FROM GOD TO US BY NORMAN GEISLER: A REVIEW OF THE REVISED EDITION
From God to Us : How We God Our Bible. Revised and Expanded. Norman Geisler & William E. Nix. Moody Publishers, 2012. 412pp. $21.99. ISBN 978-0-8024-2882-0.
The back cover of the newly revised version of From God to Us, by Geisler and Nix, says that this book is ideal for professors, pastors and bible students. It becomes clear, when one flips through the many charts, pictures, and indices, that this book was written with the purpose of serving as a complete resource for any person who deals with subjects concerned with the origin, compilation, and transmission of the Bible. We will begin with a brief overview of the book, followed by a critical examination of some of its contents.
From God to Us is divided into four main sections: (1) The Inspiration of the Bible, (2) The Canonization of the Bible, (3) The Transmission of the Bible, and (4) The Translation of the Bible. In each of these sections Geisler and Nix seek to expound and defend a conservative protestant view of these subjects. With a detailed table of contents, as well as indices that help the reader to find subjects, people and authors, as well as bible references, this book is easy to use as a reference book, turning to the particular subjects required for one’s research. The many charts and pictures are also useful for study purposes, and for illustrating some of the arguments that Geisler and Nix make in the different sections. There is an apologetic spirit that permeates the entire book which means that this book should be viewed as an apologetics resource.
In the first section concerning the inspiration of the Bible, Geisler and Nix set out to defend the orthodox view of the inspiration of Scriptures which, according to the first chapter means that “Spirit-moved men wrote God-breathed words that are divinely authoritative for Christian faith and practice.” Geisler and Nix go on, in the second chapter to defend a plenary, verbal, and non-mechanical view of inspiration, contrasting it against the Modern and Neo-Orthodox views of inspiration. In the following chapters they look at claims for the inspiration of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first section finishes with a chapter which gives a summary view of the evidences for the inspiration of the Bible. The conclusion, in light of the many dogmatic claims, is less than one might expect. We are left with the conclusion that we have good evidence for, but no demonstration of, the inspiration of the Bible. Therefore, a step of faith is required to move from the evidence to the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The second section, concerning the canonization of the Bible is set up in much the same way as the first section. They explain, first of all, what canonicity is, and then move on to look at, the canonicity of the Old Testament and then the canonicity of the New Testament.
The third and fourth sections move on to matters that are less theological and more historical or textual. The third section concerns the ways in which the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, has come down to us. They examine, in this section questions concerning languages, writing materials, writing utensils, ways of writing, the manuscripts for the Old and New Testaments, and questions concerned with textual criticism. The fourth and final section has to do with the various translations of the Bible, principles of translations, and a critical history and examination of most of the translations of the Bible into modern English (There is little or no mention of translation into other modern languages, such as the many French translations of the Bible).
Having given a rapid summary of the contents of the book, we turn now to a critique of the contents. Much of what is said in this book could be portrayed as a straight forward defense of the inspiration and faithful transmission of the Evangelical Protestant canon. The book is written for professors, bible students and pastors, however, this book only given a summary introduction to the important issues. Most of the subjects that are found in this book are given a summary exposition and defense from the perspective of an Evangelical Protestant. To the attentive reader this book brings up a lot of questions that are left unanswered, as well as a number of interesting points. In what follows I would like to point out just a couple of the interesting points, and a couple of the unanswered questions.
In chapter three we find two interesting points concerning the inspiration of the Old Testament. Geisler and Nix note, in making some observations concerning Jesus’ view of the Old Testament that “Jesus affirmed as historically reliable some of the most disputed passages in the Old Testament regarding Adam and Eve, Noah, and Jonah.” Now, if Jesus is God, then his claims about the Old Testament are important in considering the truthfulness of the Old Testament stories. A second interesting observation is the remark that they make concerning Jesus’ view of tradition, which might be seen as an arrow sent towards Roman Catholicism. “In fact, Jesus clearly rebuked those who held to traditions rather than to the Word of God (cf. Matt. 15:1-6).”
In chapter four they shoot arrows at the Catholic Church again by positing an argument against apostolic succession. “The books of the New Testament are the only authentic record of apostolic teaching that we have today. The qualification that a member of the twelve apostles must be an eyewitness of the ministry and resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:21-22) eliminates any succession of apostles beyond the first century.” One wonders if such an argument is not a little too simplistic, however, it is an interesting point which warrants further study.
