Canonicity is the aspect of Scripture
that determines which books of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are
actually the Word of God revealed to man through inspiration.
The importance of this study is
in the fact that there are many other books that were written within the
same time frame as the Bible. Some of these books have been set forth as
equal to, if not part of Scripture. The believer needs to know why the Books
we have in our Bible are there, and why other books written at the same time
are not in the Bible.
1. Pardington states, concerning
the term canon, that it is a "rule of life or doctrine." (Pardington, Rev.
George P. Ph.D.; "OUTLINE STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE"; Harrisburg, PA:
Christian Publications, 1926, p 33)
2. Theissen states, "It means,
in the first place, a reed or rod; then a measuring-rod; hence a rule or standard.
In the second place it means an authoritative decision of a Church council;
and in the third place, as applied to the Bible, it means those books which
have been measured, found satisfactory, and approved as inspired of God."
(Thiessen, Henry C.; "LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY"; Grand Rapids: Wm.
B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 102)
3. Bancroft mentions, "By the
canonicity of the Scriptures is meant that, according to certain and fixed
standards, the books included in them are regarded as parts of a complete
and divine revelation, which is therefore authoritative and binding in relation
to both faith and practice." (Taken from the book, ELEMENTAL THEOLOGY by
Emery H. Bancroft. Copyright 1977 by Baptist Bible College. Used by permisssion
of Zondervan Publishing House. p 20)
Bancroft lists a doctrinal statement
which bears reading. "The books of the Old and New Testament as we have them
today are shown to have been accepted very early by the church as comprising
the complete revelation from God and as having been written by the human
authors to whom they are accredited." (Taken from the book, ELEMENTAL THEOLOGY
by Emery H. Bancroft. Copyright 1977 by Baptist Bible College. Used by permisssion
of Zondervan Publishing House. p 26)
Canon comes from the Greek term
"kanon" which is a reed or measuring rod. This is Strong's number 2583, and
it is used in Gal. 6:16, "And as many as walk according to this rule" The
term probably came from the Hebrew term "kaneh" which means rod or measuring
The term canon was used by Athanasius
in reference to the Bible in A.D. 367 in a document called the Easter Letter,
but the idea was around much earlier. The canon was set in A.D. 397 at the
Council of Carthage.
The term canon does not mean that
the authority or genuineness of the book came from some designation placed
upon it by man or council, but that by the book's very nature, it was RECOGNIZED
by the church as authoritative and genuine.
The books that are in the canon
today are there because God inspired them, and from the day of their being
set down, were The Word of God. God also guided the church in the recognition
process so that the proper books were found to be authoritative. The councils
and people only recognized the fact they were the Word of God on an official
This is a summary of guidelines
that were used in determining the canonicity of the books of the Bible.
Old Testament guidelines:
1. The book must have been written,
edited, or endorsed by a prophet.
2. The Old Testament books were
endorsed by Christ and Paul. Christ, Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39. Paul, II Tim.
3. The New Testament quotes all
but seven of the Old Testament books. (Obadiah, Nahum, Ecclesiastes, Song
of Solomon, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Some list only Esther, Ecclesiastes
& Song of Solomon.)
The Apocrypha, those books included
in the Roman Catholic Canon, were never quoted in the New Testament. The Apocrypha
was accepted as part of the Catholic Canon at the Council of Trent in A.D.
Jewish tradition tells us that
Ezra gathered the Old Testament canon together. The Old Testament canon was
not settled until the Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90, and then there was discussion
until A.D. 200. Most feel that Ezra's time was the actual beginning of the
canon even though it wasn't set by a council until later.
FOR YOUR FURTHER STUDY: I recently received an email concerning the Council
of Jamnia from Dr. Andrew E. Steinmann, Ph.D. in which he states "I noticed
you mention the Council of Jamnia. Such a council never met, but was the
invention of 19th century scholars. While the Talmud does mention some discussions
about certain books of the canon at the academy of rabbbis that was located
at Jamnia and some of these can be dated ca. 90, there was no formal council
that adopted or affirmed the canon. This was disproved as long ago as 1963
by Jack Lewis in his article "What Do We Mean By Jabneh?" Journal of Bible
and Religion 32 (1964) 125-32."
The following reasons are presented.
"(1) The testimony of Josephus that the canon was completed in the reign of
Artaxerxes Longimanus in the life-time of Ezra; (2) Ezra was especially concerned
with the sacred books. He is called 'the scribe' (Neh. 8:1, 4, 9, 13; 12:26,
36), 'a ready scribe in the law of Moses' (Ezra 7:6), and 'a scribe of the
words of the commandments of Jehovah, and of his statutes to Israel' (Ezra
7:11); (3) the character of Ezra's time was such that the collection of the
sacred books may appropriately have been made in it. After the Exile the
people were founding anew the religious institutions of the nation. What
could be more natural than to gather the volumes of the sacred library?"
