The scriptures are essential to spiritual life (Ps 119:9); to depart from their precepts is to walk in darkness. (Is 8:20) They’re given by inspiration (2Ti 3:16) to make us wise unto eternal salvation (2Ti 3:15), providing more evidence of spiritual reality than any miracle ever could. (Lk 16:31)
But how do we know what scripture is? What documents should we consider to be inspired of God? How do we go about validating this? What tests should we apply? Several characteristics are common to all of the books included in the Bible, giving us ample clues.
To begin, we know that Jesus Christ, the greatest figure in human history, accepted the 39 books of the Old Testament cannon as scripture (Lk 24:44); He acted as if the Jews of His day had correctly identified all scripture, and only scripture, within these texts. (Jn 5:39) This is now a well-documented, historical fact.
And Christ’s Apostles identified certain new texts penned in their own era as inspired, the 27 books of the New Testament, which recorded the details of Christ’s teaching and ministry, the history of the early church, and how to rightly understand the ways and nature of God in light of all that had already been revealed. (2Pe 3:16) This is also a well-documented, historical fact.
All of these 66 texts in the cannon of Scripture, the Bible, have several unique qualities in common, which are to be expected from scripture:
- All scripture is committed to the Jews, God’s chosen people (Ro 3:1-2), who have recognized each inspired text, acknowledged it as scripture, and committed themselves to preserving it for us all. Just as salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:22), so also are the scriptures, which teach us the Way of salvation, of the Jews.
- Scripture does not exalt any mere mortal to spiritual prominence or importance. The authors of scripture often did not even know that they were writing scripture; they did not do so in order to promote or enrich themselves. Those who did write any details about themselves admitted faults which implicated themselves as fallen souls, much in need of grace. There is no record of any author of any biblical text proclaiming that God had perfectly inspired the text through themselves. The assertion and confirmation of inspiration was made independently, through godly men and women who were not in any kind of league with the author to promote them. (Lk 14:11, (Pr 27:2)
- Scripture does not contradict any truth of any kind; each text retains a perfect integrity with every other inspired text (Pr 30:5), with science (1Ti 6:20), and with history. (De 18:21)
- All scripture is generally received by the people of God as the Word of God. (Ps 119:105) As a pillar upholds a roof and connects it with the ground, so the church upholds the truth of God as His Spirit reveals it to her (1Jn 2:27), and teaches her how to translate that truth into godly behavior. (1Ti 3:15) As a spiritual community, the early Jewish Christians recognized the spiritual power of the Word of God in the New Testament cannon and affirmed it, piece by piece, just as their fathers had recognized the Old Testament cannon of scripture.
- All scripture is profitable for godly instruction (2Ti 3:16), teaching us how to walk with God. It glorifies God, not man (1Co 1:29), and feeds our spirits so that we grow up into the image of Christ. (1Pe 2:2)
All scripture is sacred: add not unto His words, and neglect them at your peril. (He 2:1-4) It is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. (He 4:12) Let’s delight in God’s engrafted Word, as a perfect gift, hiding it in our hearts and meditating in it day and night, so that it might quicken us (Ps 119:50), and enable us to rightly divide it. (2Ti 2:15)