Note to all readers: for an updated blog post please see A Divine Revelation of the Biblical Canon
What books are Divinely inspired? Divine inspiration means "God breathed" - that is, they are the spoken words of God. The phrase comes from the following verse:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 2:3)So, how do we know which books of the Bible, and which books outside of the Bible, are Divinely inspired? This is a question which bugged me early on. I wanted an explanation that made sense. And Christian churches could not provide me an answer that satisfied me. The following blog was the train of thought that I followed to form my final conclusions - thus far. I started looking into this problem when I was 14, when I decided to actually open the Bible to find out if what the church was teaching is correct. I advise everyone to do the same: check on what you are being taught, to see if it is true or not.
SCRIPTURE FROM CHURCH AUTHORITY?
THE JEWISH CANON
Lets go back to the earliest form of the canon, before the Catholic Church existed. For the Old Testament, the Jews had three divisions: the Law (or Torah), the Prophets (or Nevi'im), and the Writings (Ketuvim). These division are as follows:
The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (the five books of Moses)
The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the 12 minor prophets
The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles
While the Law and the Prophets were probably canonized ca. 400 B.C., the Writings were not finalized some time in the first or second century A.D. - scholars differ on exact dates because records are sparse. The first two divisions of Jewish division of scripture was recognized by Jesus in the following passages:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. (Matt. 5:17)And also the following reference, although not from Jesus:
For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (Matt. 11:13)
On these two commandments [Love of God and Love of Neighbor] depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 22:40)
The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John (Luke 16:16)
They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them (Luke 16:29)
If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31)
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27)
We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (John 1:45)
WHAT ABOUT THE WRITINGS?
As it would seem the books belonging to the writings were authorized later, their authority is more questionable. However, Jesus quoted from the Psalms as scripture, and the following passage includes it as part of scripture:
These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44)And, among the other books, Jesus referenced the book of Daniel as one of the prophets:
Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place... (Matt. 24:15)This latter quote is interesting...it is showing some time later the book of Daniel was moved from the Prophets into the Writings. That the book of Daniel belonged to the prophets as early as 332 B.C. is attested to by Josephus, when Alexander the Great entered the city of Jerusalem:
“. . . he [Alexander the Great] gave his hand to the high priest and, with the Jews running beside him, entered the city. Then he went up to the temple, where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest, and showed due honor to the priests and to the high priest himself. And, when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being, but on the following day he summoned them again and told them to ask for any gifts which they might desire. . .” (Antiquities XI 317)
Not only did the book of Daniel foretell the coming of Alexander the Great, but he also foretold the exact time when the Messiah would appear - which happens to be the year that Jesus was crucified. Which I suspect was one of the reasons the Jews may have moved it from the Prophets into the Writings.
So, given this research, while Psalms and Daniel belongs to scripture...the authority of the other books of the Writings are open to question. This is as far as I could get when it came to the Old Testament...except for one odd item...
THE LOST BOOK OF JASHER
I have examined several books outside the Old Testament, and one stands out: the book of Jasher, which is referenced in the Old Testament:
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? (Josh. 10:13)As it so happens, the lost book of Jasher may still be extant - although portions have been added later by Jewish scribes. Not only that, but Swedenborg may have foreseen the existence of this book as he describes it in his visions. For the book of Jasher, see previous blog entry on this Hebrew work. It would fit in nicely between Deuteronomy and Joshua. Scholars provide a late date for this midrash, but I have found internal evidence indicating that portions of it is much more ancient.
Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher (2 Sam. 1:18)
THE NEW TESTAMENT
With the New Testament, as it was formed after the time of Jesus it is harder to determine what is truly Divinely inspired and what isn't. The church followed a basic rule: if the book was written by an apostle of Jesus, or someone who was close to the oral tradition of the apostles, the book was made part of the New Testament. If it was historically accurate and reliable, it was included. This excluded a lot of apocryphal gospels, which were written much later and tended to be more sensational and not historically accurate. Some authors have stated that there was a "conspiracy" to exclude some of these books, but after examining them the church did a pretty good job of excluding the garbage. The New Testament can be divided into the following books;
The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
The book of Acts
The letters of the apostles
The book of Revelation
So what exactly is the "Q" document? Q comes from a German word meaning "source". And like "Q", no one knows much about it. It is quirky. This source document, unlike the gospels, included only the sayings of Jesus. The gospels combined these sayings of Jesus with what he did, to form a history. Luke, trying to be the honest historian, just lumps entire passages of the Q document right in the middle of his gospel, while Matthew intersperses it throughout his gospel.
To the delight of those German scholars, who unfortunately died before seeing verification of their theories, in 1945 a set of ancient scrolls were discovered in Egypt in Nag Hammadi -- and among the writings was the Gospel of Thomas. Unlike the four gospels, this gospel just includes sayings of Jesus..about 114 of them. It begins with this statement:
These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.Although short, there seems to be an inner mystical beauty to this gospel. And evidence indicates that it is old. Some scholars place it between 50 A.D. and 100 A.D. -- and that is about the time the othe gospels were written. It is written in Coptic, and after its discovery scholars realized that portions of it had been already recovered in some other small Greek fragments. It is first attested to in the early 3rd century by Hippolytus of Rome:
"[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed."A hidden spiritual meaning in scripture? True or false? Yes, there are hidden spiritual truths in scripture. And... they are secret (hint...look to the left in this blog). Unfortunately, the organized church suppressed this information...and classified all who believed in such a spiritual interpretation as "Gnostics." Given, there were quite a few heretical beliefs among them. Is the Gospel of Thomas canonical, should it be part of scripture? I would have to say, ironically, I am a doubting Thomas on that one. I do not know.
A PROBLEM WITH OUR NEW TESTAMENT
So, I thought the church did a pretty good job in filtering out spurious documents out of the New Testament...until I came to this little small letter that no one seems to notice, the book of Jude. It contains this quote:
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. (Jude 14-15)Where did this quote come from? Its nowhere in the Old Testament. As I was researching this before there was a good internet, I soon came to discover that this quote is from the apocryphal book of Enoch. Written between ca. 250-50 B.C., by different authors, it is one of the strangest apocryphal books I have seen. It proposes, that before the Flood, extraterrestrial beings - called "angels" - visited our planet earth, mated with the women, and produced giant human beings. In addition to this, it includes dubious astronomical information, and proposes an alternate calendar to the regular soli-lunar calendar used in scripture. Portions of it are based on the book of Daniel, again evidence for an older authorship of that work. It is regarded as canonical by the Ethiopic church.
Given the information from modern scholarship on this work, its late authorship, in no way should it be regarded as part of scripture. Which eventually meant one thing for me: nor should the letter Jude be regarded as authoritative scripture. If Jude is invalid, then what about the other letters? What about this quotation by the apostle Paul:
One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12)This is a quotation from the Greek philosopher Epimenides of the 7th century B.C. Its one of his only surviving quotes, and is known as the "Epimenides paradox." You see, Epimenides was a Cretan. If he said "All Cretans are liars", was Epimenides lying or telling the truth?
So if the letters of Paul are Divinely inspired, what about this Greek philosopher?
A REVELATION CONCERNING DIVINE INSPIRATION
At that point, the problem of determining which books of the Bible were Divinely inspired was left unsolved. That was until I encountered the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. His largest work - eight volumes or so - was entitled Heavenly Arcana, otherwise known as Arcana Coelestia, meaning, "Heavenly Secrets". In it, he reveals how scripture which is Divinely inspired has a symbolic spiritual sense - an inner spiritual meaning - where each word and sometimes even the original letters have a symbolic meaning. And not only is scripture symbolically written, but it is written in a particular order or series. This he could easily see while his spiritual vision was opened, while reading the Bible. And when this spiritual sense is opened, it is as if the inner psychology of the human soul is revealed, how our spiritual growth passes from one state to the next. Some of these states cannot be known until they are experienced: but Swedenborg lays down the method by which it can be determined what books are Divinely inspired, where the literal meaning corresponds to a hidden spiritual meaning.
