The original person who asked the question asked for additional clarification on these two questions:
1) Are inspired works closed as canon is? 2) Are there potentially other inspired historical works which are not in canon?
The answer to the first question depends on the view one has of the gift of prophecy and its possible continuation. Those whom God used to produce an inspired text were those who had been given the gift of prophecy. Those like myself who hold that the gift of prophecy ceased with the death of the last apostle hold that there will no longer be any New Testament books that carry the mark of inspiration. Here the use of inspired is being used in a very technical sense -- literally a work in which God carried the author along. That excludes works that we would view as inspiring in the non-technical sense.
There are some sects who hold that the gift of prophecy continues to this day. Often times those groups will have layers or degrees to which a prophet or prophetess can produce inspired texts. Most of these groups makes some sort of distinction between the canon of the Bible and the writings of the prophet or prophetess in question.
If the criteria for acceptance into the canon is the original apostolic authority then the canon is closed unless one holds to the idea that the apostolic office continues.
2) Are there potentially other inspired historical works which are not in canon?
The answer to this question depends to a great extent on where one falls on the doctrine of preservation. For those like myself who hold to the doctrine of preservation (see below) then it would be contrary to the nature of God to inspire a text and then to leave it undiscovered by the church. If preservation is denied then it is certainly possible that there were writings that were God-breathed that have been lost to history. There are at least two letters written by Paul (probably more) that are lost to history. 1 Cor. 5:9 indicates that Paul had already written to the church at Corinth prior to his writing 1 Corinthians. Also the letter to Laodicea that is mentioned in Colossians 4:16 has been lost to history. Those who hold to the doctrine of preservation see those letters as not having been the product of inspiration and they were then lost to history. For those who deny this doctrine, they can argue that they were inspired and then later lost. This implies that once a person was a prophet they were always a prophet. One difficulty in this is the passage Ephesians 2:20. It may be that Paul was indicating New Testament prophets as part of the foundation. Like the missing letters some have argued that there were other writings of the NT prophets who have been lost to history. I hold that in the early church there was the prophetic gift that was serving the church through oral communication until such time as God had revealed all that we need in the New Testament and then the office of prophet ceased.
Implicit to these questions is the idea -- do we have everything we need in His word? I think Peter answered this in the affirmative in 2 Peter 1 (one of the last books written in the NT).
1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Here was the original answer
The Greek term that is behind the English word inspired is θεόπνευστος. It is a compound word that literally means "God Breathed." The process of inspiration resulted in the product -- an inspired word of God. Theologians define the process as the human author was carried along by God so that what they wrote was both the words of the human author and at the same time the word of God.
Here are some thoughts by F.F. Bruce on inspiration:
By inspiration in this sense is meant that operation of the Holy Spirit by which the prophets of Israel were enabled to utter the word of God. The vocabulary was theirs; the message was his. Only to certain individuals, and only occasionally to them, was this enablement granted.
F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 264.
Bruce points out various phrases in the New Testament that imply that the New Testament writers understood they were speaking on behalf of God through their writings:
- "the book of this prophecy" Rev. 22:19
- "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy" Rev. 19:10
- Paul claimed to have the "mind of Christ."
- Demonstration of the Spirit"
"in words not taught by human wisdom."
Different denominations view the subject of the canon of Scripture differently. The Catholic Church has always claimed the power to determine the extent of the canon through the actions of the various Church councils in the fourth century. Then affirmed in later councils. Protestants on the other hand have suggested that the source of the canon is set by God and it is up to the Church to discover what books carry the signs of that inspiration. These groups all hold to a closed canon.
Other groups have claimed that the gift of prophecy has continued and they add different criteria for the notion of the canon. Those groups would hold to some level of an open canon. Open in the sense of some new revelation that came after the apostolic age.
In the end it comes down to the criteria a church uses to establish the canon.
As a protestant I would hold that the canon was actually established much earlier than the councils of the Catholic Church. 2 Peter 3:16 declares that the writings of Paul were already considered Scripture just a few years after they were written. The Church had recognized their authority from a very early stage.
Two excellent books on the subject are The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce and The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate by Kruger. In Bruce's book he has a chapter on the criteria to determine what is in fact inspired by God:
- The book had to have apostolic authority. The signs and wonders of an apostle were given to substantiate the writings of the New Testament. This is perhaps the most well known criteria for the mark of inspiration. It is also why the debate lingered for some books like Hebrews where the question of apostolic authority was somewhat lacking since the author of Hebrews is an open question. The early Church generally ascribed it to the apostle Paul. For protestants the office of apostle has ceased and therefore the canon of Scripture has been closed since the death of the apostle John.
- Antiquity, this is closely related to the first. The book had to have been written at a time when it could be authenticated by those who had known the apostle associated with the book. This criteria would exclude some long lost book that was discovered later and it is also why some books such the Shepherd of Hermes was rejected by the early church.
- Since the book was produced by the apostles it had to be in agreement with the apostles doctrine and could not contradict it. Since God is the co-author of Scripture He would never breathe out His word that would be contrary to His earlier revelations. This is why the early Gnostic Gospels of the second century were rejected as well as one of the reasons that protestants reject the Old Testament Apocrypha.
- The book had to have widespread acceptance by the early church. No secret books that were only accepted by small groups such as the ones written by Marcion.
- The book was used by the Church in their worship of God.
To this I would add one of my own:
- Does the book carry the weight of authority to the extent that is fits 2 Tim. 3:16-17, "‘all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for ...," what follows is a list of criteria that can be used to determine its use.
Most protestant denominations, the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Church all consider the canon closed for the reasons that were listed above regarding criteria. The number one of which is the fact that they had to have been written by the apostles. There are some groups that claim the gift of prophecy has continued (I am not one of those) so I do not have a sense in which there is the potential for some future book of the Bible. It is also why I would reject any book that was written after the apostolic age. Even the idea of a long lost book does not fit the criteria that was used in the early Church so I am OK there as well.
Not a part of your Questions directly is the doctrine of preservation. Did God act in such a way and does He continue to act in such a way to preserve His word for future generations after He had breathed it out? One way to see this is the shear number of New Testament manuscripts. There are over 6000 Greek New Testament manuscripts. No other written literature of the ancient world can claim anything like the New Testament in the number of original attestations. Even the sacred writings of the other religions come nothing close to the number of ancient copies of the Old and New Testaments. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls even substantiated the fact that we have the essential Old Testament text, largely unchanged since about 100 BC. One comparison is the writings of Josephus, there are as many as five very distinct versions with significant and drastic changes between them. Not so with the Old and New Testaments. I take that as the providence of God so I am secure in my faith that He has given His word to us and we have everything we would need, so there is no need to worry about the concept of an open canon.