It’s been a couple of months ago now but I remember thinking “whaa?” when I got a message asking me if I thought we might add any more books to our Bible. Back in the day when I wrote the Tentpegs blog I might have just ignored that question and I almost ignored it this time…but it haunted me. The man who sent it is no crank. He is a good man and a friend of mine. What could he possibly be asking?
In short: no, we aren’t adding any more books to our official canon of Scripture. Ain’t gonna happen (a little Tennessee lingo there). And yet…
The formation of the scriptures – by which I mean the writing of the individual books and their eventual inclusion or exclusion in our Bibles – is a fascinating study and not without its head-scratching moments. To what extent was this or that book edited? Is the traditionally accepted writer of this book its actual author? Why was this or that book excluded (most of the time the answer is obvious, by the way)? Why was this one included? Sometimes we have to shrug and say we accept this or that book because some men way back in the 100-200s championed them (such as Irenaeus’ support of the Book of Revelation). But that wasn’t quite what the writer of my Facebook message asked.
I have often wondered – and sometimes aloud – why we assumed that the Spirit quit inspiring writers when, say, John of Patmos died. That opens up a whole can of worms about how we view inspiration, the work of the Spirit, etc. and I’m not sure I’m qualified to discuss said can. Regardless, for nearly two millennia Christians have agreed that they had their Bible and it was complete (exceptions exist and we aren’t discussing the Apocrypha which is accepted on some level by Roman Catholics). Even with all my questions about the formation of scripture I have to agree whole heartedly. I don’t think we are going to see any new scripture – and I really can’t see why we would want it.
That said…the more I contemplated the question the more I realized that we already add books to our canon and remove others. How? I cannot speak for every reader but I will admit that I read some books and go “wow!” and elevate them to Very Important Status in my life. Gregory Boyd’s “God at War” saved my faith when it was going wobbly. Max Lucado’s “God Came Near” and “No Wonder They Call Him the Savior” had a lot to do with my desire to follow Jesus and C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” shot down all my arguments against the existence of the God of scripture. I don’t consider these books (and others I could name) scripture but there is no question that I meditate on them, they feed my soul, and they have had a much more profound effect on my life than, say, the Book of Ezra.
I began to wonder if I had unofficially removed any books from my Bible, at least in practical terms. To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time in Chronicles or Ezekiel in years. I believe they are scripture…but that belief hasn’t driven me to search them in the way I search Hebrews, Romans, and the Gospel of John. I love the Book of Psalms but, truth be told, I run to about 40 of them over and over and largely ignore the others unless I need them – rather like ignoring something in the medicine cabinet until you need it.
I stick by my answer: we are not going to be adding or subtracting books from our Bible nor should we. And yet, the question has driven me to honestly consider if I haven’t added and subtracted some on my own. And that troubles me. I appreciate the question and will continue to work through its ramifications in my life and invite you to do the same in yours. What books do you treasure – even if you do not consider them equal to scripture? And what books in the Bible have you functionally removed by never reading or referencing them?
By the Way:
At Fourth Avenue Church we are preaching through the Bible, taking a book a week (giving larger books more weeks). We are also going through a congregational wide “read through the Bible” program that has tremendous buy-in from the whole church. Our teens and pre-teens, in particular, are fired up about it and encourage each other to read and memorize scripture. I found out yesterday that a host of our students have already memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount (many others are almost there). Couldn’t be prouder of this church.