Joseph Herrin (09-29-2015)
What follows is an exchange with a man who is serving a term in a Georgia prison. To read a previous exchange with this same man, see the following blog post.
Thank you for getting back to me so quickly and thoroughly. Your answers have given me much to contemplate and the book on the Bible (Yahweh’s Book) has much to be digested. Your argument regarding the “Lord’s Supper” being a parable certainly clears up any confusion I had and rings true to me as something God had intended to say.
My eyes are being opened to the ways we turn over our faith to other men, almost like we are outsourcing the care of our souls to men we deem more knowledgeable or powerful.
My friend in the free world sent me some information, very limited, about the gnostic gospels and a list of other gospels and epistles and stories of Jesus’ infancy that were not deemed canonical by the powers that be. This author’s argument was that this sect of the early church were the winners, most willing to play ball with the Romans, so they were able to prosper and as a result they wrote history as they believed it and that is the New Testament we have today. They emphasize the “Gospel of Thomas” and a book called “The Shepherd of Hermes.” I have not read these, but supposedly they speak of a more human Jesus and not Jesus as God.
The argument that Jesus came as the sacrifice to justify the penalty of death seems valid, but only for the Jews. God gave the Law and the practice of sacrifice to cleanse sins to the Jews, not to all of humanity, so isn’t the idea of Jesus being the once and for all sacrifice only applicable to the Jews? The rest of humanity died from sin because they lived in the flesh, but if we live by the spirit we will have eternal life, sacrifice or not. This brings up the topic of those outside the Law before Jesus, and what happened to them, but I don’t want to delve into that right now.
A few months ago you mentioned astrology and said that astrology was used for selfish practices and self gain. I realize that newspaper astrology is not true astrology. I’m not even certain what true astrology is, but I gather that the forces of the planets (be they spiritual or physical in the form of gravity or electromagnetic) have influences on human life much like the moon on the tides. If this is true, wouldn’t God want us to understand and use this information as it pertains to the forces of nature in our lives? We have and understand seasons and they are governed by celestial bodies, and by them we set our calendars and planting seasons. Wouldn’t it be wise to know when a good time to conduct business in my personal life would be, just as I need to know when to plant a seed or water the yard if I know it won’t rain?
You could say when and where we were born is a location in time, and knowing the seasons and weather of that location through astrology would be wise and practical, just as a farmer knows the climate and the seasons. Just another tool God has given us, yes? I could be mistaken as to my understanding of astrology.
Lastly, I guess my biggest hang up with Christianity is the divinity of Jesus. Without the Bible and Churches one can arrive at the knowledge of God’s existence. Civilizations and man alone has done this throughout existence. But the divinity of Jesus is not known outside of a corrupt book and corrupt church. I don’t know what motives would cause one sect to favor one divinity over another other than the same convictions that drive people to do extreme things for personal beliefs under the banner of “I’m right.” Ego and self-righteousness are powerful drivers! I’m not sure I can be convinced otherwise, but like you said it will be up to the Lord to reveal Himself to me if that is His will. I will continue to learn about and love God and seek truth! Hope all is well. Thank you again for taking the time to write. I’ve enclosed some stamps.
It is good to hear from you again. You always raise some interesting points for discussion. I am glad to see that you are taking the time to consider spiritual matters. Although you are still uncertain about the identity of God, I do encourage you to pray to Him and ask Him to reveal Himself to you and to lead you to the truth. There is a famous passage in the Bible in The Acts of the Apostles where Paul addresses a group of men gathered in the city of Athens, Greece. In this ancient city there was a forum called the Areopagus where people gathered for no other purpose than to hear something new. It was discovered that Paul was proclaiming a new message of God having a Son who was sent to earth to ransom men from their sins and the people of the place wanted to hear this message. Paul began by stating the following.
“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said,’ For we also are His offspring.’”
As you noted at the end of your letter, it is true that no man can come to Christ unless the Father grants it. Yet at the same time, the Bible speaks favorably of men seeking after God, groping as it were, that they might discover His identity and enter into a relationship with the Creator who formed them. Based on this testimony of the apostle Paul, it seems appropriate to encourage men such as yourself to not only search for the “UNKNOWN GOD,” but to pray to the God you know exists, asking Him to lead you to the path of truth and life.
