Inspiration and the Sixty-Six

Conversations About God (5:2)

First of all, let’s briefly consider the question: Do we have the right collection of sixty-six books? Some Bibles, particularly those used by our Roman Catholic friends, have many more books than that, and these books together are usually called the Apocrypha. In Catholic Bibles the dozen or so books of the Apocrypha are often not collected in the middle, but scattered throughout the Old Testament. Now what do you do when you are visiting a friend who has a Bible with these extra books and that individual has confidence that his or her Bible is the inspired word of God? Are you going to say, “Well, your version is not inspired but mine is?” Would using 2 Timothy 3:16 clear up the question of whose Bible is inspired? “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching. . . .” (2 Tim 3:16, RSV). Does that settle the question? What books are being referred to as “all Scripture?”

In the King James Version 2 Timothy 3:16 is familiar to many, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God. . .” But the early editions of that same Bible contained all those extra books that are in the Roman Catholic Bibles. In fact the Apocrypha remained in King James Bibles until 1827. And the reason it was left out in 1827 was that the British and Foreign Bible Society decided that it didn’t have the funds to continue circulating those Apocryphal books along with the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. So quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 in the KJV won’t settle the question.

Luther was the first translator to gather these extra books together and put them in the middle, between the Old and New Testaments. His influential German Bible version had much to do with the rise of the Reformation. As a Roman Catholic translating from the original, he had to decide whether or not to include the extra books that were scattered throughout his Old Testament. So he gathered them together and put them in the middle with the following notice: “These books are interesting and useful to read, but not for doctrine.” Then when he turned his attention to the New Testament, you may remember, he came to four books that he couldn’t fit in there too well either. He didn’t call them Apocryphal, but saw in them less authority because they “didn’t teach Christ.” So he put Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end, where they remain to this day in German Bibles.

If you are in a Roman Catholic home, of course, your Catholic friend may say, “Well, my Bible has that verse (2 Tim 3:16): ‘All Scripture is inspired of God’ and since this is my Scripture that verse proves the inspiration of the Apocrypha.” Before you answer, it is important to know that the Greek of 2 Timothy can be translated another way, and I believe the context dictates that it be so translated. Look at how the New English Bible puts it: “Every inspired Scripture has its use for teaching the truth. . . .” (2 Tim 3:16, NEB). That means there is such a thing as “uninspired scripture.” You see, it is very likely that Timothy’s Bible was the Greek Old Testament, which contained these extra books. And that’s why Paul had to say to Timothy, “Timothy, you have many books in your possession, but only that scripture which is inspired of God is profitable. . . .”

Notice the total context of what Paul wrote to that young pastor:

But for your part, stand by the truths you have learned and are assured of. Remember from whom you learned them; remember that from early childhood you have been familiar with the sacred writings, which have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind (2 Tim 2:14-17, NEB).

2 thoughts on “Inspiration and the Sixty-Six

  1. Bill Cork

    Hi Jon,

    I think it important to point out where these books came from. They were Jewish books, that were translated into Greek (or had Greek originals) and were included in the Septuagint. That’s how they came into Christian use, because of Christian use of the Septuagint. Questions arose throughout the centuries because Christian scholars knew that these were not in the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh. So they were often considered “deuterocanonical.” The decision to gather them into a separate place was due to these linguistic considerations, rooted in the Humanist movement of the Renaissance/Reformation era–the question was, what is the best text? Clearly, said many scholars, the original Hebrew/Aramaic. But these books had been used by Christians, and many had decent moral teachings, and the books of Maccabees added to the historical knowledge of the intertestamental period, and thus these books were seen by Protestants to be useful. (And some Lutheran lectionaries still use some readings from them).

    So it was more of a linguistic and scholarly question, rather than a theological one (though Catholic apologists today do some prooftexting from Maccabees to support prayers for the dead).


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