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Canon of Scripture

By RNfor48 Jun 10, 2013 2054 Words
Research Paper 1

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the canon of Scripture was established. This paper will include a definition of what is meant by the term “canon”, criterion required for establishing canonicity, as well as taking a look at the key events and persons that led to its establishment such as Marcion and Athanasius and the Councils that decided the canon. Focus will also be given to the New Testament Apocrypha. This paper will conclude with an overall view of how the Scriptures themselves are the final authority on this matter. DEFINITION

The term canon comes from the original Greek word, kanon, which means “a ruler or measuring rod”. Dr. Norman Geisler tells us that canonicity “refers to the normative or authoritative books inspired by God for inclusion in Holy Scripture”. Thus, it can be established that the process of canonization was the process by which God’s people placed the books that were the inspired Word of God into the Bible. Dr. Geisler goes further to stress an important fact—“Canonicity is determined by God…Its authority is established by God and merely discovered by God’s people.” Therefore, it was the task of God’s people to discover which writings were in fact, the inspired Word of God—that is, those writings in which, God divinely inspired the writer in such a way that his writings were truly the Word of God. As will be further demonstrated, this was no simple task! CRITERION FOR CANONIZATION

Dr. Bruce Ware cites six basic criteria that were used in establishing the canon of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments). The first of these was that the writing was done by a recognized prophet or apostle. Such is the case with books like Isaiah in the Old Testament, and John in the New Testament, as well as letters written by Paul, among others. The second refers to books written by those directly affiliated with recognized prophets or apostles. Books written by Luke are a primary example of this criterion. Luke was a physician who traveled with apostles such as Paul. He took great care in writing the books of Luke and Acts. Truthfulness is the third criterion given by Dr. Ware. If anything in the writing was determined to be untrue, the entire writing was dismissed. The inspired Word of God would not contain anything found to be untrue. This coincides with the fourth criterion—newer writings had to maintain faithfulness with writings already accepted in the canon. Obviously Scripture would not contradict itself. It is through this criterion that Hebrews was accepted into Scripture. It faithfully coincided with Scripture in the Old Testament and brought clarity to that which was already written. Fifth, writings were confirmed by either Jesus, himself, or a prophet or apostle. Jesus confirmed the entirety of the Old Testament in Luke 24:44 saying, “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 Psalms.” The final criterion related to church usage and recognition. It is well known that while Paul’s writings may have been specific to individual churches, the letters themselves were passed around and shared by the churches. Thus, these letters were eventually recognized as coming from God through the writings of Paul. MARCION

Marcion is noted as the first to attempt to assemble a New Testament around 140 AD. Due to his belief that the God and Father of Jesus was not the same as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, Marcion set aside the entire Old Testament saying that it should not be taught in churches as Christian instruction. He then compiled his own selection of books that he believed to be the true Christian Scriptures. His selections included the Epistles of Paul and the Gospel of Luke. He rejected anything that seemed to be overtly Jewish in nature, and he even eliminated portions of Luke that he did not choose to accept. In response to Marcion’s selection of books as New Testament, the church at large began to put together a list of accepted writings. The first recognized orthodox canon is the Muratorian canon which is deemed by most scholars to have been written sometime around 170-200 AD. This canon included all four gospels, Acts, thirteen Pauline letters, two letters of John, Jude, and Revelation of John. It also included writings that have since been removed such as the Wisdom of Solomon and the Shepherd of Hermas. ORIGEN

Origen rejected the doctrine of Marcion and the Gnostics. However, he also strayed from traditional Christianity. He tended to gravitate toward the teachings of Plato. Origen died as a result of the torture he suffered under the persecution of Decius. Yet, he did leave his mark on the canon of Scripture in 250 AD in Egypt—especially since his teachings would largely contribute to the understandings of Eusebius of Caesarea. EUSEBIUS

Eusebius of Caesarea made many impacts on Christianity in the Roman Empire, and provided a large portion of the history we have today. Eusebius was also the first person to make a distinction among the books that were largely disputed as to whether or not they belonged in the canon. He divided the books into two categories—those that should be included and those that should not. He concluded that James, Jude, II Peter, II and III John should be included, whereas the Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Didache, and Barnabas should not. ATHANASIUS

