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The Canon - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2016-09-11 PM
  • Anchored Section 1
  • Sermons


It's exciting for us to begin this series together: Anchored. That's all we want you to be. That's what I want to be. It's what we all want to be, is anchored in the truth of God's word. That image really comes from the book of Ephesians, where Paul talks about those who are like children in their faith. And how does he describe them? They're carried here and there by every fresh wind of doctrine. They just swept them all that I had a clue what they ought to believe, they don't know why they believe what they believe and somebody comes along and says some new thing and away they go. We want you to be anchored and that comes with maturity, that comes with knowledge and it comes with a commitment to grow in your relationship with the Lord. That's what I hope will happen through the series together. Now, as Rocky said, tonight we begin to look at what the Bible teaches about the Bible, and we want to begin with the canon of Scripture. You see, behind every truth claim there is a foundational authority, the place where that religion or that philosophy stands. There is a person or there are writings, or there are ideas to which they ultimately appeal as their authority. In fact, let me just encourage you, if you're talking to anyone about what they believe, the key question to ask them is what or who is your authority? On what person or persons or document are you basing your view of reality? And let me just say, everybody has an authority. You have an authority, everybody you meet does. There are many different sources of authority in our society. Many in our culture embraced naturalism. Naturalism says that the ultimate authority is the cosmos as interpreted by the priests of naturalism, scientists, humanistic scientists. For others, rationalism is king, and it argues that human reason is the foundational authority. And frankly, increasingly in our culture, many people are their own authority. They just choose like a buffet line from religion and philosophy, and they create their own. In the end, they are their authority. They've decided what's true. But most people in our world base their authority on some collection of sacred writings. Buddhism on the collected sayings of Buddha, Islam on the prophecy of Muhammad in the Quran, the Jews on the Hebrew scriptures, Roman Catholic Church on the magisterium, that is the church's interpretation of and additions to the scripture. The cults, they have sacred writings. For example, Mormonism is based on the writings of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, covenant, the doctrine, and the covenants. There have always been sacred writings that have claimed to be from God, and you and I are gathered here tonight because we claim that our authority comes from sacred writings. But the question is why? Why do we accept the Bible as our authority and reject all others? And why do we accept these 66 books, and why only these 66 books? Can you answer that question if someone were to ask you? I hope after tonight and next week you'll be able to.

It's important that we begin with this issue because obviously it frames the foundation for everything else that we will study together, for everything else that we believe. The issue at stake is what theologians call the canon. Now let's start by just making sure we have a basic understanding of the meaning of canon. Our English word canon comes to us through the Latin, from the Greek word kanōn. Originally, the Greek word meant a straight rod or ruler, often marked into units. Think like a little 12-inch ruler that's in your desk somewhere. Then it became a rule or a standard. Again, we use the word ruler in that sense. Eventually the word came not only to be used for the ruler itself, but for the series of marks on the ruler. So as a result it came to refer to a definitive series or list of things that are crucial or important. So when we use this word to refer to the canon of Scripture, we mean two things. We mean, first of all, it is describing a list of books which are acknowledged to be inspired by God and therefore those books are, secondly, the rule or standard of belief and practice. Now immediately you can see I hope to keep difference between the Protestant view of the canon and that of the Roman Catholic Church. Rome is willing to admit that there is a list or rule of inspired writings, although it adds to that list without proper authority. But Rome sees itself as the only authority in determining what those books are, and they're not willing to accept that the scripture alone is the sole rule of faith and practice. Now, folks, the practical implication of where we're starting here with the canon is this: whatever books we determine to be inspired, are God's rule, are His rod for measuring ourselves against, determining what we should believe and what we should practice. Ultimately, how we should live. In other words the books that fall within the canon should be, they are and should be to us, authoritative in every issue of doctrine and practice. This is really important because as we study in this doctrinal series, as we go through systematic theology and we look at issue after issue, let me just prepare you, what Rocky and I teach you will at times come into conflict with some pet idea that you have. But the key question is never what does Tom believe? Or what do I believe? The key question you should ask, that I must always ask is what does the Bible say? Why? Because if a book falls within the canon, it is the voice of God to us, it is authoritative.

