that the authorship of these books were questioned showed their authenticity as spurious and not apostolic.
Point 13: If the Apocrypha Were Scripture Then They Would Allegedly Include Divine Statements Given During the 400 Years of Silence When God Was Not To Be Speaking. To me, that’s devastating to such an argument for the Apocrypha.
What Pastor Fred Winter’s Murder Taught Us on March 9, 2009
Only three weeks ago, my friend, Pastor Fred Winters of Maryville, Illinois was speaking in his pulpit, when a man walked into the church, down the aisle, brandished two weapons and began shooting, slashing, and stabbing members of First Baptist Church and its pastor.
That story hit home, because Fred Winters was my friend.
What happened that day was an act of evil.
A man, Terry Sedlacek, committed a premeditated act of murder against a pastor. This was someone the man had never met, at a church he had never attended— That same killer had to pass by dozens of other congregations on the way to Fred’s church. And what’s more, he didn’t have to kill a man. He could have done anything else (he could taken his angst and “jumped rope”… flown a kite, or gone bowling)— but instead, he walked into the house of God on a Sunday morning and killed a pastor, the father of two, in cold blood, in full view of his wife and church family, in a sanctuary consecrated for the worship of God. And then tried to take his own life (the attempted suicide wounds were still visible on his throat, in his police arrest photo).
What happened to Fred Winters that day was EVIL. Wickedness. Sin.
So evil exists. Sin and wickedness are realities that must be acknowledged. And though I’ve never committed murder, each and every day, I commit other sins. So I have to wrestle with the issue of sin “out there” and “in here”—my own heart… just like you.
Our Vulnerability To Sin
WHY are we Vulnerable to Sin? WHY we are vulnerable to sin is answered by three primary theological concepts: Original Sin; The Fall; and Depravity.
1. Original Sin
Fundamentally, we are vulnerable to practicing evil and wickedness because of what theologians call “Original Sin.” Original Sin is one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible—and it is first mentioned just after Creation, in the third chapter of the Bible, Genesis 3:1-6. And this theme continues to develop until the final chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22:1-3a.
So the Reality of Evil is one of the primary theological themes that spans nearly every page of the Bible. That explains why wickedness has constantly been one of the most powerful forces throughout human history. It plagues us, it wrecks our lives and the lives of others.
And “what is” Original Sin? Simply stated, Original Sin was the first act of human disobedience in the Garden of Eden. It was the violation of innocence and the corruption of righteousness. And after Eve was deceived, Adam then took the next fatal step by actively entering into rebellion against God’s authority.
THAT was Original Sin— the initial rebellion against God.
2. The Fall
And when Original Sin occurred, that immediately resulted in what theologians call “The Fall.” See Genesis 3:7-10. So Original Sin (the initial act of deliberate disobedience by Adam, brought on by the satanic deception of Eve) resulted in The Fall.
The Fall of Humanity was and is the condition of being estranged from God—and alienated from eternal life. It resulted in our spiritual divorce from God— a condition where we are disconnected from God; where we know that something between He and us has gone wrong.
Though Adam was originally blameless and morally innocent— his rebellion against God’s authority made him “morally culpable,” or responsible, for his actions: This meant that he was no longer innocent, but guilty.
Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man (Adam’s Original Sin), and death (separation from God in this life and the next) through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” SO WHEN ADAM sinned, he acted on behalf of the entire human race—just as a representative in the state or nation’s capital represents and votes for you. And whatever vote they cast, you are symbolically casting it with them. And as the Federal Head of the Human Race, Adam rebelled and, in doing so, passed on that sin nature to every one of us.
And when Adam “fell,” we all fell with him.
And though some people have a hard time interpreting this phenomena… it is this biblical reality of Fallenness that explains our search for meaning and our profound existential need as humans. It also explains that sense of spiritual desperation that all people feel. It is “why” we feel far from God. It is “why” people feel anxious, lonely, afraid, insecure, and lost.
So Original Sin led to the Fall of Humanity, and the Fall resulted in AND manifests itself by Depravity.
What is Depravity? Depravity is the degree of corruption in our human nature. It means that there is EMBEDDED WITHIN US a penchant to sin; that there is a natural propensity, a proclivity, or a predisposition to do things that which is unseemly. It means that none of us need “coached” to do what is wrong, but that, OFTEN, we quite naturally gravitate toward it. As a result, each of us is, to a greater or lesser degree, corrupt.
