The Canons Guiding Principles
Scholars present the five principles like this:
Was the book written by a prophet of God?If it was written by a spokesman of God, then it was the Word of God.
Was the book confirmed by acts of God?Often, miracles separated true prophets from false ones. Examples of true prophets: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Miracles, by definition, are acts of God to confirm the Word of God given through a prophet of God to the people of God. They were signs that substantiated Gods message.
Did its message tell the truth about God?Church fathers maintained this policy: If in doubt, throw it out. This policy enhanced the validity of their discernment of the canonical books.
Does it come with the power of God?The early church leaders believed the Word of God was alive and active , and thus would be a transforming force for edification and evangelism. In other words, if the message of a book did not have the power to change a person, then God was apparently not behind its message.
Was it accepted by the people of God?When a book was received, collected, read, and used by the people of God, it was regarded as canonical.
No Nicaea Didnt Create The Canon
Ideas have consequences. One idea that has yielded dangerous consequences is the notion that the Council of Nicaea , under the authority of Roman emperor Constantine, established the Christian biblical canon.
Did the Bible originate from a few elite bishops selecting which books to include? Should we credit a Roman emperor with creating the Bible? No. This falsehood has been used to cast suspicion on the origins of the canon, which undermines the Bibles authority.
Dan Browns 2003 bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, planted this idea in our culture, and many now think Constantine or Nicaea established the Bible. But Brown didnt invent this story. He only perpetuated it through his fiction.
Who Decided Which Books Should Be Included In The Bible
How we address this question determines whether we believe that the Bible, as we have it, came into being as a result of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the early church.
Kwabena Donkor, PhD, is an associate director, Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
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- Who decided which books should be included in the Bible?
Many Christians find great value in reading the Bible because they believe that this Book was given by the inspiration of God. But have you ever wondered who decided which books should be included in the collection that we refer to as the Bible? Canonization, the term given to the process by which books were included or excluded from the Bible, is a word derived from the Greek kanon whose basic meaning is that of a rule. Sometimes the books included in our Bible are, therefore, called canonical books, although canonization deals with more than a mere list of books.
Consider canonization as a question about why certain books came to be regarded as sacred and authoritative in the early Christian communities. How we address this question determines whether we believe that the Bible, as we have it, came into being as a result of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the early church or whether political forces in the time of Constantine were responsible, as some people claim. Since the Bible consists of the Old and New Testaments, the question will be answered in two parts.
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How The Books Of The Bible Were Chosen
Some religious groups today accept the Bible as one of their religious books but they also accept other so-called revelations from God. We deny that any of these claims are accurate. The sixty-six books of the Bible form the completed canon of Scripture. Canon comes from reed or measurement. A canonical book is one that measured up to the standard of Scripture. Today, books in the canon are those that are universally recognized by Christians on the official list of books of Scripture. Christianity accepts sixty-six books of the Bible, thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books.
Josephus, a Jewish historian during the life of Christ, testified that the books of the Old Testament were brought together during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus during the life of Ezra the Scribe . H. C. Theissen notes:
The early Christian church used four criteria to determine what books appeared in the canon. First, they included books that were written by apostles or an author in special relationship to an apostle, such as Mark, Luke, and James. Second, the contents were revelatory in nature hence, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphical books were eliminated. Many such books appeared around 200 B.C. Third, the church accepted books that were universally recognized as Scripture. These were the books that were used in preaching and teaching. Finally, the books that were considered inspired or gave evidence of inspiration where placed in the canon.
Did God Or Man Chose The Contents Of The Bible
In our last two blog posts in this series we talked about 1) aspects of the Bible that make it unique among world literature, and 2) the physical materials used by ancient scribes to produce copies of Scripture. Now lets dive into a question that many people ask: Who got to decide which scriptures were included in the Bible?
Its a great question for you to ask, as it shows that youre truly interested in having a solid understanding of church history.
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The Old Testament: Various Schools Of Authors
To explain the Bibles contradictions, repetitions and general idiosyncrasies, most scholars today agree that the stories and laws it contains were communicated orally, through prose and poetry, over centuries. Starting around the 7th century B.C., different groups, or schools, of authors wrote them down at different times, before they were at some point combined into the single, multi-layered work we know today.
Of the three major blocks of source material that scholars agree comprise the Bibles first five books, the first was believed to have been written by a group of priests, or priestly authors, whose work scholars designate as P. A second block of source material is known as Dfor Deuteronomist, meaning the author of the vast majority of the book of Deuteronomy. The two of them are not really related to each other in any significant way, Baden explains, except that they’re both giving laws and telling a story of Israel’s early history.
Who Decided What Books Are In The Bible
Editors are the unsung heroes of culture. While some of their work amounts to fiddling with commas, they also make crucial decisions that affect the shape of the future. Am I serious? You bet. Recall the handful of folks who wrote the founding documents of our nation. Then consider the roomful of others who haggled over every last sentence, phrase, and word choice. Once those documents left the editorial room, they would be the framework of a country to come. They had to be letter perfect and to mean what they said.
If editors are vital to society, then those who serve as compilers are an elite corps among that profession. Their work takes them beyond polishing sentences and sharpening nuances. Compilers determine which texts see the light of another day, which are worthy of promoting. They influence how texts will be understood in the futureas significant or bogus, fundamental or passé. They arrange material, bringing some ideas to the front and tucking others to the rear. They put contradictory passages side by side to remind the reader that there are other points of view.
So lets talk about the Bible. No matter how you feel about it, whether or not you consider it a sacred book, you have to admit its been a most influential collection of writings. Therefore its worth asking: Who decided what got in the Bible to begin with? How did this material get organized into the familiar package we call the Bible today?