Now that's what we mean by the canon. I want us to look secondly at the official church recognition of the canon. The earliest Christians really didn't address the issue of canonicity or established criteria for determining what books should be accepted in the canon at all. They just accepted them. We'll talk about why in a few minutes. They accepted the Old Testament scriptures as they received them because Christ had accepted them. And everywhere the apostles went they carried their most precious possession, the Old Testament scriptures, and they held those scriptures over the people as their absolute authority. Obviously, in addition to the Old Testament, the words and the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the apostles, whether orally passed on, or whether in writing, was given equal authority in the early church. And so there really wasn't a question of "So, what letters of Paul do we accept or not?" That wasn't an issue. And again, we'll talk about why, Lord willing next week. But early on there was some need to determine the authenticity of a letter Paul wrote. And so when Paul wanted to ensure his readers that the letters that were circulating were authentic, that they really were from him, he devised what was this sort of temporary test of canonicity. You remember what it was. He usually used a scribe when he wrote the New Testament letters, he dictated, he used an amanuensis, but then at the end of the letter he would sign it with his own hand. This is again and again true. Let me just show you a couple of examples. In fact, let me just show you one example in the interest of time. Look at 2 Thessalonians. I have five examples from five different epistles in my notes, so this is not uncommon, but let me just show you one. Look at 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, verse 17: "I Paul write this greeting." In other words, here at the very end of this letter, "with my own hand." Why does he do this? Here's why, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter, this is the way I write. In other words, the apostle Paul said: "I understand that there may be letters circulated as though they are from me." We read about that even in the New Testament. And Paul says: "I'm going to make sure you know that even though I'm dictating the letters and somebody else is writing them, I want you to know that I am behind this letter, and so I'm going to sign it, I'm going to authenticate it with my own signature." So the concept of authenticating the original documents, or the inspired documents really goes back even to New Testament times.

But it really wasn't until the second century AD that the first attacks came on the canonicity of certain biblical books. It was about 160 AD when the gnostic heretic Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament and accepted as his canon only a heavily edited version of Luke and Acts, and ten what he called "corrected" epistles of Paul. This was 160 AD and so you can see that very quickly this became a problem for the church. What had never been a problem became a problem. And so because of attacks like Marcion's, the leaders of the church began to be concerned about the issue of the canon. They determined in light of that a set of criteria, this is very important, a set of criteria for supporting the authenticity of books that had already been universally accepted. In other words, they weren't voting to say "well, let's see, you think that book is in? I don't know, I don't think, I don't like what that book says." No, they devised a set of criteria simply to say "here's why the churches have already accepted these letters or these books."

Now the criteria are these. First of all, apostolicity. Was the book written by an apostle or by one who received his endorsement? By the way, there's a reason this sounds New Testament and not Old Testament, we'll talk about it in a moment. It's because the Old Testament canon it had already been settled a long time before, it was not in question. Apostolicity. Second, antiquity. Was it written during the age of the Apostles, since only books from that era could be considered? Orthodoxy. Was the book doctrinally correct and in agreement with the Apostolic faith, particularly concerning Christ? Catholicity. Was the book already universally accepted throughout the church? Lection. What's the book widely read and used in the weekly worship of the church? And inspiration. Did the book have the qualities of an inspired writing as compared with other already accepted inspired writings? Those became the criteria for the church recognizing books as belonging to the canon that, this is so important to get, they were not voting on which books to include. They were countering heretics and saying here's why the church has already accepted these books.