The Apostle Paul recognized his own depravity in Romans 7:14-25:
14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who
will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So BECAUSE we have Original Sin and are Fallen, we are Depraved.
And this “depravity” results in bad character, moral weakness, and an overall lack of resolve that includes IN US a natural tendency to be inexplicably drawn to evil. And even though we are not as BAD as we COULD BE, none of us are as GOOD as we SHOULD BE.
That’s Depravity: It means we are totally incapable of saving ourselves FROM OURSELVES, and it places us in need of a Savior— That’s why we need Christ, who alone has the power to help us overcome the power and penalty of sin.
Question Posed To Me By a Good Friend (that I thought I might make available to you)
I’d like you to shed some light on the idea of “Divine Inspiration” of the Holy Bible and the selection of the books we consider to be the “Word of God.” Is there a theological concept of ‘divine selection?’ There are different ‘canonizations’ out there, like the Jewish Bible, the Deuterocanonical writings, and the various Vulgate versions (e.g., Jerome’s, Gutenberg, Clementine, and the Nova Vulgate).
I started to write a really long treatise on this, because it is so important and needs treatment on any number of levels to be an adequate answer.
What I then did was to locate this “summary article” that is written by one of the best thinkers in the world, one whom I respect and who taught at a school that I formerly attended. I’m going to give the link below, but will also give some other perspective, just so you can get a few specific tidbits about the specific questions you have. Still, this article is so outstanding, it will help you clarify these issues greatly, giving you lots of inner peace.
Beyond that, here are a few other tid bits.
The key to divine inspiration is that the Bible represents the only divinely authorized sacred text in existence. Meaning, this is God’s self-disclosure and only authorized autobiographical/biographi
It’s important to understand that the books “recognized” as authoritative and “scripture” were not haphazardly chosen, which is what some who wish to have unbounded moral freedom would have us believe. They believe that, if they cast doubt on the selection of books, then that jeopardizes the authorship and, hence, the authority of the Bible.
Essentially, it worked this way: The books were given by what conservative evangelicals and others call “Verbal Plenary Inspiration.” This is one of about 7-9 views of inspiration. Those theories of inspiration range from viewing “inspiration” as being nothing more than a slightly heightened sense of awareness… to the human writers being nothing more than entranced copyists who fell into a divinely-induced trance. Serious Bible-Believing Scholars generally agree that the Bible was given by verbal-plenary inspiration, meaning that God gave the content of the book and, while allowing freedom to the author to express his or her general attitudes, personalities, emotions, and so on– that God superintended the ULTIMATE PRODUCT so that (a) the writer was supernaturally enabled to ensure that the individual words chosen were in accordance with God intended and were free from error– and (b) that the final autographs (the original book the writer completed) were wholly, as a complete document, free from error (inerrant). Then, Bible-believing scholars agree (and insist, due to specific passages of scripture such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21) that though thousands of copies of those originals (autographs) were copied (viz., manuscripts), that the careful evaluation of those as a whole by qualified biblical scholars has given us a clear and still accurate understanding of exactly what God originally intended. This is a view called “preservation.” We know from textual evidence (the 24000 partial, whole, and fragmental pieces of ancient manuscripts, including the 5200 or so complete ancient manuscripts), that even the copyists of those originals were in 96% agreement, with (a) the remaining 4% of differences being on non-essential and non-doctrinal issues (unspecific, minor words) and (b) that those 4% can be explained by obvious slips of the quill of the copyists, alternative spellings for words between different dialects of languages, and obsolete words that were replaced by future generations, and the like. ALL OF THAT TO SAY that we have solid certainty about the authority of the text in general.
Then, 5 tests (described in the document I sent– I checked to make sure it was in there) were applied by the church and its global leadership to ensure that the books which were being evaluated for inclusion into the Holy Bible met each and every of these obvious and clearly biblical standards.