In the section on the canonicity of the Bible one should note the arguments that are given against the canonicity of the apocryphal (“deuteron-canonical” for Catholics) books. On the question of the Old Testament canon, Geisler argues that the Jews considered that the Old Testament canon was closed in 400 BCE, and gives a number of interesting quotes to back up this claim. Also of interest is the question of prophetic continuity.
Other points of interest concern: (1) Geisler’s claim that in the first century the apostles of Christ served as a form of living canon, giving direction in the selection of New Testament books; (2) some thoughts about the role of the Holy Spirit in the selection of the canon; (3) the interesting fact that J. R. R. Tolkien helped translate parts of the Jerusalem Bible; and (4) a section concerning the New World translation of the Holy Bible which is used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Despite the many interesting points that Geisler and Nix make in this tome, there are a number of questions that are left unanswered, and some conclusions that seem a overly optimistic. First of all, they dogmatically assert, without delving into the complexities of the question, that the Bible, alone, is the only authority for all Christian doctrine and practice. This is a claim that any self-respecting Catholic would immediately contest. Geisler and Nix claim, in the very first chapter, that “The Bible is the last word on doctrinal and ethical matters. All theological and moral disputes must be brought to the bar of the written Word.” Now, this may be so, however, it does seem a little early in the book to be making such claims. One of the drawbacks of the book is that they never satisfactorily address this subject.
They do make some interesting conditional claims, however. They claim that the Scriptures (the protestant canon) are inspired and, therefore, that they are authoritative for Christian doctrine and practice. The conditional claim can be explained as follows:
1. If X is inspired, then X is authoritative for Christian doctrine and practice.
This claim is a direct attack on the Catholic view of authority. However, the Catholic would easily point out that though inspiration is a necessary condition for authority it is not a sufficient condition, and, therefore, it is possible for X to be authoritative even if it is not inspired. This counter would put a damper on Geisler and Nix’s arguments against the authority of the Apocryphal books, as they go on in the section on canonicity to attempt to show that the Apocryphal books were not viewed as either inspired or canonical until very late. In the following chapter they claim that “inerrancy is logically entailed in inspiration.” This conditional claim gives us the following logical form:
2. If X is inspired, then X is inerrant.
These two claims are made throughout the first section on the inspiration of Scriptures. The second claim does not seem as controversial as the first. However, it does imply that if a book is erroneous in any way, then it is not inspired. This, of course, has no relation to the first claim as it is possible, according to the structure of the first claim, for X to be authoritative but not inspired. The third conditional statement, found in the section on the Canon, is “The divine authority of Scripture is another designation of its canonicity. A fourth is on the following page, “a book qualified as inspired only if it had been written by a prophetic spokesman of God.” A fifth is “Rather, the same factor determining the canonicity of the Torah determined the canonicity of all Scripture; namely, the fact that all of them were divinely inspired.” These three statements give us:
3. If authoritative then canonical.
4. If written by a true prophet of God, then inspired.
5. If inspired, then canonical.
It might be helpful to see them all together in some sort of logical order.
1. If X is written by a true prophet of God, then X is inspired.
2. If X is inspired, then X is inerrant.
3. If X is inspired, then X is Authoritative for Christian doctrine and practice.
4. If X is authoritative, then X is canonical.
5. If X is inspired, then X is canonical.
For our present purposes the second premise is unnecessary, and the fifth premise is the logical consequence of premises 3 and 4. However it should be noted that in and of themselves the only one of these premises that could be used to determine whether or not the apocryphal books are inspired and therefore canonical, is the second premise, and, even then, none of these premises could be used to argue that the apocryphal books are not authoritative, even if they were proven uninspired and non-canonical. Geisler and Nix claim that there are errors in the apocryphal book, but they do not substantiate their claim. At a later point in the book they point out what they view as doctrinal errors that are found in the apocryphal books, however, it seems that if they are inspired, then these are not doctrinal errors, but need to be understood in the light of the rest of divine revelation. In order to prove that these books are not inspired they need to demonstrate satisfactorily that they, each book individually, were not written by true prophets of God (according to the conditional noted above). It seems, therefore, that this question is left unanswered, though it is frequently brought up.
