Question 7: Did synagogue and/or church councils determine which books were inspired and to be included in the Bible? If so, how?

Answer: No synagogue council or church council ever determined per se what books were inspired and what books were not inspired. They simply recognized what books were considered inspired, but these books were already viewed as being inspired by believers long before any church council officially recognized them. Hence, the purpose of the synagogue and church councils was to evaluate and ultimately reject books that were not accepted by the body of believers.

For example, shortly after Moses finished his fifth book, he passed away. Joshua and the body of believers that followed his generation immediately accepted his five books as being inspired by God.

The inspiration of subsequent books was also recognized immediately, which is why there are historical books quoting the prophets and the prophets quoting each other. There is Jeremiah quoting Micah, Daniel recognizing the book of Jeremiah, etc.

Therefore, long before there was ever an official Old Testament canon, the truly inspired books were recognized and circulated as such. So while the Council of Yavneh declared the books of the Old Testament as we now have them as official Scripture, they were already recognized as such for centuries. Furthermore, it was understood that Malachi was the last of the prophets and that the next prophet would be Elijah, announcing the arrival of the Messiah. It should be noted that the books of the Apocrypha were never recognized by the Jewish people as being inspired, and although they were available in the first century B.C. and in first century A.D., they were used for historical purposes in the same way that Josephus would later be used. Hence, they were never recognized as being inspired Scripture.

The New Testament followed the same format. The Scriptures the New Testament recognized were the 39 books of the Old Testament. Not only that, the New Testament also refers to the same three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures the Jewish people still use today: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (or Psalms, which is the first book of the Writings). So while the Apocrypha found in the Catholic Bible were already available in the first century, the New Testament does not treat them as Scripture and does not quote from them.

As for the inspiration of the New Testament, the principle we discussed in regards to the Hebrew Scriptures is also true for the New Testament: The books were recognized to be inspired when they were first written. For example, Peter, in spite of his differences with Paul, referred to the writings of the apostle as being Scripture. By the time the last apostle died, the 27 books included in the New Testament today were the ones recognized by the church at large as being inspired. All other books, such as the Apocrypha, were sometimes recognized by different parts of the church, but they were not recognized by the church as a whole. Therefore, the church councils finally met for the purpose of rejecting these other writings. So, whatever God had indeed inspired was recognized by the body of believers, and that was not true with other books written at that point of time.

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Arnold Answers is a bi-weekly Q & A with founder and director of Ariel Ministries, Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.