Up next in my commentary on the Belgic Confession (perhaps my favorite of the historic Reformed Confessions), article four:
CANONICAL BOOKS OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURE
We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These are thus named in the church of God.
The books of the Old Testament are the five books of Moses, to wit: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the book of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the two books of Samuel, the two of the Kings, two books of the Chronicles, commonly called Paralipomenon, the first of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Job, the Psalms of David, the three books of Solomon, namely, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; the four great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; and the twelve lesser prophets, namely, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Those of the New Testament are the four evangelists, to wit: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul, namely, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, and one to the Hebrews; the seven epistles of the other apostles, namely, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.
Before adding some brief reflections, it’s time to see who was paying attention. Bonus points if you noticed which book found in all Protestant bibles was missing by name from the above list. [I’ll put the answer and the reason why below.]
The historians reading this will be disappointed that a long account of the various debates and councils in the early church that worked to officially delineate the canon is not mentioned. These are fascinating, instructive, and useful things to study–but that’s not the point of a confession.
The scholars of higher criticism and/or redaction theory will smirk because of what they perceive to be simplistic authorial attributions. Did Moses pen the Pentateuch? Don’t we now know to not attribute Hebrews to Paul? These, too, are interesting and beneficial areas of study–but they’re not the goal of a confession.
A confession is intended to set forth what is believed. Here, the stated belief is that the Old and New Testaments together are the canonical, inspired Word of God. This canon is expressly defined so that everyone clearly knows what the referent is when the confession speaks of “the Word of God”.
Many catechisms and confessions from the Reformation period include a specific list of books because of the disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church over the books of the Apocrypha. The Protestant Reformers rejected these books as part of the divinely inspired canon–meaning they should not be used to formulate doctrine or as texts for preaching–yet affirmed their use for personal devotional reading. The omission of these books from lists like this would have been readily evident and instructive to believers of the time.
The purpose of this article, long in content but direct in intent, is to delineate what exactly is meant by “the Word of God”. It is the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament, inspired by the Spirit, which serve to bear witness to the redemptive purposes of God and his actions in history. They are to be read and treasured by believers, as we continue to confess to this day.
*Answer: The book of Lamentations is not specifically named above, nor in some other canonical lists, because it was often included with the prophetical book of Jeremiah due to a confessed shared authorship. Despite it not appearing by name, it is–and has been–universally affirmed as part of the biblical canon.
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