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Topic: The Foundations of Truth

Why Do We Have a Canon of Scripture?

by Darrel Cline

Why Does the Bible Exist?

The Background for the Question

God is a person. He is powerful, intelligent, and clearly interested (if the Cross means anything at all) in the re-establishment of a harmonious, particular, personal, and relational unity between Himself and human beings. He is also omnipresent. Therefore, being present in every place, it would be no significant problem to Him to be personally present to the heart and mind (not to mention sight and ear) of every human being on the planet. Being intelligent and powerful, it would present no problem for Him to simultaneously communicate directly and effectively with every human being alive. He made both mouth and sound, and ear and hearing, so it would not seem to be too difficult for Him to verbally communicate aloud by voice to the ears of everyone alive. Neither would it be too difficult for Him to scroll thoughts and messages through the minds of his creatures with flashing lights before the messages much like the sound signal that TV and radio stations use just before they do their "emergency broadcast tests" so that the creatures would know they were online to receive a message from their Maker/Redeemer.

In fact, He could, if He would, materialize Himself in the presence of every human being at specific times during their days so that He could tell them the things they need to know in order to live well. The possibilities for His effective communication of truth to creatures are as infinite as He is.

So, why do we have a canon of Scripture? If God is so interested in people knowing Him, and if He is always present everywhere, and if He is able to materialize into a visible presence, speak with an audible voice, and do this simultaneously in multiple places at the same time, why doesn't He?

Though there is a smattering of testimonials down through the ages of men who have claimed that He actually has done this with them, many believers not only do not bear that witness, they frankly have a difficult time believing it when they hear it from others. Why is the vast majority of that which may be particularly known about God locked away in certain writings by inspired men of God so that any human being who comes to know those things only does so if he happens to either get a copy of the Book in a language he can read and comprehend, or come under the sound of a human voice of someone who has had access to that Book?

There have, apparently, been some who have been converted to the faith of Christ by materializations of Spirit, who were told enough of the truth of the Gospel by voices beyond this world to ultimately result in salvation. But most people have come to faith in Christ through the verbal witness of a family member, friend, evangelist, pastor, teacher, etc. In other words, it is atypical for anyone to hear directly from God, or even from one of His angels (though this seems to occur/have occurred more often than from God Himself). There is almost always an intermediary who becomes "the voice of God" for God in His reaching out to mankind.

Why is this so? Why do we have a Bible rather than a directly active, personal, one-on-one God? To ask it another way, why has God chosen to make "mediacy" (getting through to people through 'intermediate' agents) His methodology with most of His people rather than "immediacy" (personally communicating without an intermediary)? There are, of course, some who say that God is "immediate as a norm" with those who want Him to be, but the testimonials almost never bear that out. Most of the testimonials that I have read/heard have to do with a Christ-figure appearing in some visible form, or some angel appearing with a brief sentence or two, but almost never is there any significant doctrinal content communicated. Typically there is only an impression that is simply that Christ is real, personal, and genuinely interested in us, with the result that the person, on the basis of that experience, really gets "into" the study of the Bible as a consequence.

Why? If God wants to be personal and vocal, why do we have an "intermediate agent" -- the Bible?

The questions grow even more significant if we get out of the late twentieth century and out of one of the most educated times in history (as far as we know). If Moses, or perhaps Job, was the first inspired man of God whose writings have come down to us in the Bible, we have a biblical witness to the fact that there was no "Bible" for the first 2000 to 2500 years of human history. Not only that, but the testimony of history is that until the dawning of the age of the printing press (about the middle of the second millennium after Christ), having a copy of the Bible available to read was not something that the typical Christian enjoyed. And not only that, but all during the history of the nation of Israel's prophetic witness, vast portions of the inhabited earth never had access to the written works of those prophets.

The truth is that even today, it is the experience of massive numbers of people that they are born, live, and die and never even hear about Christ, let alone have a Bible in their language and in their hands. So, if humanity was without a Bible for the first 2000 years of its existence, and the vast majority of the world continued for the next 3000 years without a Bible, and even today enormous numbers of people never have or read a Bible, why do we have one?

And add to these questions one more: why do the vast majority of people who have a Bible never do anything like a diligent study of its contents, being content to let someone else do that and tell them what he has found? The answer to this one is relatively easy: education -- of the sort that enables a person to read, then to read with comprehension, then to be able to comprehend materials that were written 2,000 years prior to their existence on the earth, then to be able to think logically and theologically so that the view they get of God has an accurate correspondence to the words of ancient prophets -- this kind of education is relatively intensive work. The majority of people on the earth do not have access to, or motivation for, that kind of labor.

Why, then, do we have a Bible?

