This week we’re going to take another bite out of the Doctrine of the Bible or Bibliology. This week: the Canon.
Bite Sized Theology: The Canon
Last week I said the Bible is The Book. It is not just a book about God, but a book written by God Himself. Check out last week’s “Bite Sized Theology,” if you missed it.
The Bible is made up of 66 books written by more than 40 different men. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
One big question is “How did those 66 books become recognized as the Bible, also called the Canon of Scriptures?” Good question!
The word canon comes from a Latin word that means “a rule or a measuring rod.” Referring to the Canon, Charles Ryrie in his book Basic Theology says:
“It refers to the list of books that met certain tests or rules and thus were considered authoritative and canonical. But it also means that the collection of canonical books becomes our rule of life.”¹
So what were the tests?
The Old Testament:
All 39 books of the Old Testament have the authority of a lawgiver, a prophet, or a leader of Israel behind them and all 39 books were accepted without question well before the New Testament period.
In Matthew 5.17 Jesus validated the Old Testament when He said He would fulfill them all:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
Jesus and the other New Testament writers quoted the Old more than 250 times and there are many cross references within the Old Testament itself.
The New Testament:
All 27 New Testament books have the authority of an Apostle behind them. The writers themselves witnessed to the validity of their own and each others writings (Col. 4.16; 1 Thess. 2.13, 4.15; 2 Pet. 3.16).
“as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3.16).
There was also the test of acceptance. The Church Fathers recognized them as Scripture, as did the Churches themselves.
Various Church Councils took up the issue and by 397 A.D. with the Council of Carthage all 66 books of the Bible were confirmed as the Canon.
It’s important, however, to remember that the books of the Bible are not canonical because certain church councils decided they were. They are canonical because they were authored by God Himself. Groups of learned men merely confirmed by careful study what was already true.
Books by various cult leaders that have been placed along side the Bible are not Scripture and the books that have been added to the Roman Catholic Bible, the Apocrypha, are not part of the Canon. Because the Canon is closed, there are no “so called” lost books and any continuing revelation is not a part of God’s inspired Word.
Over the next few weeks we’ll talk more about the Word of God, why it is inerrant and sufficient, and why we can trust God’s Word as the guiding standard for our lives.
Every believer should be a theologian. But theology doesn’t have to be difficult to understand. Each week I’ll be explaining another concept and why it is important to your life and mine.
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¹Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 119
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