Question Asked

Is faith in Christianity really just faith in the bible?

It seems that the Christian faith puts quit a bit of emphasis on the Bible (inerrancy etc.). For the sake of argument lets assume that the men who wrote the books of the bible were inspired. However, what about the men who put the bible together. I am speaking of the council of Nicaea and later for the Protestants Martin Luther. Were they inspired? How can you tell if someone is inspired or not? Can you see it in their face? Do they glow?

It seems to me that faith in the bible is nothing more than faith in men. One might object to this by arguing that the bible is the word of God because the bible says it is from God. And of course I would reply that is circular reasoning. I doubt a Christian that dug up a piece of paper in their backyard that told them to go kill their son and addressed "from God" would believe it to be genuine.

Sorry for rambling. My question is simple. Does faith in the bible = faith in men?

Qualifed Answeres

How Inspired were those Guys Anyways?

I have long wrestled with the inspiration and inerrancy issue, as well as the way that we should view the Bible today. Through studying the formation of the Bible, I eventually came to grips with a few things that changed my perspective forever.

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The Formation of the Canon

Hi John,

"For the sake of argument" we wouldn't say the writers of the Bible were inspired. We'd say that because that's what the Bible teaches. (2 Peter 1:21)

You mentioned the Council of Nicaea. I don't believe the Canon was formally recognized at that council as it that was to address the doctrine of the Trinity and Arian heresy.

You also mentioned Martin Luther forming the Protestant Canon. He didn't. The books he had issue with - Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation, and Esther - all remained in the Bible we have today.

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Comments on Original Question


I feel like a fool. My knowledge of biblical history is limited. My facts were off. However, you failed to answer the question. Since I am a nice guy I will assume you were tired when you gave your answer and thus failed to recognize the implications of the above question.

There are many theological, historical and philosophical ways of deciding which books are canon and which are not. As you know the protestant drink is a mixture of (apostolic origin, universal acceptance, liturgical use, consistent message.) My question does not require a historical analysis nor a theological exposition.

My question is simple. Is faith in Christianity equal to faith in the bible. For example Joe the plumber does not believe that the gospel is from God. Can Joe the plumber be a Christian? The 66 books carry an enormous weight. It seems that a person must first have faith in the bible before they have faith in Christianity.

Hey John,

From your tone I can't help but feel like you're looking for more of an argument than a dialogue or answer.

To answer your question in short, is faith in Christianity equal to faith in the Bible? No. Christian faith is to have faith in the God who revealed Himself in the Bible. But, while God is over and above the Bible, in His goodness the Bible - in written words in the language of men - is how He chosen to reveal Himself to us. So, can Joe the Plumber vote Democrat? No. :) Can Joe the Plumber be a Christian if he doesn't believe the Gospel in the Bible is from God? Nope, he's believing something other than Christianity at that point.

I hope that helps. I would encourage you to mine that link I gave you to Monergism for answers to this as well. There are articles in there from people far, far smarter than me who have devoted their lives to topics like this. I hope you find it useful in your search.


The Bible defines Christianity. Believing the Gospel is believing Christianity. Being a christian means believing Christianity. Therefore yes, being a Christian means believing the Bible.

I would recommend Gordon Clark's "God's Hammer" to dig into the topic more


I really appreciate you engaging in this topic. I have a few things I think need to be on the table when discussing this issue.

Christianity existed before the New Testament was written. Therefore, it is historically anachronistic to claim that Christianity equals faith in the Bible.

Christianity functioned for over 300 years before the first surviving New Testament canon list (Athanasius' 27th Festal Letter, 367 A.D.). No doubt, the New Testament documents existed long before then (we have manuscripts dating far before this date), but Paul didn’t even start writing until about 60 A.D. That makes for about a 30-year period where there were no New Testament writings. One may respond to this by stating: But, they had the Old Testament. Well, yes, portions of it were canonized, but they certainly didn’t have Jesus, or most of his teachings (including his resurrection which brought the salvation of the world), in the Old Testament. Therefore, the fundamentals of Christianity had to exist another way–-in oral tradition. No Bible, yet Christianity, what are we to do with that?

