Who Decided What Would Be In The Bible & When Canonicity
The canon refers to the books that are contained within the Bible those which are the word of God.
How do we know which books belong in the Bible? How do we know that these 66 books are the correct ones? How do we know were not missing something? And who decided what would be included in the Bible and what would not?
Its a question you hear often. And its one that I wrestled with for a time. Who decided what books would be in the Bible and what would not? How did they decide? When?
I surrendered to Christ later in life. It was a radical shift in everything I had ever studied and believed up through my university years. Up until that time, I never gave the Bible a serious thought. But God changed that. One big question I had pertained to the biblical canon. Why these 66 books? What about all the other books? The Apocrypha? Pseudepigrapha? The Gospels of Thomas, Peter, and Judas? Why didnt they make it in? Says who? People told me things like, Yeah, a bunch of guys in the fourth century got together and decided what to include and exclude from the Bible. You cant really trust it. I didnt know what to think.
A popular myth needs correction from the outset. No men, church council, or spiritual leaders ever gathered to collectively determine what would and would not be included in the Bible. No council decided which books to keep and toss. No human being defined the list of biblical books. And that does not make the biblical canon less reliable, but more.
When The Pivotal Dates
What were the pivotal dates for the recognition and formal establishment of the New Testament canon? In the eastern church the 39th Paschal Letter of Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, dates to A.D. 367. This document was the bishop’s letter to the faithful written on the occasion of Passover. In this letter Athanasius mentions 27 books the church accepted as being the New Testament. In the western church the Council of Carthage met in A.D. 397. Part of the council’s work was to publish the names of the 27 books that the church held to be genuine Scripture. Putting these two dates together makes evident that by the middle-to-late fourth century the church had no question about the 27 books that would comprise the New Testament. No really serious question has risen since.
Not all the books that the apostles wrote became Scripture. For example, Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthians, two of which are lost and thus not in the canon . Nonetheless, the New Testament we possess today can be trusted.
Jesus, while on earth, did not specifically mention writings that would become what we know as the New Testament. He did seem to “pre-authenticate” the New Testament, however, when He told His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” .
The Logical Necessity For A Canon Of Scripture And Its Preservation
That God would provide and preserve a Canon of Scripture without addition or deletion is not only necessary, but it is logically credible. If we believe that God exists as an almighty God, then revelation and inspiration are clearly possible. If we believe in such a God, it is also probable that He would, out of love and for His own purposes and designs, reveal Himself to men. Because of mans obvious condition in sin and his obvious inability to meet his spiritual needs , special revelation revealed in a God-breathed book is not only possible, logical, and probable, but a necessity.
The evidence shows that the Bible is unique and that God is its author. The evidence declares that all Scripture is God breathed and profitable and that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of ones own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God . In view of this, the logical question is: Would it not be unreasonable for God to fail to providentially care for these inspired documents to preserve them from destruction and so guide in their collection and arrangement that they would all be present with none missing and none added that were not inspired?62
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Who Wrote The 27 Books Of The New Testament
Although St.Paul was not one of the original 12 Apostles of Jesus, he was one of the most prolific contributors to the New Testament. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 or 14 are traditionally attributed to Paul, though only 7 of these Pauline epistles are accepted as being entirely authentic and dictated by St.
Which Council Decided The Books Of The Bible
Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, wrote in his best-selling novel that the Bible was created during the Council of Nicea, 325 C.E., Emperor Constantine, and church officials purportedly banned problematic literature not conforming to their secret agenda.
But thats not the real story. Although The Da Vinci Code was fiction, Brown wasnt alone in praising the Council of Nicea for deciding what books should be included in the Bible. Voltaire wrote in the 18th Century, repeating a centuries-old legend that the Bible was canonized at Nicea. He did this by placing all the books on a table and saying a prayer to see which texts were legitimate.
Jason Combs, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University specializing in ancient Christianity, says that there was not one church authority or Council that rubber-stamped the Biblical Canon .
Combs says Dan Brown disservice us all. We dont know if any Christians gathered together to say, Lets have this resolved once and for all. (The Council of Nicea was formed to solve a religious issue that had nothing to do with the Bible.
The evidence that scholars have, in the form of letters, theological treatises, and church histories that have survived for many millennia, points to a longer canonization process. Different church leaders and theologians argued about which books should be included in the Canon from the first to the fourth centuries. They often referred to their opponents as heretics.
