Why Should We Reject Religious Writings Other Than the Bible?
Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New Age movement, Christian Science, the Unification Church. What do these religious movements, as well as countless others, have in common? They all believe their writings are superior to the Bible. They may sometimes include the Bible in their list of acceptable religious books, but they will hold on to their belief that their writings significantly expand on, if not correct, what the Bible teaches.
Are they right? Is it possible that the writings of non-Christian religions are inspired by God and thus equal in authority to the Bible?
Some of these same religious groups, including some Christian ones, also argue that some God-inspired writings have been lost or that those in the Protestant Bible are only a partial listing of the extant books God inspired. Are they right?
All these claims are common, and if any of them are true, some of what I’ve argued may have to be rejected or at least modified. Let’s carefully consider each one.
ARE OTHER RELIGIOUS WRITINGS EQUAL OR SUPERIOR TO THE BIBLE?
One of the common denominators of non-Christian religions is that the Bible is not God’s final revelation. Many groups teach that their particular prophets have been inspired by God to write new revelation that supersedes Scripture. The Christian response to this claim takes four steps: (1) define the qualifications of a prophet, (2) determine the source of a prophet’s revelation, (3) examine what the Bible says about “new” revelation, and (4) compare the Jesus of Scripture with the Jesus promoted by other prophets.
A PROPHET’S QUALIFICATIONS
We have already established that the Bible is God’s written revelation and is completely inerrant. So we can turn to Scripture to see what it says about the qualifications of a prophet, then we can take that list and match it against those who are held up as prophets. If these prophets don’t meet the qualifications, then they are false prophets and anything they teach contrary to Scripture is also false. In other words, if Joseph Smith of the Mormons, Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mary Baker Eddy of Christian Science, Muhammad of Islam, or any other self-proclaimed prophet fails the biblical test, then their so-called revelations are a lie and their followers are being duped into believing a false religion.
In Deuteronomy 13:1–5 and 18:20–22, God reveals what counts as the use and misuse of prophecy and who shall prophesy. A false prophet could make true predictions but still not be appointed by God. If a prophecy ever failed to come true, even if it was prophesied in the name of the Lord, then the one who uttered it was considered a fraud.
All non-Christian prophets have failed the second test and thereby demonstrated that God was not inspiring them. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 84:1–5, 31, September 1832, Joseph Smith claimed that “Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem … shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased. … which temple shall be reared in this generation.”
Likewise, the official writings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim numerous unfulfilled prophecies. One well-known example is their prediction that the battle of Armageddon would occur between 1874 and 1914: “In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished at the end of a.d. 1914.”1
A more recent example of false prophecies concerns “Moses” David Berg, founder of the Children of God, also known as the Family of Love. In 1973, he prophesied that the coming of the comet Kahoutek would result in the destruction of the United States unless America repented: “I believe God means what he says in this shocking revelation above! You in the U.S. have only until January to get out of the States before some kind of disaster, destruction or judgment of God is to fall because of America’s wickedness!”2 Thus, the religious writings of these false prophets and all other “prophets” who have failed prophecies are disqualified as revelations from God.
On the other hand, all biblical prophecies concerning events up to this point in history have come to pass. As we saw in Chapter 3, numerous Old Testament prophecies have been confirmed by archaeology, including not only those pertaining to the Jewish nation and the Messiah but also those dealing with other nations and peoples. Even if we ignored all the Bible’s prophecies except for those more than three hundred concerning the Messiah and recorded in the Old Testament, we would be as assured as possible that God had spoken to us through His chosen prophets. Why? Because the possibility of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person by sheer chance is a tiny fraction of one percent—namely, one over eighty-four followed by 123 zeros.3 Those are odds only God could fulfill!
Another criterion that disqualifies many so-called prophets is the use of objects of divination. Many New Age prophets use crystal balls, mediums, tarot cards, and other “mystically empowered” objects to communicate with spiritual forces. But God plainly warns in Deuteronomy 18:10–12 that no one should use divination, practice witchcraft, interpret omens, or use a sorcerer, medium, or spiritualist. Yet this is exactly what many modern-day prophets do. For example, Joseph Smith used a divining stone and carried an occult Jupiter Talisman around his neck.4 On these grounds alone, many “prophets” could be dismissed as false.
A third test for prophethood revolves around the biblical injunction not to add to or take away from Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18–19). In other words, the Bible is God’s complete and final revelation, so any other religious writings claiming to have the same or greater authority as Scripture is a false revelation—it is not from God. Again, the message is plain: Any so-called holy book, whether it claims to be additional revelation to Scripture (e.g., the Book of Mormon) or claims to contain spiritual truths contrary to the Bible (e.g., New Age philosophies) must be rejected as divine revelation.