Faith in a book (no matter how great, or divinely inspired, the book is) won't save anyone. It is what someone does with the teachings of the book that leads one to salvation. And only one can bring salvation, Christ.

Furthermore, what about all the illiterate people of the world, or the deaf who can't hear the words of the Bible, or the blind who can't read them, are they going down in flames because they can’t read or hear the Bible? Obviously this is a rhetorical question (at least I hope it is). God can work outside the confines of the Bible. God may be the God of the Bible, but before He was defined that way, He was the Creator, and before the New Testament, He gave His Son to the world.

The Bible may be our guide for faith, but it is certainly not our God. It is the living Christ who defines Christianity. It is my hope that every Christian would realize that the Bible is a source of truth for faith and practice, but let's not put the book before the God who is the ultimate author of the book. That is just as bad as putting the creation, or creature, before the Creator.


John, you have researched the history of the early church more than I have and it shows. But I have to say, I find your conclusions quite lacking.

but they certainly didn’t have Jesus, or most of his teachings (including his resurrection which brought the salvation of the world), in the Old Testament.

Are you suggesting that Abraham and David and others in the OT period did not know Christ and thus were not saved by Christ?

And yes, I agree that there was oral tradition for a time, but that was a very limited time. Unless you want to swim to Rome, you have to admit that this oral tradition is not an infallible guide. The early Christians had all the books of what is now called the canon long before it was decided upon at a council. What prompted the council was gnostic heretics questioning the canon... not some idea that they didn't already have a collection of writings that they used as their infallible guide.

Furthermore, what about all the illiterate people of the world, or the deaf who can't hear the words of the Bible, or the blind who can't read them, are they going down in flames because they can’t read or hear the Bible?

So long as there is a way to communicate the propositions contained in Scripture, then this is not an issue at all. Hellen Keller can be told what the Bible says.

No one is putting the Bible before God and to insist that I am is to continue to attack a straw man. The simple truth is, we cannot know who Christ is apart from Scripture.


Thanks for your response. I have answered your questions below. I have left your original comments in my response below, so that it is easier to follow the dialogue.

[John: but they certainly didn’t have Jesus, or most of his teachings (including his resurrection which brought the salvation of the world), in the Old Testament.]

[Brandon: Are you suggesting that Abraham and David and others in the OT period did not know Christ and thus were not saved by Christ?

And yes, I agree that there was oral tradition for a time, but that was a very limited time. Unless you want to swim to Rome, you have to admit that this oral tradition is not an infallible guide. The early Christians had all the books of what is now called the canon long before it was decided upon at a council. What prompted the council was gnostic heretics questioning the canon... not some idea that they didn't already have a collection of writings that they used as their infallible guide.]

[My Reply: Yes, I am suggesting that Abraham and David did not know Christ, but I am not making any claims about their salvation. The first talk about an "anointed one" (Messiah, which is the same word for Christ) emerges in Samuel, when Saul is being anointed by Samuel as King. The concept of an “anointed” (Messiah/Christ) that also saves does not emerge until Isaiah comes on the scene (nearly 400 years after David, and nearly 1500 years after Abraham). I do not think we are in a position to make claims about how Abraham or David were saved (or not saved). The concept of a saving Messiah didn’t even exist in their time. And the concept really does not get fully formed until Judas Maccabeus and his revolt in 167 BC. Even with Judas Maccabeus it has to do with saving the land and the religion of the people, not with eternal salvation. It’s not like they were all sitting around waiting for the Messiah after Adam and Eve sinned. They were seeking Yahweh, and it appears that seeking Him is enough in this period. But after Jesus came as the Messiah, it was no longer enough. From this point forward belief in Him is required.

I disagree that oral tradition existed for a very limited time, and to be honest almost every single early church scholar would disagree with you as well. I suggest you go read “Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word” by Walter J. Ong. This is a critical volume to understanding what I am arguing here.

