************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 4,6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 26, 2009
Belgic Confession Articles 4 & 6
"The Canon of Scripture"
Introduction - Children's Message
Needed: Yard Stick, Ruler, Measuring Tape, Bible, and another book.
Hold up first three items. Ask the kids what they are.
What are they used for? Used to measure: buildings, roads, clothes, shoes, property, and so on.
What happens if I were to change these tools for measuring?
What happens if I decided that a ruler has 11 inches instead of 12?
What happens if I decided that a yard stick was 48 inches instead of 36?
What happens if I decided that four feet equals a mile?
Nothing would fit:
-pants would be too long or too short
-roads would run out of pavement
-doors might be only 4 feet high
Let's say we do the same thing with the Word of God. Let's say I tear out the book of Psalms (pretend to do that). Or, let me tear out one of Paul's letters. Or, let me add to the Bible (add the other book to the Bible) and look at how thick it will be.
Nothing can be added to the Bible. Nothing can be taken from the Bible. Just like nothing can be added to or taken from my ruler and yard stick and tape measure.
God's Bible, 66 books, is our standard for doctrine and life. That's what I am speaking about tonight.
I Revelation Beyond the Bible
A A couple of years ago, Ruth and I visited a church that had a rather interesting Bible reading – from the Gospel of Thomas. You won't find this Gospel in your Bibles. Two questions: Why did the church we were visiting use the Gospel of Thomas? And, why don't we use it?
Do you remember the news stories about the Gospel of Judas? The National Geographic Society published a documentary on this Gospel in 2006. According to this Gospel, Judas was the only one who understood Jesus. Judas did not betray Jesus; rather, he obeyed the instructions of Jesus. Can I use this Gospel when I lead worship? Can I base sermons upon it?
What about the apocryphal books mentioned in Article 6 of the Belgic Confession of Faith? How come my Roman Catholic Bible has these books? Are we Protestants missing out on something? When Robert preached on Esther, should he have had a sermon on the ending added to the book?
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a TV advertisement for "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." We know it as "The Book of Mormon." Why don't we use this book?
What about Third-Wave Pentecostalism? Those inclined towards this theology believe in extra-biblical revelation. They believe God talks to them and reveals things to them that you will not find in the Bible. They believe that God's revelation comes through prophecy, tongues, and words of knowledge. I can't help but observe there really is nothing new or recent about this because it is very similar to Montanism. Montanism is a heresy of the early church that claims revelation from the Spirit over and above that given by Scripture. What would you say, what would the elders say, if I started my sermon with, "God appeared to me last night and told me that ..."?
Did you know that Paul wrote 4 letters to Corinth (1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:4; 7:8); however, only two of them are in our Bible. Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Laodicea (Col 4:16); this letter, too, is not part of the Bible. If any of these letters are ever found, can they be added to the Bible?
B Let me review with you where we are at in the Belgic Confession. We are dealing with the Word of God. Article 2 tells us that God "makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word." Article 3 tells us that God's Word is inspired. Article 4 tells us that the inspired and canonical Word of God is contained in "the two volumes of the Old and New Testaments" and then it proceeds to list the books of the inspired Word for us.
Do you know what the list of Bible books in Article 4 tells me? This list tells me the Bible is complete. By that I mean that to the Bible no books may be added. And, from the Bible no books may be taken. What we have in our Bibles are the books "with which there can be no quarrel at all." Or, to put it another way, the canon is closed.
C Not that long ago, one of the guys I cycle with asked me if God still speaks to us today. [I have some very interesting talks on bike rides.] He was very surprised when I said "Yes. Yes, God still speaks today." Then I explained to him that he was asking the wrong question. The question he should be asking is "Where does God speak?" Or, "How does God speak?"
Where does God speak? The answer of Reformed Christians is very different from the answer of most other Christians. As I already mentioned, Charismatic or Pentecostal Christians believe that God speaks today in prophecy, tongues, and words of knowledge. Roman Catholics believe that God speaks through the Pope. The Mormons believe God speaks in the "Book of Mormon." Those in Christian Science believe God speaks through the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. And, Seventh Day Adventists believe God speaks in the writings of Ellen White. Reformed Christians, however, believe that God speaks only in His inspired and canonical Word.
