Book Briefs

By Mike Willis

Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible

by R. Laird Harris

Sometime or the other, practically everyone of us has been faced with the question of how does one determine which books should be considered sacred writings and which should not. The question is not a simple one to answer, but this 316-page book by R. Laird Harris will be helpful to you in determining the answer to that question. He deals with the doctrines of the inspiration and canonicity of the Bible.

In his discussion of the inspiration of the scriptures, Harris spends some time dealing with the spread of modernism, the rise of higher criticism, science and the Bible, evidence of passages which make the claim to be authoritative because they came from God (to demonstrate that to claim that the Bible is inspired is to make only the claim that it makes for itself), a historical review which demonstrates that men throughout the years have believed in the verbal inspiration of the scriptures (it is nova new doctrine), and a survey of how textual criticism relates to the doctrine of verbal inspiration. In addition to this, Harris fields some of the objections raised against the doctrine of verbal inspiration.

Of the books which deal with the problem of the canonicity of the books of the Bible, Harris’ book is the best which I have read. Over two-thirds of the book deal with the subject of the canonicity of the scriptures. After the author explained the presently accepted theory among liberals that the canon of the Old Testament was fixed at the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D., he cited sufficient evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls to show that the community at Qumran accepted the Old Testament books as authoritative prior to the Council at Jamnia (this disproved the liberal position) in addition to this, the citation from Josephus regarding the accepted inspired literature of his day was shown ,to confirm the position that the Jews had already begun to accept the books of the Old Testament as authoritative prior to the Council of Jamnia. Positively, Harris asserted that the books were accepted as authoritative because they came from God. (Harris is not afraid to grapple with such touchy problems as the record of Moses’ death in books of which he is the author.) Jesus’ position with reference to the Old Testament was well summarized by Harris as follows:

“The Lord Jesus Christ’s seal of approval upon this literature, in the form which it then and now has, is guarantee enough of its canonicity and truth for those who find in Him the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Put when Christ approved of the Old Testament books, He was not promulgating new doctrine” (p. 179).

In his discussion of the Old Testament, Harris even discussed the problems of the apocrypha, discussing the Alexandrian canon of the LXX, the Council of Trent’s decree in 1522, and the position of Jerome with reference to these books.

With reference to the New Testament canon, the Dean of the Faculty at Covenant College and Theological Seminary (St. Louis)` cited internal evidences from the New Testament which confirmed that the authors of the various books expected their writings to be accepted on the same basis as those of the Old Testament. Then, he dealt with the, patristic test of canonicity (“Is the writing from the apostles?”) and showed that the books which were seriously questioned were those whose authorship was dubious. Harris’ conclusion was:

“The books did not become authoritative by Church decision or as a result of the veneration attaching to things of antiquity. They were authoritative when written because given by inspiration of God. They were recognized as authoritative, inspired, and canonical by the generations to which they were addressed because of the position of the authors as acknowledged spokesmen of God” (p. 294).

I heartily recommend this book to you as a scholarly work on the subject of the canonicity of the scriptures. Although other books do a better job in dealing with the doctrine of the inspiration of the scriptures and this book has some Calvinism in it, I know of no better book to recommend with reference to the canonicity of the scriptures.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:43, p. 2
September 5, 1974