You state that “What prompted the council was Gnostic heretics questioning the canon.” Actually, the heresy brewing among Gnostic groups only played a very small role in the canonizing of the New Testament. The argument that Gnostics heretics caused the closing of the canon was disproven over twenty years ago. I recommend you read Harry Y. Gamble’s “The New Testament Canon” on this issue. The idea of needing a collection of infallible writings was also not a concept in the early church. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to ever find the word “infallible” used in reference to the New Testament in the writings of the early church fathers. It was not even part of the discussion. Once again, it was the four retrospective points of canonicity I talk about in my original answer which determined what was in the canon. Lastly, one council did not decide what would be in the canon (read Gamble’s book here, as well as Lee Martin McDonald’s “The Biblical Canon”). The reason for the closing of the canon is very complicated; it involves a collection of reasons, which I do not have the time or space to go into here. If you want to know about it, go read the books I have suggested.

Lastly, I should note that I am not denying the importance of written tradition or revelation here. I fully affirm that the New Testament writings were authoritative and used widely in the early church. I am just saying that you maybe should consider broadening your scope of understanding, because it really helped me when I did.]

[John: Furthermore, what about all the illiterate people of the world, or the deaf who can't hear the words of the Bible, or the blind who can't read them, are they going down in flames because they can’t read or hear the Bible?]

[Brandon: So long as there is a way to communicate the propositions contained in Scripture, then this is not an issue at all. Hellen Keller can be told what the Bible says.

No one is putting the Bible before God and to insist that I am is to continue to attack a straw man. The simple truth is, we cannot know who Christ is apart from Scripture.]

[My response: The Bible is immensely important, and when possible to convey its message, I agree that it must be conveyed, because its message can lead one unto salvation. But, there are still many people in the world who will never have the opportunity to hear the message of the Bible. For these people Christ is revealed to them in creation (Rom 1:20). Furthermore, I don’t think we can deny the encounters that people claim to have with angels, Christ, or in their Spirit which lead them to salvation. After all, the same thing happened to many of the early followers of Jesus (e.g., Paul).

Brandon, I sincerely apologize if you feel I have conveyed your argument in a fallacious way. However, I am afraid what you claim to be a simple truth, “we cannot know who Christ is apart from Scripture,” is incorrect (e.g., Acts 2; Rom 1:20; 16:25-27; Heb 1:1-4). All the prophets and the early apostles heard God’s voice directly. You cannot claim this was from Scripture. Today, the only way to fully know Christ is through the Bible, but this does not lead to the conclusion that the only way to know him is through the Bible. There must be a balance, room for ambiguity, and room for the church to work. Not to mention, room for God to work outside the Bible. If you want to know what I mean by this, take a look at my recent post about “Letting the Inspired Text Read Us”]


If Abraham did not know Christ, he could not believe in Christ, and therefore he could not be saved.

The concept of a saving Messiah was first preached in Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." In Galatians 3 we are told that the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham and that Abraham was justified by faith. There is a lot to unpack about this, but suffice to say, if Abraham did not know Christ, then you have a problem.

Rom 1:20 absolutely does not teach that people are saved by general revelation. It is the basis of their condemnation, not their salvation. Rom 1-3 is Paul establishing the fallen depravity of all men and the condemnation of all men under God's wrath. If you would like to read the whole context of Romans 1, you will see that Paul is referring to the wrath of God being revealed (v18), men suppressing this truth in unrighteousness (v18), and that they are without excuse (v20) when their foolish hearts were darkened and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for idols of their own creation (v21-23). Rom 1 teaches the condemnation of all men by the general revelation that all men receive. Nowhere does it say that anyone is saved by general revelation.


I stick to my original point that we are not in a position to judge whether or not Abraham and David were saved. Furthermore, for us to read salvation language back into early OT accounts is to be historically anachronistic.

