I have been asked the following question about the Bible a number of times by various non-Christians and have not been able to give a solid, convincing answer. I am hoping you can.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, paragraph VI, states, "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."
I take that statement to imply that what constitutes the Bible can be deduced from reading the Bible. Being "sufficient," the Bible should tell you what belongs in it and what does not.
The problem is, the list of books belonging to the New Testament neither is "expressly set down in Scripture" nor can be "deduced from Scripture." Common sense and logic would seem to say that the list of New Testament books must be then considered merely a "tradition of men."
Can you tell me, in a manner consistent with the Christian belief that Scripture is "sufficient" for salvation and with the Westminster Confession of Faith, why Christians accept the extra-biblical "list" of New Testament books as an infallible revelation from God and not a "man-conceived tradition"?
I am not sure that I can answer your question in the way you would like. But I am more than willing to answer you in this way: simply telling you the truth.
In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul expresses his hope "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know . . . " (Ephesians 1:17,18). He expressed himself in that way because he knew what the real problem was (and is). The Bible—including the New Testament—is the inspired word of God. A vast multitude of people (including the author of this note to you) have been enabled to see that it is. This is not because they are smarter than other people, or more educated, etc. No, it is simply because they have had the eyes of their heart enlightened. And it was that way right from the start.
When the Apostles were on earth, faithfully telling people about the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, there were some people who could not accept it. And there were others who could not reject it! The difference in those who could not reject it was this enlightening work of the Holy Spirit. It was this same enlightening work that led the early Christians to recognize the writings of the Apostles as the foundation of their faith. You see, the Church did not create the Canon (the list of inspired books that we have in the New Testament). No, it was the Canon that really created the Church. The Church was constrained by the fact that it could see (with a heart enlightened) that these books were divinely inspired.
It is for this reason that our Confession of Faith says "The authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God." (1:4) And while the witness of men—and of the historic church—does have weight, yet "our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts."
My own experience confirms what the Confession of Faith says. For years (in my early life), though I sat in church and heard Bible reading and sermons, it made little impression on me. But then, one day, the eyes of my own heart were enlightened. And then I too could see that the Bible (including the 27 books of the New Testament) are indeed the inspired word of God. And now after more than 50 years as a pastor—with constant study of the Bible and preaching of its contents—I can see it ever more clearly. Yes, in the spiritual realm, "seeing is believing."
May the Lord grant this incomparable gift to you also.
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