Toward an Answer

There are several issues involved in attempting to provide some kind of legitimate answer to our question. One of those is the well established fact that God regularly uses intermediate agents to accomplish His objectives. Intimately related to that is the also well established fact that the impartation of life by infinity to finitude is no simple matter. And then there are dozens of rabbit trails that run off of these two major issues in multiple directions. So, let's see if we can at least begin to highlight the more critical facts.

God is an Employer of Intermediaries

One of the most striking realities contained in our Bibles regarding the particular aspect of God's nature that has resulted in our possession of a Bible is that God employs others in His labors. In as fundamental a doctrine as that of the Trinity, there is the revelation that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cooperate together to accomplish "the will of God". What I mean is this: multiple persons are involved in getting the "will" done. There is a rather significant implication here: that even for God, "life" consists in co-laboring to accomplish a shared objective. From that trinitarian beginning, we have several concurrent facts.

Fact one: the Bible was produced by intermediaries (the Word did not write one word of His Word).

Fact two: even in the production of the Bible as the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, who moved holy men of God by inspiration, nonetheless did not dictate to them what was to be written; He, rather, poured Truth through their own personalities and interests and perspectives so that what they wrote was theirs -- but it was also His. He used them as intermediaries.

Fact three: in most of the confrontations by God of men in the Bible records, the records say that it was "an angel of the Lord", or "an angel", or "a man of God", or "a providential act of God" that did the confronting. God was not front and center even in the great majority of these cases; He was using angelic and human intermediaries.

Fact four: most of the content of the biblical record (in terms of volume) deals with the nation of Israel as a nation from which God kept His distance. Even when He first descended upon the mountain in fire and smoke and loud noise, His command was for the people to stand away and not touch the mountain. Then, when He chose to dwell among them, He kept multiple curtains and other barriers between Himself and the people and only allowed one man to enter into His inner sanctum once a year. All of the rest of the time He was heavily invested in using human, or angelic, intermediaries to bring His revelation to others.

Fact five: the propagation of His message to human kind has always been committed to others except for a brief stint in history when He veiled Himself in flesh and acted for Himself (and even then He was using an intermediary: a physical body). But, even then, He only touched the few thousands that dwelt in that part of the world in which He had localized His presence in a body of flesh and He spent most of His ministry time training "intermediate agents" to do His work for Him.

Fact six: even the New Testament Church doctrine of the personal indwelling of the Spirit does not move us to any kind of complete "immediacy". Rather, the indwelling Spirit, whatever else He actually "immediately" does, typically, as a norm, uses the written Word of God, the people of God, the providential circumstances of life, and other less notable intermediate agents in His interaction with the very people He is living within. Even those who argue that God is immediately personal with those of His children who want Him to be, yet tell us that it takes a great deal of maturity to be able to discern when it is the Spirit that is speaking and when it is some other spirit. Whether they are correct or not, this claim (that it takes a great deal of maturity), alone, tells us the distance is still real and the use of intermediates is still occurring as the norm.

Fact seven: even in the future and perfect Kingdom of God in eternity, there will yet be a lack of "immediacy" between God and most men. The Revelation makes a special promise of "immediacy" to certain faithful persons (see the promises made to the overcomers in the letters to the Seven Churches). This promise would lose its significance if it were generalized to include everyone, regardless of their status either as the overcomers or the overwhelmed. It goes on to declare that "rule" will be shared with those who learned how to be servants during their stint on the earth (which "rule" indicates His continuing use of intermediate agents in His dealings with His creatures). This promise also loses its significance if it is generally applied without regard to whether the individuals learned how to serve. In light of this claim, we must accept the general promises "so shall we ever be with the Lord" and "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord", but we must not make them overrule the distinctive intimacy promised to the particularly faithful. My resolution of this is to argue that being "with" the Lord has all kinds of levels of fulfillment; levels that allow some degree of intimacy and some level of distance.


There is another way of looking at "immediacy". Since Jesus said He is the "Truth", and since our doctrine of God includes His omnipresence, we could say that God is "immediately present" everywhere the Truth is present and "personally immediate" everywhere the Truth is believed. This way of looking at "immediacy" would allow both the idea of intermediate agents as well as the simultaneous and immediate presence of God. In other words, by whatever agent Truth "comes", God "comes" also. In this way He is both mediately present and immediately present -- i.e., He both employs an agent and personally exists in the situation. Along this line, Jesus could say "inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren (intermediate agents), you have done it to Me (immediate presence)." And, along the same line, Paul could tell the Ephesians to be "filled with the Spirit" and tell the Colossians in an almost exactly duplicate context to "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." (See Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 in their respective contexts.) The former text emphasizes the presence of the Spirit of God and the latter text emphasizes the necessity of His primary intermediate agent: His Word.