I do not see how you find the Messiah being preached in Genesis 3:15. There is no Messiah mentioned, no mention of the gospel, and no mention of salvation. You may wish to hold to that as a confession, which is fine, but it cannot be justified on historical grounds. The text states none of the things you claim it does.

I disagree with your interpretation of Gal 3. Gal 3 is not referring to Abraham being told the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gal 3 is referring to the covenantal promise made to Abraham in Gen 15. Paul says, "Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness,'" not Abraham believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and it was counted to him as righteousness. Furthermore, I am afraid you have missed the point of Gal 3 entirely, which is to discuss how the promise of Abraham comes to fruition in Christ, not how Abraham was saved. Paul's conclusion is "if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to his promise" (Gal 3:29) – this is his final conclusion, and overarching point.

To get back to our previous discussion about where written revelation comes from, I think it is important we note something else going on in Galatians. Paul says, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). Paul then goes onto give his testimony, which he views as evidence for the gospel at work in his life. Paul is clear that his gospel did not come from people; it came directly through “a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Take note that it also did not come from the OT Scriptures. It came through direct revelation to him. So, written revelation is not the factor at work here either. Once again, affirming my original point that the Scriptures are not the only authority on Christ, and not the only place where we can learn about him. There must be room for the Spirit as well.

I also disagree with your interpretation of Rom 1:20. I agree that the purpose of Rom 1 is to teach that all people are without excuse and that all people ultimately need Christ. But, Rom 1:19-20 clearly says "what can be known about God is plain to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." What are they without excuse for? Following after other gods and creating idols, because God is plainly known to them through creation. They are also without excuse when they pass judgment on others (Rom 2:1). But, this does not mean we are to chuck out what Paul says in passing, God's "eternal power and divine nature are plain to them ... since the creation of the world." Paul is saying no matter who you are, what you know (or don't), you are without excuse for your status with God. Paul says all of this because he is attempting to show why “he is not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom 1:16). Frankly, I would be ashamed of the gospel if it could not reach people who are without bibles or missionaries to tell them about what Christ has done, and it looks like Paul would have been as well.

Another example of Christ at work beyond the confines of Scripture and “direct revelation” can be seen in Paul’s speech about the unknown god in Acts 17:23-28 (ESV): “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Here we are confronted with two things: (1) Paul equates the “unknown god” on the inscription with the God of Israel; and (2) to make his point Paul quotes from Epimenides of Crete and Aratus’ poem, “Phainomena” (Acts 17:28). Paul clearly sees God’s revelation at work far beyond the confines of Scripture. Based on this passage, it appears God can be at work anywhere. And when He is, people are lead to Christ (Acts 17:34).

God has revealed Himself to all people, and in doing so, showed all people the way to Him, which ultimately is Christ. Let's not forget that Christ was the firstborn of God's creation (Col 1:15). "By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether throne or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him" (Col 1:16). In essence, Christ too is revealed through creation.

I would not necessarily classify it as general revelation, but I would say God reveals Himself (and His Son) through creation. This is once again evidence that we have to broaden our understanding of how God works.


There is one more passage of interest which seperates written tradition from oral tradition -- 2 Thessalonians 2:15:

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." (Italics are mine, and placed for emphasis).

Paul thought of both the spoken word and written word (the letter) as two mutually functional and needed aspects of the Christian faith. I hope each of us can see both at work in our lives -- What the Bible speaks to us and what others speak to us.


The Westminster Confession of Faith states it this way:

IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.[9]

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.[10] And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.


I am not sure how a document from the 17th century defines Christianity. I think it is a healthy and critical move to separate the Bible and later theology. Each theological work (or statement), like the Westminster Confession of Faith, should be evaluated on its own merits. What did the men who wrote the Westminster Confession know that we don't? They were certainly just as dis-connected from the early church and the formation of the Bible as we are. The only difference is that the biblical and historical research done since the confession far surpasses their time, which would lead me to say: we know more about early Christianity and the Bible than they did.

As far as the Westminster Confession of Faith goes, I would direct anyone interested in knowing where its views eventually take us to Michael Heiser's blog.