Now the issue of canonicity was already in process in the age of the apostles. Paul, for example, in his letter to Timothy, 1 Timothy chapter 5 verse 18. Paul recognized Luke's writings as equal to the scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Luke 10:7 and he calls it scripture. Remember, they were contemporaries. Luke traveled with Paul. And yet Paul is already identifying it as scripture. Peter acknowledged that Paul's letters were scripture in 2 Peter 3:15 and 16. He says "some people, particularly the misled, distort these hard things written in the apostle Paul, and they distort them as they do the rest of scripture." So Peter calls the writings of Paul, a contemporary of his, scripture. The churches were reading these letters to their congregations and were circulating these letters. In Colossians 4:16, Paul says "Make sure this letter is read in the church." And so the process was already in place, but the early church fathers, those men who led the church in the post-apostolic era, so think after the apostles, they also refer in their writings to the New Testament books as part of the canon of scripture. Here are some examples. Clement of Rome, who lived and wrote, and particularly wrote around 95 AD, he mentions eight of the New Testament books. That doesn't mean he didn't accept the others, he just happened to have mentioned eight in his writings. Ignatius (115 AD) mentions seven books. Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John around 108 AD, acknowledged 15 New Testament letters. Irenaeus (185 AD) listed 21 New Testament books in his writings. Again, not saying those were the only books, but rather simply mentioning them as he taught and as he wrote. Hippolytus, at the end of the second century, in the beginning of the third century, lists 22 books in our New Testament. The Muratorian canon, written in 178 AD, was a compilation of the books acknowledged as canonical at that time universally. It included all of the New Testament except Hebrews, James and the epistles of John. I will talk about that next week when we get to the New Testament. Athanasius, who wrote around 367 AD, cited the 27 books of the New Testament that you have in your Bible as being the only true New Testament books from God. In addition to that, there were several church councils. There was the Council of Laodicea in 363 AD, which stated that only the Old Testament as is in your Bible, and the 27 books of our New Testament were to be read in the churches. At the Council of Hippo in 393, they again affirmed the 27 books of our New Testament. At the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, they affirmed that only those canonical books were to be read in the churches. Now the decisions of those church councils were made by measuring the individual books of scripture against the criteria I showed you a few minutes ago.

Now, if you're a thinking person, you realize that those tests that I showed you (apostolicity, orthodoxy, inspiration, lection, etcetera), those are all helpful to some degree, but they're not very satisfying, they're not decisive. Because you see, there are those who believe that the church councils did not merely affirm the books that were accepted by the church, but rather the church councils actually determined which books were to be in the canon. There are people who believe that mere men got together in the church councils and subjectively decided what is and is not the word of God several hundred years after the books were written. Now that's a terrible way to have confidence in our scripture. Frankly, honestly, that process, if that were true, that process isn't much different from the Roman Catholic Church deciding which books to grant its authority. Or the guys in the Jesus Seminar you remember a number of years ago who were voting based on what they thought, what are the genuine sayings of Christ in the Gospels and which ones aren't. Just people voting. That's very unsatisfying, and if that's where your confidence is in the scriptures you hold, that confidence can be rattled, I promise you. And will be. There was and there is another way, and frankly a better way. It's a way that those who first received these 66 books knew in their lifetimes when the book was given that it was in fact the word of God. So I want us to look then at the biblical criteria for the canon. Now let me just tell you that the argument I'm going to present to you I first came across and I think it was in my seminary days, or shortly thereafter anyway, in a book written by R. Laird Harris called "The Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures." It was book of the year, Christian Book of the Year in 1969. It's a great book. Let me just warn you, it's a very academic book, it's a little bit heavy sledding, but if you're interested you can get it and read it. We're going to develop from the ideas that I first saw there and that was so intellectually and biblically satisfying, the biblical criteria for the canon. Now we're going to look tonight at the Old Testament. Lord willing, next Sunday night we're going to look at the Apocrypha, why don't we accept the Apocrypha, and the New Testament, why do we accept the New Testament. So tonight the Old Testament, let's look at the biblical criteria for accepting the Old Testament.

First of all, it's important to understand that the Jewish canon of the Old Testament contains, listen carefully, exactly the same content of our English Old Testament. If you open the table of contents in your New American Standard Bible or our ESV Bible or your NIV Bible, you're going to find in the front a list of 39 books that constitute our Old Testament. Understand this. The content that's in those 39 books exactly matches the content that is in the Jewish canon. The Jews list the books differently, and they list them in a different order, but the content is exactly the same. While we have 39 books, they originally counted, the Hebrews did only 24 books. How did that happen? Well, they combined 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles. They combined Ezra and Nehemiah into Ezra-Nehemiah, instead of Ezra and Nehemiah, and they combined the 12 minor prophets into one book or scroll. So they ended up with 24, we have 39, but it's exactly the same content. Now by the time of Christ the Hebrew scriptures, the Hebrew Old Testament was divided into three parts. By the time of the 1st century there was the Law. This is the first five books of our Old Testament, all of which Moses wrote. This is also called the Pentateuch, penta meaning five, the first five books. Secondly, there was the Prophets. All of those books that were written by those who actually held the prophetic office, they were prophets. And thirdly, the Writings. The Writings were everything else and they were, this section called the writings, they were subdivided based on their contents or the purpose for which they were used. There were the poetical books: Psalms, Proverbs, Job. There were those books that were to be read at the Jewish feast. For example, Song of Solomon at Passover, Ruth at Pentecost, Lamentations at the fast on essentially what would roughly be our July. Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles. Esther at the feast of Purim. There was also a category called Historical Books. These were non-prophetical books of history. They were written by men who were prophets by function, but who didn't officially occupy the office. Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. Back to the Jewish Bible ends with Chronicles. Now in the New Testament those books we refer to as the Old Testament, we call the law, sometimes all of the Old Testament is just called the law. For example, in John 10:34, John 12:34, there are other places. Sometimes in the New Testament the entire Old Testament is called the Law and the Prophets. And sometimes in the New Testament times, the Old Testament as we know it is referred to as the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. In Luke 24:44, for example, Jesus does that. Now this is what I want you to see: this was the Jewish canon in the first century and it is identical in content to what you have in your Old Testament. We have 39 books, they had at one point 24, the count can change depending on how they're broken down, but the same content.

