Religion Roundtable: “The Old Testament refers to texts that are not present. Does that mean it is incomplete?”
Aug 31, 2013 | 3150 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There has been much debate over texts in the Christian cannon

This is a question that has mystified and multiplied throughout the ages. The suggestion that the Bible is incomplete is incendiary in its implications. Wars of words surround this mystery. Research provided this answer, “Many manuscripts have been lost, including some books that are quoted in the Bible, such as the Book of Jasher. Other manuscripts, including the Didache were lost but found again. Christian canons emerged through a complex process in which some books were “chosen.” A tradition of use, authority within the communities, antiquity or apostolicity, and orthodoxy were factors in deciding which books were “in” and which were “out.”

Some ancient texts were considered authoritative but were dropped before the canon was closed. Some well-regarded books were written too late or not believed to be apostolic, so they were not included. Some outside books, such as the Didache, are as old or even older than some of the books in the New Testament. Other books were accepted by some Christian communities but not others. Sometimes they were labeled “heretical” by more powerful Christian groups like Rome. Still other books never came close to making it inside. Other books were considered to be too outrageous, even though they were popular. Many books were lost or destroyed. Some old writers were never considered as scripture but have historical value — they may be letters, histories, stories, or other kinds of records.

Beverly Mattox, Word Alive International Outreach

Not all texts were embraced by ancient Christians

The Bible contains God’s redeeming and saving word to humanity. The Bible came to us after thoughtful, faithful people weighed the merits and, as a community of believers, struggled with what to include and what to exclude.

By the time of Jesus, the Septuagint was widely used. In fact, Jesus quoted from it. In 90 AD Jewish scholars considered what to include in the canon — what should be included in the Hebrew Scriptures. A canon is like a yard stick — it’s a measure, a standard. By New Testament times, a number of manuscripts were in circulation. Some of these are now known as the Apocrypha and Deuterocanonical books. It was not until about the third century that the New Testament was accepted in its present form.

Of the many manuscripts available, only those that resonated and were used by most Christians survived scrutiny. Having read some of the marginal manuscripts of the time, one could see why they were not embraced — quoted, but not embraced.

Are these other texts worth reading? Certainly. Do they contain morality and life examples? Certainly. Yet, they did not speak to generations of previous Christians. However, the Christian Bible was, “Tested by faith, proven by experience, these books have become sacred; they’ve become our rule for faith and practice.”

The Bible we have today is powerful. 1 Tim 3:16 says, “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another — showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”

Peter Hawker, First United Methodist Church, Anniston
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