What Books Belong in the Bible?

Christians sometimes ask why our Bible contains the books that it does. Why do we recognize some books as the Word of God, and not others? Why do the Bibles published by some denominations include books that others leave out? What about the claims of some groups to have new revelation that appeared after New Testament times (such as the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon?

Some years ago, I wrote two papers addressing these themes. Perhaps someday I’ll have time to redo them, but for now this post will provide some context so that you can read them for insight into these important questions.

There are two aspects to this study. One aspect concerns books that existed in the first century that are recognized today by some people but not by others (notably, the Old Testament apocryphal books). The other aspect concerns books that appeared after the first century, such as the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon. In this post, I’ll say a little about how we can approach each of these questions, and then point you to two papers that will provide further details.

First, what about books like Maccabees, Judith, or Tobias, books that appear in a Roman Catholic Bible but not in most Protestant Bibles? These books were written in the 400 years between the last book of the Jewish Bible and the coming of our Lord. They were known in the first century, but there is evidence, both in the New Testament itself and in the writings of early church leaders, that these books (unlike the New Testament writings) were considered less authoritative than the Old Testament. You can read the details here.

Second, what about books (like the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon) that appeared centuries after the New Testament? The New Testament appeared centuries after the Old Testament and become accepted as of equal standing with it. These later books both claim to build on the Old and New Testaments. Why should we not recognize them as authoritative extensions of God’s revelation, just as the New Testament was of the Old?

The key to understanding the status of these and other examples of “new revelation” is to recognize that revelation is generated around the three great appearances of God on earth: at Mount Sinai (the Old Testament), at the incarnation of the Lord Jesus (the New Testament), and at his second coming. Each of the first two appearances resulted in written books that are recognized by believers as God’s Word. Importantly, the books from the first appearance (the Old Testament) tell us to look for the second appearance and to expect more revelation at that time. Similarly, both the Old and the New Testament point forward to the third appearance of God on earth (the Day of the Lord), and tell us to expect even more revelation then. We know when the next installment to our Bible will appear: in connection with the return of Christ. Books that claim to be Scripture, but that appear before the return of our Lord, miss this crucial endorsement. Here is a paper that spells out the details in this argument (though it does not explicitly discuss the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon).

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