So how can we know there are only 66 books that belong in the Bible? Aren't there other books that weren't included? How can we be sure our modern day version of the Bible is reliable and accurate? These questions have been the topic of many debates and popularized by modern conspiracy theories portrayed by unscholarly and even intentionally disingenuous authors regarding how the scripture was canonized and other foundational truths of the Christian faith.
Logically, only God is the qualified author of true scripture. Men were inspired by God and recorded His revelation. The doctrine of inspiration has several variant views, which we will address in another post in order to expose the fallacies of those views, but the one most Evangelical Christians ascribe to is defined as the supernatural guidance or influence of the Holy Spirit on human writers so that the writings were without error and became the divine Word of God. According to this view, inspiration involves:
1) Inspired guidance by the Holy Spirit
2) Inspired personality of the authors
3) Inspired words
4) Resulting in an inspired text
As Matthew 4:4 and 2 Timothy testify, all biblical scripture is God inspired and comes from Him. Man merely discovered which books those were throughout history. This was done by compiling only those works that had the "fingerprints" of God upon them as they were written. Contrary to the view popularised by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, there is no evidence to suggest that the Biblical canon (the list of books accepted as authoritative inspired scripture) was even discussed at the Council of Nicaea, let alone established or edited there. So what are the legitimate fingerprints you wonder?
The basic "fingerprint" litmus test for orthodox scripture were:
1. It must be prophetic (written by a prophet)
2. It must be authoritative (it claims to be God's message...ie "thus saith the LORD")
3. It must be authentic (written by the person who claimed to be the author)
4. It has life-transforming power
5. It was widely recognized as the Word of God
6. It was reliable (the contents were consistent with the rest of the Scripture, the data is accurate, and there are no inconsistencies in the book itself)
Let's look at a few of the reasons why these books are rejected:
First, unlike the canonical books, the apocryphal books were not compiled over time by the Jews or by the Early Church but by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546. This late date raises question about the validity of the apocrypha. Also the apocrypha do not make either explicit or implicit claims to be inspired of God - some even specifically disclaim this (see 1 Macabees 9:27; 14:41). They were also written sometime between 250 B.C. and the first century A.D. but, according to Judaism, the Spirit of prophesy had departed from Israel by ~400 B.C. Also the apocryphal books are weak in style with so many of organizational and stylistic flaws it is obvious these were human writings unaided by the Holy Spirit. The apocrypha are also mostly written in Greek instead of Hebrew -- the language of the OT. Next the Jewish historian Josephus gave the names of the authentic Jewish OT which correspond exactly to the modern day 39 books of the OT. Judaism, which produced these apocryphal books, have never accepted them as part of their scripture. Neither Jesus or the disciples ever cited the books of the Apocrypha in the NT as inspired. Jerome, the great scholar who translated the Latin Vulgate Bible, emphatically rejected the apocryphal books. Another key point is the Apocryphal books do not contain any Messianic prophesies. We could list more reasons but the ones mentioned here are sufficiently compelling.
As for the NT, these books were also recorded by apostles and prophets of God who were confirmed by acts of God. Their books were also immediately accepted into the growing cannon of Scripture. The church circulated these works recorded by the apostles. In addition, the early Christian church collected every one of the 27 books of the modern day NT and cited almost every part of these books in over 36,000 historical quotations! By the second century, there were collections of these specific 27 books circulated and translated into other languages including the Syriac and Old Latin. All of official groups of Christendom accept all (and only) the 27 books of the canonized NT as the inspired word of God, right along side the 39 books of the OT.
The apocryphal and gnostic books of the second and third centuries and later books, in contrast, are universally rejected by the true Christian church. There are many good reasons for this. (1) They were not written by the apostles whose names they bear, since those apostles died in the first century. (2) They contain many doctrinal errors and outright heresies. (3) They claim to contain childhood miracles of Jesus, but John specifically said Jesus did not perform any miracles until adulthood - John 2:11. (4) They contain highly embellished accounts of known gospel stories, indicating they were later fabrications.
An incredible amount of historical and scholarly research has been conducted affirming these truths. In fact, thanks to modern scientific research and the continued discovery of ancient documents through archaeological exploration (like the Dead Sea Scrolls) we now have what is arguably the best understanding of biblical culture and the most accurate and reliable translation of the scripture in history. There are more evidences and archaeological evidences confirming the books of the Bible than any other work of antiquity by an amazing margin. The chart below lists some of the most well known documents of antiquity, how many known original manuscripts have been found, and the time span from the first known manuscript and the time the document was authored.
Author - No. of Copies - Time Span
Plato (Tetralogies) - 7 - 1,200 years
Tacitus (Annals) - 20 - 1,000 years
Pliny the Younger (History) - 7 - 750 years
Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum) - 8 - 800 years
Homer (Iliad) - 643 - 500 years
New Testament - 24,000+ - 25 years
But as my ol' buddy LeVar Burton used to say, "You don't have to take my word for it." Do your homework and you'll find that the evidence for the reliability of the Bible is unparalleled in history. This is a miracle in and of itself. God has preserved His word throughout the history of man so that we may know Him and know His will for our lives.
Chances are good that the Bible is one of the most unread books in your home, yet it is easily the most astonishing, profound, powerful, and influential book in history because it is the word of God. We encourage you to give it a good dusting off and begin reading. Not sure where to start? Begin with the Book of John. Read and ask God to reveal himself to you through his word.
*** Citation for works by Norman Geisler and Elmer Towns