Essential Christian Beliefs

By Stephen Solomon White

Chapter 5


The Biblical Canon

The Bible has great practical value for the Christian, as well as for those who wish to become Christians. The Bible is not only the great depository of divine truth, but also the Christian's guide. The Christian cannot properly or safely chart his course in this world of changing and confusing scenes without daily touch with the Bible. It is truly "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our pathway." Since this is the case, the consideration of the Bible has been left until the latter part of the book. It immediately follows the chapter which deals with salvation in the individual and in the church as administered by the Holy Spirit. The special aid of the Holy Spirit in the initiation and continuation of this great work in the world is the Word of God, or the Bible. The fact that we have delayed the specific study of the Bible until now has not, as you have noticed, prevented its use in the sections which have preceded. We have assumed its divine origin and have used it accordingly. Now we must justify its claims as a divine revelation.

The canon of the Bible refers to the books of the Bible which are received as authoritative. For the Church of the Nazarene and for the historic Christian church all of the books which are now a part of the Bible are authoritative. They thus belong to the biblical canon; that is, they are held to meet the necessary test or standard.

What is the test or standard of canonicity, or of the right of a book to become a part of the Bible? The primary test as applied by the Christians who formed the canon of the New Testament was that the books which constitute it must have been either directly or indirectly of apostolic origin. According to this standard, Paul's epistles would get in because they are directly the work of an apostle as he was inspired by God. The Gospel of Mark would become a part of the Bible by virtue of being indirectly the work of an apostle, Simon Peter. Mark wrote his Gospel under divine inspiration, but from the human standpoint he followed Peter's account. Where there was doubt as to the authorship of the book, there is no doubt but that other tests either consciously or unconsciously played a part. Did the truth harmonize with that which was undoubtedly of apostolic origin, and did it make a definite contribution to the system of known apostolic truth? In fact, no book would have been accepted as a part of the New Testament Canon -- even though there were witnesses to its direct or indirect apostolic origin -- if the contents of the book did not harmonize with the rule of faith as handed down to the church by Christ through the apostles. Of course inspired apostolic documents would unquestionably so harmonize.

The canon of the Old Testament is more difficult to explain. This much we do know, that it came to be accepted as an authoritative expression of the divine will by the Jewish nation. Added to this is the all important testimony of Jesus Christ. He indicated by His quotations from the same that He regarded the Old Testament as a special divine revelation. This sanctioning of the Old Testament canon by Jesus Christ has made it forever a part of the Scriptures for all Christians. It met the standard for the Jews, for Christ, and is now recognized as meeting the standard for us, although it is not possible to set forth the grounds for its canonicity as adequately as for the New Testament. There is no doubt but that the official sanctions which have been given to it from time to time have been justified by the contents as well as by any external test which may have been applied.

There is one very important thing to remember in connection with the canonicity of the books of the Bible. The formation of the canon of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament was a gradual process. God did not hand the Bible down from heaven. Neither did He come down to earth and arbitrarily pick out certain manuscripts and make them a part of the canon. Human beings, not as individuals but as groups, were responsible for the formation of the Bible. They did not do it all at once but were engaged in this task for centuries. Take the Old Testament, for instance. The formation of this canon began at least as far back as 621 B.C. with the discovery of the book of the law by Hilkiah and was certainly not finally settled for the Hebrews before 100 B.C. The New Testament was first recognized soon after the middle of the second century, but the discussion as to the right of some of the books to have a place in it did not come to an end until the close of the fourth century A.D.

While it is insisted that the canons of the Old and New Testaments were humanly mediated and not immediate divine gifts, it is not thereby claimed that God had nothing to do with their formation. The Holy Spirit supervised the selection of the books which were finally chosen to be a part of the two canons. God had a definite part in this work as He moved upon the Jewish and Christian groups which from time to time had to do with the fixing of the Old and New Testament Canons.


General And Special Revelation

The two great problems which must be considered in connection with the Bible are revelation and inspiration, the final bases of canonicity. Sometimes these terms are incorrectly used as synonyms. They should not be so construed because they do not mean the same. Revelation is the supernatural communication of the truth to man, while inspiration is the help which God gives to man in recording the truth which has been communicated. With this differentiation between these two terms, the way is opened for the discussion of each. We shall begin with revelation.

There are two types of revelation -- general and special. General revelation refers to all of the methods by means of which God speaks to men except through the Bible. This means that through the medium of general revelation God reveals Himself in nature, human nature, and history. We can see the marks of God all about us. The arguments for the existence of God which we advanced in the first chapter of this book are based on God's general revelation of Himself. However, the object of this discussion is not general but special revelation, the revelation which comes to us through the Bible.