In your letter you started out by speaking of writings that did not get included in the canon of Scripture. You specifically mentioned The Gospel of Thomas, considered one of the Gnostic Gospels, and The Shepherd of Hermas. The argument presented in the material you were sent, that these writings are authentic, but did not get included in the Bible because another sect of Christianity triumphed, being willing to “play ball with Rome,” is a clever argument, but it does not stand up to scrutiny.
From its inception, Christianity was very much decentralized. Although there were a group of “Elders” in Jerusalem whom we see meeting together in the book of Acts to determine what message should be shared with the Gentiles who were coming to faith in Christ, we see that the guidelines they set forth, and the oversight they exercised, was very much restrained.
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them,
“The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
The need for this meeting arose due to certain men from the Jewish sect of the Pharisees troubling the Gentile believers by telling them that in addition to faith in Christ they must receive circumcision and agree to follow the Law of Moses. Those who were recognized as church leaders (including the apostles Peter and Paul, and James the brother of Yahshua) met to decide the matter and to send a letter of instruction to the various Gentile churches.
Such convocations were evidently rare. There is only this one which is mentioned in the New Testament. The hierarchy we see in the Roman Catholic Church where a centralized religious authority dictates to every other church and Christian on the planet is a gross aberration of will of God. It is taught in the New Testament, and has always been the principle of the true church, for all men to have Christ as their head, rather than a man, and to receive instruction by the Holy Spirit rather than edicts and encyclicals from Rome or some other religious center.
I Corinthians 11:3
I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
John 6:43, 45
Jesus answered and said to them…, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.”
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me…”
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”
When the church first started there were no New Testament Scriptures. Christ appointed men to be His apostles, and the Holy Spirit moved upon men to function as teachers and prophets and evangelists and pastors to those who were coming to faith in Christ. Men were Christ’s witnesses, and the Holy Spirit attested to the veracity of these witnesses through signs and wonders as well as by placing an anointing upon these men so that their words were attended with conviction and power. The role of the Holy Spirit has ALWAYS been central to the life of the church. Those who are born again of the Spirit of Christ have resident within them the life of the Spirit. One function of the Spirit is to disclose both truth and error to people.
I John 2:26-27
These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
Alex, these words written by the apostle John reveal that the Spirit resident with the Christian will expose deception and testify to truth. Over the course of some decades the Holy Spirit moved upon some men to set down in writing the testimony of the Christian gospel message. We have the four gospels, written either by apostles (John and Matthew), or by men who walked with the apostles (Mark and Luke). We also have the writings of apostles, with Paul writing the majority of them, but there also being writings from the apostles Peter and John, and other church leaders such as Jude and James. These writings became disseminated among the churches. We even find in a number of Paul’s writings that he tells those to whom he is writing to share his letter with the other churches and to in turn read the letters he sent to the other churches.
And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.
It didn’t take long for deceivers to begin seeking to sow confusion into the church, for Satan has ever been the adversary of Christ and of the truth. The apostle Paul revealed in one of his letters that there were deceivers who were sending out false writings in his name, and thereby troubling the faith of some people.
II Thessalonians 2:1-2
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
The churches had to exercise spiritual discernment, being attentive to the voice of the Spirit of Christ resident in them, to recognize what was true and what was false, what was authentic and what was counterfeit. Over time the churches embraced a group of writings as authentic, recognizing the evidence of the breath of the Spirit of Christ upon them. There was no ecclesiastical meeting which determined which books were approved and which were not. It was the Spirit at work in the hearts of the Christians that led to the adoption of what we recognize today as the canon of the Scriptures of the New Testament.
An agreement on the 27 books of the New Testament which we recognize today did not occur all at once. It occurred over time, with all 27 books being adopted in some areas centuries before they were adopted in others. F.F. Bruce, a Bible scholar and historian has provided an account of the adoption of various New Testament writings. I am going to append that writing to the end of my letter to you. I will just mention a few brief items from that writing now. F.F. Bruce relates what some of the early church fathers wrote about the books of the New Testament which were recognized.
