It’s common these days for heretical teachers to point out something that is clearly in the text of Scripture and then act as if there is some kind of misty significance to it all that those truncated fundie Bible teachers must have missed. Then when all is said and done, the teacher will draw just the exact opposite conclusion that Scripture would have us draw.
In chapter Two of “What is the Bible?” Rob Bell points out something that’s entirely true. “The Bible did not drop out of the sky; it was written by people” (p. 19). So far so good. Though Bell is a liberal, conservatives can at least agree with Bell on this point: the Bible was not written by robots or aliens. Color us relieved. But he goes further. “It’s as if the writer, just to wrap things up, adds, Oh yeah, I left a ton of stuff out. The authors of the books of the Bible, then, weren’t just writing— they were selecting and editing and choosing and making decisions about what material and content furthered their purposes in writing and what didn’t” (p. 20-1). Again, good. Bell even correctly cites some passages from Scripture that indicate this. This practice of correct citation is a scholarly habit he has decided to take up ever since he finished writing chapter one. This was all to further his purposes in writing. You see, Bell actually left stuff out.
Bell cites 1 Kings 11:21 and John 21:25: “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon?”, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Once again Bell is in an odd position. He cites these passages as if we are supposed to pay attention to what they say. Orthodox Christians should be perfectly happy to do this, but we are also committed to every other verse of Scripture. As previously mentioned in other articles, such Scriptures demonstrate that the reliability and inspiration of Scripture are totally unaffected by the fact that some Bible writers condense or edit their works, or write by the testimony of second-hand witnesses, or leave out information that other authors might keep in. But asking Bell to be consistent is asking a bit much.
In spite of what Bell says next, decisions about what is Scripture is not determined on man’s own authority. “These people had meetings and discussion and developed criteria and had more meetings and discussions, and eventually they made decisions. Decisions about what the Bible even is” (p. 21). At this point we need to distinguish between two things: the nature of the canon versus the recognition of the canon. The canon is, simply, whatever God has decided the canon to be. As the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.2 puts it, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” In 1.10 it says, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” Thus, the authority of Scripture is the Holy Spirit Himself; but we are called to recognize which Scriptures are authentic.
Thus, if one decides to submit oneself to the authority of the canonical Scriptures, one does not thereby grant Scripture its authority in that act. When the church “decides” what goes into the canon and what does not, the church is not grant the Scriptures canonicity; it is simply attempting to recognize which Scriptures have that authority.
This is a vast subject, but it can be partially illustrated like this: in my articles on the Koran and the Book of Mormon, I pointed out that they both fail the test in Deut. 13:1-4, because they contradict prior revelation. The Koran, among other things, claims Jesus is not God, and the Book of Mormon, among other things, says plainly that the Book of Mormon may have mistakes in it, something that is inspired of God cannot have. We know these documents cannot be canonical because the Scriptures establish the rules of determining what is canonical and what is not, and the Koran and the Book of Mormon break them. Jesus endorses the entire OT canon when He says in Luke 11:51, “The blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” Abel is mentioned in Genesis, and Zechariah is mentioned at the 2 Chron. 24:20-22, the last martyr mentioned in the Jewish canonical order of the Old Testament. Later Jesus breathes on them His Spirit of inspiration, and these apostles and others write the New Testament (e. g. Rom. 1:1, 1 Tim. 5:18/Luke 10:7)
So we must learn to recognize which authority we ought to submit to. Ironically, it is Bell who subjects the Bible to his scrutinizing authority. Back in chapter One on p. 16, he clearly claims the Bible to be contradictory. Functionally, Bell believes if there’s a contradiction that cannot be resolved by him, he must be believed over the Scriptures’ own witness to their perfection: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Typical of Bell, he continues to try to be nuanced and yet appeal to orthodoxy, but is actually heretical. There is a reason that Satan appears as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).