Anyone who believes in special revelation must assume a God who is both personal and good. He must be a God who is not only the source of all that exists, but is also now lovingly interested in all that He has created. He is not the sort of God who could have created man and then have gone off on a vacation and left him to his own devices. A God that cares for His creation would be expected to reveal Himself to that creation if there were those within that creation who needed such a revelation and could understand it if given. Man, because of his sin, needed a special revelation; and yet his sin did not so mar him that he could not with the Holy Spirit's help at least to some extent comprehend this revelation. In other words, general revelation was not sufficient for a man whose mind had been crippled by sin.

The Bible A Special Revelation

(1) Prophecy. What proof have we that the Bible is a revelation from God? First there is the proof from prophecy. If events are foretold in the Bible, it must, in a special way, be the revelation of God. Those who wrote it were finite and, therefore, could not have foreseen events except as One who had infinite knowledge -- knowledge of the future as well as of the past and present -- supplemented their understanding. Events are foretold by the writers of the Bible. This can be proven.

The prophets of Israel foretold specific events. "A writer of known moderation, while contending that the prophets were not wont to picture events that had no apprehended connections with the circumstances of their age, adduces the following list of particular and unconditional predictions: 'Michaiah, the son of Imlah, prophesied that Ahab and Jehoshaphat would be defeated by the Syrians, and permitted himself to be thrown into prison, with the declaration that he was willing to be regarded as a false prophet if his prediction were not fulfilled. In a similar manner Amos predicted the approaching destruction of the Damascene kingdom and the carrying of the Syrians to Kir. Isaiah had the fullest certainty that the kings, Rezin and Pekah, would not succeed in taking Jerusalem, and that in less than three years their countries would be devastated by the Assyrian armies, and that the kingdom of Judah would be heavily afflicted by Assyria, from which it had expected help. He also published the deliverance of Jerusalem from the army of Sennacherib, and the destruction of the latter by the direct intervention of Jehovah and the hasty flight of the remnant. On the other hand, Jeremiah predicted the fixed purpose of God to accomplish the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish kingdom by his servant Nebuchadnezzar; but he also foretold that in seventy years the judgments of God should overtake Babylon and bring about the deliverance and the return of the exiles; and the same prophet predicted the death of the false prophet Hananiah in the course of the year. Various items might be added to this list. Hosea, for example, foretold the downfall of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrians. Micah predicted the destruction of of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. Isaiah declared in the days of Hezekiah that the royal treasures and princes should be carried off to Babylon. The utter desolation prepared for Babylon was graphically described by Isaiah, and Nahum portrayed the like fate for Nineveh." [17]

Added to these prophecies are the predictions of the coming Messiah or Christ which are also found in the Old Testament. In Genesis we hear of the seed of the woman which is to bruise the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). In Abraham's seed all of the families of the earth are to be blessed (Genesis 22:18). There are the Messianic Psalms -- the second, the forty-fifth, the seventy-second and the one hundred and tenth, may be mentioned. They describe the glory and the extent of the kingdom of the coming Messiah.

"Isaiah is the richest mine of Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. Messiah, especially designated as 'the Servant of God,' is the central figure in the prophecies of Isaiah. Both in Isaiah and in Jeremiah, the titles of Messiah are often and pointedly expressive of His true humanity. He is the fruit of the earth; He is the rod out of the stem of Jesse; He is the branch or sprout of David; He is called by God from His mother's womb; God has put His Spirit upon Him. He is anointed to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives." [18]

Isaiah 53 describes the humiliation of the coming Messiah. "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. . . . Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:3-5). The iniquity of us all has been laid upon Him. He was to bear without a word the punishment which He was to endure for us. He had done no violence and there was no deceit in His mouth and yet He was to be numbered with the transgressors.