Now that brings us to the next important point, and that is the Old Testament canon was considered as completely settled before the time of Christ. In other words, by the time you come to the first century, nobody is saying well, should Esther be included? No, it was completely settled. How do we know that? Well, first of all, Jewish scholarship is very straightforward about this. For example, David Kimchi who lived in the 1100s AD, and Elias Levita, who lived in the 1400s AD, both taught, these are Jewish scholars, they both taught that the final collection of the Old Testament canon was essentially finished by the time of Ezra and the members of the Great Synagogue 500 years before Christ. Of course there were a couple of books written near the end, around 400 or so, just before the year 400. So there were a couple of books added, but for the most part the canon was settled 500 years before Christ. In addition, Josephus, you remember the story of Josephus, Jewish general captured becomes a friend of Rome, becomes a historian, wrote a history of the Jewish nation, he wrote in the middle of the first century. He includes in his history the same threefold division of the Old Testament I've just given you. He lists the same books that are included in our Old Testament, and he argues that that list, the canon of the Old Testament, was completed essentially in the reign of Artaxerxes, which roughly corresponds to the life of Ezra. Four hundred and fifty years before Christ. It's very likely that Ezra was a candidate for this. He probably wrote not only Ezra, but Nehemiah. Although much of Nehemiah, of course, comes from Nehemiah's own personal journals. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi were contemporaries. Jewish tradition says that both Ezra and Malachi were part of the Great Synagogue that collected and preserved the scriptures. Here's the key thing I want you to get. By 400 BC, 400 years before Christ, the Old Testament canon was closed. The list was done, it was settled, these books are from God. And if that isn't enough to convince you, let me just remind you and we'll see more of this next week, our Lord endorsed and confirmed this canon as the word of God. Down to its letters and the smallest strokes of letters. During Jesus' lifetime, think about this, during Jesus' lifetime, the exact books that we identify as the Old Testament in the Bible that you hold were considered to be the inspired scripture and only they the inspired scripture and our Lord Jesus Christ during his life, unequivocally affirmed them to be so. Now that raises the key question: how did that happen? How did these books come to be so universally accepted as the inspired word of the living God?

Well, our first hint is that Jewish theologians distinguish those writings that are authoritative, that is, that are part of the canon, by referring to them as "from Sinai." They ultimately come from Sinai. It doesn't mean all of them were written there, it means they receive their authority, ultimately, from what happened at Mount Sinai. What do they mean by that? Well, let me lay out for you a series of arguments. Here's why the Old Testament was so universally accepted that 400 years before Christ, it was already embraced as the very words of the living God, and our Lord affirmed them. Number one, these are the arguments I want you to see, God unmistakably and undeniably chose Moses as his mouthpiece to the people. I want you to turn to Exodus Chapter 19. The children of Israel have assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai after the exodus. Chapter 19, verse 10. The Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day YAHWEH", you see the word LORD in all caps, that's God's personal name, "YAHWEH will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people." Now here are approximately two million Jewish people who were about to witness this. I'm going to come down on Mount Sinai in all of their sight. Verse 12:

You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain." So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman."