A final test to determine if a prophet is from God is to compare his revelation of Jesus with the Jesus described in Scripture. The cults portray a much different Jesus than the one revealed in the Bible. If God inspired other prophets to write about Jesus, He certainly would not contradict His revelation of Christ in the New Testament. This is the case in Scripture. The Jesus of the New Testament fits perfectly with the Jesus prophesied by various Old Testament prophets. In a similar way, if Jesus revealed Himself in other writings, He would be the same Jesus we find in the Bible.
However, in every case, none of the cults bear witness to the Jesus of Scripture. They all reject Him as part of the triune Godhead—one in essence, power, and authority with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The apostle John warns in 1 John 4:1–2 that many false prophets will go out into the world, but he assures us that we can know if they come from God because they will confess “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” In other words, Jesus is God incarnate (in bodily form). Any alleged prophet who claims to speak new revelation from God but teaches a false Jesus is not from God.
DO OTHER ANCIENT WRITINGS BELONG IN THE BIBLE?
The second question to answer is a little more difficult: How do we know that the books presently in the Bible are the only ones that belong there? This question has to do with the canon, the sixty-six books (thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New) officially accepted by the Protestant church as God’s inspired and complete revelation. How do we know there should be just sixty-six books?
Although the Old Testament canon was established by about 400 b.c., the New Testament was not firmly established for nearly three hundred years after the last book (Revelation) was written. Nor, in some people’s minds is the matter settled yet. For instance, in 1945, forty-nine ancient religious books were discovered near Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt. Many people claim that these books, and other ancient writings, contain additional words and deeds of Jesus. Should they be added to the Bible?
The problem of possible missing books becomes even muddier when we read in 1 Corinthians 5:9 about a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians that is not found in Scripture—a letter that some people think belongs in the Bible but was lost. In Colossians 4:16 Paul mentions a second letter written to the church at Laodicea, which we also don’t have. Even the Old Testament mentions some documents not included in the biblical canon (Num. 21:14; Josh. 10:13). How do we explain the absence of documents written by the authors of Scripture? Why are some books considered canonical while others, perhaps even written by the same authors, are not?
One of the dangers of apologetics is that we can get so involved seeking objective evidence to validate biblical claims that we overlook the faith element. We must never lose sight of the fact that nothing in proclamation (preaching), teaching, or apologetics is done independently of the Holy Spirit. Christianity has a subjective element, and it’s there that truth is vindicated by no other power than that of the Spirit of God. Even if we didn’t have all the objective evidence currently available, the Bible would still be validated by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 2:6–14).
Furthermore, God has not given clear answers to all of the questions asked by Christians and non-christians. The information Scripture gives is designed to persuade us to trust Jesus Christ for our salvation (see John 20:30–31; 21:25). The author of Hebrews reminds us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). We are perfectly justified to accept the Bible strictly on faith.
The question of what books belong in Scripture falls largely into the faith category. Ultimately, canonicity is not based on human rationality but on divine inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16). In other words, God determined canonicity by inspiring the writing of certain books, and man discovered through the power of the Holy Spirit which of these writings (books) are canonical or authoritative and which are not.
With this in mind, I can now point you to certain tests the Holy Spirit allowed the church fathers to use in discovering which books belong in the Bible. Two scholars, Norman Geisler and William Nix, list five questions that acted as guides in discovering which books were truly inspired.5
“Is it authoritative?”
Throughout the Old Testament, introductory phrases such as “Thus says the Lord,” “The Lord spoke,” and “The Word of the Lord came to me” are used more than two thousand times. The Old Testament authors never claimed authority for themselves, but they did acknowledge the Scripture’s authority. While Jesus, of course, spoke with His own authority (“Truly, I say …”), the authors of the New Testament also maintained that what they wrote came from God. Their words were His words, and vice versa (1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:21).
By comparison, other books were not accepted into canon because they either made no claim to convey God’s spoken word or their claim of divine inspiration faltered when their contents were examined. In many cases, noncanonical books are full of fanciful and magical events that obviously lack the earmarks of historicity.
“Is it prophetic?”