Origen (185-254) mentions the four Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Paulines, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation as acknowledged by all; he says that Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James and Jude, with the ‘Epistle of Barnabas,’ the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews,’ were disputed by some. Eusebius (c. 265-340) mentions as generally acknowledged all the books of our New Testament except James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, which were disputed by some, but recognised by the majority. Athanasius in 367 lays down the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as alone canonical; shortly afterwards Jerome and Augustine followed his example in the West. The process farther east took a little longer; it was not until c. 508 that 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation were included in a version of the Syriac Bible in addition to the other twenty two books.
Note that Origen who lived from 185-254 A.D. mentions some books as “accepted by all,” and some others as disputed. Among the disputed books is The Shepherd of Hermas which you mentioned in your letter. What should be noted is that Origen does not mention The Gospel of Thomas at all. There are two reasons why this may be so. Either the book did not exist at the time, or there was no significant segment of the church who thought it was an authentic writing inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The same thing occurs with Eusebius and Athanasius nearly a century later. Once again we find that there is some disagreement regarding some of the 27 books now recognized as divinely inspired Scripture, but The Gospel of Thomas is not mentioned. If, as the article you read suggests, there was a legitimate sect among the Christian church who believed The Gospel of Thomas was divinely inspired and was an authentic writing of the disciple of Christ known as Thomas Didymus in the Gospels, it would surely have been mentioned in the writings of these early church historians and teachers.
F.F. Bruce ends his history of the canon of the New Testament with the following words.
One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognising their innate worth and general apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities, but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.
This is an important point. The argument that a segment of the church that was willing to play ball with Rome ultimately decided which books would be in the New Testament is false. The ecclesiastical councils mentioned merely acknowledged what the judgment and practice of the churches had already concluded. Christians, being led of the Spirit of Christ, exercised discernment as they tested various writings to see whether they should be granted the honor and authority of being recognized as divine Scripture. The truth is that Rome eventually adopted 15 or 16 additional books that the rest of the churches rejected as failing the test for divine inspiration. These books are referred to as The Apocrypha, and you will find them in Roman Catholic Bibles to this day.
This leads me to your next point. You wrote:
The argument that Jesus came as the sacrifice to justify the penalty of death seems valid, but only for the Jews. God gave the Law and the practice of sacrifice to cleanse sins to the Jews, not to all of humanity, so isn’t the idea of Jesus being the once and for all sacrifice only applicable to the Jews?
The subject you have raised here also ties in with the last thing you mentioned.
Lastly, I guess my biggest hang up with Christianity is the divinity of Jesus. Without the Bible and Churches one can arrive at the knowledge of God’s existence. Civilizations and man alone has done this throughout existence. But the divinity of Jesus is not known outside of a corrupt book and corrupt church.
Yahweh’s desire goes far beyond man recognizing that He exists. Only those who are fools can look at the creation and fail to observe that there is a God who has designed it all, and who guides and holds it all together. Only a fool can look at their own existence and conclude that they are nothing more than a product of time and chance.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
There are many who consider themselves wise in this world who have concluded that there is no God.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…
Men of science have assigned to their own race the name of “homo sapiens.” This Latin phrase means “men of wisdom.” Is it not great folly that many of these “learned men” of science have concluded there is no God? “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Truly the heart of man has become darkened. Men today not only fail to honor God and give thanks to Him for His many blessings, but they deny His very existence.
Historically it is true that men from all cultures and eras have acknowledged the existence of God. Many became futile in their speculations, however, and imagined a god who was corrupted like themselves, or a god in the image of four footed beasts, winged creatures, and even insects. Yahweh is not satisfied that men merely recognize that a god exists. He created men that He might have sons in His image and likeness. He created men that they might have fellowship with Him and know His mind and His ways. Yahweh’s determined purpose is that man might share His holy and righteous character.