We conclude this section with the predictions of Christ. They witness both to His deity and to the divineness of the biblical revelation which has come into existence because of Him. Professor H. C. Sheldon summarizes the prophetic insight of Jesus Christ thus: "He contemplated His crucifixion as an event that was perfectly certain to occur. He foresaw His betrayal and the dispersion of His disciples. He pictured beforehand the denial of Peter, at the very moment when the confident disciple was protesting his undying fidelity. He painted in terms that were fulfilled to the letter the doom impending over Jerusalem and the temple. He forecast without a shadow of doubt that the very disciples who were to forsake Him in the hour of His humiliation would take up the cause of their crucified Master with the courage and zeal of martyrs, and would carry His gospel well toward the ends of the earth. He signified to Peter by what death he should glorify God. In short, the future seems to have been transparent to Christ so far as His vocation made a demand for foresight." [19]

(2) Miracles. The second proof for the fact that the Bible is a revelation from God is to be found in miracles. By miracles is meant God's direct or unusual activity as over against His work through nature. Here God acts indirectly or mediately rather than immediately. For example, His usual way of making grape juice would be through the growth of grape vines and then the development of grapes on them. After the grapes have ripened man gathers them and crushes the juice from them. This is a long process, and nature and man join with God in bringing it about. However, even in this case, the major responsibility rests with God. In the last analysis, it is He that must give the increase. It is customary to describe this method of making grape juice as natural. On the other hand, at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, Jesus as God made grape juice immediately or directly. It was done instantaneously and was a miracle, something supernatural. The Bible gives a record of many miracles -- the supernatural or immediate activity of God. The fact that they are found in the Bible points to the supernatural origin of its contents.

The miracle already referred to -- the turning of water into wine -- and the references which have been made to nature indicate that a miracle, as the term is being used here, has to do with changes in the natural or physical world. Some speak of being saved or being entirely sanctified as miracles; and from one standpoint such experiences are truly the greatest of miracles. God acts immediately upon the personality when men are saved or sanctified. Here there is an example of the highest type of supernatural activity. But, in the present discussion, we are limiting miracle to God's direct intervention in the visible or natural world. This is the usual meaning of the term.

How may one be sure that that which claims to be a miracle is a miracle? On what is the genuineness of miracles based? Miracles cannot avoid being spectacular or sensational. They cannot escape drawing attention to themselves and to those who perform them or are the immediate agents in their appearance. However, we may know at once that they are not genuine if there is good reason to believe that they were performed merely for show or just for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves. The primary purpose of a genuine miracle always goes beyond itself. In other words, it is always a means to an end. This end may be stated in a twofold form -the revelation of God and the relieving of human distress. God reveals Himself through the immediate assistance which He gives to men by intervening in nature in their behalf. Whatever is done through this ministry of miracle performing must be worthy of a God who is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good. This rules out at once the trifling or the petty and the low or mean. One reason that there are so few miracles today is that God cannot trust His followers with this wonder-working power. It is too easy for us to get our eyes on the miracle and our importance as the agent of its performance and lose sight of its purpose as the revelation of God in the relief of human need.

In line with what has just been said, it is important to note that the evidential value of miracles is secondary. They were not mainly performed in order to prove that the Bible is a revelation from God, but one by-product of their presence in the biblical record is their witness to this fact. Their principal purpose was to worthily reveal God through their ministry to the life of man here on this earth.

Another by-product of miracles (especially those which were performed by Christ) is the spiritual message which they convey. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is followed in John's Gospel by the discourse on the Bread of Life. Just as Christ had satisfied their physical hunger, He would also be the Bread of Life to their famished souls. The miracle made His teaching as to the Bread of Life much more fitting and effective (John 6). Jesus opened the eyes of the man who had been born blind, but that was not all. This was but a sure sign of the fact that He could become the light of the world, could open blind spiritual eyes (John 9). Opening the blind physical eyes laid the foundation for the greater truth that He was the spiritual light of the world. It is no wonder that the blind man, soon after his sight was restored, became a believer and worshipped. His spiritual blindness was healed and he was able to behold that which was unseen and eternal. Christ stilled the tempest on the Galilean Sea, and the endangered boat rested on the calm waters. This miracle was but a token of the fact that the soul tossed about by sin could be quieted. This was proved by the fact that the demon possessed man was freed from the tempest which swept across his soul (Mark 4:35 to 5:21). Jesus' miracles were thus acted parables heralding to the world the glorious truth that what He had done in behalf of the material needs of men could be duplicated in the realm of the spiritual.

There are those who would accept the miracles of Christ and yet exclude those of the Old Testament. This is not a reasonable procedure. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever." The miracles of Moses and Aaron, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha are not to be ruled out. God was in them worthily revealing Himself in behalf of that which was right. Neither are the miracles of the disciples of Christ to be outlawed. God worked through Peter, Stephen, Philip, and Paul as well as others of Christ's followers. They did not take the glory to themselves. They were ever ready to recognize that the power came from God. These miracles, as well as those from the Old Testament, bear the marks of genuineness. Therefore, while there is no reason to take from the significance of the miracles of the Old Testament and those of the followers of Christ, there is cause for emphasizing the miracles of Jesus. They set the standard for all of the others. They are exceptional both in variety and number. The Christ was master of both nature and human nature. He could turn water into wine, still the tempest, feed the five thousand and thus manifest His power over nature; or, He could cool the fevered brow, unstop the deaf ears, open the blind eyes, cause the lame man to walk, make the withered hand whole, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, and thus demonstrate His power over human nature. No other person on this earth has done what He did. And to put the seal upon all that He did in the way of miracles, He came forth from the dead Himself. He had a right to declare "I am the resurrection and the life." A book that records all of this must be a revelation from God.

