The Word: Its Text and Canon (Eph. 3:1-7)

The Bible: Its Canon and Text
John Quincy Adams was probably our best qualified Secretary of State the country has ever had. He could speak and read nine languages: English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, Latin, and Greek. He served as President of the United States from 1824 to 1828 when Andrew Jackson won the election. Two years later, Adams was elected by the people of Massachusetts as their representative. He is the only former president to serve in the house.
It was in the House of Representatives that John Quincy Adams might have had his most profound impact. He was staunchly anti-slavery. And he kept arguing against slavery on the house floor, so much that his opponents - the slaveholders from the south - came up with the “Gag Rule” - not unlike our current “Cancel culture” today. The Gag Rule tried to forbid the discussion of slavery altogether.
President Adams famously cried out, “Am I gagged or am I not!?” He brought up the issue time and time again and he fought to preserve the First Amendment right to free speech, particularly when it came to discussing the issue of slavery.
President Adams served 9 terms in the U. S. House of Representatives, dying in 1948, thirteen years before American would fight a civil war with slavery at its core. One southern slaveholder / congressman threatened he would cut Adams from ear to ear if he didn’t stop arguing against slavery.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of Adams, “He must have sulfuric acid in his tea.” In one argument, Adams pointed to a copy of the Declaration of Independence and cried, “If these rights are inalienable, they are incompatible with the rights of the victor to take the life of his enemy in war, or to spare his life and make him a slave.” Incidentally, when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he tended for the call for freedom to extend to the black race.
President Adams refused to be “gagged” and eventually had the “Gag Rule” repealed in 1844. But he had become the leading spokesman for abolitionism in the early 19th century. Adams’ last term in the house before he died overlapped the first term of a congressman from the state of Illinois who would be influenced by John Quincy Adams: Abraham Lincoln.
“Cancel culture” is the modern term for censoring someone else’s speech especially if that speech is not consistent with whoever is in control of power.
When it comes to censoring God’s speech, that would be an absolute sin and the gravest of errors to perpetrate on humankind.
The apostle Paul writes: “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:6-13).
So no one can know the mind of God unless the Spirit of God reveals Him. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus Himself says, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
So the Holy Spirit had to reveal the mind of God so that mankind can know the Son, in order to know the Father. The Holy Spirit did that when He inspired the men of the Bible to record His words, as we saw from 1 Corinthians 2:6-13. Let’s look at another verse:
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Eph. 3:1-7).
The men who wrote the NT wrote these books and letters and they began being distributed and recopied even during the days of the apostles and prophets themselves (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). It was not long after the death of Paul that all his letters began to be bound together. Around the same time, the life of Christ - Matthew-John - was also bound together. Of course, eventually all the NT writings were collected and bound together.
The apostle Paul uses the Greek word “canon” in Galatians when he writes: “those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (6:16). That word “rule” is the Greek word “canon,” which came to refer to all the inspired writings by the Holy Spirit. Of course, Jesus believed in the complete inspiration of the OT and He taught that the teachings of His apostles and prophets would be on the same level of authority as the OT Scriptures: John 13:20; 15:20. No inspired man writing the letters of the NT ever accepted any work as being inspired that we do not have in our OT.
In the years after the apostles died, there were lots of other writings that Christians did. But when the Roman Empire started persecuting Christians and commanding them to bury their copies of the Bible, then Christians had to start making a decision between the writings of Christians which might be good and the writings of the apostles and prophets which were inspired. So, before a book or letter was added to the canon of the NT, Christians recognized that it was inspired by God. Nobody sat down in any official way and made some official decision that the 27 books of our NT would be the NT. It’s just a matter of examining its contents and its nature. And all you have to do is read some of those other writings to know the documents of the NT are very different than the writings of men in the second and third centuries.
Human beings do not have the original copies of the letters the apostle Paul (or any other writer) actually wrote. They are called “autographs.” None exist anywhere in the world. But, those original writings were copied and copied and copied until we have 5,800 manuscripts in whole or in part of the NT. Additionally, we have copies of early Christian writers who quote from the NT in the 2nd-5th centuries (and later) as well as “lectionaries” which were passages of the NT that were copied and read in public worship.
Yes, there are some differences in all those manuscripts, but it is a science to study and examine those differences. That science is called “textual criticism” and it has existed really since the earliest days of the church following the death of the apostles and prophets. Those differences that we have noted for the last 2,000 years are not referring to anything significant at all.
If you have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), this illustrates our point that God has preserved His word with meticulous care. The DSS were discovered between 1947 and 1956. Up until that time, our oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the OT dated to about 1,000 AD. But these scrolls contained copies of the OT in Hebrew and dated back to about 300 years before Jesus came to earth. So the DSS moved the oldest Hebrew text back in time by 1,000 years. But the text of Isaiah, for example, in the DSS is very, very similar to the text of the manuscripts we already hand. One solar from Yale University said it is a “wonder” that the text of Isaiah did not change during that 1,000 year period. Of course it didn’t. Because God guided the process!
Yes, there are differences, as you might see if you compare one translation with another. Compare a NKJV with an ESV, for example. But the differences about to about 1,000 of the entire text. In fact, one scholar of textual criticism, named F. J. A. Hort said that the differences amount to about 1/4 of a page of a 250 page NT. What that amounts to is that in my Bible, which has 403 pages of text in the NT, only 59 lines on one page would reflect the differences between all those 5,800 manuscripts! But here’s the kicker — we (people who respect the NT as the word of God) don’t try to hide those differences! If you want to see and study and consider those differences, they are made available! There’s a book called A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament edited by the committee that put together one of the popular editions of the Greek NT in order to explain why they made the decisions they made about those differences!
Now, the textual evidence behind our OT is not quite as widespread as the NT. When it comes to the textual integrity of the OT, we have the Hebrew copies and we have the DSS and we have the Greek translation that was widely available in the time of Jesus and from which Jesus and His apostles quoted extensively. But we also know the Jews took very great effort to try to make sure when they copied the Bible, they were copying it exactly the way they received it. They went through very elaborate procedures to make sure they were faithful to the text - because they believed the Bible as God’s word and every word was important. Again, in the pages of the Hebrew OT, there are notes in the margins and in the footnotes to draw the student’s attention to the differences that we have found.
Let me give you an example… I preached a sermon on King David last Sunday night and I observed in 1 Samuel 13 that King Saul thirty years old when he became king and he reigned forty two years. At least that’s what my NASV says. But there’s a footnote which says that some manuscripts of the Greek translation has that Saul reigned “two” years, not forty two. The NKJV says Saul reigned “one” year and when he had reigned “two” years, then this specific event occurred. But that’s such a small incident with different texts saying something slightly different, but it does not impact what we know about King Saul and how he behaved and so forth.
Indeed, the Christian can be confident that the Bible we have in our hands is the true word of God that has been handed down from the pen of these inspired men to today, 2,000 years later. Why is this important? Because it is the word of God that will get us to heaven!
God gave us His word. God guided both the revelation of that word (how the inspired apostles and prophets received it) and the inspiration of that word (how the inspired apostles and prophets transmitted it).
It is the Gospel message that is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16) and God wants that message preached regardless how man might react to it. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit inspired Stephen to preach what he preached in Acts 7 that directly led to Stephen getting stoned to death. Why is that important? Because it shows that Stephen would not be canceled and he saved his own soul in preaching and defending the truth while the Jews lost their souls because they would not submit to the truth being preached.
Take home message: Trust the Bible as God’s Word. Teach it. Defend it. Fear God rather than man.


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