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Coptic And Ethiopian Canons
The New Testament of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, includes the two Epistles of Clement. The canon of the Tewahedo Churches is somewhat looser than for other traditional Christian groups, and the order, naming, and chapter/verse division of some of the books is also slightly different.
The Ethiopian “narrow” canon includes 81 books altogether: The 27 book New Testament those Old Testament books found in the and accepted by the Orthodox as well as Enoch, Jubilees, 2 Esdras, Rest of the Words of Baruch and 3 books of Meqabyan .
The “broader” Ethiopian New Testament canon includes four books of “Sinodos” , two “Books of Covenant”, “Ethiopic Clement”, and “Ethiopic Didascalia” . However, these books have never been printed or widely studied. This “broader” canon is also sometimes said to include, with the Old Testament, an eight-part history of the Jews based on the writings of Flavius Josephus, and known as “Pseudo-Josephus” or “Joseph ben Gurion” .
How It All Started
Since the books of the Old Testament were written over centuries, it took a while before it was possible for there to be an established canon. But already before the canon was completed, separate books had authority. The Ten Commandments that Moses received from God, for example, had absolute authority right from the beginning. Moreover, the book of Deuteronomy was written as a covenant text that was fixed and could not be changed. It was kept in the holy tent , should be read aloud regularly and the king should have his own copy of this scroll .
Years later, king Josiah accepted these Scriptures as authoritative . A similar story is recorded in Nehemiah 8, where the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel is read in the presence of all the people, carefully studied, and obeyed. Moreover, later Old Testament books repeatedly refer to the older ones. So, even though there was not yet a fixed canon, these Bible books were considered holy.
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The Process Of Canonization
The process of canonization was relatively long and remarkably flexible and detached various books in use were recognized as inspired, but the Church Fathers noted, without embarrassment or criticism, how some held certain books to be canonical and others did not. Emerging Christianity assumed that through the Spirit the selection of canonical books was certain enough for the needs of the church. Inspiration, it is to be stressed, was neither a divisive nor a decisive criterion. Only when the canon had become self-evident was it argued that inspiration and canonicity coincided, and this coincidence became the presupposition of Protestant orthodoxy .
Eusebius Advisor To Emperor Constantine
When Eusebius produced his list in three categories in 325 C.E. he employed rather less fanciful criteria than those advocated by Irenaeus more than a century earlier. Eusebius asks whether writings had been mentioned by earlier generations of church leaders, whether their style comports well with writings known to have been written early in the history of the church, and whether their content is consistent with established orthodoxy. If writings proclaiming to represent the faith do not meet these criteria, he labels them the forgeries of heretical men.
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Completion Of The Task Of Writing Revelation
All the truth that God is going to reveal has been revealed. This means God will not add to the truth about himself that he revealed in the Bible. The task of revealing truth is completed. God began by revealing himself and ends with the doctrine of eschatology .
Everything that man needs on every subject has been revealed, but this does not include everything that man wants to know. Since this revelation is complete in content, there came a time when Jude could say, the faith which was once delivered unto the saints . We do not need additional revelations from God, therefore the canon is closed.
The End Of Doctrinal Revelation
God implied in Scripture that the giving of revelation would terminate and come to an end. By implication, those who added to revelation would be judged and those who took away from the revelation would also receive Gods condemnation . This verse is integrated specifically to the last book of the Bible, and by application can be extended to all sixty-six books.
Gods wisdom anticipated the tendency towards corruption of his message, and he issued warnings against those who would corrupt the Word of God . The same warning was given to those who pervert the gospel . Any tendency toward heresy was also condemned by God, apostasy being that which took away from Gods message. God warned in the Old Testament not to add to his Word .
The New Testament concludes with a similar warning . James spoke of the Bible as the imperfect law of liberty , again implying a full system of doctrine. Since God warned that no one could add or subtract from his doctrine, we conclude that the revelation of God in the Bible is complete.
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The Word Canon In The Canonization Of The Bible
Our English Word, “Canon,” is derived from a Hebrew and Greek word denoting a reed or a cane. So we would call it a “ruler,” like the old wooden ruler you had in your supplies for third grade. Canon, then, grew out of a word that means something straight, or something to keep straight, a standard of truth. In this way of thinking, the Canon of Scripture refers to measuring the God-breathed truths revealed to men.
