Should I trust the biblical canon because of the evidence or out of faith?
Should I have faith in the canonical Bible being reliable and inspired because of those who established it back then, or should I mix this with trying to see the biblical evidence for myself? It is tempting to want to find all the evidence myself, as if I am the one who determines what is canon… But it is also hard to say that I base my belief in those who say it is canon, because a group sitting down to say what they believe is inspired could potentially justify any “holy text”. What should I primarily look at in finding confidence in the 66 books of the Bible?
This is a really good question. I would say that in coming to your conclusion about whether the Bible is, as claimed, fully inspired by God, you should use a balance of both supportive evidence and a willingness, based on that evidence, to give the benefit of the doubt to the scriptures and accept, by faith, that all of it is inspired.
As an illustration, I will use my marriage. My wife has been faithful to me in every imaginable way for more than thirty-two years. She has given me literally no reason in all that time to doubt her complete commitment to remaining faithful to me, both emotionally and physically. Therefore, with this evidence in hand, I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt at this point. I do not go around checking her phone messages. If I were to hear a rumor about her spending time with some guy, I would discount this as evidence of her unfaithfulness instantaneously and would not even give it a thought. At this point in our relationship it would not be reasonable for me to doubt her. It would border on irrational for me to NOT give her the benefit of the doubt.
This is how I feel about the inspiration of the Bible at this point in my life, and this includes my trust that God determined what was to become part of the biblical canon. I cannot “prove” that Esther 3:6 is inspired. I cannot absolutely “prove” that 3 John was even written by John, never mind whether it was inspired. Through years and years of unambiguous evidence for the inspiration of the Bible, based on fulfilled prophecy, types, prefigures and foreshadows, historical reliability, scientific consistency, lack of obvious contradiction, consistency of message, quality of writing,….. I have reached the point that, for me to give the benefit of the doubt to the full canon is not only reasonable, it would border on unreasonable and even irrational for me to think differently at this point.
You may not yet be at this point, and you may still be in a bit more of a questioning state, but I say, in any case, you should be willing to both investigate the claims of the reliability of the Bible, but at the same time you should give some level of benefit of the doubt to the Bible as well. I assume you believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I assume you believe that God is real and that Jesus was who he said he was. This alone should give you pretty good reason to assume that God has the power and ability to determine what would end up in the canon of the Old and New Testaments. You may not yet have reached for yourself the level of confidence that I have after 40 years of investigation, but I believe you can probably afford to assume, at least for now, that what is in the accepted canon is inspired by God. You do not need to have total knowledge of the process to trust that God did have a process and that he did influence the choices. BTW, it was not a group sitting down and deciding the canon. This is definitely NOT what happened. Both the Old and the New Testament canons were decided by a consensus process over time, by the Jews in the former and by the Church in the latter case.