This is just to be ready for the momentous occasion that is about to happen. Verse 16: "So it came about on the third day, when it was morning", and I want you to use -my father-in-law who taught theology for 50 years, he is now with the Lord, he used to say when you read the scripture, use a sanctified imagination- you've got to put yourself back in the scene that's unfolding here. Imagine what it would be like as one of those two million Israelites to be there at the foot of Mount Sinai, and for this to unfold. Notice verse 16: "there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound so that all the people who were in the camp trembled." Can you picture this? Here's the mountain, there's a thunderstorm on top of it, and there's this trumpet sound that's getting louder and louder. "And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain." Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, so you've got to add this to the picture, "it was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The Lord Yahweh came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain and the Lord called" watch this this is key, you got two million people who were at the fence, don't you dare cross that fence, or you are going to die. And God says "Moses, come here." "And so the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up." So the Lord then goes through and tells Moses I'm going to speak to the people, Moses went down to the people, verse 25, told them, "Then God spoke all of these words saying." So understand this, you have this mountain with this thunderstorm on top of it, there's the smoke and like a furnace is ascending up, the mountain itself is quaking violently, and a trumpet is getting louder and louder, and in the middle of that God says "Moses come here." Moses goes up. You're still, if you're one of the two million Israelites at the foot of the mountain, and what happens? God speaks. God, with his own voice, declared the Ten Commandments in the hearing of the people of Israel. What's the point? If you were there that day, several things were clear to you. Number one: God was there. Number two: you better not approach God apart from sacrifices, as Leviticus makes clear. And number three: Moses is uniquely God's man. Nobody in those two million people doubted for a moment that God had chosen Moses to be his spokesman. Two million people affirmed "Moses is God's guy." He's his prophet. Go over to chapter 20, verse 18: "All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen." Now remember God has just spoken to them the Ten Commandments in his own voice they heard God. And they said don't let that happen again, don't let God speak to us or we will die.

Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin." So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

Again affirmed. God is there, nobody doubted that, and Moses is God's man. Turn over to Numbers chapter 12. In Numbers 12, God punctuates this yet again. You remember the sort of rebellion of Miriam and Aaron, chapter 12 of Numbers verse one, they spoke against Moses. They said, verse two: "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" So here you have some folks who are kind of going back on what they heard, what they experienced. I love this, "and the Lord heard it." He always hears it. "(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, 'You three come out to the tent of meeting.'" He called them out. "So the three of them came out. Then Yahweh came down", here it is again, "He came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward," again you have a camp of people witnessing this, this is what He said,

Hear now My words:

If there is a prophet among you,

I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.

I shall speak with him in a dream.

"Not so, with My servant Moses,

He is faithful in all My household;

With him I speak mouth to mouth,

Even openly, and not in dark sayings,

And he beholds the form of the Lord.

Remember Moses spent 80 days at the top of Mount Sinai, and then God finishes this way:

Why then were you not afraid

To speak against My servant, against Moses?"

I'd love to have been a fly on the wall that day. But don't miss the point: God is again punctuating as Miriam and Aaron Moses own siblings are questioning whether or not he is in a unique way God's spokesman, God steps in to reaffirm "Oh yes, he is. Oh yes, he is." So nobody doubted it. And Moses then wrote all that God said to him because God directed him to write. For example, Exodus 17:14 says the Lord said to Moses, write this, and our English Bible says in a book that sounds pretty generic, what the Hebrew text says is write this in the book. Write it in the book. We'll see in a moment why that's important. So then what I want you to see is the people of Israel were first-hand witnesses that Moses was God's man and that he wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Turn over to Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 31. And it's made very clear for us here. Deuteronomy 31, verse 24. "It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete," notice what it says, "Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, "Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you." See what happens? God says: Moses, you're my man. Nobody doubted it, Moses is God's man. And He said, I want you to write what I tell you. The result of that was the first five books of our Old Testament, and then Moses takes the book and he deposits it with the Ark of the Covenant. The people knew without question that the first five books were the word of God because they came from Moses, the authenticated mouthpiece of God. Throughout the Old Testament there is a constant testimony that the first five books of our Old Testament came from Moses who was merely an instrument in God's hands. Listen to Joshua, Joshua chapter 8, verse 31 refers to Deuteronomy 27:5. So this is a contemporary of Moses, He lived during Moses' lifetime and of course took over after Moses' death. But Joshua 31refers to Deuteronomy 27:5 and says it was written in the law of Moses. There was no question but what the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Old Testament, were written by Moses' hand, as directed by God. Again, another example, Psalm 103, verse seven and following speaks of God making known his ways to Moses. Remember that reference? He made known his ways to Moses. And what's the very next thing quoted? Exodus 34, God's self-revelation, that He's compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Moses was universally accepted as God's mouthpiece and what he wrote -the Pentateuch- was accepted as the very words of God. And they were written in the book, an official copy connected to the Ark of the Covenant.

