The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.

C.H. Spurgeon

Can you list all 66 books of the Bible? I want to challenge you, if you are a man of God and you love the Lord…this is one of the things we teach children to do. If we love God’s word, and if we are going to talk about the canon of Scripture, then we really should know the 66 books of the Bible, even just their names.

No shame if you can’t, but there are tons of tools out there to help you memorize the names and order of the books of the Bible. So, whatever you do, get that into your head, it is really important. It doesn’t really do us any good to have a good understanding of the canon if we do not practically know the books, and their names, that the canon is comprised of.

So, this leads us to the main question for this study. How do we know that these 66 books are the books that we should be looking at? What about things like the Gospel of Thomas, or The Didache, or The First Epistle of Clement, or The Book of Tobit? Why are those things not in our Bible and instead we have these other 66 books?

This is all a part, in some way or another, of the study of the canon of Scripture. The word “canon” means “a standard or rule”, it is an authoritative list. How do you know that this book is God’s Word? Because it is in the canon. It matches the standard. It is an authoritative collection of books that are considered sacred. We call them the Old and the New Testaments. 

It is important that we know about the canon of Scripture because, when we open up the Bible and turn to Ephesians, and start to look at how our marriage is supposed to work, how do you know that you can trust what you are reading? Or when you open up 1 Timothy and you are looking at the qualifications of elders, and you say to yourself, “This is what an elder should be.”, but the culture around us says that a woman can be an elder, but the Scriptures are telling us that this must be a man, how do we know we can trust that Scripture? 

If we don’t understand why we believe this is God’s Word, then where is our confidence? You can pose that same question to any book or doctrine of the Bible. There is a uncrossable boundary line between that which is Scripture and that which is not, between that which is God breathed and that which is not. How can we know?

I strongly believe that you can have confidence that the Bible you hold in your hands is the Word of God by understanding two doctrinal truths.

The first truth we need to grasp is the self-authenticating nature of scripture.

The idea is that the list of books is attested to. Someone gets to tell us which books belong there. Who gets to do that? There are a few different ways that people have answered that question. Some say that man gets to attest to the canon. This comes from the idea that man is innately religious, man is innately emotional, moral, he has intellectual instincts and abilities, and so he can feel his way towards this. 

The problem with the idea that men get to decide is that it forgets that men are sinners. It does not take into account the fallenness of man.

Some would say that history gets to attest to us what the canon is. Have you ever heard somebody say, “Well, you know, Constantine put the Bible together.” That is a very immature way of saying that history gets to attest to it. But history cannot attest to what is the Word of God. This comes from ways of thinking about evidence to prove that it is the Word of God. So you have archeological evidence, you have documentary evidence throughout history, then you have the idea of the flow of history and how the Bible talks about different locations and geographic entities. Here we are looking at external evidence when we talk about history attesting to the cannon.

This is a problem.

Anything that you use to attest that Scripture is God’s Word becomes something that has to look down at Scripture, and has to be a higher authority. No other authority can be higher than God’s Word. So when we say, “Archaeology proves the authenticity of the Bible.”, we are placing archeological discovery as the higher authority. We cannot do that. That is not the way you know that the Bible is the Word of God.

 The third thing that some people run to, is that the church gets to attest to the canon. This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Rome believes that the church gets to establish the infallible authentication of the canon. This presents the same problem as the other two.

So what we believe, and I think any God-honoring Christian ought to believe, is that the the scriptures attest to themselves. The Scriptures are self-authenticating.

Let’s talk about the idea of self-authentication, because we actually see this concept in our culture in a lot of ways. If you were to participate in the legal system, there are certain documents that need no attestation of their authenticity because they are self-authenticating. Examples would be: domestic public documents that are sealed and signed, domestic public documents that are not sealed but are signed and certified, foreign public documents, certified copies of public records, official publications, and the list goes on. You can take these legal documents in and no one has to come along and say, “Yes, this is what it claims to be.” They attest to themselves.

So that concept is not lost on us in our culture, but I like the way John Calvin illustrated it. If you take a spoon of white powder and put it into your mouth, how do you know that it is sugar? You just taste it. Sweetness, bitterness, light, darkness, these are things that attest to themselves.

So how does Scripture attest to itself? We see it in two ways, general revelation and special revelation.

General revelation is that God reveals himself in all that is created, both in nature and in humans. Think of it as the stage in a play.

Special revelation is when God has spoken to man, either through direct Word or through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which includes the acts of God and the writings of God. Think of it as the play being performed on the stage.

General revelation sets the stage for when God comes in and speaks his Word (special revelation).

In Romans 1, we have a very definitive statement about how nature (general revelation) is self attesting. 

For the wrath of God is revealed heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20 ESV

What the passage is saying, is that God has communicated plainly and clearly, it is easy to understand. God has communicated his eternal power and divine nature. He has communicated through the things that have been made, ever since the beginning, and he has communicated in such a way that men are left without an excuse or defense before him. When we look at the rocks, trees, the sky, when we see other people, when we understand ourselves in relationship with other people, when we watch interactions, all of that demonstrates that God is there. Not only that, but Scripture says it is God himself who is speaking through that! God speaks through his creation. General revelation needs nothing else to tell us the testimony of God’s existence. 

So, with that as the stage, in comes special revelation. One of the things we need to understand is the difference between God speaking in time and space, God’s actions in time and space, and now we have what we call the “inscripturation” which is the writing of those things down. 

So, did God divide the red sea? Yes, he did. Did he say things to Moses when that happened? Yes, he did. Is that special revelation? Absolutely. Is what we have written in Exodus simply a record of that revelation? Or, is what we have in the Bible the very words of God as he tells us about that? It is the very Word of God.