So what is the true canon of the Bible? Swedenborg spells it out:
The Word of the Old Testament was of old called the Law and the Prophets. By the Law were meant all the histories, which are contained in the five Books of Moses, the Books of Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, and the Kings: by the Prophets, all the prophecies, which are those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; and also the Psalms of David. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2606).
The books of the Word are all those which have an internal sense; and those which have not an internal sense are not the Word. The books of the Word in the Old Testament are the five books of Moses, the book of Joshua, the book of Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two books of the Kings, the Psalms of David, the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah including the Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; and in the New Testament the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; and the Apocalypse. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10325).From the above, some of it was expected, but partly a surprise. For the Old Testament, Swedenborg largely follows what were my own conclusions, and also includes the book of Lamentations which was written by Jeremiah the prophet. The surprise? None of the letters of the apostles are included. Only the books of the New Testament which include the sayings of the Lord are Divinely inspired.
Some books among the Writings come close - some of their sayings are Divinely inspired, but as the books are not written in a series they are not inspired as a whole. These include Job, Proverbs, and Song of Songs.
WHAT ABOUT THE LETTERS OF PAUL?
The letters of Paul: practically every sermon I have heard in church is based on the letters of Paul. Old Testament is that big thick part of the book that is always ignored. So what of these letters? Swedenborg said the following in his private diary:
Paul indeed spoke from inspiration, but not in the same way as the prophets, to whom every single word was dictated but that his inspiration was that he received an influx, according to those things which were with him, which is quite a different inspiration, and has no conjunction with heaven by correspondences. (Spiritual Diary, n. 6062).It was from Divine providence that the letters of Paul were included, so that those who were in falsity or evil should not profane the words of God:
That the Epistles of Paul have not an internal sense is known in the other life; but it is permitted that they may be in the Church, lest those who are of the Church should work evil to the Word of the Lord, in which is the internal sense. For if man lives ill, and yet believes in the holy Word, then he works evil to heaven; therefore the Epistles of Paul are permitted, and therefore Paul was not permitted to take one parable, not even a doctrine, from the Lord, and to expound and unfold it; but he took all things from himself. The Church, indeed, explains the Word of the Lord, but by means of the Epistles of Paul; for which reason also it everywhere departs from the good of charity, and accepts the truth of faith; which, however, the Lord has taught, but in such wise that the good of charity should be the all. (Spiritual Diary, n. 4824)In other words, the letters of Paul are similar in authority to the books of the Writings in the Old Testament. Elsewhere, Swedenborg states that these letters were included as they are useful for doctrine and teaching the church. So they still have their place, but with a lesser authority. Thank goodness we don't have to solve that paradox problem!
WHAT ABOUT THE WRITINGS OF SWEDENBORG?
Swedenborg stated that he was directed by the Lord what to write, and did not draw any doctrine from any spirit or angel. Does this mean his works, in themselves, are Divinely inspired? No. They are not written by symbolic correspondences. They are explanatory doctrines. Like the letters of Paul, there was a general spiritual influx on what Swedenborg should write about. In many situations, the answer to a problem is not given directly, but a problem is given and we are asked to deliberate about it. I would say that like Paul, Swedenborg was guided in what to write about. But the writings themselves are not Divinely inspired. Like doctrinal writings, they are explicit. The words of God, by their very nature, are implicit. You have to discover its meaning by an inner spiritual path. That meaning is kept hidden from the many. The works of Swedenborg are similar to the writings of Ellen G. White of the Seventh Day Adventist Church - doctrinal, but not belonging to scripture. I only write this section for Swedenborgians, as some may have been taught differently.