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The Completeness of the Canonical Scriptures

Canonical Composition of the Bible


The Bible is recognized as a complete text consisting of 66 books, divided between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This division and enumeration stem from a long historical consensus that these books accurately convey divine revelation and collectively form the complete canon of Scripture. The Old Testament typically includes 39 books from Genesis to Malachi, traditionally accepted by the Jewish faith and reaffirmed by Protestant Christians. The New Testament contains 27 books, ranging from the Gospel of Matthew to Revelation, written by the apostles and their close associates within the first century C.E., solidifying the early Christian belief and doctrine.


Scriptural Affirmation of its Completeness


The claim of the Bible’s completeness is undergirded by scriptural affirmations about its sufficiency. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." This passage suggests that the Scripture provided is sufficient for all aspects of faith and practice. Additionally, Revelation 22:18-19 warns against adding to or taking away from the words of the prophetic book, highlighting a boundary around the revelation that must be respected, thereby underscoring the completeness of the canon as it stood at the time of the writing.


Historical and Theological Validation


The process of canonization, by which the books of the Bible were selected and affirmed, involved rigorous criteria, including apostolic authorship or association for New Testament writings and consistency with previously accepted Scripture for both testaments. This process was marked by widespread ecclesiastical recognition and usage in worship and doctrine, confirming the texts’ authority and divine inspiration. Key historical moments, such as the Council of Carthage in 397 C.E., helped formalize the recognition of the 66-book canon, reflecting a consensus that these texts were uniquely inspired and authoritative.


Defense of the 66-Book Canon


Critics and scholars outside of conservative evangelical circles sometimes question the exclusion of apocryphal or deuterocanonical books, which are included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. However, the distinction in the Protestant tradition, which adheres to the 66-book canon, rests on historical and theological grounds. These excluded books, while historically valuable and respected, were not universally attested in early Jewish or Christian communities as canonical. They often lack apostolic or prophetic authorship, and some contain historical inaccuracies or theological inconsistencies with the rest of Scripture, which the traditional 66 books do not exhibit.


Moreover, the internal testimony of the books within the 66-book canon displays a coherent theological unity and progressive revelation from Genesis to Revelation. This unity is seen in the unfolding narrative of redemption, the consistent character of God, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament. For example, Jesus' messiahship is prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53) and affirmed in the New Testament (Acts 8:32-35), creating a clear and cohesive message of salvation history that is neatly encapsulated within the 66 books.


Implications of the Complete Canon for Faith and Practice


The recognition of the Bible as a complete canon has profound implications for Christian doctrine and practice. It provides a closed set of texts that serve as the final rule of faith and authority in all matters of belief and conduct. This completeness ensures that Christians have a definitive source of truth that guides moral decisions, theological beliefs, and spiritual practices. It also guards against the introduction of novel doctrines or practices that are not grounded in apostolic teaching, maintaining doctrinal purity and unity in the Christian faith.

In practice, the completeness of the Bible supports a stable and unified approach to interpreting Scripture, where each part is understood in relation to the whole. This hermeneutical approach respects the historical and grammatical context of biblical texts while seeking to apply their timeless truths to contemporary issues in a manner consistent with the intended meaning of the texts themselves. Such a methodological framework helps believers navigate the complexities of modern life while remaining firmly anchored in the foundational teachings of Scripture.


About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is the CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored more than 220 books and is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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