Perhaps the most important evidence for the canonicity of the books of the Bible is that they were written either by a prophet, as in the case of the Old Testament, or by an apostle or the companion of an apostle, as in the case of the New Testament. The apostles Matthew, John, and Peter wrote their own books. Mark was an associate of Peter, and Luke was a fellow worker with Paul. Paul was an apostle appointed by Jesus (Gal. 1:1). Tradition claims that James and Jude were half brothers of Jesus. The author of Hebrews puts himself in apostolic company when he says that the gospel was “confirmed to us by those who heard” (Heb. 2:3, emphasis mine).
The importance of apostolic authority is reinforced by the selection of a replacement for Judas. When Judas died, the two qualifications noted for becoming an apostle were being an eyewitness of Jesus from the beginning of His ministry at His baptism by John and being a witness to His resurrection (Acts 1:21–22).
The importance of apostolic authority in the authorship of the New Testament cannot be underestimated. If only an apostle, or a companion of one, writing from an apostle’s personal account, could write a book and have it accepted as canonical, no writings could gain such acceptance if they were composed after the death of the twelve apostles. This automatically renders the Book of Mormon and other cultic writings as noncanonical.
“Is it authentic?”
The Bible is the most historically reliable document from antiquity. In every area in which it could be checked out, it has proven itself to contain truthful information. Moreover, the Bible is consistent throughout. The New Testament is in complete harmony with the Old Testament on its views about God, salvation, sin, and all other major doctrines.
But many of the writings that were turned down as canonical are totally out of harmony with Scripture. Some contain moral incongruities, blatantly heretical teachings, and false prophecies. They could never fit with the rest of the Bible.
For example, in the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus 33:25–28, we read quite a different attitude toward slavery as found in Philemon:
Make your slave work, if you want rest for yourself;
if you leave him idle, he will be looking for his liberty.
The ox is tamed by yoke and harness,
the bad servant by racks and tortures.
Put him to work to keep him from being idle,
for idleness is a great teacher of mischief.
Set him to work, for that is what he is for,
and if he disobeys you, load him with fetters.
In The Prayer of Manasses (vv. 8–9), we read that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never sinned against God—quite a different picture from the Genesis accounts.
Other apocryphal books teach false doctrines, such as prayer for the dead (2 Macc. 12:44–45), and give fanciful, unbelievable accounts of alleged historical events (2 Macc. 14:41–46).
“Is it dynamic?”
A book was not accepted as Scripture if it lacked the power to change people’s lives (see 2 Tim. 3:16–17; Heb. 4:12). God’s Word moves people away from sin and toward lives of holiness. The Bible contains the perfect recipe for an abundant life (John 10:10). It holds the secret (the love and power of Jesus) for healing broken, wounded lives (Matt. 11:28–30). Throughout the past two thousand years, these promises have been borne out in the experiences of many millions of Christians. No other book in the world can, or has, affected so many lives in such a dramatic and positive fashion as the Bible. The fact that biblical principles have been the guiding moral light of Western civilization for centuries further testifies to its dynamic power.
“Was it received?”
Perhaps the major reason the Bible was not fully canonized in its present form until the fourth century is because communication was slow in ancient times. There were no telephones and fax machines, and travel was ponderous and dangerous. The church was scattered throughout most of the known world, and many of the church fathers lived hundreds of miles apart. It was impossible for councils to meet frequently to discuss the scores of books vying for canonicity. Hence, it took nearly three hundred years for the sixty-six books of the Bible to be approved by the church fathers and for them to study and reject contending books. However, in spite of this, all of the books in the Bible were commonly accepted by most of the church fathers long before they were formally approved as canonical.
Aside from these five tests, there are internal validations in Scripture. For example, in Luke 24:44, Jesus said that everything concerning Him in the “Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” had to be fulfilled. The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms marked the threefold division of the Hebrew Scriptures. So in this passage, Jesus displayed His acceptance of the entire Old Testament as canonical, as God-inspired. Jesus also referred to many Old Testament books, many times quoting from them—another indication of His belief in their inspiration.
Likewise, the authors of the New Testament quoted and referred to most of the Old Testament books. In fact, of the twenty-two books numbered in the Hebrew Bible (the same books which Christians have divided into 39 books), eighteen are cited by the New Testament authors.
In a similar way, Jesus and the New Testament authors verified the canon of the New Testament. In John 14:26 and 16:13, Jesus prophesied that the New Testament would be revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. And in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter confirmed that Paul’s letters were part of the “Scriptures.”
DOES THE APOCRYPHA BELONG IN THE BIBLE?
