"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
ARTICLE 4 - THE CANONICAL BOOKS
We believe that the Holy Scriptures consist of two parts, namely, the Old and the New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These books are listed in the church of God as follows.
The books of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
The books of the New Testament: the four gospels, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the thirteen letters of the apostle Paul, namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon; the letter to the Hebrews; the seven other letters, namely, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, Jude; and the Revelation to the apostle John.
The word 'canonical' comes from the word 'CANON', which is a Latin word for RULE, NORM, STANDARD. By calling the 66 Bible books canonical, deBres was essentially saying that all 66 of these books contain the rule, the norm, the standard for all of his life. Here deBres is building on what he has stated in Article 3, concerning God's care in giving us these books. His care for us is such that He ensures that we have the standard for our lives. With regard to these canonical books, nothing can be alleged against them. They contain no mistakes. Whether or not we think they contain mistakes is of no importance. God's care for us is such that what He gives us is without fault.
DeBres listed all 39 of the Old Testament books and all 27 of the New Testament books. Why did he list them all, and why did he state that they are canonical? How did deBres know that they come from God, that they are inspired?
THE OLD TESTAMENT
In the days of Jesus, all the Old Testament books were there, and were also understood by the Jews of Jesus' day to be THE Scripture: all 39 of them as we have them today. In Luke 11:51 Jesus speaks of "from the blood of Abel (i.e. the beginning of the Bible, Gen 4) to the blood of Zechariah" (related in II Chronicles 24:20-24, which is the last book of the Jewish OT; their OT books had a different order than we have today), and by so saying Jesus implies all 39 books of the Hebrew Scripture. We would love to know how the various books of the OT Scripture came to be acknowledged as canonical, but we don't know how it happened. We shall need to be content with the fact that Jesus accepted as God's Word the 39 books considered by the Jews of His day to be the Word of God.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
As far as the New Testament is concerned, no one decided what should and should not go into the Bible. Paul is known to have written at least 16 letters, yet only 13 of them have been included in the Bible. Man didn't decide, declare or discuss which books should constitute the New Testament. It is the Lord who led things in such a way that the Church understood these 27 books to be the (NT) Word God had given to His NT Church. As deBres confessed in Article 5, "we receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith." We simply receive what the Lord puts on our path.
Why did deBres itemize which books are contained in the Old and New Testaments? DeBres did so because, at the time, he had to deal with:
1. The Church of Rome which claimed that the Apocryphal Books formed part of the Bible in addition to the Old and New Testaments.
2. The Anabaptists who said that the Old Testament presented God as a God of wrath, and that the New Testament superseded it, presenting God as a God of love. They discarded the Old Testament.
3. Luther, who claimed that the Bible contains both the Old and the New Testaments, but that the letter of James is merely a 'straw epistle' and therefore ought to be discarded.
Hence deBres, by listing all 66 books of the Bible, is making a statement against the Church of Rome which included the Apocryphal books ('Jerusalem Bibles' which include the Apocryphal books are still available today) and also against the Anabaptists for excluding the whole of the Old Testament. The Anabaptist notion with regard to the Old Testament is still very much alive today. Not only do The Gideons International distribute New Testaments (plus the book of Psalms), but this rejection of the Old Testament on the basis of it being seen as presenting a God of wrath is also very much evident in much of today's preaching; the Old Testament is seldom preached in the mainline churches of Australia.
RELATION BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
The Old Testament looks forward to the cross of Christ and the New Testament looks back to the cross of Christ. In order to understand the New Testament and what it says concerning the cross, one needs to read the Old Testament. The New Testament stands in the shadow of the Old Testament. The reverse is also true. The Old Testament directs us to the New Testament and the New Testament directs us to the Old Testament. The two cannot be separated. The New Testament does not replace the Old Testament (cf Mt 5:17). Both Testaments have the one and same message: CHRIST CRUCIFIED. The Old Testament looks forward to the cross of Christ, and the New Testament looks back on that cross. They each have their own perspective, yet the message is the same. Hence all exposition of Scripture in the preaching must be 'Christ centred'. More, since one cannot understand the OT without the NT, and vice versa, it is necessary to draw the lines from old to new and from the new back to old. This Bible is ONE Word with ONE message, just as the God who gave the Word is ONE God.
This close connection between the Old and New Testaments should always be borne in mind when involving oneself in Bible study. Remember Christ when reading Chronicles and remember Leviticus when reading Galatians. It won't do to forget the Old Testament when reading the New Testament, for the Bible is one entity. Just as it goes for any other book one reads, one must start at the beginning in order to understand what follows, and the end won't make any sense if you have not read what preceded.
THE SIXTY SIX BIBLE BOOKS ARE SUFFICIENT
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul also refers to an epistle of his addressed to the Laodiceans. Laodicea was a town close by to Colossae. Paul urged the Colossians to read this epistle to the Laodiceans: "Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea." (Colossians 4:16). In 2 Peter 3:15,16 we read that Paul's writings are Scripture, inspired, God's Word. "... as also our brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures." So what are we to do if we should find this letter of Paul to the Laodiceans?
If God had wanted us to have it for the benefit of our salvation, or (as Article 5 phrases it) "for the regulation, foundation and confirmation of our faith," then God would have given it to us. Such, we may confess, is His care and mercy for us. The fact that God has not preserved for us Paul's letter to the Laodiceans is evidence that the Lord did not consider this letter necessary for us. The Canon is closed. We have all the Word of God that God wishes us to have. Therefore the above question is theoretical. The Bible, as I have it today, is God's gift to me, for my salvation. I need no more, and confess His mercy in what I have.