(Theissen, p 103)
The Dead Sea Scrolls are also
important to show that the canon was pretty much set between the testaments.
These scrolls have information from all the Old Testament canon except for
Esther. Along with scrolls from the canon there are other scrolls as well.
Some of these are commentaries. The commentaries are only on the books that
are in the canon. This indicates that the people collecting these scrolls
saw a difference between the canon books and other books. Through the Dead
Sea Scrolls we have authentication of all Old Testament books except Chronicles,
Esther and the Song of Solomon.
The Church fathers held to the
canon which we have, with the exception of Augustine. Augustine accepted the
Apocrypha, though some writers state that he did not fully accept the Apocryphal
books as authoritative.
New Testament guidelines:
Different men through the ages have used different criteria for
determining canonicity. Luther
held that if a book could teach Christ it was acceptable as scripture.
1. "...must have been written
or endorsed by an Apostle, or received as divine authority in the Apostolic
Age." (Pardington p 35)
Theissen expands on this and lists
four criteria: a. "was the book written by an apostle" or "did the author
of the book sustain such a relation to an apostle as to raise his book to
the level of the apostolic books?" (Mark, Luke, Acts and Hebrews were decided
with this section of the question.) b. "were the contents of a given book
of such a spiritual character as to entitle it to this rank?" (This rule
eliminated the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha) c. "was the book universally
received in the church?" (This test was the delay in accepting of the antilegomena
books.) d. "did the book give evidence of being divinely inspired?" (Theissen,
The New Testament canon was drawn
together by the church and ratified, or accepted as such, at the council of
Laodicea in A.D. 363. The church worked many years prior to this to decide
which books should be included in the canon.
"...the canon of the New Testament
was formed gradually under the providence of God, the Holy Spirit in the churches,
we believe, giving the needed discernment to accept the genuine and reject
the spurious. The fact that certain books were for some time held in doubt,
but later were accepted simply shows what care was exercised." (Pardington
Thiessen quotes Salmon's A HISTORICAL
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, "It is a remarkable
fact that we have no early interference of Church authority in the making
of a Canon; no Council discussed this subject; no formal decisions were made.
The Canon seems to have shaped itself...Let us remember that this non-interference
of authority is a valuable topic of evidence to the genuineness of our Gospels;
for it thus appears that it was owing to no adventitious authority, but by
their own weight, they crushed all rivals out of existence." (p 121 quoted
in Theissen p 103)
We must remember that the books
of scripture were read in the churches, I Thes 5:27; the books of scripture
were circulated among the churches, Col. 4:16; the churches were warned of
forgeries, II Thess. 2:2. This would indicate that the books involved were
held as more important and valuable than other books of the period. They
felt that these were the Word of God.
There were basically only seven
books held in question. They were called "antilegomena," or that which is
spoken against. Hebrews, James, II Peter, II John, III John, Jude, and Revelation
There are three manuscripts from
the A.D. 170-350 era that need to be mentioned. a. The Muratorian canon is
a Latin manuscript which has our present canon with the omission of Hebrews,
James, and I & II Peter. The manuscript is torn so these books may have
been there at one time. This listing was discovered by Ludovico Antonio Muratori
in 1740 b. The Old Syriac version Lacked only II Peter, II & III John
Jude and Revelation. The rest are as they are today. c. The old Latin version
(A.D. 200) lacked II Peter, James, and Hebrews.
The important part of these texts
is that the person assembling them did not add other books that were in existence.
Even though they left out some books that were under discussion, they did
limit themselves only to books in the present canon. This shows the books
were recognized as Scripture.
Apocrypha simply means something
that is hidden or covered. These are Old Testament books that are accepted
by the Roman Catholic Church, but rejected by Jewish and Protestant people.
These are books that were written around 200 B.C. to A.D. 100.
A secondary usage of the term
is the listings of books that are technically listed as Pseudepigrapha. (Kauffman,
Donald T.; "THE DICTIONARY OF RELIGIOUS TERMS"; Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming
H. Revell Co., 1967)
The Dictionary of Religious Terms
lists the following books as the Apocrypha: I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith,
Esther 10:4 -16:24, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Daniel 3:24-90, 13-14,
The Prayer of Manasses, I Maccabees, II Maccabees.
The Catholic Bible lists the following
books over and above the usual Canon: I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith,
Esther 10:4 -16:24, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch,
The Letter of Jeremiah, The Prayer of Manasseh, I Maccabees, II Maccabees.
(Some list I & II Esdras as four separate books, since these are four
books combined into two.