Image: Dan Kiefer on Unsplash
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So It Wasnt One Unanimous Decision
The canon was not fixed by an instantaneous decision, but through a process over the course of many years. On one hand, this could be seen as a weakness of the Bible. If the books were supposed to be divinely inspired, why did it take the church so long to confirm them? On the other hand, it points to the meticulous care the early church took to make sure they got it right. Rather than rushing to accept whatever writings they had or looking to a single leader to declare the list of officially sanctioned documents, they allowed processes to work gradually while trusting that God was guiding them.
This extended process also refutes some of the claims made in pop culture about the Bible. As mentioned in the quote at the beginning of this article, Dan Browns The DaVinci Code declares that the books of the Bible were conspiratorially decided at the council of Nicaea, with the unwanted books being burned.
Shockingly, this claim is actually truebut not for the Bible. Instead, according to Muslim sources, this is what happened to the Quran. In the seventh century, the khalifa Uthman rounded up all of the divergent copies of the Quran, selected the one he preferred, and burned the rest. Although an efficient way of eliminating competing collections of the sayings of Mohammad, of which there were many, it does not inspire confidence that the current version matches the original.
Latter Day Saint Canons
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Pearl of Great Price contains five sections: “Selections from the Book of Moses“, “The Book of Abraham“, “Joseph SmithMatthew“, “Joseph SmithHistory“, and “The Articles of Faith“. The Book of Moses and Joseph SmithMatthew are portions of the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, also known as the Inspired Version of the Bible.
The manuscripts of the unfinished Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible state that “the Song of Solomon is not inspired scripture”, but it is still printed in every version of the King James Bible published by the church. The LDS Church also has only officially canonized certain excerpts of the JST-LDS that appear in its Pearl of Great Price.
Other Latter Day Saint sects
Other Latter Day Saint denominations diverge from the LDS Church’s standard works. The Community of Christ, the second-largest Latter Day Saint denomination, has canonized the full Inspired Version of the Holy Scriptures, but does not prescribe a single translation of the Bible. The liturgy of the Community of Christ today is usually based on more recent translations of the Bible, such as the New Revised Standard Version .
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B The New Testament As Inspired
Similarly, the New Testament also rests on prophetic authority – primarily delivered through the apostles. The apostles were the foundation of church teachings and were hand-picked by Jesus Himself. They were the surest link to Christ and they therefore were the main source of authentication of what should be considered Scripture.
The early church fathers understood the concept of prophetic authority very well. They recognized that the apostles were given authority from Christ and one of the key identifiers of a writing as Scripture was the fact that it either came from an apostle, such as the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, or it had a close connection with the apostles, such as the works by Luke or Mark. Basically, if a document couldn’t be identified as having a real connection with the apostles, that book could not be considered scriptural. Milton Fisher, in writing about principles used in determining canonicity by the early church notes that “apostolic authorship or approval became recognized as the only sure standard for identifying God’s revelation. Even within the Scripture record, first-century prophets were subordinate to apostolic authority. “
In fact, all the books of the NT were referred to by the church fathers in their writings as authoritative by the mid second century. We have references to various NT texts by Polycarp , Justin Martyr , Irenaeus , and lists of documents that should be considered Scripture starting with the Muratorian Canon .
For Both Testaments The Books That Came To Be Part Of The Biblical Canon Had Their Own Self
The process by which books were included or excluded from the Bible has come to be known by the term canonization, a word derived from the Greek word kanon, whose basic meaning is that of a rule. Sometimes the books included in our Bible are, therefore, called canonical books. While canonization has to do with a specific list of books, it deals with more than a mere list of books.
Canonization is really a question about the reasons why certain books came to be regarded as sacred and authoritative in the early Christian communities. The question is important because the answer indicates whether the Bible, as we have it, came into being as a result of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the early church or whether political forces in the time of Constantine were responsible, as some people claim. Since the Bible consists of the Old and New Testaments, this question will be answered in two parts.
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What Is The Canon
The word canon comes from the Greek kanon, and is derived from the Hebrew kaneh, or measuring rod. When applied to the Bible, the canon is the collection of books that are considered the inspired Word of Godthe standard by which all theological claims should be measured.
While The Da Vinci Code is extremely inaccurate in its description of how the Bible was formed, it is correct in saying that the New Testament was not collected immediately after the resurrection of Jesus. Mostly, because the books were still being written.
The New Testament Canon
The early Christian church followed the practice of Jesus and regarded the Old Testament as authoritative . Along with the Old Testament, the church revered the words of Jesus with equal authority . It could not have been otherwise since Jesus was perceived not only as a prophet but also as the Messiah, the Son of God. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles came to occupy a unique position in spreading and bearing witness to the words of Jesus. Indeed, Christ had said of them that because they had been with Him from the beginning they would be His witnesses . As the church grew, and the apostles became conscious of the prospect of their own deaths, the need arose for the words of Jesus to be recorded . None were keener to preserve and communicate authoritatively what had happened than the apostles who were witnesses of the salvation of God in Jesus Christ. Thus, the stage was set for the development of books that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would in time become the New Testament canon.
For about two decades after the Cross, the message of Jesus was proclaimed orally. Then, from the midfirst century on, Pauls letters began to appear. Somewhat later, the three synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts were written by the end of the first century, when John wrote the book of Revelation, all the books of the New Testament were completed. Throughout the New Testament, the focus is on what God had done in Christ .
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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.
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 Old Testament Was Already Put Together By The Time Of Jesus
- M.A., Christian Studies, Union University
- B.A., English Literature, Wheaton College
Determining when the Bible was written poses challenges because it isn’t a single book. It’s a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors over more than 2,000 years.
So there are two ways to answer the question, “When was the Bible written?” The first is to identify the original dates for each of the Bible’s 66 books. The second, the focus here is to describe how and when all 66 books were collected in a single volume.