It’s an age-old question, asked about everything from the book of Maccabees to the Davinci Code. “Why isn’t that in the Bible?” Often people quickly jump to accusations of conspiracy, sexism, or negligence. In reality, almost every case comes down to a single missing piece. There may be other problems that are taken into account, like historical inaccuracies or theological concerns. But the most important question to ask is does the text have authority? Why aren’t the other gospels like the Gospel of Thomas or Mary in the Bible? What about the Apocrypha? Why don’t protestants keep those? Because they all lack authority. How does a text have authority?
The authority of a text comes primarily from the author who wrote it. However, the kind of authority required may vary depending on the type of book. As Christians, we, of course, believe that the authority comes primarily from being divinely inspired by God. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV). However, we also believe that man played a part in the writing and assembly. What criteria were used to determine if these texts had the authority of divine inspiration?
What Does Authority Mean?
How do we determine the authority of an author? A key concern for many Old Testament books is that prophets write them. The authority of an Old Testament prophet is going to need to consider the truth of their claims. Are they a reliable and authoritative prophet? Men like Moses and David, though they were leaders of Israel, were also considered authoritative prophets. Are they documenting accurate history? Is that history relevant to that larger story of God and his people?
For a New Testament book, particularly the gospels, the authority has more to do with being eyewitnesses. Was this written by someone who was actually there? In John 15-17, we see Jesus essentially passing the torch onto his apostles. Jesus trained these men to lead and pass on his message. Thus gospels like Matthew and John, written by some of those apostles, would have authority. Although Mark and Luke were not in that inner circle, they had close access to people who were. Mark is understood to be largely telling Peter’s account. Luke seems to be doing his best to tell an orderly and accurate account, incorporating the testimony of several apostles.
The epistles get a bit more flexible. Several New Testament epistles were written by men like Paul, Jude, or James, who were not followers of Jesus at first. However, they did still have authority as witnesses of the risen Jesus. They were, in a sense, grafted in through unique circumstances.
Why Not This Book?
When we look at any book, and people ask why isn’t THAT in the Bible, we need to ask a few questions. Who wrote this book? Were they an apostle, an eyewitness, or at least someone who knew an eyewitness? When was the book written? Was it written centuries after Jesus died, like many of the Gnostic gospels? Does it teach doctrines counter to the rest of scripture, like certain Apocryphal texts? Was it recognized as authoritative at the time? Are they writing history that didn’t happen or prophecies that didn’t come true? Lastly, a bit more of a meta-question, where does this book fit into the story of God and his people? Is this merely history, or does it show us God’s character or point to the redeeming work of Jesus? Is this a letter written purely to check in on a local church, or is there teaching involved?
The answers to those questions will help to determine if God inspired the text. Whenever someone asks me why isn’t that in the Bible, usually my answer is simple. They didn’t have authority.
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