In this way of thinking, Truth is the bottom line, and agents of Truth are bearers of the very presence of God. Thus, whenever Truth is uttered, the hearer has been confronted by the "voice of God".

How Do We Harmonize The Two?

There are two issues involved. One is God's employment of intermediate agents, and the other is God's immediate presence with man. The questions are these: 1) Does God typically bypass intermediate agency?; and 2) Is man really without the immediate presence of God? The answer to both seems to be the same: No.

The only consistently apparent exceptions to God's typical use of intermediate agents seem to be those few individuals that God has chosen to be His intermediate agents of Truth (i.e., apostles and prophets -- and even in these cases, many are like the "greatly beloved" Daniel who was ministered to through intermediate agents). God, sometimes immediately and sometimes mediately, communicated His Truth to them so that they, in turn, would communicate it, as His agents, to others. The Scriptures are replete with calls upon men to do two things: 1) Diligently interact with His established, written, revelation, given through apostles and/or prophets; and 2) Test everything that comes as "Word" (by those professing to be prophets or apostles) by the previously established Word that came through prophets and apostles and was validated in history.

These two requirements of God upon men mean that men must accept the fact that Truth largely becomes "immediate" by the "mediators of Truth". This would imply a couple of things: 1) That (unless you are a prophet or apostle) it is not characteristically biblical to seek a "word" from God apart from an intermediate agent -- particularly the Bible as the primary, established agent of God's Truth; and 2) That it is equally not characteristically biblical to think that God is not "immediately present" just because He is acting through an agent. God is Truth and, as such, He pervades His universe omnipresently. He becomes relationally "immediate" when His creatures believe Him. By this, anything that brings "Truth" to bear upon a situation (circumstantial developments, the speech and actions of others, the thoughts that flow through our minds, the statements of the Bible, etc.) becomes "the voice of God". But, it is His "voice" because it bears the truth, not because it comes with bells and whistles, or spiritual goose bumps, or sensations of electricity flowing through our bodies, or, frankly, anything less than harmonization with Truth.

Why should those who would be submissive to the Word steer away from such thinking? Because to seek a "word" from God apart from His use of intermediate agents is to seek to stunt one's own growth as a person both toward God and toward men. God has already spoken and taken great pains to make sure that at least some of us have what He has said available to us in the Bible, and to attempt to bypass what He has already said is to treat Him as requiring an unnecessary and rather tedious process of personal diligence in the study of what He has already said within the process of growing in Truth. This attitude toward God will stunt our growth in our relationship to Him in that it creates a picture of Him as grudging and somewhat dictatorially demanding. It's hard to relate to that kind of God.

Second, God is committed to the use of others as His agents to help us. To seek to bypass them is to treat them as unnecessary within the process of growing in the Truth. This attitude toward them will stunt our growth in relationship to them. On the one hand, we need to acknowledge that God has already revealed most of what we need to know, so we need to be diligent in getting what He has said into our minds and hearts. Note: the Bible is replete with exhortations to get its contents into our minds while having almost nothing to say about seeking an experience of "voices" that give us guidance. On the other hand, the process of getting what He has already said into our minds and hearts requires the input of others as our helpers along the way. The Scriptures are clear that this gift of helpers is God's method of helping us get His words into our minds.

Our First Conclusion

We have asked why we have a Bible. In light of all that we have said to this point, one thing stands out: we have a Bible because God has chosen to be an employer of intermediate agents in the process of disseminating Truth upon the earth. He has, apparently, determined that He will "show up" (become "immediate") when His Truth is proclaimed by agents of Truth and that He will remain mostly hidden when people refuse to accept His agents of Truth for what they are. When His Word is ignored, He is ignored and appears, to all intents and purposes, to be absent from the scene. When His people are maltreated and His messengers are ignored, He appears to be absent, though He is not in actuality. On the other hand, when His Word is searched and His messengers are given attention, and His people are received, He makes His presence known by the growing grasp of Truth that occurs in the hearts and minds of the people who have accepted His method of promoting the understanding of Truth through agents.

This fact (that the Bible is the primary "intermediate agent" of the God of intermediate agents), however, does not answer the question at a fundamental level. We still do not know why God has chosen intermediate agency rather than immediate involvement as the normal method of operating. And our need to know is exacerbated by the reality that God's limitation of Himself to the use of intermediates has resulted in no telling how many people never hearing the promise of eternal life through Christ. One of the realities of God's grant of co-laborer status to intermediates is that if they are unfaithful stewards, others suffer the consequences. And, even if we never had an unfaithful steward, the 24-hour-per-day limitation upon the stewards simply means the job is bigger than they are and always will be -- so even 24-hour-per-day diligence would still mean that intermediate agency leaves vast numbers without a clear hearing of the promises.