It should be evident to you in prison that natural men, those who have been born of woman, have failed to arrive at a state of holy and righteous living. The apostle Paul provided a list of the character qualities the Spirit of God seeks to form in mankind.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
We see the opposite of these divine characteristics listed in the Law of God which states, “You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not lie. You shall not covet. Etc.” The apostle Paul further expands on the list of Spiritual fruit as he defines what love is.
I Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…
There are more than 600 laws listed in the Old Testament. 365 of those laws are prohibitions against some act that God condemns. Jesus Christ/Yahshua the Messiah summed up all of the laws of God in the following words.
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
The apostle Paul taught the same truth.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Alex, the prisons would be emptied if men exhibited the character of God in their lives. If all men ruled their lives by love, seeking the welfare of others above themselves, there would be no need to jail anyone. One thing Yahweh desires for all men to recognize is their innate sinfulness. He wants them to recognize and admit that the ability to do good, to live godly lives that satisfy His standard of righteousness, is not present with them. No matter how much a man wills it, he will always fall short of the standard of Yahweh’s holiness.
For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
God gave the Law to man, specifically to the Jews. Many people have the mistaken idea that God gave the Law to man that man might be able to know what their Creator expects of them so that man might amend his ways and find approval in God’s sight. Such a concept is misguided. The reason God gave the Law to man was to demonstrate to humanity that they could never attain to His standard of righteousness. The Law was given to reveal a fundamental deficiency in man. Man did not have the desire or the power to live a righteous life. No matter how hard a man might try, the selfish, sinful desires within would assert themselves and man would fall short of God’s character. This is what the apostle Paul stated in one of his letters. Paul is writing the following words as a description of his woeful condition BEFORE he received the indwelling Holy Spirit and became a disciple of Christ.
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
To summarize, Paul is stating that the Law is spiritual, but he was not. Only a spiritual man can fulfill the requirements of a spiritual law. No matter how much Paul wanted to do what was right, he found that there was an evil dwelling in him that would cause him to do wicked things. This evil is called sin. Because of the transgression of Adam in the Garden of Eden, all of Adam’s descendants fell under the curse of sin and death. Adam had not yet had any offspring when he sinned. Thus all of his descendants were still in his loins as his seed. When Adam fell under the dominion of sin, all of his descendants fell under the dominion of sin with him. Every person born as a descendant of Adam is born a sinner. They sin instinctually. Men are selfish, rebellious, and prone to evil works such as lying, stealing, adultery, coveting, and murder.
God gave the Law to Abraham’s descendants to demonstrate through a chosen people that no one could measure up to His standard of righteousness. David was declared to be a man after God’s heart, yet David in a moment of fleshly lust committed adultery, and then when the woman became pregnant and he was afraid of being discovered, he had her husband murdered. David’s life after that was a living nightmare. He was racked with guilt. He was grieved that his fellowship with God had been broken. He was sorely vexed that he had committed such a great sin against God.
David was among the best of men, yet he fell. Paul desired earnestly to attain to the righteous standard of the Law, but he found that the Law’s commandments made him want to sin all the more. This then is the purpose of the Law. It was given to reveal to mankind his spiritual bankruptcy, his lack of divine character. Men have a tendency to foolishly compare themselves to one another. They reason, “Well, I am not as bad as that other man, so surely God will approve of me.”
II Corinthians 10:12
But when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
God therefore gave man a standard to measure themselves against. It was a divine standard, not a human standard. In the 1,500 years from the time the Law was delivered to Moses, until the time Christ was born, not one man ever was able to attain to the righteous standard of the divine Law.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
The apostle Paul further reveals that the Law was given to show man their need of Christ. God sent His Son into the world because He alone had the spiritual life within His being to be able to fulfill all the righteous requirements of the Law. Christ ever lived to love God and love mankind. He never acted selfishly. He never gave into a wicked desire. The Bible declares,
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
An inviolable law of Yahweh’s creation is that sin always results in death. The Bible states:
For the wages of sin is death…
The soul who sins will die.
Yahweh warned Adam that the day he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die, for to eat the fruit was a violation of God’s will, and this is sin. The reason death is present in creation is that all creation has fallen under the curse of sin. We can know that we are sinners because our physical bodies all perish. Where there is death, there is sin. Where there is sin, there is death.
