I was asked a question recently by a student that got me wondering…so how did this canon really take place and I thought I knew, but I quickly realized it wasn’t quite as easy as I had made it out to be.
It wasn’t that simple!
In fact, I still see more research that needs to be done!
This “biblical canon” was grown a lot more organically than I had previously understood and it wasn’t simply a council that told us what it would be. To the best of my ability I have tried to accurately reflect my understanding of what we have come to understand as the canon of scripture and how that challenges our view of Scripture.
When we hear the word “canon” we often think of a weapon used in the revolutionary and civil wars of American or European history. And why are 18th century firearms important to my faith again?
Instead of cannon, my hope is to give a defense for the CANON of scripture and the evidence we have for believing its authority, truthfulness, and power.
How do we know that THESE 66 belong in what we consider the “Holy Bible”. Why these 66 and why not others? Will there ever be more added later? What is a “cannon” again?
The most important idea and what is very UNIQUE about the grouping of BOOKS in the BIBLE is that it starts and ends with GOD. It was GOD who determined these books, man simply discovered it.
The issue of canonicity is important and needs to answer these critical questions. The challenge for me always come when explaining what seems to be a complex issue and describe it in such away that takes away the technical jargan and allows someone with no professional seminary degree the ability to understand it because of how important it is.
If the bible is to be revered as God’s word and no other written material should be added to it and none of its contents should be taken away, we should truly seek to make this concept understandable as to how we came to believe these 66 books in its entirety completes God’s authoritative words for our life and leads to implications for how we live.
What made up the Old Testament and how did these understand what got in?
Two basic tests were used to determine whether a book belonged in the Old Testament canon:
(1) Was it inspired by God, written by a prophet or someone with the gift of prophecy?
(2) Was it accepted, preserved, and read by God’s people, the Israelites?
Yeah, ok the Old Testament makes sense, but what about the NT and what if they discover a new letter written by someone who saw Jesus?
Four tests that were used to determine whether a book belonged in the New Testament:
(1) Was the book authored by an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle?
(2) Another test applied by the early church was content. Did the writing square with apostolic doctrine?
(3) A third test asked if the book was read and used in the churches.
(4) And the final test determined whether the book was recognized and used by the next generations after the early church, especially by the apostolic fathers….
The first point explains all but Hebrews and Jude. As Grudem says about Hebrews, “the majestic glory of Christ shines firth from the pages of the epistle to the Hebrews so brightly that no believer who reads it seriously should ever want to question its place in the canon”(Grudem, 2000, pg 62).
Regarding Jude, an interesting insight is that there were doubts because of his supposed quotation of the non-canonical book of 1 Enoch. Without giving to much time it seems that:
1) Enoch could have taken the quote from Jude, as the books authors did to many other N.T writings.
2) Jude could have verified that particular prophecy of the book fo Enoch without giving validity or Scriptural weight to the entire book. We see reference to this in Paul’s writings concerning Titus 1:12 One of the Cretans,8 a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”9 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Just Because Paul quotes a prophet doesn’t give validity to everything that prophet said, or that the prophet was inspired to write Scripture, but that his testimony was true. In the same way we can see Jude cannot be excluded as Scripture for simply quoting extrabiblical material.
3) Lastly, Jude did not necessarily imply that Enoch saw into the future to predict attitudes or actions of the sinners under consideration in the epistle. All that is necessarily implied in Jude 14-15 is that Enoch’s prediction happened to be descriptive of the men about whom Jude wrote (Barnes, 1949, p. 399).
What is very UNIQUE about the grouping of BOOKS in the BIBLE is that it starts and ends with GOD. It was GOD who determined these books, man simply discovered it.
God’s inspiration works alongside this process. God inspired human authors to write certain words and these books began to be circulated and collected by both the Jews in regards to the OT and the early church in regards to the NT.
How do we know we have the right books?
- We base our confidence on the faithfulness of God- God loves his people and wants to give us his words because they lead to life (Deut. 32:47, Matt. 4:4).
- The OT pointed to the Messiah, and now that Jesus has come once, there is nothing left to reveal till he comes again. We do not need further testimonies.
- Revelation 22:18-19 makes a bold claim about adding or retracting from Scripture, and therefore we can see Scripture as God’ sovereign plan of redeeming his people.
- The activity of the Holy Spirit convinces us as we read Scripture and the historical data that we have available for our consideration. (Grudem, 2000, pg 66).
In one sentence…
God determined the canon; man discovered it and it is a list of all the books that are divinely given to be our Bible.
Questions still unanswered or issues to be ironed out:
I think I have answered a criteria, but who first estalbiehd that criteria?
I can observe that and systematize it, but I still don’t have a clear historical understanding of Scripture.
It appeals to a greater sense that there is a God, who desires to be known and has sovereignly chosen these books to be preserved, but the question still remains…how did we get these books again?