Have you ever wondered how we got the Bible that we have? One of the steps by which we got the Bible we have is called the canonization of Scripture.
Did you ever hear that there were other books, letters, and documents that were written near the time the books of the Bible were written, claiming to be by authors like the Apostles Andrew, Thomas, Peter, and Paul, but which are not found in our Bible?
I own several of these other books and have read them. Many of these books are found in the New Testament Apocrypha. They make for interesting reading. While some of them sound very similar to what we read in the New Testament, most do not, especially some of the stories about the childhood years of Jesus as found in the Gospel of Thomas.
The reason these books were not included in the Bible is because of something called the Canonization of Scripture. No, we are not talking about putting the Bible in a cannon and shooting it at the walls of a city.
We will look below at the the need for Canonization, what it is, and how it was done.
The Need for the Canonization of Scripture
In the early church, many of these “other books” were floating around the churches, and contained ideas and teachings which caused problems in these churches. There were numerous controversies about what Christians should believe, how Christians should behave, and who gets to decide both.
So in an attempt to develop unity among all Christians, some of the authorities in the early church gathered together to decide which books should be included in the Bible, and which ones should not.
They developed what is called the “canon of Scripture.”
The Meaning of “Canon”
“Canon” means “rod” and refers to a measuring rod that was used by carpenters and builders. In relation to Scripture, it refers to the rules and standards by which the various letters and documents were measured to determine whether or not they should be accepted and recognized by the church.
How Scripture was Canonized
By about 200 AD, there was a list of about 20 New Testament books which were recognized by most church leaders as having the authority and accuracy of Scripture. Seven of the books which we have in our current New Testament which were debated by the early church are: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
The final list of our currently accepted 27 books was formalized in 397 AD at the Council of Carthage.
The Rules of Canonicity
Curiously, it is difficult to determine which standards and methods the members of this Council used to decide which books to include in the New Testament. Though they left us a list of 27 books recognized as authoritative, they did not leave the list of criteria that they used to make this list.
Nevertheless, there are some hints in their writings, and most scholars today believe that some version of the following six criteria were used:
- Apostolic – The book must be written by an apostle, or a ministry partner of one.
- Orthodox – The book must agree with the the accepted and approved teachings of the church.
- Christocentric – The book must focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ, especially in relation to His redemptive work on the cross for the world.
- Inspiration – The book must have the qualities and characteristics of the divinely inspired Word of God.
- Testimony of the Holy Spirit – The church authorities felt the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in helping them select certain books.
- Acceptance by the Church – The book must already be widely accepted and used by the majority of churches.
As a result of this process, we ended up with the New Testament that we now read, study, and preach. And in case you are curious, the process described above only applies to the New Testament. The formation of the Old Testament was completely different, but I will not cover that here.
The Canon of the New Testament still faced challenges over the years. For example, Martin Luther wanted to remove the book of James from the Bible. Some today want to include some of the other books as it seems to them that there were arbitrary and political motivations for the selection of the books.
The above information is a summary of what I was taught in Bible college and Seminary. Tomorrow, I will begin to ask questions about it, and raise issues that I see. Until then, what do you think about this process? Did it need to be done? Was it done correctly? Where the six standards wise? Why or why not?