The Bible itself, then, demands our faith. It demands that we listen to the voice of the living Creator, in the living Word.

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Jeremiah 23:28-29 ESV

God’s Word is to be believed. It is not to be doubted or have anything added to it, in order for the weight of it to be like a hammer. It doesn’t need anything else for it to be able to crush into pieces. Look at the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Luke 16:27-31 ESV

The word that we get, from Hell, in this passage is that we need something external to the Word of God in order to believe the truth. We need a miracle, we need a show to sink our teeth into in order to believe. We need someone to rise from the dead if we are going to really believe this God. That is a word from Hell. But the word from Heaven is that the Word of God is enough.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

John 6:63 ESV

You can also look at Acts 7:38, 1 Peter 2:23-25, Hebrews 4:12, all of those bring out this same concept. The Word of God needs nothing else for it to be believed. It needs nothing else to demand that it ought to be believed. 

The Bible is trustworthy and demands our belief in the gospel for eternal life.

when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 31:11-13 ESV

Reading of the Law was expected to be enough to call people to hear and to learn to fear God. 

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:31 ESV

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Galatians 1:8-9 ESV

The Bible is never in need of an angel or anyone else coming to give anything to it. We are to believe the gospel that has been given once and for all. The Bible never supposes that it needs to give lengthy arguments or external evidence in order for you to believe the gospel.

Some people like to try and do something through apologetics to try and prove that the resurrection happened. “You should believe in the resurrection because look at all this proof that the resurrection happened!” But how does Paul handle it in Acts 17? He assumes the resurrection, and then calls on people to repent, because the resurrection is assumed! The Bible does not depend on arguments to say that you ought to believe, it just says “believe”.

So, as we look at the canon, this all should inform what we are thinking about when asking which books ought to be there.

Imagine this scenario with me. You walk into your kitchen, you are there to get your special snack that you have in a special place where no one else can find it. You open up the drawer, you see pieces of the snack missing and crumbs all on the floor and the countertop. You begin to walk through the house and begin to marshal out your evidence. You think to yourself, “Wait, there are only three people in the house right now, and I’m one of them. So I know I didn’t eat this.” You follow the crumb trail out of the kitchen and all the way up to your kid’s room. You look at your kid and he has crumbs and chocolate all over his face, and you ask, “Did you eat the snack?” And he says, “No.”, and then you reply, “Oh, well…I’m sorry.”

You wouldn’t do that, right? Why not? Because you look at this evidence and say to yourself, “I know the truth because I can see all of this evidence.” What we are saying is that the evidence that the Bible is God’s Word and that these 66 books are the canon, is in the Scriptures themselves! 

So, why would you look at your kid, with all the evidence pointing to the fact that he took the snack, and say, “I just don’t believe it.”?

Why would you not believe the evidence? Is it because it is not good enough? Or is it because there is evidence to the contrary that outweighs it?

How would you come to believe the evidence?

This is the question of the second doctrinal truth, and that is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. 

Surely, there is a massive, self-authenticating document which are the Scriptures right in front of us. God’s invisible attributes have been clearly seen in general revelation, but why don’t we believe it? The Scriptures give us verse, after verse, after verse of testimony to themselves and to God, but why don’t we believe it?

Is it because the evidence is sketchy, sparse, or unimpressive? No. The reason the testimony of the Holy Spirit is necessary is because our depravity has impacted our minds and hearts and has caused us to suppress the evidence before us.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Romans 1:18 ESV

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Ephesians 4:17-18 ESV

Do you hear the weight of responsibility the Scriptures put on the human? Lost people have a darkened understanding, alienated from the life of God, which is there because of ignorance which is there because of a hard heart. It’s no wonder that they do not understand anything that God has said.

All proper thinking has the same ethical starting point, the fear of God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 9:10 ESV

Without a proper fear of the Lord, you will never be able to properly assess, understand, or believe the evidence of the self-authenticating Scriptures.

and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

2 Corinthians 2:4-5 ESV

You have to have the Spirit in order to believe these things and see these things.

because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

1 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

The voice of God is speaking through his Word. We cannot hear it apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has to remove the veil from our eyes, give to us a heart of flesh, taking out the heart of stone. In order to believe the evidence and the self-authenticating nature of Scripture, the Holy Spirit of God uses the Word of God to change our hearts, so that we might have eyes to see the evidence and, therefore, believe.

In light of these truths, let me give you three application points.

Honor the Word of God. There is no higher authority  than the Word of God, and to appeal to anything else is to make it the higher authority. As the Word of God, it must determine everything else.

Use the Word of God. We use the Word of God to persuade people about the Word of God. If Scripture is self-authenticating, and the problem with someone believing is their depravity and sin keeping them from believing, and the Spirit uses the Word to testify, then the best way to convince someone that the Bible is the Word of God is to say, “Why don’t we just read it together?” There are some exceptions, but most people who throw up contrary arguments have not been the kind of person who has done the diligent study to read it, and when they have read it, they have not done so in faith.

Trust the Word of God. If your pastor gives you counsel from the Word of God, and you don’t listen to it, then you might as well say that you are an atheist and you don’t believe in the Bible. Because you are not listening to and believing and trusting the Word of the Lord, to you, through the vehicle of the pastor. 

Does the Scripture say what it says? Does it mean what it means? Then are we trusting it and listening to what it says? Are we ordering our life by the Word of God?

That is what we are commanded to do.


Brady is the Pastor of Hope Reformed Baptist Church in Port Lavaca, Tx. He and his wife have been married for thirty-one years and have five children and two grandchildren.