That said, though you are right in saying that there are some differences in opinion between Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism today, it’s more easily explained than it seems. But first note that, those branches of modern churches are not authoritative on these matters, because believers of the ancient Jewish faith before Christ and the Early Church, as a whole, established these facts about what was and wasn’t scripture. More recent waffling on these issues doesn’t change the global and collective agreement that stood for centuries. But the gist of it is this: Deuterocanonical works are just that– deutero (secondary) canonical (standards). Meaning, they are “edifying reading” but not authoritative– but still generally better than, say, a romance novel. So they have some historical or religious merit, but are not scripture. Think of them as ancient Christian novels or ancient Christian historical-narratives, with some bias and some potential errors (factual and/or theological), but still… somewhat valuable. Now, of course, we have newer reflections on things that exceed the value and accuracy of the deuterocanonical writings, so many of those newer writings are of greater insight, accuracy and worth than the DC writings– hence, I study those more than I take time for DC books like Judith, Ecclesiasticus, etc. But those DC books were NEVER considered scripture, equal to the Bible. But because of Roman Catholic elevation of them and their relative value in the early centuries of the church, they were sometimes included as Christian writings after the biblical writings– but never simply interspersed with the scriptures themselves.. They would appear in groupings, etc. Other words, such as the Pseudopigrapha in particular– (pseudo/false pigraph/writings– are known to be spurious, so they are even further out and less reliable than even the DC writings (apocrypha), so they hardly, if ever, appear beside scripture. These are books like the Gospel of Thomas (which wasn’t)… that things like the DaVinci Code was based on, and so forth.
When scripture was established by the global community of faith– there was nearly immediately universal agreement on the books of scripture. The Old Testament canon was established very early as it was being written (through the tests of canonicity) and the New Testament was as well. The only exceptions were very limited and regional differences among some smaller factions (such as a group that may have objected to including Esther because the name of God didn’t technically appear), but those disagreements were dispensed with quickly and global consensus cleared up those matters. Only later, as less informed people and even unbelievers crept into churches and began to push the legitimacy of some books (e.g., such as today, where many Roman Catholics value certain DC books– but aren’t, themselves, even bonafide and legitimate believers who honor biblical teachings on what salvation and the church are, for example). So, yes, on the surface, this seems to have confused the issue– but no Bible belieiving Christian who is abreast on the facts is confused by these things.
One other thing– differences in things like the Vulgate, though I’m not an expert on it– are due to a few things (a) the fact that the Vulgate represents a less technical and ‘vulgar’ or ‘low brow, colloquial’ type of language– as opposed to the higher, technical language that would be more appropriate for theological language– but less suited for a less-educated populus (think of how more accurate you could explain something with the complete English language versus explaining technical issues with only a 600 word vocabulary that is under the 7th grade reading level– you get the idea); (b) as time went on and language changed– as all living languages do, nuances and etymologies and meanings of some words changed, leading to variances of words between dialects, regions (just like Cuban Spanish and Mexican Spanish may differ), and so on– so that affected how some words were understood and written; (c) finally, for the sake of time and brevity, different publishers and scholars had varying opinions and budgets to work from, and some we know chose to include footnotes in the text and explanatory notes, historical pieces that shed light on some texts, and other glosses as they may be called, and this led to the differences. Just as different writing styles and formatting approaches (like APA, MLA, and so on are used today here, and different ones may be used elsewhere in the world), different companies publishing Bibles with different scholars included different things.
Are you saying that, as the books of the Bible were being written that they were becoming canonized (pronounced as Holy Writ and placed in the Bible as scripture)? That is to say, were we working with an open canon for quite some time, during both the Old and New Testament times?
It worked this way.
As the texts were being written… (around 1500BC-400BC for the Old Testament, and 40-100 AD for the New Testament), there were these general understandings that the People of Israel/Jews had about this literature they were exposed to, as there were with the New Testament writings (which, again, came MUCH closer together and were more widely circulated, because the Christian Church was geographically spread apart than Israel and Judah). So there were a ‘little’ differences between Jewish perspectives about authoritative tests and that of the Christian church, but that’s too technical to really matter here.
So let’s don’t get tripped up on the word ‘canonized.’ That’s showing a more Roman Catholic perspective, and we want to think in terms of the New Testament period and that of ancient Judaism, not to suspend a several-centuries later perspective on it.
So what happened was that the people of God were exposed to both false prophets and prophets/apostles of God throughout time. Some of them had writings that were ostensibly received from God. As the people of God heard or read these things, the Spirit of God bore witness in the hearts of people, along with the tests of canonicity– general principles that were taken into consideration, that these were (or were not) the Word of God. (Keep in mind, when you read the Gospel of Mark, you don’t have to be a theologian with a Ph.D. to know it is God speaking, if you follow me). But the people of God quickly and immediately identified certain books as scripture. And as they were being identified and written, more and more were accepted (and others were universally rejected, like the apocrypha and pseudopigrapha, etc.). And as this happened in real time, over centuries, as God dynamically gave His word and self-revelation to people, the ‘canon’ grew. When the Old Testament was completed in or around the 400s, it was already an established fact which books were official. Later on, like in the article below, because of some later challenges by smaller factions of people who probably weren’t even true believers and the like, there were sometimes a need to ‘reaffirm’ or ‘clarify’ officially what was universally known, accepted, believed, and taught all along. So when groups like this met, they sometimes reminded people of what they believed and sometimes offered a statement publically to summarize their beliefs. So, like at Jamnia below, there were times when the “canon” was identified in writing and it became a part of the historical record we have. And that’s fine and no problem.
