Compiling the Canon
Canon – Rule or Standard
The 66 Books of Bible are the canon. Who decided that? Men or the Holy Spirit? Many say that the choice was made by the church. The church counsels created the Bible. The Roman Catholics believe that the church gave birth to Scripture and therefore, they have authority over it.
The truth is, canonicity was discovered by God’s people, not created by them. If God inspired Scripture, then He determined which books were Scripture. To give you a little bit of historical background, the early church had the different books of the NT circulating all over the Roman Empire, but very few people had one volume with all the books contained. In the second century, a heretic who believed in two gods (Jehovah, the God of the OT and Jesus the God of the NT) compiled a list of books that he felt were canonical, but left out dozens of true books of Scripture. He was excommunicated and the early church father’s such as Polycarp and Tertullian condemned his Gnostic teachings. Many circumstances brought the church to the point of agreeing upon a list of scriptures that we now call the Bible. Constantine wanted to unify the church and the Empire, the churches wanted a standard Bible for liturgy and the churches wanted to close the issue so no more heretics could introduce new scriptures that were not authentic. However, although these issues contributed to the official canonicity of Scripture, they were not the main reason for it. God had chosen these books because He wrote them and God’s people, led by the Spirit discovered them. Later in the fourth century, a series of official synods and counsels were called to finally determine the canon. The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. However, even at this time, the early Roman Catholic Church tradition was beginning to form and to distort Christianity. Other Apocryphal books were recognized in these councils and would not be challenged until later during the Reformation until we now have the 66 books of the OT and NT. This is why the Apocrypha was included in the first edition of the KJV 1611.
A. The Old Testament
There were other ancient writings that did not survive. Some of the same Biblical authors who wrote Scripture, wrote other books that were not considered inspired.
Numbers 21:14 Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon,
Joshua 10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
2 Samuel 1:18 (Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)
1 Samuel 10:24-25 And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king. 25 Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.
1 Chronicles 29:29 Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer,
2 Chronicles 12:15 Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer concerning genealogies? And there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.
2 Chronicles 13:22 And the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in the story (midrash – commentary) of the prophet Iddo.
The author is not the only criteria that made the writings sacred and inspired. There were books written by those who were prophets, but not all their writings were not inspired.
There were other ancient books preserved that were not considered sacred scripture by the Old Testament saints, but they have survived until this day. One volume is called the Apographa. Written 200BC – 100AD. Some are historical: First Ezras, First Maccabees. Some are prophetic – 2nd Ezras.
Second group was called the pseudopitrapha: 18 books, legends. Jude 9 quotes a book called the assumption of Moses. Book of Enoch quoted in Jude 14. Some are poetry or history.
Why are the apocrapha and the pseudopigrapha not in the Bible?
1. Sanhedrin met together after the conquering of the Romans in 90AD talked about the books that were of God and should be preserved. The Pseudopigrapha was banned and some books were considered heretical.
2. Not one of the apocryphal books is written in the Hebrew language, which was alone used by the inspired historians and poets of the Old Testament. All Apocryphal books are in Greek, except one which is extant only in Latin.
3. None of the apocryphal writers laid claim to inspiration.
4. The apocryphal books were never acknowledged as sacred scriptures by the Jews, custodians of the Hebrew scriptures (the apocrypha was written prior to the New Testament). In fact, the Jewish people rejected and destroyed the apocrypha after the overthow of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
5. The apocryphal books were not permitted among the sacred books during the first four centuries of the real Christian church (I’m certainly not talking about the Catholic religion which is not Christian).
6. The Apocrypha contains fabulous statements which not only contradict the “canonical” scriptures but themselves. For example, in the two Books of Maccabees, Antiochus Epiphanes is made to die three different deaths in three different places.
7. It teaches immoral practices, such as lying, suicide, assasination and magical incantation.
8. No apocryphal book is referred to in the New Testament whereas the Old Testament is referred to hundreds of times.
9. Because of these and other reasons, the apocryphal books are only valuable as ancient documents illustrative of the manners, language, opinions and history of the East.
