Search all you like, but you simply won’t find Jesus’ birthdate recorded in the Bible. Similarly, you can scour the entire Bible and you’ll never find the details about what Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger. And what if you wanted to understand Paul’s mention of the Third Heaven, or to learn just what the “angels who sinned” were being punished for, you’re going to run out of information in the Bible really quickly.
Questions such as these (and many others) have frustrated Bible students for quite some time. Are their answers hidden someplace in the Bible, beyond our casual view? Are they perhaps encapsulated in the original languages and obscured by poor translations? Or were they recorded in documents that did not make it into the commonly-accepted Bible collection? If they’re in extra-biblical documents, can they be trusted?
You don’t have to get very far out on this “limb” before many believers start getting quite uncomfortable. One way or another, most have learned to be content not to ask questions that take them too far or too often “outside the box” of the traditional Christian awareness of things. It is some people’s nature not to question, not to wonder, not to be curious. I, on the other hand, would like to know everything!
I would like to have access to the complete set of facts pertinent to God, the angels, mankind, and the history of the earth!
But where can this information be found? Surely there is not room for it all in the Bible, and even if there were, we have already acknowledged that certain questions raised by the Bible are simply not answered in it. And this is really troubling if one holds to what I suppose to be a fairly typical view of the Bible as a “complete” book. While I cannot speak for what every believer believers, I think that in rough terms a large number of Christians think of the Bible something like this:
I personally know a lot of Christians who know that the Bible doesn’t have all the fact in it, but who still insist on believing it does anyway. This makes for some really fuzzy cognitive work, of course, but apparently, they find the fuzziness preferable to the difficult work it would take to sort through these issues.
After a decade or more of my own church-free study, however, I see the complete set of facts to be something more like the following diagram:
This makes things much more difficult to manage, yet it is a much more responsible model, for it seems to deal squarely with reality. Please note that by no means do the sizes of the circles here suggests that I believe that each of these sets contains the same amount of information. We could not possibly know this. How many things happened but were never written about? Or how many things were written about, but lost? Or how many things were written about, but rejected by whomever decided (rightly or wrongly) that some documents belonged in “The Bible” and some did not?
As I said, this model makes things much more difficult to manage, for in this model, unlike the Bible-only model, one must do a great deal of reading in order to “get anywhere”. Sadly, most do not even make a solid study of the 66 “books” in the Bible. A good evidence of this fact is that a great many people do not even know that of those 66 “books”, many of them are themselves most likely composed of more than one document. Nor do they realize when some Bible passage may actually be a quotation from some other document, whether that document be included in the Bible collection or not.
Interestingly, many believers who do happen to read the Old Testament chance upon the names of other documents not included in the Old Testament, and yet never research the matter to find out whether those documents are available for study or not. Just this list alone makes it quite plain that the complete set of facts must include works not in the Bible.
It’s a nice fairy tale, this idea that God had the Bible all sewn up, just as he wanted it delivered to our generation, but this idea falls apart rather quickly when one decides that he wants to understand everything that is in our Bibles. Those who don’t desire to understand it all may never figure out that not all the information is there. Like the visitor to the guest cabin who finds the jigsaw puzzle in the box, unless he counts all the pieces, he may begin the puzzle having no idea that some of the pieces are missing. And even if this is the case, he’ll figure it out as he finishes putting together what he does have. Sadly, however, most believers don’t ever seem to get even that far with their Bibles. That is, they never sit down to learn everything that the Bible has to say about the ekklesia or about salvation or about any other topic.
Given this, it is no wonder that so many find it so easy to assume that “the Bible is complete”. Yes, it is mere hearsay, but they have no reason to disbelieve it, for they have never tested the notion.