Posted in theology

When the canon is challenged…

By Elizabeth Prata

Elaine Pagels book “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation” was published in 2012. Pagels is a lifelong apologist for the secular worldview. Her 1979 book “The Gnostic Gospels” won the National Book and the National Book Critics Circle Awards, hit the mainstream, and won her a MacArthur Felowship (AKA Genius Grant).

I’ve seen first-hand the damage that her books, and other books like hers, do. They up-end the unstable, cause the believer to doubt, impugn the spotless Lamb, and draw away the unbeliever. I know a woman who was fascinated with the 1979 book, read it and re-read it. Pagels (and Bart Ehrman who wrote “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” are false teachers of the

“the kind who worm their way into households and captivate vulnerable women who are weighed down with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:6-7).

The woman I’m thinking of was exactly that type, always learning but never able to come to truth. This is because her fleshly mind aligned with the writers’ fleshly mind and these women want to learn, just not the truth. Anything but that. Books like Ehrman’s and Pagels have enormous appeal.

Pagels’ Revelation book is built around a simple question: What does Revelation mean? Of course, being non-Christian and lacking the Holy Spirit, she misinterprets the book and dismisses its majestic truths. She impugns its reputation by saying things like ‘people have clashed over the meaning of Revelation ever since it was virtually forced into the New Testament canon over the protests of some early church leaders.’

How does one ‘force’ a book into the canon? Was there a monk held at knifepoint somewhere, told to sew the codex into the canon or else? Were there archers pointing arrows at the participants at the Council of Hippo, intimidate their vote to get it in?

When you take Pagels’ phrasing to its logical conclusion, it’s pretty silly.

Pagels sees the book of Revelation: “As a tale of conflict where one side is wholly righteous and the other wholly evil,”

The fleshly mind cannot concieve of one side being completely evil and the other as completely holy. Writers are told by mentors and professors that their villain should not be written as totally bad, there must be included a redeeming quality about him. The same with the hero, he is not totally good, there has to be written some kind of flaw in him somewhere, “for the story to be believable.”  But of course Jesus is perfectly holy, and never wrong. Satan is totally corrupt and is evil personified. The unsanctified mind cannot grasp this.

One main way people challenge the canon, besides questioning the authenticity by direct or subtle means as noted above, is to challenge its authorship and/or its age.

“It’s just an old book written by a bunch of ignorant shepherds,” they say. Well, Moses was a shepherd, but he was also educated in Pharaoh’s courts, the highest education available at the time. Additionally, it was written by fishermen, tax collectors, physicians, and farmers etc.

“It’s old, shouldn’t be taken seriously,” they say. Matt Slick’s opening paragraph well-rebuts this issue-

The New Testament is constantly under attack, and its reliability and accuracy are often contested by critics. If the critics want to disregard the New Testament, then they must also disregard other ancient writings by Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. This is because the New Testament documents are better-preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings. Because they are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy . . . and they are very consistent.

Some of the ancient writers’ works, such as Plato, Euripides, Caesar, were copied hundreds of years after the facts, and there might only be ten copies. Yet their works are used in schools and colleges to teach history and literature. The Bible’s first copies arose less than 100 years after the events, within the participants’ lifetimes, and there are 5800 copies available, with 99.5% accuracy among and between the copies.


These are but a bare scratch of the surface of this wonderful subject. I recommend Matt Slick’s article above, as well as these below, if you are interested in learning more about how the canon of the Bible was formed and why it is complete, with nothing missing, and lol, nothing “forced” in.

Further Resources

Canon of Scripture (explained and defended)

The Canon of the Bible Ligonier

Answers in Genesis: Why 66 Books?