Part 4 here
What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
2 Peter 3:1-2 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
In the last few lessons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we have been looking at the foundation for everything else found in the catechism. That is, we have been looking at the fact that Holy Scripture is the source for what we are to believe and how we are to live. Before we move on from this discussion, I wanted to back up to Catechism Question #2 and look specifically at the phrase that says, “contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” The Apostle Peter in the text above wants up to be reminded of the words spoke by the Holy Prophets (the Old Testament) and of the commands of Jesus which are spoken by the apostles (The New Testament). A question you might have is how did we get the bible and how do we know what books belong in it?
The Apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1 that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3 tells us that “All scripture is breathed out by God.” God guided the human authors of Scripture, working in and through their life experiences, personalities, and various writing styles, so that what they produced was exactly what He wanted them to produce. The text is truly the work of holy men of old—God did not typically dictate to them as to a stenographer—and yet God is its primary author. They exercised their human will and yet God was sovereign over it.
God also oversaw the compiling of the Bible through his good providence. Even though we think of the Bible as being one book, it is a collection of sixty-six books. God wrote it and He over saw its compilation through historical processes by which its particular books were gathered together and placed in the one volume that we now know as the Bible. Throughout the years as books of the Bible were written God’s people received those texts, acknowledged their authority, and submitted to them. The Old Testament was gathered by his covenant people in the Old Testament. This process was complete before Christ and did not include the books often called the Apocrypha. Those books were not received as scripture because they were not written by prophets, did not claim to be the word of God, had errors, and did not have the self-authenticating nature that scripture has.
What about the New Testament? Some have argued that a council got together and put together the Bible deciding what books they would bestow authority upon. This is not historically accurate. The Church does not sit over the Bible bestowing authority onto its books. But rather the Church from the earliest days received the word of God. When the church was trying to decide what books were canonical, they used the Latin term recipemus, which means “we receive.” RC Sproul put it this way “What the church said is that we receive these particular books as being canonical, as being apostolic in authority and in origin, and therefore we submit to their authority. It’s one thing to make something authoritative, and it’s another thing to recognize something that already is authoritative. Those human decisions did not make something that was not authoritative suddenly authoritative, but rather the church was bowing, acquiescing to that which they recognized to be sacred Scripture.”
One of the requirements for book to be received is that it had an apostolic origin. Just as Peter above spoke about the work of the Apostles, if a book had no tie to an Apostle then that book was acknowledged not to have the authenticity of Christ. This also means that the canon of scripture (the lists of books in the Bible) was closed after the apostolic age and no new books can be added to it.
There is much more that can be said regarding how God worked historically to provide us his word. But I want you to be confident that God has overseen its writing, its compilation, and its preservation. We can trust it and therefore we should build our lives upon it. When the storms of life come, if the word of God is your foundation, you will not be washed away.