II The Canon of Scripture
A I've used the word "canon" or "canonical" a couple of times now. The word "canon" sounds familiar – after all, one of the doctrinal standards of our faith is the "Canons of Dort." What does the word "canon" mean, though?
The term "canon" comes from a Greek word which is translated as "rule, standard." In the ancient Greek world, this was the word used for a measuring line, or what today we call a tape measure or ruler.
The early church used the word "canon" to distinguish the Scriptures from false teachers and false writings. When false teachers, such as Marcion, promoted a canon of Scripture which included only an edited version of Luke's Gospel and ten of Paul's letters, the orthodox churches needed to respond. When heresy, such as Montanism, claimed revelation from the Spirit, the church needed to respond. When Gnosticism circulated gnostic writings – such as the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Gospel of Philip" – to support their position that Jesus was not fully human and was not crucified in the flesh, the church needed to respond. Therefore, the early church spoke of the canon of Scripture as the only rule or measure of doctrine and life.
The canon of Scripture, then, is a collection or list of writings recognized as the measure, rule, standard, or norm by which the faith and practice of the church is to be judged and kept straight. We know that norm or canon as the 66 books of the Bible.
B The canon of Scripture was a burning issue not only in the early church but also at the time of the Reformation. On the one side were the Roman Catholics, who enlarged the canon to include certain apocryphal books. On the other side were the Lutherans, who reduced the canon by leaving out certain books. Luther, for instance, called James "an epistle of straw" that did not belong in the Bible because it seemed to contradict Paul's teaching that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by good works. Luther also refused to include the letter of Jude as part of the canon because it quotes two apocryphal books, the "Assumption of Moses" and the "Book of Enoch."
Article 6 makes special mention of the apocryphal books. The term "apocryphal" comes from a Greek word which means "hidden." The term was applied to writings the Jews withdrew from general circulation because they were judged to be inferior. Since the Jews hesitated to destroy any copies of even inferior religious writings, they adopted the habit of depositing them in a secret place or burying them. We know the Jews had many hidden, apocryphal, writings withdrawn from general circulation.
The Christian church used that word "apocryphal" in much the same way as did the Jews. It refers to those books which are excluded from public use in the church because they are judged to be inferior. In the days of the Reformation the word was applied only to the writings specifically mentioned in Article 6: 3 & 4 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch, the addition to Esther, the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace, the Story of Susannah, the Story of Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. All of these are included in the Roman Catholic Bible!
C Article 4 makes a point of saying that the canon of Scripture is found in two volumes: the Old and New Testaments. That was and is of importance against the teachings of those who minimize the value of the Old Testament. In other words, God's authoritative Word for today is not to be found just in the New Testament.
III The Canon is Closed
A From the beginning of its history, then, the church has always championed a closed and complete Bible. To the list of recognized, authoritative, God-breathed books none may be added. From it none may be taken. We can not and may not expect any new revelation today which goes over and beyond what the Bible says.
Take the matter of the apocryphal books. The Belgic Confession takes the position that these apocryphal books, however religious they may be, are not part of the Bible. Accordingly, the church may read the apocryphal books, but she must read the Biblical books. The church may take instruction from the apocryphal books; she must take instruction from the sacred ones. The church may use the apocryphal books, but only "as far as they agree with the canonical books." The Bible books alone are our standard of faith; all other books have no authority in matters of faith.
B The canon is closed. There is no new revelation today. That's the message of Scripture in Revelation 22:
(Rev 22:18-19) I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. (19) And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
Revelation warns us against two errors. The first is the error of many liberals who have a cut and paste Bible. There are many things that liberals cannot or will not believe: the creation account of Genesis, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Jericho's walls, the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, the birth and miracles and resurrection of Christ, and anything else that has even a hint of the miraculous. So liberals cut all of this out of their Bibles. Unless they repent, the judgments described in the book of Revelation awaits these liberals because they take away from the Bible.