Athanasius was the first to provide a canon of Scripture that looks like our modern day Bible. It included all 27 books that make up the New Testament. Athanasius revealed this list for the first time in his Easter letter in 267 AD. He stated that these were the only “inspired writings” to be read in church services. He is noted as having said in his letter, “These are fountains of salvation that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these.” This letter was immediately recognized by the Greek Church and took on judicial force. In Rome, the Synod of 382 recognized these 27 books alone as the canon of the New Testament. The synods of Hippo in 393 and in Carthage in 397 ratified the synod of Rome. APOCRYPHA

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines Apocrypha as coming from the Greek word apokrypha which means “things that are hidden, secret”. It goes on to define “The Apocrypha” as “two collections of Jewish and Christian writings that have certain affinities with the various books of the Old Testament and New Testament but were not canonized by Christians as a whole.” The New Testament Apocrypha include numerous gospels (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, etc), acts (such as Acts of Andrew, Acts of John, etc), letters (3 Corinthians, Letter to Laodiceans, etc), and apocryphal apocalypses (Apocalypse of Peter, Apocalypse of Paul).

The Gospel of Thomas was largely regarded by the Gnostics. It is believed to have been the secret sayings of Jesus written down by Thomas. It is comprised entirely of quotes that are attributed to Jesus. However, upon examination of them, it is easy to see why it was not chosen for the canon. It concludes with the following verse: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said: “Look, I will guide her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit like You males. For every female who will make herself male will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’” This is in no way consistent with teachings presented by Jesus in the true gospels. In fact, it blatantly contradicts Paul’s teachings that there is no male or female in Christ Jesus. The Acts of Peter is believed to have been written somewhere between 150 and 200 AD. It is noted to be one of the earliest apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. It includes a supposed miracle contest between Peter and Simon Mangus and it concludes with the martyrdom of Peter—his crucifixion upside-down. Portions of this book are missing, and it is suggested that perhaps the ending portion was added at a later time. CONCLUSION

The canonization of the New Testament is clearly not a process that happened quickly or with little consideration. It was shaped gradually over time by several different persons. However, we can know without fail that it contains the Scriptures that were inspired by God. Decisions were made with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The final verses in the Book of Revelation are an appropriate conclusion to both this matter and to the Scriptures themselves. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to the, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

“Acts of Peter.” Early Christian Writings.
(accessed February 4, 2013).

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Rev. and updated [ed.], 2nd ed. Vol. 1 of The Story
of Christianity. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

“The Gospel of Thomas.” Early Christian Writings. (accessed February 4, 2013).

Lutzer, Erwin. The Doctrines That Divide. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.

Trafton, Joseph L. “Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Apocrypha.” (accessed February 4, 2013).

Voorwinde, Stephen. “The Formation of the New Testament Canon.” Vox Reformata 60 (1995):
page nr. (accessed February 4, 2013).

Ware, Bruce. “What Criteria Were Used to Determine the Canon of Scripture?” (accessed February 4, 2013).

“What Does It Mean That the Bible Is Inspired?” Got Questions? (accessed February 4, 2013).

[ 1 ]. Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 141. [ 2 ]. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, s.v. “The Canonicity of the Bible.” [ 3 ]. “What Does It Mean That the Bible Is Inspired?” Got Questions? (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 4 ]. Bruce Ware, “What Criteria Were Used to Determine the Canon of Scripture?”, (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 5 ]. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity., Rev. and updated [ed.], 2nd ed., vol. 1 of The Story of Christianity. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 74. [ 6 ]. R.A. Baker, “How the New Testament Canon Was Formed: How the New Testament Canon Was Formed,” Early Church History - CH101, (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 7 ]. Stephen Voorwinde, “The Formation of the New Testament Canon,” Vox Reformata 60 (1995): page nr., (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 8 ]. R.A. Baker, “How the New Testament Canon Was Formed: How the New Testament Canon Was Formed,” Early Church History - CH101, (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 9 ]. Stephen Voorwinde, “The Formation of the New Testament Canon,” Vox Reformata 60 (1995): page nr., (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 10 ]. Joseph L. Trafton, “Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Apocrypha,”, (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 11 ]. “The Gospel of Thomas,” Early Christian Writings, (accessed February 4, 2013). [ 12 ]. “Acts of Peter,” Early Christian Writings, (accessed February 4, 2013).

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