The problem is that, because churches like Catholicism think that their church and their bishops speak for God in an official authoritative way– in ways that go beyond scripture, I might add– and when they do this, they make statements that make the untrained theological eye believe that they had the authority to make official pronouncements about canonizing scripture and establishing what scripture was, etc. While, in fact, that was already established by the people of God, universally, in the past. There was no need for any canonization because (and this is my central point), HUMANITY CANNOT ‘CANONIZE’ AND DICTATE WHAT GOD’S WORD IS OR WHAT THE BIBLE IS– GOD DOES THAT. GOD DICTATES WHAT HIS WORD IS AND HE DETERMINES WHAT THE BIBLE BOOKS ARE… THEY DON’T NEED THE APPROVAL OF SOME CHURCH BODY LED BY IMPERFECT PRIESTS. The fact that they are from God is a self-justifying reality and they are easily identified as scripture, and it is God (not we) who establishes the canon. We only recognize and affirm what it is, we don’t determine it. However, through discernment, we can compare other writings against the established canon, and through that, we speak to establish what ISN’T THE CANON. So the church’s job is one of polemics and apologetics.
Polemics is when Christian leaders speak to the church and clear up confusion to people inside the church and call out on the carpet false teachers pushing false teachings and false books. Apologetics is when Christians defend the faith against unbelievers outside the church. I hope that makes sense.
So, like at Jamnia, the point wasn’t to “try to figure out what books will be included in the Bible” but to come to consensus among those people (who didn’t have universal authority in the church in the first place) regarding issues about certain scriptural questions they had. Just like today, if there was an issue we needed to really establish clarity on, we could call a church council to discuss and try to DISCOVER what God said about the matter– and not to create a policy about it. God has spoken, and our job is to discover what He said and to then communicate that– our job isn’t to speak for Him by putting words in his mouth.
So canonicity was God’s people agreeing publically and “for the record” stating the obvious and helping, once and for all, to promote ideas that were already widely understood and accepted– and to clarify minor issues related to those topics as well.
Because the Bible came to us not as one finished book, but as it was being revealed in real time in history by God at the appointed time– it HAD to be ‘open’ during those days.
But, at the completion of Revelation, God made it clear there (in chapter 21 or 22) that it was the concluding authoritative book, and said so. This officially CLOSED the canon, so now we know that any and all books (form the pseudopigrapha to the Quran to others) that claim equal status to scripture are in error, because God made that clear. And that’s why there has never been any serious challenge to what is authentic canon since that time. Only small factions of uninformed activists ever dream up these ideas, but the universal church speaks against those things and they never materalize, because it’s clear to the church what is and what isn’t scripture.
From a current conversation that I am having with someone regarding a very technical aspect of theology, I am rediscovering a real and pervasive problem that is hindering people from getting a better grasp of God and the Bible.
This is an important issue, because it creates confusion on our understanding of God– which in turn has a radical effect on how we think and live our lives.
The problem? That some people (especially church leaders and church members) use theological words and terminology without really understanding what they mean.
Need I give examples? OK, sure… How about:
- Limited Atonement or Unlimited Atonement… or “atonement” for that matter
- Election, unconditional or conditional
- The list goes on
Now, it’s not that NO ONE knows what the words mean, but they are used by BOTH people who do AND don’t understand those terms. They are then, in turn, heard by people who had a limited understanding of the terms in the first place– who, themselves, then casually re-use the terms with others. The result is that it sort of becomes the old example of getting in a circle and sharing a word or concept with someone and them passing around the circle until it gets back to the original person; inevitably, the concept bears no resemblance to what was originally said or meant. That’s what happens when people are fast and loose with theological terms– especially Christian leaders and speakers.
The Development of “Hearsay Status”
As a result, these words take on a type of “hearsay status” where everybody uses the words without really understanding exactly what they mean. And that further dilutes the already weak understanding of theology that people had in the first place.