The Additions to Daniel are also
entitled and listed in some listings. Also listed at times are the PRAYER
OF AZARIAH and THE SONG OF THE THREE YOUNG MEN, SUSANNA, and BEL AND THE DRAGON.
These books are not found in the Hebrew Old Testament, however they are found
in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate.
The Roman Catholic Church accepts
the Apocrypha as scripture while most of protestantism reject them. The Lutheran
and Episcopalian churches do not view them as adequate for doctrine, but
some do use them for illustrative purposes in the Christian life.
The non canon books have many
problems within themselves which kept them from being considered part of the
canon. They do have historical information which may be of value to the Bible
scholar and to the Historian. Example: The book of Acts records the death
of Herod in 12:23, "And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because
he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten of worms, and died." We don't
know if the Maccabean account of a similar death is the same, however it
sheds some light on what Acts might have been speaking of.
Barnes mentions, "A similar disease
is recorded of Antiochus Epiphanes, in the Apocrypha, II Mac. ix. 5, "But
the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, smote him with an invisible and incurable
plague; for a pain in the bowels that was remediless came upon him, and sore
torments of the inner parts (v 9), so that worms rose up out of the body
of this wicked man," Probably this was the disease known as "morbus pedicularis."
This has to do with being infested with lice. (Barnes, Albert, "NOTES ON
THE NEW TESTAMENT"; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, p 196, commenting on
Josephus in Antiq.,b. xvii. ch.
vi. 5 states that Herod the Great, grandfather of Herod Agrippa, died of the
same disease. In one place it is described as a slow, smelly, and painful
death. It affects the mental faculties before death comes. (Whiston, William,
Translator, "JOSEPHUS - COMPLETE WORKS"; Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications,
1960, p 364-365)
REASONS FOR REJECTING THE APOCRYPHA:
Adapted from "GENERAL BIBLICAL
INTRODUCTION" by Rev. H.S. Miller, for your interest and study. The author
lists a total of twenty reasons.
1. It is understood by almost
everyone that they never appeared in the Hebrew canon.
2. NeitherChrist, the apostles,
nor any other writer, quoted the apocrypha in the New Testament, even though
the books were in existence at the time of the New Testament's writing.
3. Josephus the Jewish historian
4. Philo a Jewish philosopher
of Alexandria wrote multitudes of information, and within that writing, quoted
the Old Testament, yet never quoted, or even mentioned, the apocrypha.
5. The apocryphal books are listed
in no catologue of Old Testament books within the first four centuries A.D.
6. Jerome rejected the apocrypha
and stood solidly for the Hebrew canon. (Jerome lived ca. 347-419)
7. Inspiration is not claimed
by any of the authors of the apocryphal books.
8. The books contain errors in
the areas of geography and history. They contradict themselves, the Bible
9. They teach and uphold beliefs
that contradict the canonical books. Miller lists: "Lying is sanctioned, suicide
and assassination are justified, salvation by works and by almsgiving, magical
incantations, prayers of the dead for the dead, etc....."
10. There is a noticeable style
and flow difference between these books and the books of the canon.
11. The books contain many absurdities.
12. When reading the Bible and
then reading the apocryphal books there is a noticeable difference. The two
do not belong together.
13. Most of the books were written
much later than the Old Testament books were written. Some were probably written
in the time of Christ.
14. The books were not held as
canonical until the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1546 announced them
a part of the canon and condemned anyone that disagreed.
15. The use of terms like "the
Scriptures" in the New Testament would indicate that the writers and Christ
were referring to a completed set of books, or Old Testament canon.
This is a group of writings that
have been set forth as Scripture as well. They differ from the Apochrapha
in that they claim to be authoritative. "Writings wrongly attributed to worthies
such as Enoch, Moses, Solomon, etc. They are both Jewish and Christian. Examples
of Christian epigrapha are the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the
Apocalypse of Peter, and the Ascension of Isaiah." (The Dictionary of Religious
The Hebrew canon of the Old Testament
breaks the books into three divisions, with the final division being broken
into three subdivisions: I. THE PENTATEUCH: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
Deuteronomy. II. THE PROPHETS: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Hosea,
Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Malachi (These
men were in the office of prophet at the time they wrote.) III. THE KETHUBHIM:
(Psalm to Chronicles in Hebrew Old Testament) A. POETRY: Psalms, Proverbs,
Job. B. MEGILLOTH: (A scroll of papyrus or animal skin.) Song of Solomon,
Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. C. NON-POETICAL HISTORICAL: Daniel
(Because he wasn't in the prophetic office.), Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles
Canonicity aids the believer in
accepting the books of the Bible as the Word of God. These books are to be
trusted and used in the believer's everyday life. The Bible can and should
be the central guide in our lives via the application of It to our lives
by the Holy Spirit.