Now that's the first part of this argument. Secondly, Moses predicted that others like him would continue to speak on God's behalf. Turn to Deuteronomy 18. He wouldn't be the only such spokesman. Deuteronomy 18 beginning in verse 15,

Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' The Lord said to me, 'They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.

You see what Moses is doing? He is the authenticated messenger of God, nobody questions it, and Moses says they're going to be more like me, and you better listen to them in the same way you listen to me. Now obviously the great Prophet here, ultimately the great fulfillment of this is the Messiah. But it's also clear that Moses was describing and prescribing the institution of prophecy, that was already active in his day, according to numbers 11:29, and would continue in the future. The distinguishing characteristic of a prophet, by the way, was that God would speak to that prophet and through that prophet to the people. The distinguishing characteristic of a prophet is revelation. In short, he was God's messenger. Listen to Jeremiah 1:: "I have appointed you a prophet." And then in Jeremiah 1:9 "I have put my words in your mouth." That's what distinguished a prophet. The prophet's message may include prediction of the future, but primarily the prophet's role was revelation. God spoke to him and then he spoke on God's behalf to the people just like Moses.

Now, that brings us to a third part of our argument. Moses said there's going to be other prophets just like me, and Moses predicted that these future prophets like him that would come would meet two fundamental criteria by which they should be judged. In other words. I mean, think about it, Moses says "they're going to be more prophets like me." Well, there's no more Mount Sinais, so how do we know if they're authentic? Moses says "let me tell you how they're authentic." He lays down to criteria, first of all, look at Deuteronomy 18:21. Right after he says God's going to raise up other prophets, verse 21, "You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?'" Because he's just said in verse 20 "You better not follow a false prophet. You better listen to a true prophet. You better not follow a false prophet." So God anticipates this question, how do we know? Verse 22: "When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." And oh, by the way, kill him. Listen, there is in the modern charismatic movement a lot of prophets and prophecies. A true prophet according to the standard Moses himself laid down, a true prophet will have his predictions always come true. If a person who claims to be a prophet misses once they are not a true prophet. Oh, and by the way, the age of the prophets is over. That's a different that's a different message for a different time, but those who are claiming to be today, they don't meet the standard.

There's a second standard laid down in Deuteronomy 13. Here's another criteria for determining a true prophet, Deuteronomy 13, verse one. "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder," here's someone that can do something fantastic,

And the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.

What's the criteria here? The first criteria is a true prophet's predictions will always come true. Here, Moses says the true prophet's message will always be in complete doctrinal agreement with previous revelation. If a prophet comes along and he can do some really amazing, even apparently miraculous things, but his message isn't what God has previously said then don't believe him. In fact, putting to death was the Old Testament standard. So, Moses said, those are the criteria. That's how you know. In addition, Moses seems to indicate that God would often authenticate true prophets with miracles, Exodus 4, where God enabled Moses to work miracles in order to authenticate that he was a true messenger for God with the children of Israel in Egypt, you remember.

The final part of this argument would be this: the true prophet's word was immediately accepted. Listen to Laird Harris. He wrote,

Kings were humbled by their messages, battles were won or lost at their word. The temple was not built by David, but by his son Solomon and rebuilt by Zerubbabel all at the word of the Lord through the prophet.