10. The Apocrypha includes doctrines in variance with the Bible, such as prayers for the dead and sinless perfection.
Ecclesiasticus 3:30, Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms maketh atonement for sin.
Tobit 12:8-9, 17, It is better to give alms than to lay up gold; for alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin.
The Witness of the Old Testament:
The writers of the Old Testament books that we have in our Bibles, did not believe that they were writing their own impressions or opinions, but that they were in fact writing or speaking the very words of God. They took this responsibility with great fear and trembling: Habakkuk 3:16a When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself…
In fact, if anyone was to speak on their own in the name of the Lord, there was a curse put upon them. Such was the case in Jeremiah 29:23 Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them.
The most self evident claim of the Old Testament’s self attestation is the phrase: “Thus saith the Lord”. Out of 20 Old Testament books there are 413 of these phrases. The fact that they are there demand that we acknowledge what the Lord has spoken unless in fact, the Lord has not spoken and in those cases, the Lord tells us what the false prophets have said: Ezekiel 22:28 And her prophets have daubed them with untempered morter, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord GOD, when the LORD hath not spoken. The Bible even faithfully records false statements by unbelievers and devils as actual statements although they are false.
The historical books are not merely secular history, but vitally important as the Word of God. 2 Kings 9:36 Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel.
The authors of scripture believed that what they were writing were the actual words of God and the people they were writing to, believed they were the words of God as well: Exodus 24:3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.
Previous Old Testament books are quoted by future prophets in the Old Testament as authoritative and binding. During the Babylonian captivity, Daniel recognized that the people had sinned by not obeying the Torah: Daniel 9:11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
After the captivity, Nehemiah records how they found the Torah in the rubble and when they learned that they were supposed to keep the feasts, they immediately acted upon it as the authoritative Word of God: Nehemiah 8:18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.
In the historical Chronicles there are references to other prophets namely in 2 Chronicles 36:21 To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.
This is a clear reference to Jeremiah’s words being God’s words by another Old Testament writer. Also, the Chronicles are self attesting because of their prophetic nature. This reference speaks of the Babylonian captivity for 70 years which could ultimately come to fruition. Jeremiah 15:4 And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem. This is another prophetic announcement that came true in another historical book recording the incident: 2 Kings 25:3,7 And on the ninth day of the fourth month the famine prevailed in the city, and there was no bread for the people of the land… 7 And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.
The account of the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar was spelled out in much detail centuries earlier in Deuteronomy chapter 28. This also attests to the Old Testament being the Word of God because of its accuracy in prophecy within its own dispensation.
Why do we have the 39 books of the OT in our Bible?
1. Because they claim to be God’s Words. 3000 statements that say “Word of the Lord”.
2. They are the books that the Jews considered divinely inspired , even though the books actually condemn them and their unbelief.
3. The prophecies that were fulfilled.
4. The Lord and the Apostles accepted these books.
There are almost 350 OT references in the NT from the OT
The apocrapha is not mentioned one time. The only books not mentioned are Song of Solomon, Ezra, Ruth, Ecclesiastes
B. The New Testament
Luke 1:1-2 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
John 21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
Which books were supposed to belong in the New Testament? One man named Marcion thought he would make that decision himself. Marcion was the son of a church leader. He was a ship builder who became wealthy; he went to Rome and gave a great sum of money to the church of Rome. He was found as a heretic because he rejected the OT. The church gave him his money back and he started his own church and comprised a canon that omitted many books including the gospels, and several epistles.
Destroyed Books – Diocletian the Emperor issued edict that every Christian must either sacrifice to the gods or it was death. They had to burn the books and the early church had to consider which books were really inspired because they would die for them.