(3) The unique personality of Jesus Christ. What has just been said as to the miracles of Jesus naturally leads to the next proof for the fact that the Bible is a revelation from God. This argument is the unique personality of Jesus Christ. What a person Jesus Christ was as He walked among men! Never man spake as He did. This was true both as to His manner or method and as to the content of what He said. He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes and Pharisees. Along with this suggestion as to the method of His teaching must be placed the originality of His precepts. Read the Sermon on the Mount or some of His great parables and there will be evident a level of thought which surpasses anything else which has ever been brought to men. Think of the claims He made for Himself. He did not hesitate to say, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest," "I am the resurrection and the life," "I am the way, the truth, and the life," "I am the bread of life," "I am the light of the world," "All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." Still, along with all of these claims there was nothing of arrogance or of the air of superiority. He was the humblest person who has ever walked on this earth. He could, without the least embarrassment, take the towel and basin and wash the feet of His disciples. Such a procedure was not in the least foreign to Him. He was always forgiving others of the guilt of their sins but never had any consciousness of sin Himself. This forgiving spirit was a manifestation of His matchless love and tenderness. He saw the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd, and His heart was filled with compassion for them. This was His usual reaction to the people he met; for most of them were in distress. There were occasions, however, when He manifested courage and severity. The hypocritical Pharisees more than once called forth the fury of His hatred for sin. In this case, He never hesitated to tell them to their faces their terrible condition (Matthew 23). There was not the least indication of fear on His part. He was a man of sorrows and yet He made a place for sociability and friendship with the joy that always accompanies them. As proof of this latter statement, His presence at the wedding celebration at Cana and His close friendship with Lazarus and Mary and Martha may be cited. The Bible is a Christ-centered book. Its sole purpose is to present the redeeming Christ, His person and His work. This theme in itself raises the Bible above the level of other books. It is the only book known to men which deals with a person who is supernatural and unique; and, therefore, it must be a supernatural and unique book.

(4) Variety and harmony of the Bible. Another proof for the divine origin of the Bible is its variety combined with its harmony and balance. It was produced by a large number of individuals over a period of many centuries, and yet there is no lop-sidedness or disharmony within its limits. In the Old Testament there are laws, history, psalms or songs, prophecies, and the aphorisms of Proverbs and the other portions of the wisdom literature. In the New Testament there are history, epistles, and prophecy. These different types may be divided and subdivided into sections which differ much among themselves. Every need of the human personality as to intellect, will, and feeling is met. Every experience of human life can find its place somewhere in this wonderful Book. No other volume has equalled it for variety, and yet it is a variety which brooks no contradictions or lack of balance. Surely it has upon it more than the touch of man!

(5) The Holy Spirit's witness. The last proof which shall be offered is the Holy Spirit's witness to the divine origin of the Bible. In the last analysis, man can only say that Christ is divine by the aid of the Holy Spirit. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3). The same is true as to the Bible. The final and only sure proof that the Bible is a revelation from God is the witness of the Holy Spirit to this fact in the heart of the believer. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth or revelation, and because of this He can witness to the truth (John 14:17; 15:26). Further, any witness of the Holy Spirit to Christ and His work is a witness to the truth of the Bible, because the record of the divine Christ and His redemptive work is found in the Bible. Next to the witness of the Holy Spirit to regeneration and entire sanctification stands His testimony to the Christ who lived and walked among men, who died on the cross, who was resurrected and then ascended to the Father, and who now ever liveth to make. intercession for us. His witness to these facts is His witness to the divinely ordained record of them as given in the Bible.


Closely related to the truth that the Bible is a revelation from God or a communication of truth from God to man is the fact of the inspiration of the Bible. Inspiration when applied to the Bible refers to the help which God gave man in recording the truth that had been communicated to him. It must be remembered, however, that these two terms-revelation and inspiration are so interrelated that their difference should not be too much emphasized. As a rule, one involves the other. This was certainly the case with the Bible.