God is Committed to the Impartation of Life

When God created persons (angelic and human), He did a remarkable thing: He created something that was "other" than Himself. However, though He created an "other", He did so with the intention of imparting Himself to that other in a way that the "other" would remain an "other", but at the same time be able to partake of Him in a way that would both nourish and sustain the other without some kind of "merger" occurring.

This is no easy task. How does one create personality within the context of shared life so that the life exists in a unity that allows the persons to be distinct? This reality exists within the Trinity, but the Persons of the Trinity are all eternal and there was no diminished reality caused by created status. Created status automatically means finitude. How does infinity share itself with finitude? Especially, how does infinite love share itself with a finite person so that that person adopts the principles of infinite love without the compromises of finite understanding (being hesitant to believe because of the absence of experiential validation) and finite wisdom (exalting the appearance over the unseen and infinite reality)? These were the questions facing the Creator.

His solution, as revealed in the Bible, was to create personality and set before it the absolute necessity of trust in Truth. If the created personality would trust undemonstrated Truth, love could flow without hindrance, but if the personality was from the "show me state" and had to be shown the legitimacy of the Truth claim before any commitment was made, there would be trouble.


Because infinity cannot explain itself to finitude. At some point finitude is going to have to accept its identity as finitude and permit infinity to declare Truth. This was the test in the Garden. Adam, do you have the willingness to love Truth without explanation or understanding, or are you to be caught up in defining your life for yourself?

We all know the answer Adam gave. It created chaos, but it did not deter God from His intention to share His life. It just made the task more complex.

Imagine with me, if you will, an acre plot of ground in which is planted the seed of a tree that has the capability of yielding enormously beneficial fruit. However, along with the seed of that tree, there are countless, very aggressive, seeds of destructive competitors for the life of the seed of the tree. These innumerable other seeds sprout more quickly and grow more rapidly. Soon the acre is filled with head-high, destructive plants. In their midst is a small seedling of a tree that is only a few inches tall. It is threatened with the overwhelming shade of the weeds. It is threatened with the loss of moisture and nutrients that are flowing into the weeds instead of its own roots and trunk. Into this complex mess comes a gardener who wants to save the tree and give it the ability to grow strong and capable of its task of providing nourishment for others.

What does he do? Well, whatever he does, he must be sure that his actions do not provide too much for the tree so that it grows too quickly for its root and trunk system to sustain it, and he must be sure that he does enough so that the weeds do not permanently stunt the tree so that it does not reach its full potential. In a sense, that is God's task. He is committed to providing life, but His commitment is a commitment to provide it in a way that brings strength and growth at the same time. His goal is a fully alive, mature tree that can bear its fruit in its season for the sake of others.

I believe it is within the context of this metaphor that we find the real reason we have a Bible representing a God of intermediate agents. Life is too complex for simple answers and actions. Its (Life's) complexity must be met with a workable complexity of "growth-methodology" that answers to the need (for solid development of persons) as well as to the complexity (of Life). The Bible is a part of God's solution. It requires a certain level of commitment from its readers while at the same time providing for them at the level of commitment to which they have attained.

In other words, it is simple enough for anyone to grasp some of its parts so that every one who wants to know some measure of Truth and possess some measure of Life can, while at the same time maintaining a level of complexity that remains a challenge to finitude in its pursuit of love no matter how much progress is made. We have a Bible because God wants us to grow up into His Life and Love. He knows that we will grow in direct proportion to the level of investment we are willing to make. If we have other things we would rather do than grow up, we will be stunted to that degree. The Bible exists as a challenge as well as a provision. God, in effect, has said: Here is enough Truth for you to grow beyond your wildest dreams, but you will have to work at it if you really want to grow. The complexity of life is met by the complexity of Scripture. The answers are there, but they have to be mined as for gold or silver.

Our Second Conclusion

If God had chosen to be "immediate" and not use a written revelation, that would have, obviously, been the best thing to do. But He didn't. That is, just as obviously, because it wasn't the best thing to do. What He did determine to do was to put a sufficient revelation into words (so that anyone who was willing to put in the effort to get the content of those words into his mind and heart would be "thoroughly furnished to every good work") and to personally reinforce the truthfulness of its truths at every point where its truths were presented so that they could be believed. In this way, God is both a God of distance (transcendence) and a God of immediacy (immanence). He maintains the balance between the two and continues to both call for our best efforts and to underwrite whatever efforts we make. The Bible is the objective Truth that demands our time and mental energy; the Spirit is the indwelling Truth that graciously confirms the truthfulness of what we find.

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This is article #240.
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