The other error is that of those who just love to add to Scripture. I've already mentioned the many attempts to add to the Bible. Consider, also, the scribe who thought the Bible was not clear enough on the doctrine of the Trinity so he added to 1 John 5:7 the following proof text:
For there are three who testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.We can't say that this text is unbiblical, yet it is clearly an addition to the Bible. Or, consider the scribe who added to John's Gospel the story of the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11). Remember how everyone, stone in hand, was lusting for blood. And Jesus said, "Whoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone." Then one by one everyone left and Jesus was alone with the woman. He forgave her with the command to sin no more. This is a beautiful story, and it sounds like something that Jesus would have said and done, yet it is not part of the Bible. Yet, to add to the Bible is as wrong as to take away from the Bible.
C The canon is closed. When I took science courses in High School and College I learned about laws and theories. You don't hear such talk in science courses today. Rather, you learn about models. What's the difference?
Laws and theories are absolute statements, fixed and unchangeable assertions of the truth. Scientists asserted laws and theories because they genuinely believed they had at their disposal all the relevant data. They thought they were studying a complete and closed system of truth. However, as scientific advancements multiplied and as scientific tools became more sophisticated, scientific laws and theories began to explode. Scientists began to realize that they hadn't considered all the data, that a system was very much open rather than closed.
So the age of scientific models has come. A model takes the place of a law. A model is an open system of truth that can be and is modified as new data and knowledge becomes available. Truth is still obtainable, but it is never proclaimed to be the final word anymore because something new might be discovered which changes the model.
What happens when this approach to truth is applied to the Bible? The result is simply devastating. If we have an open system of truth then we can no longer declare anything as being the final word. If we say there is other or new revelation, then there is neither moral nor theological absolutes. Consider what this means:
-Is pre-marital sex and extra-marital sex and homosexual sex wrong? Right now it seems they are, however we might get a revelation that tells us this is not wrong.Do you see what happens if we believe in an open system of truth?
-Is God really triune? That is our conclusion now, however a new revelation might lead us to conclude that God really exists in 4 rather than 3 persons.
-How are we saved? Our present conclusion is by grace through faith. Future revelation may teach us that all paths lead to God.
-Right now we believe in the future resurrection of our bodies. Other revelation may lead us to conclude that the Hindus are correct and are goal in life is to be reincarnated as a cow.
The canon of the Bible is closed. There is no new revelation today. Therefore the scientific "model" approach cannot be used with the Bible. There should be no confusion in this area. The orthodox teaching of Christianity has always affirmed that God's special, saving revelation to mankind is restricted to the teachings of Scripture.
IV Various Questions
My Presbyterian friends like to point out to me that I confess error in article 4 of the Belgic Confession of Faith.
For instance, we believe there are 66 holy and canonical books in the Bible. Yet, only 65 are mentioned – the book of Lamentations is missing. Probably, Lamentations is included under Jeremiah.
Article 4 confesses Moses to be the author of the first five books of the Bible. In confessing this, we do not claim that Moses wrote the last chapter which records his death. Who wrote that chapter remains an unanswered mystery.
Article 4 speaks of the "Psalms of David." Yet, we know that not all of the psalms were written by David.
Article 4 attributes Proverbs to the authorship of Solomon. Yet, Proverbs 30 clearly attributes some of the proverbs as the words of Agur.
Article 4 wrongly states that Paul wrote Hebrews.
Finally, James and Jude are confessed to be "letters of the other apostles." Yet, we know that neither James nor Jude were apostles.
Thanks to modern scholarship and archeological finds we know more about the human authors of the Bible than did the men of the Reformation. However, the main point of article 4 is not human authorship but rather what is holy and canonical.
What is holy and canonical? The 66 books of the Bible. No more. No less. From them nothing can be taken. To them nothing can be added. And with these books "there can be no quarrel at all." These books – and only these books – are the rule, the measure, the guide, the canon, for the doctrine and life of the church.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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