How did God help men, to whom the truths of the Bible were communicated, to record those truths in such a way that they would be an infallible rule of faith and practice? It was of no great value to give the truth to them if they were not to be aided in such a way as to make it available to men all down through the centuries.

Sometimes men have emphasized the fact that God illuminated the mind of the inspired individual. This is true as far as it goes, but it really has nothing to do with inspiration. It is related to revelation and not inspiration. Illumination is that especially heightened or intensified condition which takes possession of the mind of a person which enables him to grasp the truth revealed or communicated. It is not directly connected with inspiration, although along with revelation it must come into existence before there can be any need for inspiration or the recording of the message. Revelation -- the message is given; illumination -- the mind is prepared to receive the message; and inspiration -- the individual is so assisted by the Holy Spirit that he is able to record the message correctly. Thus illumination cannot be an answer to the nature of inspiration. In other words, it is not a valid theory of inspiration.

Two human theories of inspiration may be considered next. These are the theories of genius and of the religious consciousness. The first of these theories would make the writers of the Bible nothing more than religious geniuses. They can record the truth given as it should be because they are naturally gifted in things religious. This would make the Bible no more inspired in its field than Shakespeare's works are in the field of literature. The religious consciousness theory of inspiration would make the recording of the truth of the Bible the effect of an unusual religious experience. Such a view would certainly not make the Bible a unique book. We must eliminate these two human theories as inadequate. They make plenty of room for man but no place for the special intervention of God. The third theory goes to the other extreme and places all of the responsibility for inspiration on God. It is the mechanical theory. Sometimes it is called the dictation or full verbal view as to inspiration. This theory holds that every word of the Bible was dictated by the Holy Spirit. Man was just an instrument used by God as a human being might use a pen to record his words. This really means that man as a person had nothing to do with the creation of the Bible.

The last view that will be mentioned is the dynamic theory. It holds that the thought of the writers of the Bible was so dominated by the Holy Spirit that the truth recorded is an infallible rule of faith and practice. This is truly a divine-human theory. It does not exclude the human element, and neither does it exclude the divine. This is the true theory of inspiration, the explanation of the way in which the writers of the Bible were enabled to record the truth communicated to them as they should.

There is one great passage in the Bible which has to do with inspiration that must not be overlooked. It is found in II Timothy 3:14-17. Paul has been telling Timothy of the wickedness which shall be so prevalent in the last days. He knows full well that conditions will be such as to try men's souls. Because of this, he closes the chapter with an exhortation to Timothy to hold fast to those things which he has learned from the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make him wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. And then Paul concludes the chapter with these significant words: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Of course the inspired scriptures for Paul were those of the Old Testament. However, the words which he was writing and all of those of the New Testament were as truly inspired as those of the Old Testament.

General Remarks

We close this discussion on the Bible with three general remarks, all of which have already been implied but not specifically stated. The first of these is that the Bible is a divine-human book. It is a human book because it was written by men and for men and about men. Men of like passions as we are -- Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Paul, John, and Peter -walk before us in this book. It is also a human book because it is written sympathetically, that is, with a view to man's need and his highest good. More important than the fact that the Bible is a human book is the fact that it is a divine book. God through the Holy Spirit had to do with the making of the Bible in a way in which He never had to do with the making of any other book. The Bible, as we have it, was inspired as no other book has ever been inspired or will ever be inspired. It is different from other books both in degree and in kind. It is a unique book, just as Christ was a unique person.

The second general remark which is presented in concluding this section is that the Bible is not just the sacred book of one of the religions of the world. Neither is it merely a book about the Christian religion. It is the book of the Christian religion; and this Christian religion is the only true religion. Thus we have in the Bible the final word about the final religion. If one will follow its instructions, he can rest assured that he will be able to reach life's highest good.

The third and last general remark emphasizes the fact that the Bible must be a living book in order to be of any value to us. There are many people who hold a perfectly orthodox theory as to the inspiration of the Bible, and yet the Bible means little or nothing to them. A perfect theory is not enough for you and me. We must know the Holy Spirit and be able to have dealings with Him if we would have a Bible which is worth while. The words of the Bible are dead unless they are made alive by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. The Bible, to be dynamic and thus helpful, must be a living book; and it can be a living book only as the Holy Spirit makes it live.


17 Sheldon, H. C., System of Christian Doctrine, Eaton and Mains, N.Y., 1903, pp. 103,104. Used by permission of Herbert P. Sheldon.

18 Liddon, P. H., The Divinity of Our Lord, Rivingtons, 1882, pp. 84,85.

19 Sheldon, op. cit., p.103.