The question of authority for church doctrine and practice is a deep and important question for all Christians; it is also inseparable from the questions of inspiration and canonicity. Unfortunately Geisler and Nix do not give this question any consideration, and content themselves with dogmatic, and unfounded, claims. The argument that they seem to be developing in the first two sections (the first 10 chapters) is that only the protestant canon is inspired and authoritative for all questions concerning doctrine and practice. The argument looks something like this:
1. If X is inspired, then X is authoritative for Christian doctrine and practice.
2. Only the 66 books of the protestant canon are inspired.
3. Therefore only the 66 books of the protestant canon are authoritative.
They bring a great amount of evidence to the table, but in the end their arguments are not as strong as they seem to believe. It seems that, in order for them to demonstrate the truth of their conclusion, they will have to make “inspiration” into a necessary and sufficient condition for “authority”. It is unfortunate that they are not only incapable of demonstrating this conclusion, but they also entirely ignore the fact that the Bible is open to interpretation, so that, even if they could prove that the 66 book of the protestant canon are the final authority for all doctrine and practice, they would still have to answer the following question: “Whose interpretation of the 66 book canon is authoritative for all Christian doctrine and practice?” This is a question that is not even asked.
Some other questions that are left unanswered are the following: (1) How does the fact that a New Testament author quotes (approving what is said), or alludes to, an Old Testament author prove that the Old Testament author is inspired? After all, Paul quotes, approvingly, a number of pagan authors, and Jude seems to quote, approvingly, some apocryphal or pseudepigraphical works. (2) How did the early church fathers treat the apocryphal books as compared with the other biblical books? Were apocryphal books ever read in the churches? Reading attentively, we find out that books such as The Shepherd of Hermas was “read publicly in the churches and used for instruction classes in the faith.” Furthermore it this same book “was quoted as inspired by Irenaeus and Origen.” Geisler also notes that the Didache was quoted as scripture by Clement of Alexandria.(3) If it is true that the church did not determine which books were canonical, but simply discovered which ones were canonical, what if it was “discovered” that the apocryphal books were inspired? If the books were recognized to be canonical, is it possible that certain books weren’t recognized to be canonical which should have been, or were recognized to be canonical which shouldn’t have been recognized? After all, as fallible humans we quite frequently think that we have discovered something, only to find out later that our conclusions were totally wrong. Furthermore, cases of mistaken identity are all to frequent. (4) Where did the “principles for discovering canonicity” come from? (5) It seems that he gives too much importance to some arguments from silence concerning the canonicity of the apocrypha (Jesus never cited any apocryphal book, and neither did the apostles.). Did Jesus quote every single book of the Old Testament? If not, did he consider the unquoted ones to be non-canonical? All of these questions have answers. However they are not easily found, if they are there, in this book.
We have given a brief summary and critical analysis of the contents of Geisler and Nix’s recently revised book, From God to Us. This book has many positive aspects, including the charts, images and highly organized, and easy to follow, format. Furthermore, it is useful as a complete introductory summary and defense of the Conservative Evangelical position on the inspiration, canonicity, and transmission of the Bible, by two scholars who have been extremely influential in contemporary evangelical theology and philosophy. In my humble opinion the advanced student or scholar will find it to be too shallow to be of much help in forming one’s ideas on the subjects. The lack of a bibliography, and the small amount of footnotes, leads one to think that it is written more for popular audiences then for the professor or graduate student. It would, however, be quite useful in an undergraduate introduction to the Bible, for the lay-person, or as a pastoral tool, as it is an easy read and easy to use as a resource book.
Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 17.
Ibid., 89, 106-7, 111-114, 120-9.
Ibid., 106-7, 111-114, 128.
Ibid., 16, 17, 18, 30, 66, 101.
It would be a logical fallacy to claim “If X is inspired, then X is authoritative. X is not inspired, therefore X is not authoritative.” One could claim that X is not authoritative, therefore X is not inspired, but, this will not help the argument that is being built.
Ibid., 32, 66.
If inspired, then inerrant.
Ibid., 44, 116.
Ibid., 155. This needs to be compared with their claims on pages 59-61.
Ibid., 155. This needs to be compared with their claims on pages 34, 66, 88-92.