Question: Was the process used for selecting the books of the Bible inspired by God?
Response: The way a question is phrased, and the assumptions it makes, often determines or biases the results. This question implies that there was a process driven by humans to determine which books belong in the Bible, and unless this process exists and is valid, no one would be sure what books belong in the Bible. In one sense, it is a “do you still beat your wife?” type of question: no matter which answer one gives, the question paints us into a box. If the process was inspired, then why was there a human process in the first place? If it was not inspired, how do we know they made the right decisions?
The assumptions behind this question are invalid. It is not the case the a group of humans went through a decision process, without which we would not know what books go into the Bible. There was not truly a process where humans determined what was included in the Bible. Instead Christians recognized and received the words that God set out to reveal to them. The better question is “Can group of regenerated Christians recognize the word of God?” and “When the apostles knew they were giving the word of God, was it clear to the Christians in the church?”
One could make an argument that a non-Christian would not recognize the word of God, but regenerated Christians know the voice of the true Shepherd. Jesus tells us “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) and “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). For Christians to not be able to distinguish the word of God from the word of men would mean that the words of the Shepherd are hidden from His sheep.
Further, the apostles told us that they were communicating the very words of God:
- Peter tells us that Paul’s writings were holy scripture (2 Peter 3:16)
- Peter ranks the twelve apostles with the prophets of the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:2)
- Paul quotes Matthew as the word of God (1 Timothy 5:18, cf. Matthew 10:10)
- Paul tells us that his own writings were the word of God (1 Corinthians 2:10, 13; 14:37; Galatians 1:12)
- Paul knew he had been giving out the very words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
- John tells us he received his message from God (Revelation 1:1)
- A heavenly being calls John a prophet (Revelation 22:9)
- Paul knew that the word of God was now being given to all nations (Romans 16:26)
These passages tell us that from the very start, the apostles and the churches at large recognized that the writings of the apostles were the word of God, holy scripture.
We also know that the majority of New Testament books, and all of the essential teachings for salvation, were never in dispute by early Christians. Norman Geisler has created a very beneficial chart that shows the tremendous unity of all those in ancient times in regard to which books were holy scripture. (See here)
Geisler and Nix tell us “As with the Old Testament books, there is ample evidence available to confirm that the inspired books were received immediately as such, circulated, and even collected.” (A General Introduction to the Bible, 282)
We also have to consider God’s providence and direct involvement by the Holy Spirit. The apostles were directly guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Jesus also told them that the Holy Spirit will bring God’s words to their minds (John 14:26). Only in this sense is the process inspired. But notice, it is a process initiated by God and given to the twelve apostles for the purpose of giving the word of God to the church.
Therefore we have no evidence that there was some sort of doubtful process of trying to decide the books that go into the Bible. Instead, the canonical books were recognized immediately by wise and faithful regenerated Christians. By no means was the process of generating the Bible tainted by sinful men. The Bible was not determined by men, but recognized by them. We can then be assured that the Bible we now have is what God set out to give us.