In His grace Yahweh established another law. This is the law of substitution. The wages of sin is always death, but Yahweh will allow the soul of one creature to die that another soul might live. In the Old Testament Yahweh permitted men to slay a lamb, a goat, a bird, or a bull. The sins of the man would be transferred to the animal. The animal would serve as a substitutionary offering for the man. The animal would forfeit its life that the man might live.
These sin offerings had to be presented year after year for men continued to sin. Only a man who lived a sinless life could offer himself up as a perfect sin offering for fallen mankind. This sinless man was the Son of God, Yahshua the Messiah.
Here is another area where both Christians and non-Christians do err seriously. They focus exclusively on the sin offering Christ became as He offered up His life on man’s behalf when He was crucified on the cross of Calvary. If this were all Christ came to do, man would still be left in bondage to sin. Man would be forgiven as he confessed his sin and accepted by faith the substitutionary offering of Christ, but man would still continue to be ruled by sin. He would have no power to live a life of divine righteousness.
Christ came to do a far greater work than merely paying the penalty for man’s sin. After living a sinless life, dying for mankind, being resurrected and ascending to the Father, Yahshua sent forth His Spirit to indwell mankind. Those who believe receive the Spirit of Christ into their physical body. They are born spiritually just like they had been born physically. This second birth produces in them the divine life they formerly lacked. This spiritual life they receive produces in them both the desire to live a life pleasing to the Father, and the power to do so. They are no longer slaves to sin. They become servants of righteousness.
The great deficiency of the Law was that it could only reveal the standard of Yahweh’s righteousness. It could not impart divine life to man so that he could attain to that standard. Paul declares this deficiency of the Law in the following words.
For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
To paraphrase Paul’s words, the Law could not give man divine life, but Jesus Christ/Yahshua the Messiah can. Those who have been made one with Christ by faith receive not only the forgiveness of sin and the cancellation of the death decree against them, they also receive the Spirit of Christ to indwell them. It is the Spirit who empowers men to put to death the sinful flesh with its evil passions and desires, and it is the Spirit which enables them to manifest spiritual fruit instead. The man who was a liar is able to stop his lying and speak truth. The man who was covetous of his neighbor’s possessions is able to live a life of contentment, being satisfied with what God has given to him. The man whose heart was full of adultery is able to stop engaging in sexual immorality and to manifest self-control and selfless love for his fellow man.
When Christ arrived on this earth in the form of a man 2,000 years ago, the Jews had failed to learn the lesson the Law was intended to teach them. They deluded themselves, pretending to be keeping the Law of God when in fact they were violating it continually. Consequently, they did not acknowledge their lack of spiritual life. They did not perceive that they were spiritually dead and needed to be made alive. One evening a teacher of the Jews came to see Jesus. He declared to this teacher the truth which men had failed to grasp. Christ informed Nicodemus that all men needed to experience a spiritual birth just like they had experienced a physical birth.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?”
Alex, you mentioned that you could see how Christ had to come and offer His life as a sacrifice for the Jews, but that this did not apply to other men. Allow me to show you that you are mistaken about this. From the opening chapters of the first book of the Bible we are told of events that preceded the time of Moses and the Law by 2,500 years. We are told of the sin of Adam and Eve and what Yahweh did for them immediately after they had sinned.
Yahweh God made coats of skins for Adam and for his wife, and clothed them.
Do you remember what we read in Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers? He stated, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When Yahweh made garments of skins for Adam and Eve He was demonstrating through a type or shadow, what He would do 4,000 years later when He sent His Son to die for mankind. God had to slay an animal to make garments of skin for Adam and Eve. Adam’s name means “man.” All men were also in Adam as his seed. Therefore when Yahweh provided a covering for Adam, He was demonstrating through a symbolic means what He would eventually do when He sent forth His Son to become a merciful covering for all mankind.
We are all born sinners. Consequently, we all need the sacrifice of Christ. We also all need to be born of the Spirit of Christ and receive His divine life within us. Apart from becoming a partaker of His Spirit, nothing changes in our lives. It is only through the divine Spirit being given to man that they receive the desire and the power to do the will of God.