Four Gospels One Gospel
Four gospels appeared to some to compromise the unity of the churchs gospel. Marcion had proposed a single gospel, which had the advantage of avoiding any discrepancies or inconsistencies. Around 165 C.E. Tatian in Syria had produced the Diatessaron . Tatian had created a single composite gospel by combining and harmonizing the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The complete text of this innovative work has not survived, but it does reveal another impulse to make unity a fact. But the ancient church rejected such impulses and elected rather to understand the four gospels as four testimonies to one gospel story, one saving message. Irenaeus embellished the point by arguing that just as there are four regions of the world and four directions of the wind, so there are four pillars of the gospel God had given the world. The number four Irenaeus took to be direct evidence of the authenticity of the gospels: the world-wide church could possess neither more nor less than a four-fold gospel.
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Impulse Toward Canonization From Heretical Movements
Gnosticism tended to foster speculation, cutting loose from historical revelation. In defense the orthodox churches stressed the apostolic tradition by focussing on Gospels and letters from apostolic lives and distinguished them from Gnostic writings, such as the Gospel of Truth and now found in Coptic translation in a collection of Gnostic writings from Egypt it is a Coptic manuscript of a Valentinian Gnostic speculation from the mid-2nd centuryi.e., a work based on the teachings of Valentinus, a Gnostic teacher from Alexandria. In the same collection is the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic, actually a collection of sayings purporting to be the words of the risen Christ, the living Lord. This gospel also occurred in Greek , and warnings against it as heretical were made by the Church Fathers in the 2nd to the 4th centuries.
In a general prophetic apocalyptic mood, another heresy, Montanism, arose. This was an ecstatic enthusiastic movement claiming special revelation and stressing the age of the spirit. Montanus and two prophetesses claimed that their oracular statements contained new and contemporary revelations. This break with the apostolic time caused vigorous response. An anti-Montanist reported that the false prophet is one who speaks in ecstasy after which follow freedomand madness of soul.
Nicaea And The Canon In Legend
The source of this idea appears in a late-ninth-century Greek manuscript called the Synodicon Vetus, which purports to summarize the decisions of Greek councils up to that time . Andreas Darmasius brought this manuscript from Morea in the 16th century. John Pappus edited and published it in 1601 in Strasburg. Heres the relevant section:
The council made manifest the canonical and apocryphal books in the following manner: placing them by the side of the divine table in the house of God, they prayed, entreating the Lord that the divinely inspired books might be found upon the table, and the spurious ones underneath and it so happened.
According to this source, the church has its canon because of a miracle that occurred at Nicaea in which the Lord caused the canonical books to stay on the table and the apocryphal or spurious ones to be found underneath.
From Pappuss edition of the Synodicon Vetus, this quotation circulated and was cited , and eventually found its way into the work of prominent thinkers such as Voltaire . In volume 3 of his Philosophical Dictionary under Councils , he writes:
It was by an expedient nearly similar, that the fathers of the same council distinguished the authentic from the apocryphal books of Scripture. Having placed them altogether upon the altar, the apocryphal books fell to the ground of themselves.
A little later in section III, Voltaire adds:
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A Basic Explanation Of The Canon Of Scripture
While taking Professor Scot Keens Bibliology course here at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute, I began to realize that even though I had grown up in a solid church and had had Christian education, there was a lot I didnt know about the history of the Bible and how its come to us today. When Professor Keen started throwing around the phrase canon of Scripture I had only a very vague idea of what he meant, and it wasnt a topic that sounded too riveting. But the rest of my Bibliology class had surprised me with its relevance and importance, and when we began discussing the canon of Scripture more in depth I found myself pleasantly surprised once again.
Having at least a basic understanding of the canon of Scripture can bring us a lot of confidence about the Bible, as were about to see.
What Are The Apocrypha And Pseudepigrapha
The Greek word for hidden or secret is Apocrypha. It cannot be very clear because Apocrypha can be used in several different ways to refer to books other than the biblical Canon.
The first is the New Testament Apocrypha, which contains many non-canonical texts, most of them written in the Second Century C.E. These texts also include Jesus and his apostles. Combs states that there are hundreds of such texts and that we dont have enough written examples to cover them all.
There is also a subset that includes Old Testament books in the Roman Catholic Bible. These seven books include Tobit, Judith, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. They are published in between the Old Testament and New Testaments of the Catholic Bible. Called the Apocrypha (or sometimes the Deuterocanon, which is the second canon.
The third category is called pseudepigrapha, which comes from the Greek word for false writer. This list contains more than 50 texts written between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E. Both Christian and Jewish writers expanded on stories and characters of the Old Testament. Some notable Old Testament pseudepigrapha is 1 Enoch and Jubilees, as well as the Treatise of Shem.
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