Day 139: The reason for the Bible

John 20:29-31 (spring AD 30, a week after the resurrection)

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Not the Biblical canon, but definitely an impressive cannon:
Moscow’s 890mm Tsar Cannon from 1586

None of the Bible is there because some people wrote some things and some other people decided they were good and collected them.

It’s not there because a group of priests from across Europe in the fourth century AD, when confronted with piles of potential books and a desire to control the religious narrative, picked these 66.

The canon of the 39 books of the Old Testament were not in any dispute, even at the time of Jesus, 500 years after the last of them had been penned. And the 27 books of the New Testament were already recognised as Bibline (notwithstanding some concerns about James and Hebrews). There was not a pile of potential alternatives to rule out, but a never-ending stream of people saying, ‘Hey look, I just found something that should have been in there!’, or ‘Hey look, I just wrote something that God told me to write – let’s put it in!’.

The Bible is not a collection of anything, but a single narrative arc, spanning sixty-six books, of God redeeming His people to himself. The Bible exists because God has something to say to you that is a matter of life and death, because God wants to be in relationship with you forever. God wrote the Bible, God had an agenda when he wrote it, and it’s to our eternal good. The same God who authored the Bible then proved more than capable of granting wisdom to those people 1600-2000 years ago who formalised which books were ‘in’, and which books were ‘out’.

We can trust him for that, just as we can take more humdrum reassurance from knowing some of the criteria applied during discussions of what would be included. For example, each proposed book must:

  1. Be written by an apostle, or the close confidante of an apostle
    • The New Testament books definitely NOT written by an apostle are:
      • Mark: close friend of Peter and, later, Paul
      • Luke, Acts: Luke was a close friend of Paul
      • Jude: brother of Jesus
  2. Be thought by the apostle at the time to be God’s eternal Word, and not just his own opinion (this ruled out most of what Paul wrote, which he knew wasn’t Bibline)
  3. Have no teaching that contradicted the Bible*

The gospel written down by John is not, then, his random scribblings from the three years with Jesus, collated for posterity. He wrote it with a plan that matches God’s plan: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v.31).

Understanding that is the key to understanding not just the gospel of John, but the whole Bible. Every passage we read, must be understood in that context, or it will not be understood at all.

When I first started doing personal Bible study when I was young, my Dad told me to write down answers to the following questions, every passage:

  1. What does this teach me about God?
  2. What does this teach me about myself?
  3. What does this teach me about other people?
  4. What should I do, as a result of what I learn from this passage?
  5. What should I not do, as a result of what I learn from this passage?
  6. [Pray]

Front-load your studying with finding God in the passage. You’re not the main deal here, and your Do’s and Don’ts will come out of learning about God, not vice versa.

*For example:

  1. ‘Gospel of Thomas’, saying #114, quotes Jesus saying that women must be turned into men before being worthy of heaven
  2. ‘Gospel of Judas’ has Jesus laughing at the disciples while they worshipped an idol.
  3. Book of Tobit says that Nebuchadnezzar was King of Assyria, rather than Babylon
  4. Tobit, in the book of Tobit, claims to be eye-witness of events spanning…200 years
  5. Book of Maccabees teaches purgatory

When I read a magazine or newspaper article, I scan it to see if there is anything relevant or useful or particularly interesting, or something that applies directly to me. If the piece doesn’t quickly satisfy at least one of those criteria, I quickly move on.

With the Bible, you can go to it knowing it’s God’s Word to you, about Him, for your salvation and eternal blessing.

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