Post Author: Bill Pratt
This is a profound question for the Christian church. Every year, there are new cults that emerge where a charismatic leader claims that he or she has received a revelation from God that must be added to the biblical canon. In fact, this is exactly what happened almost 200 years ago when Joseph Smith claimed to have received revelation from God which became the Book of Mormon.
Norman Geisler and William Nix tackle this very question in their book A General Introduction to the Bible. To the question of whether the biblical canon is closed, Geisler and Nix answer, “To this one should respond that the canon is closed theologically and historically, and is open only hypothetically.”
Theologically the canon is closed. God has inspired only so many books and they were all completed by the end of the apostolic period (first century A.D.). God used to speak through the prophets of the Old Testament, but in the “last days” he spoke through Christ (Heb. 1:1) and the apostles whom He empowered with special signs (miracles). But because the apostolic age ended with the death of the apostles (Acts 1:22), and because no one since apostolic times has had the signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) whereby they can raise the dead (Acts 20:10–12) and perform other unique supernatural events (Acts 3:1–10; 28:8–9), it may be concluded that God’s “last day” revelation is complete (see Acts 2:16–18).
This does not mean that God’s visitations are over, because there are many other things yet to be fulfilled (see Acts 2:19–20). Nor does it mean that there will be no new understanding of God’s truth after the first century. It simply means that there is no new revelation for the church. Indeed, this does not necessarily imply that there have been no miracles since the first century. Supernatural acts will be possible as long as there is a Supernatural Being (God). It is not the fact of miracles that ceased with the apostles but the special gift of miracles possessed by a prophet or apostle who could claim, like Moses, Elijah, Peter, or Paul, to have a new revelation from God. Such a prophet or apostle could back up his claim by dividing a sea, bringing down fire from heaven, or raising the dead. These were special gifts bestowed on prophets (apostles), and they are not possessed by those who are not the recipients of new revelation (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4).
It is interesting to note that both Muhammad and Joseph Smith were rejected as prophets by most Christians of their day because they were unable to perform miraculous feats such as dividing seas, bringing down fire from heaven, or raising the dead. Their miraculous claims centered around supernatural visitations from God or angels, who allegedly gave them new revelation. This was not sufficient to back up their claims of being prophets of God.
I have often been asked how I would deal with someone who claimed to have a brand new message from God. I would say this to the person: “Show me the miracles. Show me the signs. Heal the deaf and blind. Raise some people from the dead. Until you do those kinds of things, I won’t even consider your new revelation from God.” Muhammad and Joseph Smith were likewise asked to do those things, and they could produce nothing of the kind.
In part 2, we will look at why the canon is historically closed.