Now the prophets didn't just speak, the prophets also wrote. And here's what I want you to get: they added what they wrote to what the earlier prophets had written, to what Moses had written, they attached their documents, their writing to the book. Let me show you this very quickly. First of all, this this is how the Old Testament was constructed. Look at Deuteronomy 31 again just to remind you what we saw a moment ago, Deuteronomy 31 verse 24: "Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book", and he says verse 26: "take this book of the law and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant and it's going to be a witness against you." And then of course Moses dies. Joshua adds to that very scroll, the account of Moses death and the following events. Look at Joshua 24. Joshua 24, verse 26: "And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the Law of God." You see what's happening? Those who are recognized as authentic prophets simply add their writing to the book. Joshua does it. By the way, that's very surprising in light of the command Deuteronomy 4:2 not to add to the words of God. Why is that? Because they were authenticated prophets who had a right to do it. They met the standard. They were recognized as prophets. Go over to Samuel. Look at 1 Samuel 10 and verse 25. "Then Samuel told the people the ordinances of the kingdom, and wrote them in the book and placed it before the Lord." Do you see how it unfolds? This is how the this is how the Old Testament was constructed. The most clear and direct testimony of this line of writing prophets comes in the book of Chronicles, a chain of verses shows us the tradition of a series of writing prophets who add to the book. Let me just show you a couple of these. I won't go through all of them. Look at 1 Chronicles, chapter 29, verse 29: "Now the acts of King David from first to last are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, in the Chronicles of Nathan the Prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer. They all wrote these things." This is probably a reference to Samuel and Kings. Look at 2 Chronicles chapter 9 you see the same pattern unfold. Second Chronicles 9, verse 29: "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, from first to last, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat?" Again referring to these written documents by the prophets and the rest of these texts unfold in the same way, mentioning familiar names. It's true of the major and the minor prophets as well. Here's the important point, this is what I want you to see. The prophets wrote and what they wrote was immediately accepted by the people as the word of God, even if they hated their message, because the messenger met the criteria that Moses had laid down for true prophets. They knew they were God's men. They knew they were speaking for God, and they added their written words to the book. In the same way that Moses writing was accepted because he was accepted as God's messenger, all those prophets who followed him once they were authenticated by the very criteria that Moses himself had laid down, had their message accepted as well. In fact, there was immediate acceptance of an authenticated prophet. For example, Joshua accepted the writings of Moses. Micah quotes Isaiah his contemporary as authoritative. Isaiah quotes Micah. Daniel accepts Jeremiah, his older contemporary, as speaking God's truth. In fact, in Daniel chapter 9 verse 2, Daniel refers to the writing of Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 25:11 and following as the word of the Lord. Why? Because Jeremiah was God's prophet. It was immediate. It didn't take decades and centuries for a group of people to get together and take a straw poll. God, in his amazing wisdom created a plan whereby His true messengers could be authenticated and it started with Moses at Mount Sinai. Two million people watched Moses talk to God, they heard God speak, they knew it was God, it was no trick, and Moses spoke on God's behalf. And Moses then lays down these criteria, saying there's going to be other prophets and when other prophets come, this is what they have to meet, this is the standard they have to meet. And when they met it they were accepted immediately. By the way, one of the most common New Testament descriptions of the Old Testament is as the law and the prophets. Do you see why now? It's because the authority of Moses was first and then the divinely appointed, recognized prophets that followed him added to the book. And so the Old Testament as we know it was essentially universally accepted by the time of Christ and even 400 years before Christ, when it was completed.

Do you see the importance of this? You can take what we call the Old Testament, those 39 books that are identified in your Bible, and you can have confidence that they are the word of God. Because of how they came to be, because of the standard God set, because these men were accepted in their own times, because even in Jewish scholarship they understand how the canon was formed and why it was formed. But most importantly of all, our Lord himself during His earthly life affirmed those books in the first part of your Bible as the very words of God. Your confidence in the scripture does not rest on some church council that met 300 years after Christ. It rests on the affirmation and seal of God himself. Now that raises the question, what about those books that are commonly called the Apocrypha? They existed in the time of Christ. Why do we accept the Hebrew Old Testament and not accept as part of the canon the 14 books that appear in the Septuagint and that appear in the Roman Catholic Bible? And what about the New Testament? Well, Lord willing we'll deal with both of those questions next week. Let's pray together.

Our father we stand amazed at your wisdom. Father, we thank you that our faith rests on solid ground. We thank you that that you then lay down through him criteria for those who would come after him and the prophets speak on your behalf. Father, thank you that our Old Testament was settled so long ago, 400 years before our Lord and that He affirmed it. Father, give us confidence in your word, help us to allow it to be the rule of what we believe and how we live. Lord, may you be true and every man a liar. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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