Now, one good rule of thumb is to AVOID using words of which we don’t know the meaning. My mom taught me that when I was a kid. My Uncle “Cotton,” as he was called, told me to go to my mom (in front of a group of people) and make a certain statement. I dutifully did what my mischievous uncle told me to do, only to see the look of horror on my mom’s face as the profane word fell from my lips. (I’ve never said THAT word since). The experience taught me not to use words I didn’t really know.
But that doesn’t keep the average person from doing it.
Lest you misunderstand from these initial statements, let me clarify my point. The solution to this problem isn’t what you think. By no means would I suggest that people STOP using theological terms altogether. Nor do I want to force people to “leave theology for the formally educated.” No, theology is everybody’s business. And we “use” theology every time we think or say anything about God.
So the answer isn’t to STOP using theology or theological terms– it is simply for people to engage in more rigorous LEARNING of theological words. It is a good thing for Christians and others to develop a working knowledge of what such words mean, so they can engage in more meaningful and intelligent discourse about truth, knowledge, meaning, ethics, morality, and… God. And as a person develops that understanding, their use of such words should be commensurate with the current knowledge that they have.
Also, we should insist on people using these words technically and accurately, so we can ensure that closer approximations and descriptions of spiritual phenomena and realities are commonly known and understood. That means holding people who use these words accountable for their proper use. As we do, over time, our collective understanding of important themes and ideas will be greater, and we can all grow in our depth and breadth of the most important things in life and eternity.
I was asked recently where God… or the idea of God comes from. Note: though I jotted this post down quickly, some of my ideas follow a sequential pattern, so it may be best to read it slowly–otherwise parts of it may not seem to make sense.
The idea of God is the greatest idea and most powerful concept possible. No other concept carries the weight or the import of this singular postulation. In fact, the great mind that was Mortimer Adler listed the “idea of God” (a Supreme Being) as one of the great themes ever conceptualized. His research implies that there are more references to “god” in literature and popular culture than any other concept. That’s saying something.
The idea of God is birthed in our consciousness because, as the Bible says, “deep calls to deep.” The core and epicenter of our inner man innately recognizes in its deepest and innermost existence, the reality of an ultimate reality– not only a “higher power” but a profoundly absolute being, with inestimable force, which awakens in us a longing and a desire for intimacy.
That is not mere God Speak. It is a fair characterization and articulation of a universally experienced reality. It is simply a fact that people naturally believe, without being coached or told, that an awesome force and uncaused cause or Prime Mover is “there.” And this sense within themselves causes a longing to (watch this) KNOW and BE KNOWN by this Being.
Ironically, this very reality speaks to the personal nature of this Being– for, if the ultimate being were impersonal and only a force or power alone– without attributes of personality and identity, then it would make no sense for people to seek to know or be known by it. But, in fact, we DO have an innate hunch that this being is knowable and perceivable, and that it (dare I say “He”) could also “know” and “perceive” us back. Wow.
What’s more, because the idea of God represents belief in a Supreme/Ultimate/Sovereign Being, it is natural for such an “organizing principle” and reality to define everything about us… in reference to Himself AS THAT Supreme Being.
Meaning that, because God is the Supreme Being and because we sense His existence and being naturally and without coaching, as non-supreme, temporal, limited, finite beings, we naturally seek to understand Him and our relationship TO Him, because (as the Supreme Being), he must be the one fixed, immobile, and non-transitory reference point of existence. In other words, and this is critical to get, our very identity (understanding who we are) and our sense of meaning (understanding why we are here) is bound up and wrapped in His identity and existence.
FOR THIS REASON– (to recap, because, as created beings, our existence is dependent on and wrapped up in God as the Supreme Being and Creator), this explains humanity’s restlessness with their own sense of meaning and purpose in life– and also explains and speaks to the nearly universal issue of identity crisis. The fact is that we SIMPLY DON’T KNOW WHO WE ARE– NOR DO WE KNOW WHY WE ARE HERE OR THE PURPOSE OF LIFE, and HOW TO FIND ULTIMATE MEANING IN IT, without the organizing principle of God.
When a person finds God– or, rather, is found by the One and Only True God, those fears, insecurities, doubts, and threats always begin to fade into distant memory. This is the God of the Bible– He created us this way and, though we are estranged from Him, He loves us nonetheless, and in our estrangement and emptiness and longing, He seeks and pursues us.
That pursuit is a deep stream of inquiry and wondering that routinely filter through our minds and consciousness– it is nothing other than that Deep calling to Deep (Psalm/Song 42:7, Old Testament).
Perhaps more to come.