Disputed Books – 21 were of no dispute, but seven were spoken against: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter (style is different from 1 Peter), 2-3 John because author calls himself “the Elder”, Jude (quotes from psudopygrapha), Revelation (1000 year millennium teaching). Everyone of those books was sited by early Christian writers were referred to as Scripture. They were accepted on these bases:
Universality of Acceptance by the Church
Spirituality of Contents (2Tim 3:16)
Inspiration – John 7:17. Christian people who were known as Godly Christians were saying that these books were self authenticating.
These bases are not really why we accept the New Testament. Start with the dating of the books – It can be demonstrated that every one of those books was authored within the lifetime of most of the apostles. 20 of those books were authored within 25 year period. Earliest book is James – 40’s AD. Book of Hebrews AD 70. The most important thing is the role of the Apostles. The keys were entrusted to Peter, so their roles were what made their writings decisively Scriptural:
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
John wrote these things 60+ years later. The Holy Spirit gave him rememberance.
The Holy Spirit had a role in their lives that was unique to them. They laid the foundation of the church and learned things to come as prophets.
Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Hebrews 2:3-4 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
God witnessed to their authenticity by giving them signs of apostles.
Galatians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) 2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
They wanted their writings dispersed widely to the other churches.
He threatened with damnation any different teaching than his: Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Colossians 4:16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
He wanted this taught in other churches also.
2 Peter 1:15-16 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. 16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Peter wanted these things in their memory after his death by the written record.
They corrected false reports:
John 21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Peter refers to Paul’s writings:
2 Peter 3:15-16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Jude Refers to the Apostle’s writings
Jude 1:17 But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;
The Holy Spirit gave the Scripture of New Testament and it was not decided by the 4th century church counsel. It was finally at the counsel of Carthage where Augustine was present, that the church formally recognized these books as the official canon. They only affirmed what all the other churches already believed to be true.
The writers saw themselves as authors of inspired Scripture and that their writings were just as inspired and authoritative as the Old Testament Scriptures:
Peter who affirmed the veracity of the Old Testament gives the writings of the Apostle Paul the same testimony and confirmation: 2 Peter 3:15-16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Some people, such as the rebellious believers in the church of Corinth tried to wiggle out from underneath the authority of the Apostle Paul because he was not one of the original twelve (1 Corinthians 9:1-17). However, Peter being the chief of the twelve, recognizes the Apostleship of Paul and therefore, all his writings are authoritative as Scripture.
Paul thanked the Thessalonian Christians for not receiving his words as merely men’s words but as the Word of God: 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
The proof that his words were the Word of God was in that they effectually worked in the believers as words that are living, active and powerful (Heb. 4:12).
The New Testament writers are so sure about their writings being authoritative as God’s Word that there are curses promised for those who would tamper with their teachings by adding or subtracting from them: Revelation 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
John was the writer of Revelation and he also attests to his gospel as nothing less than the truth: John 19:35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. And John 21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
These disciples were eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry and their writings would naturally be authoritative even without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: 1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
The reason that John could be so dogmatic about the truth of his writings is because Jesus assured the eleven that they would be reminded by the Holy Spirit on what they should write when He would come to them: John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Luke 1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word.
Since the Holy Spirit would remind them of the things they saw and heard first hand, this makes their testimony all the more authoritative. The Apostles were chosen by and disciple by Christ. They were instructed to bear witness of what they had seen and heard as Peter said in Acts 4:20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. We can expect therefore, that they would continue the work of Scripture from the Old Testament with the help of the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all truth.
Paul also wrote and repeated the curse of damnation upon anyone who would preach a message contrary to the one that the Apostles had preached to the Galatians and by extension, the whole church: Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed!
Conclusion: Since the times of the early church through the reformation until today, the canon has been considered closed. There have been some who are trying to revive a neo-gnosticism and are challenging the previous decisions of excluding Gnostic gospels. But John made it pretty clear at the end of Revelation, that there was nothing to be added to Scripture. Revelation was the last book and it marked the end of God’s revealing His Word until the end of the age.