How do we discern which books of the Bible are inspired as opposed to those that are not? Why do we not include books like the Maccabees in the Bible yet quote them like the Bible in Bible studies? What does the Bible say about which books are to be included in the canon of scripture? If some of these books are not inspired can we count on them to support points we are making in a Bible study?
I will comment on the last question first. We are certainly allowed to quote from uninspired sources. I frequently do that here. We have examples from the apostle Paul himself. He quoted from secular sources without endorsing all they wrote. In the message to the Athenians at the Areopagus he quoted the Greek poet Aratus (from the poem Phaenomena) and in Acts 17:28, “for we are indeed his offspring.” He quoted the Cretan poet Epimenides from the poem “Creteca” in Titus 1:12 (“Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons”) and Acts 17:28 (“for in him we live and move and have our being.”).1 We just need to be sure that we are correctly using what others say and that the purpose for the quotation is clear.
A truism in historical research is that the nearer a source originated to the actual event the more reliable it can be assumed to be. For example, the arguments of Gary Habermas supporting the resurrection of Jesus have all but dispensed with arguments discounting the actual physical resurrection.2 So, we can ignore the relatively recent arguments for such writings as the so-called “Gospel of Thomas.” Such recent “finds” hold little weight with modern conservative scholars.
The Apocrypha, which contains First and Second Maccabees, is really in a different class. The question here is whether they demonstrate the character of the inspired Word. Some of the writings such as Susanna and Bel and the Dragon are so inferior to the general dignity of Scripture that they can be easily set aside. The Maccabees on the other hand seem to convey legitimate history. The apocryphal books were not part of the Hebrew Scriptures but were included in the Septuagint. None of the Apocryphal books were accepted by the Protestant Reformation scholars3 into the canon of Scripture. On the other hand, these are called “deuterocanonical” by the Roman Catholic Church4 and have been accepted by them as Scripture. So they can be found in, for example, the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible.5
Although not inspired, the Maccabees are considered to have some historical value. One should be careful quoting from these books and try to cross-check the accuracy of historical events being referred to. It would be unwise to use quotations from these books to support any doctrinal point.6 If a doctrinal point is to be made there should certainly be some passage from the accepted canon of Scripture to support it. The Maccabees can be used in a way similar to the writings of Josephus or other ancient writings.
We consider all the 66 books that we have in our typical Protestant Bible to be inspired (God-breathed); no other writings are considered inspired Scripture. These are 66 books; 39 of the Old Testament and 27 of the New Testament.
In addition to the historical evidence, the remarkable consistency of theme and structure across all these received books is witness to the divine source of Scripture. See, for example, the book by William Kelly referenced in “Resources.” There is also a lesser-known pattern that is described in The Numerical Structure of Scripture. (See “Resources.) This is worth briefly mentioning here.
The Pentateuch, or “Books of Moses” is a well-recognized group of five books. The Psalms is also divided into five books. If we assume that even these groupings are intended for our instruction we begin to recognize the pattern five throughout. I will only mention a few here.
The group of poetical books contains Psalms, Job, Canticles (Song of Solomon), Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. I have listed them in an order such that the character of each corresponds to the character of the corresponding book in the Pentateuch. The pattern is even more evident when looking at the Pauline epistles of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. The correspondence between Genesis, Psalms, and Romans is particularly evident. Each provides the foundation for the rest in their corresponding series.
So, not only is there internal evidence of divine workmanship, the very organization of the books themselves seems to be of divine order. There is nothing missing and nothing more to be added.
Grant, F. W., The Numerical Structure of Scripture (Believers Bookshelf, Inc.: Sunbury, 2006).
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, Chapter 3: The Canon of Scripture (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1994).
Kelly, William, God’s Inspiration of the Scriptures (C. A. Hammond Trust Bible Depot: London, 1966).
1. “Thank you!” to my editor, Daniel Hayes, for providing this information.
3. The Catholic church officially “canonized” the apocrypha at the counter-reformation council of Trent in 1546.
4. The Anglican/Episcopalian and orthodox churches also accept most of them as deuterocanonical.
5. Additional information and references to supporting material about the Canon of Scripture, Old and New Testament can be found in Systematic Theology referenced under “Resources.”
6. For example, the Maccabees mentions practices like praying for the dead, which is used as justification for the practice in Catholicism.