For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Alex, although men from other cultures and religions may have come to understand that God exists, none of them have understood their need to be born of the Spirit of God. Only through Christ is this truth revealed, and only through Christ is the Spirit given to mankind. Christ said,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
Do you recognize in yourself that you lack the divine life needed to live according to the righteous standard of God? Do you understand that no matter how much you may desire it, you are incapable of fulfilling the divine commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”? In our natural condition we lack the divine life and love of God within us. We may do some things that are loving, but as much as we may be resolved to not act in a selfish or unloving manner, we will find ourselves doing so again and again. Only by receiving the life of the Spirit of Christ within our members can we overcome the sin which dwells in our flesh and live a godly life in this world.
This is the message God wants men to hear and receive. This message is not proclaimed among the Hindus, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Roman Catholics, or any other false religion. It is only made known through Christ as it is proclaimed in the Bible, through the mouths of Christ’s disciples, and by the witness of the Holy Spirit.
Because I have been born of the Spirit of Christ, I have the Spirit present with me. The Bible describes those who have been born spiritually as temples of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit within a man reveals the thoughts and words of God.
I Corinthians 2:11-15
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
This brings me full circle back to the subject of false writings. I have read the apocryphal books. I have read some of the gnostic gospels. I have read more recent false teachings such as the Book of Mormon. When I read them I do not perceive any spiritual life present in them. The Spirit of Christ in a man reveals what is true and what is false. I don’t need other men to tell me which books are divinely inspired and which ones are not. The anointing, which is the Spirit of Christ within me, testifies to that which comes from God. This is how the early believers knew which writings were authentic and “God-breathed” and which ones were not.
Alex, the great need of all men is to receive the divine life of God within them. To do so they must be reconciled to God, for sin has made a breach in their relationship. Christ came to repair the breach. He gave His life as a substitutionary sacrifice for man that our sin guilt might be done away with in order that we might approach God, and do so without fear. As we approach Yahweh we may then ask Him to grant to us His divine Spirit that we might receive the spiritual life we lack. Christ spoke the following words:
“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?“
Christ testified that when we come to God to ask for the divine life we so badly need, we must come confidently, fully assured of our need and of God’s willingness to give us what we request. Yahshua told men to persist in asking God for the Spirit that they might have life. He will test men to see how intent they are on receiving that which they so desperately need.
And He said to them, “Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he shall answer and say,’ Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.”
In the Greek language which this was written in, the actual sense of the words is “keep on continually asking; keep on continually seeking; keep on continually knocking.” In other words, be determined that you are not going to leave until God gives you what you need, and He will surely give you His Spirit to indwell you and produce spiritual life in your body.
Alex, I have a book I have written that explains these things in more depth. It is the very first book I normally send to men who sign up to receive the Parables Bookshelf Newsletters. If you want to receive these writings, just write back and let me know. I will be glad to send them to you.
One thing I did not address in this letter is the subject of astrology that you brought up. I have a book titled Foundations in which I have written four chapters on the subject of astrology. If you want to receive that writing, when you write back mention the book Foundations and I will set it up in the queue so that it will be the second book of the newsletter series that is sent to you.
May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days,
The Canon of the New Testament
By F. F. Bruce
Chapter 3 in The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (5th edition; Leicester: Intervarsity Press, 1959).
Even when we have come to a conclusion about the date and origin of the individual books of the New Testament, another question remains to be answered. How did the New Testament itself as a collection of writings come into being? Who collected the writings, and on what principles? What circumstances led to the fixing of a list, or canon, of authoritative books?
The historic Christian belief is that the Holy Spirit, who controlled the writing of the individual books, also controlled their selection and collection, thus continuing to fulfil our Lord’s promise that He would guide His disciples into all the truth. This, however, is something that is to be discerned by spiritual insight, and not by historical research. Our object is to find out what historical research reveals about the origin of the New Testament canon. Some will tell us that we receive the twenty-seven books of the New Testament on the authority of the Church; but even if we do, how did the Church come to recognise these twenty-seven and no others as worthy of being placed on a level of inspiration and authority with the Old Testament canon?