I would also suggest that anyone interested in seriously engaging in the inspiration discussion work through Michael Heiser's other posts about inspiration. He goes through pretty much every important issue related to the topic. It is one of the most honest, open, and interesting discussions of the issue I have ever seen take place; start here:


Not sure what you're referring to John. My quote from WCF was talking about Scripture and the canon, not talking directly about defining Christianity. Of course the WCF should be evaluated on it's own merits and nothing I wrote suggested that it shouldn't be. I was simply providing it so that the original poster can in fact do that. He asked a question, here is one group of people's answer. Isn't that the point of this whole Q&A thing?

Here is more discussion related to the blog you linked to regarding WCF

And Westminster Seminary is not the authoritative interpreters of WCF


Okay, thanks for clarifying your point.

I brought up Westminster Seminary because they hold to this doctrine almost more than any other institution. And actually, they are viewed by many to be an authority on the confession.

My purpose in my comment was to get back to the point of the original question: The definition of Christianity; and whether or not Christianity merely equals faith in the Bible.


I recently happened across a quote from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology that is relevant:

"As a psychological phenomenon, faith in the religious sense does not differ from faith in general. If faith in general is the persuasion of the truth founded on the testimony of one in whom we have confidence and on whom we rely, and therefore rests on authority, Christian faith in the most comprehensive sense is man's persuasion of the truth of Scripture on the authority of God."

He goes on to say elaborate quite a bit. You can read it on Google Books if you want:

I recently came to this site. It looks like you backed out of the discussion. Should you happen to revisit this post, I hope you see that you were expecting an overly simplistic answer to a poorly asked question. I agree with John Barry.

Belief in the bible, canonized by fallible men, no more makes one a Christian than understanding the US Constitution makes one an American citizen. However, like the Constitution which codifies and makes us aware of our rights and privileges as citizens, so does the bible. Jesus said it this way in John 5:39-47 (NLT)

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

41 “Your approval means nothing to me, 42 because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. 43 For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. 44 No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.[e]

45 “Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. 46 If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. 47 But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

In summary, Jesus made a clear distinction between the true purpose and efficacy of the "written" word (OT or NT), as opposed to, and in relation to, Himself as the "living" word. Jesus was obviously addressing a popular misconception of that time - that the scriptures contained some mystical, secret divine power.

Simply NOT SO then, and NOT SO now. Belief in the person of Christ alone makes one a Christian, not the scriptures. Yes, the scriptures are divinely inspired and as such must be respected, honored and regarded as holy and sacred in matters of faith and life. But, the scriptures have no intrinsic value and are NOT to be idolized or worshiped.

You may be correct, however, your belief in the scriptures allows your believe in Christianity. How else would you get to Christ without the scriptures? I agree that my initial question was asked poorly, and wit logic one could easily dissolve it.

Your quotes from the scripture might not be from Jesus, have you ever thought of that? Maybe some theologian or apostle wrote those verses. You have faith that Jesus said those things because you have faith that the scripture is valid.

If scripture is not valid (meaning God didn't say those things), then you would have no reason to believe what you read in the bible and thus your faith in Christianity would be different.

Therefore, your faith in Christianity hinges on whether or not the bible is true.

Out of curiosity I periodically review this post for updates, because I found your original question, although by your own admission poorly asked, nevertheless interesting, fascinating, and a timeless and still relevant (chicken or egg) topic. This was attested to by the furious debate which your question ignited between other, I hope, well meaning believers. Then it appeared you just sat back and enjoyed the verbal slugfest. If you worked in my office, I’m sure you’d be fingered as the resident "pot-stirrer". The reason I call you that is because, in spite of the voluminous scripturally-based responses which should have overwhelmingly satisfied your concern, you insist on re-positing your initial question, along with additional irrelevant, illogical and less than trivial objections. I think you’re a smart guy, so this tells me you either didn’t read the responses, you read them and don’t understand them, or you’re simply not looking for an answer...hummm?
Good Luck Bro!

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