Monday, May 12, 2008

Failing to Answer the Question

The following comes from a recent edition of Billy Graham's My Answer column:
Q: How do we know that the books we have in the Bible are the only ones that are supposed to be there? A man I work with belongs to a religious group that claims the Bible wasn't complete until their founder discovered some additional books that God revealed to him. — K.W.

Dear K.W.,
The central theme of the Bible is God's plan to bring us back to Himself—and this plan was fulfilled, totally and completely, in Jesus Christ.

In other words, we do not need to look for another Savior, nor do we need to add anything to what Jesus Christ has already done for us. Christ came down from heaven according to God's plan—and by His death and resurrection He did everything that is necessary to make our salvation possible. The Bible says, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18).

This is why Christians have always rejected attempts to add any later books to the Bible. The Bible's message is complete—and the reason is because Christ's work is complete. Without exception, these later so-called "revelations" deny the Bible's teaching about Jesus' divinity, or say that He cannot save us. But the Bible says otherwise.

Don't be misled by those who claim the Bible's message is incomplete. God's plan for our salvation was finished through Christ's death and resurrection for us. The Bible says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Are you trusting Christ alone for your salvation?
Now, when I've commented on Graham's columns in the past, I've nearly always made some concession to the fact that, being intended for a newspaper column, these responses (and, indeed, the questions themselves) have be edited to fit within a fairly small space, and so he can't go into the detail that I might like and give a more complete response.

Still, let's look at this question, shall we? Now, reading between the lines a bit, I'm nearly certain that the man that "K.W." works with is a Mormon. Whether this was specifically spelled out in the original version of the question, I don't know, but perhaps Graham chose to make the question more generic to 1) avoid offending Mormons unnecessarily, and 2) allow the question to apply to other people who, whether for religious or non-religious reasons, may question why "the books we have in the Bible are the only ones that are supposed to be there." Even still, I just don't see even an attempt to answer the question being asked here: "how do we know?"

What I do see is a fairly solid statement regarding the sufficiency of the biblical revelation we have. But it doesn't even acknowledge that the Bible, as we now know it, wasn't always a solid unit consisting of the 66 books most Protestants currently understand to comprise it today (commonly referred to as the "canon"). It doesn't acknowledge the existence of the "apocryphal" books (both Old and New Testament-era, at least some of which are given at least some revered, if generally not inspired, status in many mainstream Christians traditions), let alone give a reason why we should not consider them as having authority equal to those 66. It similarly doesn't acknowledge the many other writings that existed in the first few centuries of Christianity which claimed to reveal something of the nature of who Jesus Christ was, but which almost no mainstream Christian tradition sees as holding any form of inspiration or validity (except perhaps as giving insight into what some historical, if heretical, groups might have thought).

Surely there could have been space to acknowledge that the earliest Christians made decisions fairly early on as to which texts were true accounts of what happened in regard to the life of Jesus and his followers (and of the actions of God in regard to God's people, for the Old Testament-era works). Perhaps there was even space to mention some of the early Christian councils that made proclamations as to which books were to be part of the "canon," and that these traditions have continued to be affirmed as trustworthy by the centuries of Christians which have followed. One can do this without implying in any way that God didn't inspire the Bible. Indeed, Christians affirm that the guidance of God was essential to this process!

But, no! Instead, Graham gave us a theological statement that didn't even address the question being asked. It's not the first time I feel like Graham is responding to an issue that's completely separate from the one presented in the question, but I really do expect better from him. Billy Graham is considered an authority for good reason, and a lot of people look to him for answers. I really do believe that he's intelligent enough to have a real answer for the actual question he's been asked; an answer that both affirms the actions of God and acknowledges the history of how the Bible came to be. Surely he has a responsibility to do so!


  1. With all respect, I think it's pretty obvious that Graham didn't feel like bringing up how the current version of the Bible was compiled, perhaps arbitrarily but at least humanly, from many contemporary texts. For Christians who need to believe in the infallibility of the Bible, either literally or figuratively, thoughts about the Bible's frequent translations (and mistranslations) are unpleasant; a similarly undivine process of selectiveness of text is probably even worse.

    Frankly, one of the things that made me an atheist from such a very young age was the seemingly obvious revelation that religion was manufactured by man to fill a void in his life. If the mere fact of the human authorship and selective compilation of the Bible doesn't support this faith, then at least Graham's reticence in bringing up the topic does.

    As always, no offense intended, merely the exchange of ideas.

  2. I can't speak for Graham, of course, but it does indeed seem likely that the human authorship of the Bible (or, at the very least, the human dimension of the authorship, a concept that even strict dictationalists must grapple with) was something Graham didn't want to go into. Still, by avoiding that topic, he avoids answering the very question being asked. The closest he gets is "the reason is because Christ's work is complete." But that doesn't even begin to answer the "how do we know" question posed. It's practically a "because we say so" answer, and Graham's assumed reticence notwithstanding, I know he knows better.

    I'd have been perfectly content (at least enough not to comment about it here) for him to give a gloss-over answer that keeps his own assumptions intact while at least attempting to answer the person's question. As it stands, why even bother printing that particular letter? Why not choose another one that asks a question more relevant to the answer actually being given?

    The thing is, I truly believe that there are answers to questions like this. I don't pretend that all people will find the answers I can give as adequate or convincing, but at least I expect, at the end of the dialogue, that anyone I give such an answer to will at least be able to acknowledge that I attempted to answer the question...

    ...or, failing that, if a question really is given that I can't answer (and there are more than a few of them), I at least said "I don't know." But this question isn't even one of those. There ARE answers to be given to this question, and Graham didn't even seem to try.



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