The matter is oversimplified in Article VI of the Thirty Nine Articles, when it says: ‘In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.’ For, leaving on one side the question of the Old Testament canon, it is not quite accurate to say that there has never been any doubt in the Church of any of our New Testament books. A few of the shorter Epistles (e.g. 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, Jude) and the Revelation were much longer in being accepted in some parts than in others; while elsewhere books which we do not now include in the New Testament were received as canonical. Thus the Codex Sinaiticus included the ‘Epistle of Barnabas’ and the Shepherd of Hermas, a Roman work of about AD 110 or earlier, while the Codex Alexandrinus included the writings known as the First and Second Epistles of Clement; and the inclusion of these works alongside the biblical writings probably indicates that they were accorded some degree of canonical status.
The earliest list of New Testament books of which we have definite knowledge was drawn up at Rome by the heretic Marcion about 140. Marcion distinguished the inferior Creator-God of the Old Testament from the God and Father revealed in Christ, and believed that the Church ought to jettison all that appertained to the former. This ‘theological anti-semitism’ involved the rejecting not only of the entire Old Testament but also of those parts of the New Testament which seemed to him to be infected with Judaism. So Marcion’s canon consisted of two parts: (a) an expurgated edition of the
third Gospel, which is the least Jewish of the Gospels, being written by the Gentile Luke; and (b) ten of the Pauline Epistles (the three ‘Pastoral Epistles’ being omitted). Marcion’s list, however, does not represent the current verdict of the Church but a deliberate aberration from it.
Another early list, also of Roman provenance, dated about the end of the second century, is that commonly called the ‘Muratorian Fragment,’ because it was first published in Italy in 1740 by the antiquarian Cardinal L. A. Muratori. It is unfortunately mutilated at the beginning, but it evidently mentioned Matthew and Mark, because it refers to Luke as the third Gospel; then it mentions John, Acts, ‘Paul’s nine letters to churches and four to individuals (Philemon, Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy), Jude, two Epistles of John, and the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter.’ The Shepherd of Hermas is mentioned as worthy to be read (i.e. in church) but not to be included in the number of prophetic or apostolic writings.
The first steps in the formation of a canon of authoritative Christian books, worthy to stand beside the Old Testament canon, which was the Bible of our Lord and His apostles, appear to have been taken about the beginning of the second century, when there is evidence for the circulation of two collections of Christian writings in the Church. At a very early date it appears that the four Gospels were united in one collection. They must have been brought together very soon after the writing of the Gospel according to John. This fourfold collection was known originally as ‘The Gospel’ in the singular, not ‘The Gospels’ in the plural; there was only one Gospel, narrated in four records, distinguished as ‘according to Matthew,’ ‘according to Mark,’ and so on. About AD 115 Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, refers to ‘The Gospel’ as an authoritative writing, and as he knew more than one of the four ‘Gospels’ it may well be that by ‘The Gospel’ he means the fourfold collection which went by that name.
About AD 170 an Assyrian Christian named Tatian turned the fourfold Gospel into a continuous narrative or ‘Harmony of the Gospels,’ which for long was the favourite if not the official form of the fourfold Gospel in the Assyrian Church. It was distinct from the four Gospels in the Old Syriac version. It is not certain whether Tatian originally composed his Harmony, usually known as the Diatessaron, in Greek or in Syriac; but as it seems to have been compiled at Rome its original language was probably Greek, and a fragment of Tatian’s Diatessaron in Greek was discovered in the year 1933 at DuraEuropos on the Euphrates. At any rate, it was given to the Assyrian Christians in a Syriac form when Tatian returned home from Rome, and this Syriac Diatessaron remained the ‘Authorised Version’ of the Gospels for them until it was replaced by the Peshitta or ‘simple’ version in the fifth century.
By the time of Irenaeus, who, though a native of Asia Minor, was bishop of Lyons in Gaul about AD 180, the idea of a fourfold Gospel had become so axiomatic in the Church at large that he can refer to it as an established and recognised fact as obvious as the four cardinal points of the compass or the four winds:
For as there are four quarters of the world in which we live, and four universal winds, and as the Church is dispersed over all the earth, and the gospel is the pillar and base of the Church and the breath of life, so it is natural that it should have four pillars, breathing immortality from every quarter and kindling the life of men anew. Whence it is manifest that the Word, the architect of all things, who sits upon the cherubim and holds all things together, having been manifested to men, has given us the gospel in fourfold form, but held together by one Spirit.
