Is the Biblical Canon Closed? Part 2

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.

In part 1, we examined why the canon is theologically closed.  In this second post, we will look at why the canon is historically closed, and then why the canon is still only hypothetically open.  Here are Geisler and Nix again from their book A General Introduction to the Bible:

Historically the canon is closed. For there is no evidence that any such special gift of miracles has existed since the death of the apostles. The immediate successors of the apostles did not claim new revelation, nor did they claim these special confirmatory gifts. In fact, they looked on the apostolic revelation as full and final. When new cults have arisen since the time of the apostles, their leaders have claimed to be apostles in order that their books could gain recognition. Historically, the canon is closed with the twenty-seven books written in the apostolic period. They alone are and have been the books of the canon through all the intervening centuries. No other non-apostolic books have been accepted since the earliest centuries, and no new books written by the apostles have come to light. In His providence, God has guided the church in the preservation of all the canonical books.

The canonical books are those necessary for faith and practice of believers of all generations. It seems highly unlikely that God would inspire a book in the first century that is necessary for faith and practice and then allow it to be lost for nearly two thousand years. From a providential and historical stand-point the canon has been closed for nearly two thousand years.

But is the canon hypothetically open?  If so, what does this mean?

Hypothetically the canon could be open. It is theoretically possible that some book written by an accredited apostle or prophet from the first century will yet be found. And what if such a prophetic book were found? The answer to this question will depend on whether or not all prophetic books are canonic. If they are, as has been argued, then this newly discovered prophetic book should be added to the canon. But that is unlikely for two reasons. First, it is historically unlikely that such a new book intended for the faith and practice of all believers, but unknown to them for two thousand years, will suddenly come to light. Second, it is providentially improbable that God would have inspired but left unpreserved for two millennia what is necessary for the instruction of believers of all generations.

Geisler and Nix, therefore, leave open the possibility that a first-century book could be found that belongs in the canon, but they think it is highly unlikely to occur.  Given the death of Jesus’s apostles in the first century, and given that Jesus was supposed to be the final revelation of God, Geisler and Nix reject the possibility that a new prophet will produce a new work today.  A new prophet would first have to make the case that the canon was not closed in the first century, and then demonstrate the miracles that go along with being a legitimate representative of God.

It is important to note, in closing, that neither Muslims, nor Mormons, nor any other religious group that has its roots in Christianity, has ever had a prophet who successfully performed miracles to prove that they were truly from God.  Hasn’t happened.