I think that God often has a hard time communicating with mankind. The problem is not that He doesn’t want to talk to us but that we constrain the ways that are acceptable for us to hear him. Maybe we are like the people that Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 30:10.
“Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”
Maybe we expect that God should tell us smooth things, things that are easy and don’t really require much of us. I recently heard someone explain that a God that does not require anything of us is the functional equivalent of having no God at all. Exactly what Isaiah said they wanted anciently – no God to constrain their lives and tell them difficult things.
Instead, God sent prophets who were more concerned with God’s will than man’s expectations. They spoke out against corruption and sin and called people back to believe in God. They preached of good and evil and often identified the evil in lives of the people, especially of their leaders. The key messages were of repentance and a return to God.
Of course, the leaders didn’t like it. Look at the prophet Jeremiah. He preached against several of the Jewish Kings and warned of impending disasters. He spent a lot of time under arrest or incarcerated somewhere in horrible places as a result.
That the words of the prophets should stand, however, was important. The people should have no excuse that when the tribulations come, that they hadn’t been warned or that the events were mere happenstances. God wanted the people to know that His hand was in it and He allowed it to happen due to their disobedience. For this reason, their preaching was written down and became scripture.
Later, as the writings have been deemed to be truly from God and contain his will they were accepted into the collection of scriptures that was used as a standard against which further writings were compared, becoming part of the canon.
The canon of scripture was not delivered all at once as a block. “There! Revelations all now given. Job done.” No, the revelations were spoken by prophets, holy men called by God at particular times for particular purposes. Let’s consider Jeremiah again. There was no question of saying, “Isaiah has already written about coming back to the Lord of Israel, that’s enough. The people should be getting the call to repentance from his writings. It would be inappropriate for me to write more.”
No, Jeremiah spoke the words that God gave him and had them written down afresh in order to deal with the current problem. He also added that dire things would follow disobedience – in particular, that the Babylonians would come in and overthrow them, taking them captive. This last couldn’t have been found in the previous writings and so was necessary to add in.
So what is scripture?
Whenever a prophet speaks the words of God and it is written down, it is scripture. That’s a pretty simple definition, but I think very fair. Not all scriptures are added to the canon though. There are still differences today between different Christian churches over which scriptures should be added to the canon that is the bible. See here.
When the writings have stood the test of time and are considered verified and important by the church leaders, then they are added to the canon. Consider the books of the Maccabees found in the Apocrypha. These have been excluded from the King James Bible but accepted into the catholic bible. Although we might think we are united with a single set of scriptures, it is not true. Many different groups have different books included in their canon of scripture.
Is THIS scripture?
Sometimes we will be presented with additional writing and be told that they are scripture too. Muslims accept the Koran as God’s word, and Mormons accept the Book of Mormon as scripture. The question is “How do we know if this is scripture or is some sort of counterfeit?”
There will be many, many, discussions about this “scripture”. Some people will attempt to discredit it, some will show evidence that supports it. The arguments will go on and on without a resolution in sight. As in ancient days, those who stand to lose by it will try to discredit both the writings and the “prophet” who gave it. It is very appropriate that we must be certain that it is God’s word before we accept it. We have been warned, Matthew 7:15
15 ¶Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
But which prophets are false and which are true? Once again, how do we know?
As I thought about this I realised that there are three common methods used to determine truth:
- We use our reasoning. We look at it and try to sift through the piles of claim and counter claim and determine what is right for ourselves. Clearly we all come to different conclusions so while being better than flipping a coin (we hope), it is still a very fallible method,
- We call on expert witnesses. In court, expert witnesses may not know about the specific event being judged on but will have domain knowledge. They are often used by barristers to give evidence in determining the truth of a case.
But wait a minute! Don’t we get conflicting information from expert witnesses too? Don’t the different sides present their own expert witnesses and try to discredit the other sides witnesses? Although they may have studied more than we have, expert witnesses still have their biases and opinions and these are reflected in their pronouncements.
Indeed I and all my fellow bloggers on religious topics can be considered as “expert witnesses”. If you are sincere in your search for truth, I don’t think it safe to just trust me or any other of these witnesses. We have the same constraints that you have as an individual in finding truth.
- We call on direct witnesses. This is it. This is where we find out properly. Someone who was there and can tell us exactly what happened. In law courts there are also attempts to discredit these witnesses too – sometimes rightly so. Fortunately in religious matters, our true witness is God himself and He is totally reliable. That He is willing to be such a witness is evident from James 1:5:
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
If we lack wisdom, we should ask God and He wil give it to us. It specifically says he will not upbraid us – tell us off – for asking.
I think that we should not be taking this search for God’s truth lightly. We need to do our research into the work itself, without prior judgement, and stand ready to do what God wants us to do. He will answer us and we will feel the Holy Ghost confirm it to us. This is the great thing about the way scripture works. It is given from God through his prophets and when we receive it, we take it to God and He confirms its truth to us. Thus we know for ourselves.
I have personally felt scripture confirmed as the word of God. I prayed and read and pondered over a period of time. Then as I did so it made sense in my mind and I felt a strong feeling of rightness, of goodness and of the love of God. This was the Holy Ghost bearing truth to me as written on in John 14:26 and John 15:26.
I believe that God’s confirmation, or otherwise, is available to everyone who wants to know.
Best Regards to you all
PS. This article is the first in a three part series. I’ve been asked by fellow blogger ChristCenteredTeaching to write explaining the Book of Mormon. Mormons accept this book as additional scripture. Indeed, it is the use of this book that has caused the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to gain the nickname of Mormons. Really, we prefer to be called by the full name or, more simply, as Latter Day Saints (LDS) but I’ve lapsed into using the nickname as it’s easier for people to know whom I’m talking about.
Above is part 1 of my answer. In Part 2 I want to look more closely at why the canon of the Bible is closed and what God has done about it. In Part 3 I will look specifically at the Book of Mormon and what it means in todays world.
So, sorry ChristCenteredTeaching, but you will need to be a bit more patient before we get to the bit you are particularly interested in. Still, I hope you and all my other readers enjoy the journey with me.