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The Canon



The canon (from Greek kanon: “norm,” “standard,” or “list”) of books recognized as Holy Scripture by Anglicans, Eastern and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and all main-line Protestants includes the books of the Hebrew Bible, written before Christ and therefore called “The Old Testament,” and 27 books in Greek, written after Christ and therefore called “The New Testament.”

It is important to note that the church did not create the canon; it did not determine which books would be called Scripture, the inspired Word of God. Instead, the church recognized, or discovered, which books had been inspired from their inception. Stated another way, “a book is not the Word of God because it is accepted by the people of God. Rather it was accepted by the people of God because it is the Word of God. That is, God gives the book its divine authority, not the people of God. They merely recognize the divine authority which God gives it.” Geisler/Nix, General Introduction to the Bible, p.210).

The Protestant Bible contains 66 books -- 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Catholic Bible contains the same 66 books, plus the Apocrypha.

The 39 Old Testament books are the same books that were included in the Jewish Palestinian canon. These books were considered canonical by the Jewish community, and were often quoted as authoritative by Jesus and the New Testament writers: "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalm" (Luke 24:44). The Apocrypha is never quoted as authoritative by Christ or any New Testament writer.

Jesus promised that his words would be remembered. He promised that the Holy Spirit would not only bring his words to mind, but would provide instruction as well: "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:25-26). The New Testament is a fulfillment of that promise.

The first record of the completed New Testament canon, as we recognize it today, is found in the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria (A.D. 367). That is not to imply, however, that prior to A.D. 367 there was confusion as to which books were considered authoritative. The majority of books contained in the New Testament canon were considered authoritative from the time they were written. Of the 10 additional books seriously considered as possible additions to the canon, three were rejected because they did not meet the stringent criteria. The criteria used to determine canonicity are as follows: (a) apostolic authorship or endorsement; (b) accepted as authoritative by the early church; (c) written by a confirmed prophet of God; and (d) harmonization with uncontested books.

The legitimate Bible translations we use today are completely reliable. While many cults mistranslate God's word to fit their own theology, there is ample manuscript evidence to affirm that most modern translations of the Bible are extremely accurate. Those that deny this do so for personal reasons, and not because of manuscript evidences. Clearly, the books included in our canon can be considered the inspired word of God. - Gospel Outreach.net

Definition of Canon

CANON is taken from a Greek root-word (KANON) which means "a measure", "a rule for judgment", "an authoritative standard".  This word is used in 2 Corinthians 10:13-16 of the measure or rule of truth which God had given by which all things are tested.  The word KANON is also used in Galatians 6:16 of the rule by which we walk (i.e., by which we measure and direct our lives).   The canon is for us the inspired Word of God which is our final authority in  all matters of faith and practice.

Placement as Canon

When did the Biblical books become  canon?  The answer the Bible  gives is  that  they  became  canon  as  they  were  written!   By the act of inspiration each Biblical  book was immediately  a rule of  truth.  The authors of the books so regarded them and spoke of them as the Word  of God (2 Peter 1:21,  2 Timothy 3:16).   Believers never had to  wait for the decision  of a  church council  to tell  them that  the writings of Moses were from God, or that  the epistles of Paul were with  certainty the inspired truth.  There are many O.T. and N.T. references where  the authors show us  that they so  recognized one another's  works as being inspired.   They even  show evidence  of such  confidence in  their own writings.

Old Testament Canon

From the earliest references  to the completed Old  Testament (Josephus in  his  CONTRA-APION,  tractate  BABA-BATHRA  in  the Talmud, Jerome's testimony, Philo and  New Testament references)  there are no  disputes among believers as to what constituted the canonical books. As heresies arose some books were rejected and Talmudic tractates and the  writings of such men as Josephus defended the accepted collection of books.  The confirmation of the present collection in the Qumran documents  further lends confidence to  this consensus.   Jerome (translator of  the Latin Vulgate) translated two of the so called Apocryphal books then  refused to do  any others  because of  the confusion  he was  afraid they would produce.   The  church  later  added  the  Latin  translations  of  the apocryphal  O.T.  books  when  the  Vulgate  was  published.   Even St. Augustine  recognized  the  apocryphal  books  as  being good books for reading  but  rejected  them  as  to  their  being a rule for faith and practice.   The  same  view  is  common  among the other church fathers (Cardinal Ximenes  of Spain,  Cardinal Cajetan...).   It was  not until the Council  of Trent  (1546) that  the argument  about the  apocryphal books was finally settled by the Roman Church.  They received the  O.T. and N.T.  books as  we have  them as  canon then  agreed to include the apocryphal  books  but  only  as  recommended  reading  (sort  of  like study-Bible footnotes).   Even Martin  Luther the  reformer recommended the reading  of the  apocrypha as  being worthy  literature.   He never looked on them as having inspired authority.

New Testament Canon

The New Testament  is not disputed  much either among  Christians.  The books  we  now  have  were always  recognized  by  the  church and its members.   The   New  Testament  apocryphal   books  have  never   been considered to be a part of our  Bible (just read them and you will  see why).  It was  only a few heretics  that argued at times  about certain books because they did not like  what one author or another said.   But it  was  never  the  authority  of  any  church  council that gave true believers confidence  about the  Bible.   It was  the testimony  of the Holy Spirit  bearing witness  with the  Word that  made them willing to even give their lives for the preservation of canonical scripture.   It is true that  many church councils  made pronouncements about  the list of canonical books.  But that  was always in response to some  specific outside attack by cultists (Apion and others).  It was not because  the Christians had any doubts as to what belonged there.

Final Note

If we allow the  words of church council  to stand as a  clearing-house of what is  true, or if  we wait for  the judgment of  scholars to know what to believe, then we have looked to some authority above our  Bible and we undermine the finality  the Scriptures must have in  all matters of our lives.  The spirit of  the Bereans in Acts 17 ought to  be ours. They "received the  word with all  readiness of mind,  and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."  Bob Burridge - A BIBLE COMPANION copyrighted shareware  software Version 5.0

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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture on this website was taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(r). Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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