Now we need to deal with an issue that divides Christians. It concerns the apocrypha—the fourteen or fifteen books written between 200 b.c. and a.d. 100 (after the completion of the Old Testament canon and before the establishment of the New Testament canon) that are considered canonical by the Roman Catholic church. When we apply the tests listed above to the apocrypha, we find that these books don’t pass. I’d like to summarize the reasons Protestantism has rejected the apocrypha as Scripture. Together these reasons represent a formidable case.
First, the apocrypha was never included in the Hebrew Bible, and it was not even formally included in the Catholic Bible until the Council of Trent in a.d. 1546. The Catholic church embraced the apocrypha to counter the attacks of Martin Luther and other Reformers who discovered that several aspects of Catholic theology came from the apocrypha, not from the sixty-six books of the Bible. Some of these doctrines concerned mass for the dead, merits acquired through good works, purgatory, penance, and indulgences. In short, the Catholic Church added the apocrypha to Scripture after the fact to give divine authority to already existing doctrines.
Second, neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers quoted from the apocrypha as Scripture, even though they cited passages from the Old Testament nearly three hundred times. Jude quotes the noncanonical book of Enoch, but the prophecy he cites was originally uttered by the Enoch mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 5:19–24). In any event, it is fallacious to assume that just because the Bible quotes a noncanonical book that that implies it is inspired. Paul quotes pagan poets in Acts 17:28. Certainly we should not conclude from this that these poets or their writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament Apocrypha
Type of Book
Revised Standard Version
1. The Wisdom of Solomon (c. 30 b.c.)
Book of Wisdom
2. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) (132 b.c.)
3. Tobit (c. 20 b.c.)
4. Judith (c. 150 b.c.)
5. I Esdras (c. 150–100 b.c.)
6. I Maccabees (c. 110 b.c.)
7. II Maccabees (c. 170–110 b.c.)
8. Baruch (c. 150–50 b.c.)
Baruch Chaps. 1–5
9. Letter of Jeremiah (c. 300–100 b.c.)
Baruch Chap. 6
10. II Esdras (C. a.d. 100)
11. Additions to Esther (140–130 b.c.)
Esther 10:4–16; 24
12. Prayer of Azariah (second or first century b.c.) (Song of Three Young Men)
13. Susanna (second or first century b.c.)
14. Bel and the Dragon (c. 100 b.c.)
15. Prayer of Manasseh (second or first century b.c.)
Prayer of Manasseh*
In Luke 11:51, Jesus accuses the scribes of slaying all the prophets God had sent to Israel from the time of Abel to the time of Zechariah. Abel died in Genesis, and Zachariah’s death is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20–21, the last book in the Hebrew Bible (Malachi is the last book in our English Bible). In making this statement, Jesus expresses the extent of the Old Testament canon, omitting completely any of the apocryphal books.
Third, most of the leading church fathers recognized a distinction between the canonical Hebrew Bible and the noncanonical apocryphal books, and many, such as Origen and Athanasius, spoke out against the apocrypha. Moreover, no local synod or canonical listing included the apocryphal books for almost the first four hundred years of the church’s existence.
Fourth, even Jerome, who first translated the Bible from Greek into Latin (the Vulgate—which is the official translation of the Roman Catholic church) rejected the apocrypha as part of canon.
Fifth, while the apocrypha includes some valuable historical information, it contains numerous nonbiblical, fanciful, and heretical doctrines. It also relates numerous historical, geographical, and chronological errors that are totally inconsistent with the inerrancy of canonical Scripture.
Sixth, the apocrypha doesn’t claim to be the inspired Word of God, and it was written well past the era of the Old Testament prophets.
THE BIBLE SUPREME
We can conclude that the church today has the complete, full, and final revelation of God in sixty-six books. Therefore it’s virtually inconceivable that an alleged lost book would be discovered that belongs in the Bible. Nor is there any reason to suspect that any new revelation will come for inclusion in Scripture. God would not inspire a written revelation, guide the church by its mandates for nearly two thousand years, then suddenly reveal additional truths that expand on or contradict His previous revelation. Yet this is exactly the kind of revelation groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to possess. God is a God of truth, not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). He has spoken completely, finally, and supremely in the sixty-six books rightfully called Holy Scripture.
1 “The Time Is at Hand,” in STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES, Series II (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1909), 99.
2 Quoted in Walter Martin’s THE NEW CULTS (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1980), 147.
3 John H. Gerstner, REASONS FOR FAITH, reprint ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1967), 115.
4 Norman Geisler, CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 374.
5 Norman Geisler and William Nix. A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1968), 138–145.
* Books not accepted as canonical at the Council of Trent, 1546. From Norman L. Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1983), 169.