When the four Gospels were gathered together in one volume, it meant the severance of the two parts of Luke’s history. When Luke and Acts were thus separated one or two modifications were apparently introduced into the text at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts. Originally Luke seems to have left all mention of the ascension to his second treatise; now the words ‘and was carried up into heaven’ were added in Luke xxiv. 51, to round off the narrative, and in consequence ‘was taken up’ was added in Acts i. 2. Thus the inconsistencies which some have detected between the accounts of the ascension in Luke and Acts are most likely due to these adjustments made when the two books were separated from each other.
Acts, however, naturally shared the authority and prestige of the third Gospel, being the work of the same author, and was apparently received as canonical by all except Marcion and his followers. Indeed, Acts occupied a very important place in the New Testament canon, being the pivotal book of the New Testament, as Harnack called it, since it links the Gospels with the Epistles, and, by its record of the conversion, call, and missionary service of Paul, showed clearly how real an apostolic authority lay behind the Pauline Epistles.
The corpus Paulinum, or collection of Paul’s writings, was brought together about the same time as the collecting of the fourfold Gospel. As the Gospel collection was designated by the Greek word Euangelion, so the Pauline collection was designated by the one word Apostolos, each letter being distinguished as ‘To the Romans,’ ‘First to the Corinthians,’ and so on. Before long, the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews was bound up with the Pauline writings. Acts, as a matter of convenience, came to be bound up with the ‘General Epistles’ (those of Peter, James, John and Jude).
The only books about which there was any substantial doubt after the middle of the second century were some of those which come at the end of our New Testament. Origen (185-254) mentions the four Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Paulines, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation as acknowledged by all; he says that Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James and Jude, with the ‘Epistle of Barnabas,’ the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews,’ were disputed by some. Eusebius (c. 265-340) mentions as generally acknowledged all the books of our New Testament except James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, which were disputed by some, but recognised by the majority. Athanasius in 367 lays down the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as alone canonical; shortly afterwards Jerome and Augustine followed his example in the West. The process farther east took a little longer; it was not until c. 508 that 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation were included in a version of the Syriac Bible in addition to the other twenty two books.
For various reasons it was necessary for the Church to know exactly what books were divinely authoritative. The Gospels, recording ‘all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,’ could not be regarded as one whit lower in authority than the Old Testament books. And the teaching of the apostles in the Acts and Epistles was regarded as vested with His authority. It was natural, then, to accord to the apostolic writings of the new covenant the same degree of homage as was already paid to the prophetic writings of the old. Thus Justin Martyr, about AD 150, classes the ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ along with the writings of the prophets, saving that both were read in meetings of Christians (Apol i. 67). For the Church did not, in spite of the breach with Judaism, repudiate the authority of the Old Testament; but, following the example of Christ and His apostles, received it as the Word of God. Indeed, so much did they make the Septuagint their own that, although it was originally a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek for Greek-speaking Jews before the time of Christ, the Jews left the Septuagint to the Christians, and a fresh Greek version of the Old Testament was made for Greek speaking Jews.
It was specially important to determine which books might be used for the establishment of Christian doctrine, and which might most confidently be appealed to in disputes with heretics. In particular, when Marcion drew up his canon about AD 140, it was necessary for the orthodox churches to know exactly what the true canon was, and this helped to speed up a process which had already begun. It is wrong, however, to talk or write as if the Church first began to draw up a canon after Marcion had published his.
Other circumstances which demanded clear definition of those books which possessed divine authority were the necessity of deciding which books should be read in church services (though certain books might be suitable for this purpose which could not be used to settle doctrinal questions), and the necessity of knowing which books might and might not be handed over on demand to the imperial police in times of persecution without incurring the guilt of sacrilege.
One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognising their innate worth and general apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.
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