How can only Matthew through Revelation be considered divine scripture?
What about the Apocrypha? What about the thousands of other writings?
Besides, it was man who canonized scripture and man is not perfect so that
would obvisouly mean that scripture runs the risk of not being perfect
right? What I am really struggling with is the realiability of scripture.


I already sent you a rather long article on the reliability of the New
Testament manuscripts. I would like to respond to your question more
specifically, as the article I attached does not deal specifically with
the Apocrypha.

First of all, there are in existence a number of apocryphal books by
Jewish writers, some of which are included in the Old Testament of the
Roman Catholic Bible. Examples include such as the books of
Ecclesiasticus, First Macabees and so forth. In addition there are many
books such as Third Macabees, Second Esdras and so forth which are of the
same genre, but which were never included in the Catholic Apocrypha. I
will not discuss these, as they are relevant to the question of the Old
Testament canon, not the New Testament.

In addition, there are a good number of books and letters which were
written in the second and third centuries, some of which are considered to
be apocryphal. We should make some careful distinctions. There are
litterally hundreds of letters written by early church leaders such as
Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Ignatius and so forth. These letters
are not usually called apocryphal because they were generally never
thought of or passed off as possibly inspired texts. There is a third
category of texts (besides canonical and church father letters) which
made the rounds of early Christian groups which are sometimes called
apocryphal. These are letters such as the Epistle of Barnabus, the Gospel
of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews and so forth.
The evidence for many of these books is that they were produced in the
second and third centuries by heretical groups, most commonly by
Gnostics. The Gnostics were a loosely defined movement which rejected the
humanity of Jesus and promoted mystical “deep” knowledge (and thus the
word gnostic, which means knowledge). These groups tended to have secret
rites at which members were given this deeper knowledge. Anyone who tries
to create the impression that books such as the Gospel of Thomas are
somehow on par with the canonical New Testament books is either deceiving
their hearer or is guilty of extremely poor scholarship. They are to be
rejected for several reasons. First, in virtually every case, they were
written long after the apostles were dead, and therefore clearly do not
have apostolic authority. Second, there is no evidence that the early
church leaders of the mainstream church (excluding heretical groups) ever
accepted any of these books as canonical. Third, if you read these books
for yourself, which I would recommend you do, you will see for yourself
that they generally are of very obviously inferior quality. For example
the Gospel of Thomas has silly fables of miracles done by the baby Jesus
and other obvious problems.

Let me return to the New Testament books themselves. It is true that
humans both wrote these books and chose them for inclusion in the New
Testament canon. The Bible itself never pretends to be written by angels,
although in places it has direct revelation and dreams imparted by angels
(Revelation, Zechariah, etc.), but rather by human beings. The Bible
claims for itself that it is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16, which,
admittedly is a specific reference to the Old Testament, but which could
certainly be applied to the New Testament). Peter claims that it was the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit which led the human writers of the Bible to
speak for God (2 Peter 1:20,21). As for the books chosen for inclusion in
the New Testament, these books were chosen because by consensus they were
the ones considered by the churches to be inspired and to have apostolic
authority. It is apparent, both from the New Testament quotes by early
church fathers and from lists of accepted books we have (such as the
Muratorian fragment from about AD 175) that the list of New Testament
books was almost fixed by about AD 150. It is also apparent that groups
of the letters of Paul and the gospels were circulating considerably
earlier than that. The point is that other than a couple of books (for
example 2nd and 3rd John), there was little controversy over which were
the inspired books. The early church also had recommended books such as
the Didache which were read in church, but were not considered to be

In the end, for myself, I believe the books we have are inspired for a few
reasons. First, I have conficence because of the facts we have about how
they were chosen. Second, I believe these books are inspired because of
the quality of the content of the books themselves. If you struggle with
this, I suggest you take some time to find copies of some of the
apocryphal “gospels.” You will see immediately that there is no
comparison! Third, I believe the books which have come down to us are
inspired simply because I have faith that God, who is all powerful, had
every interest in directing the process of assembling our New Testament.
I admit that this is a matter of faith, not evidence. But common sense
tells me that God had sufficient interest to make sure that the books
which came down to us were the ones he wanted to be included. There is
more than enough evidence of inspiration in general, and faith fills in
the gaps for me.

John Oakes

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