How do we know which books are from God, and which are not? Certainly the apostolic origins of a book can help identify it as being from God (see post here). And, the church’s overall consensus on a book can be part of how we identity it as being from God (see post here).
But, Christian theologians—especially in the Reformed world—have long argued that there is a more foundational way we can know books are from God: the internal qualities of the books themselves.
In other words, they have argued that these books bear certain attributes (Latin indicia) that distinguished them as being from God. They argued that believers hear the voice of their Lord in these particular books. In modern theological language, they believed that canonical books are self-authenticating. As Jesus said in John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Anyone familiar with Reformation-era authors will know this was the core argument in some of the key discussions on Scripture by the likes of John Calvin, William Whitaker, John Owen, and others. Moreover, the idea of self-authentication is embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith which holds that the Bible does “evidence itself” to be from God by its own internal qualities (1.5). Beyond this, the concept of a self-authenticating Bible played a central role in later Reformed thinkers, particularly Herman Bavinck, as they sought to explain how we know books are from God.
But, some will wonder, is this whole idea of a “self-authenticating” Bible just a novel invention of the Reformers? Did they invent the idea just as a tool in their fight against Rome?
No at all. When we look back even in the patristic period, we see that this concept was there from the beginning. Here are a few examples. [Read more…]