A little info on canon of scripture.

Two important terms to be familiar with is inspiration and canonizations. Inspiration as 2 Timothy 3:16, tells us “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”[1] Inspiration is what God did for us by breathing out scripture. Canonization, questions which books God inspired. God inspiring scripture for authority is one thing, but it had to be a painstakingly task for man to recognize that authority. It is also important to understand that the canon was not simply put together over a short period of time; in fact, it took many years to receive our English Bibles that we use today.

The next important question that arises would be, why. What brought the need to have a canon of scripture? There are several reasons for the collection of canonization of the different books of the Bible. Norman Geisler and William Nix suggest that the books were prophetic. “That is, since they were written by an apostle or prophet of God, they must be valuable, and if valuable, they should be preserved.”[2] There were also demands in the early church. If the church were to excel and exceed, there is a genuine need to know what they should be reading, especially if an apostle could not be present. 1 Timothy 4:13 says, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”[3] Heresy promoted the need for a canonical Bible. For example, Marcion only accepted the Gospel of Luke and ten the Apostle Paul’s letter as scripture. Marcion also went as far, to proclaim that, “The God and Father of Jesus is not the same as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.”[4] Heresies like Marcion and others had to be proven inferior and unacceptable. The missionary incitement played an important role as well. Christianity was spreading at a rapid pace and there was a need to translate the Bible into other languages, such as, the Semitic and Indo-European families. The missionaries could not translate a Bible that did not exist; therefore, there was a need to determine what belonged in the Christian Bible. Finally yet importantly, politics and persecutions played a role in the determining the canon of the Bible. The Diocletian and Maximian persecutions left Christians scrambling to put together the New Testament Scripture.[5] If Christians were willing to risk their lives to preserve this sacred book, the canon was consequential.[6]

The Bible is not specific on the period when the Old Testament would have closed the canon, but it does give an idea when it began. Exodus 17:14 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”[7] The earliest beginning of the Old Testament canon may be seen in Deuteronomy 31:24–26. “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end. Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.”[8] George L. Robinson, in his article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, says this about the time periods of the other books in the Old Testament, “After careful consideration of the many evidences available, concludes, that the books of the Law were recognized as canonical during the time of Ezra (444 b.c.); that the Prophets were recognized as such sometime later (around 200 b.c.) and that the Writings received authorization around 100 b.c. Robinson is not saying that there were three separate canons, but that “there were three separate classes of writings, which between 450 b.c. and 100 b.c. doubtless stood on different bases, and only gradually became authoritative.”[9]

The New Testament canon was not as hard to trace. Many church historians and Christians believe the New Testament to have been written during the last half of the first century A.D. There was a great importance put upon the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. The authority of the Apostles was authenticated as John says in 1 John 1:3, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”[10] Paul’s letters to the church has facilitated a need and is beloved for their spiritual, instructional, and encouragement value.

Furthermore, there were tests used to determine the canonicity. Henry Thiessen shares these tests in five categories. First, Apostolicity, meaning that the book had to be written by an Apostle or someone who was close to the Apostle. During the Old Testament, this would have been viewed as a prophet or someone close to the prophet. Second, the book had to be read in churches and have spiritual edification. Third, the content of the book had to be doctrinally sound, meaning there were no heresies, or contradictions. Fourth, the book had to be universally recognized in churches and quoted by the church fathers. Lastly, the book had to give evidence of Divine inspiration.”[11] If there is any question to the value of the Old and New Testament canon, 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul says, “And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”[12] Paul was referring to the Old Testament and the New Testament.

There are also other men to mention the canon outside of the Bible. This is not to be considered the absolute truth on the canon of the Bible, but it does help with proof to the canon. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, quoted many parts of the New Testament. Justin Martyr quoted the majority of Paul’s epistles as well as Revelation. Irenaeus, who quoted almost every book of the New Testament, overlooking 2 Peter, 3 John, James, and Philemon. Clement of Alexandria, mentioning every book of the New Testament, omitting 2 John, 2 Timothy, Philemon, and 3 John. There are fluid amounts of proof of the canon throughout history.

Considering the Old and New Testament together, Jesus Christ is an essential part in the canonization and inspiration of scripture. In the New Testament, it was Jesus, who often quoted and taught from the Old Testament scripture. In the beginning of Matthew chapter four, Jesus is found quoting scripture from the Old Testament. Furthermore, the promise of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus would lead to the inspiration and writing of the New Testament. As Carl F. H. Henry writes,

“Jesus altered the prevailing Jewish view of Scripture in several ways: (1) he subjected the authority of tradition to the superior and normative authority of the Old Testament; (2) he emphasized that he himself fulfills the messianic promise of the inspired writings; (3) he claimed for himself an authority not below that of the Old Testament and definitively expounded the inner significance of the Law; (4) he inaugurated the new covenant escalating the Holy Spirit’s moral power as an internal reality; (5) he committed his apostles to the enlargement and completion of the Old Testament canon through their proclamation of the Spirit-given interpretation of his life and work. At the same time he identified himself wholly with the revelational authority of Moses and the prophets—that is, with the Old Testament as an inspired literary canon insisting that Scripture has sacred, authoritative, and permanent validity, and that the revealed truth of God is conveyed in its teachings.”[13]

The Muratorian Canon is considered the first canon put together in 170 A.D. This canon included all of the New Testament books, excluding 3 John, Hebrews, and James. Concerning the Old Testament canon, the Council of Laodicea stated that the only books to be read in churches, besides the 27 New Testament books were the Old Testament books and the Apocrypha. “The synods at Hippo (a.d. 393) and Carthage (a.d. 397) were under the influence of Augustine. At those regional councils the New Testament canon that was ratified agreed with the canon of twenty-seven books; however, they accepted a variation of the Alexandrian Canon of the Old Testament.”[14] The last stage of canonization occurred during the Reformation. Key people in the Reformation including John Calvin, Desiderius Erasmus, John Huss, John Knox, Martin Luther, and John Wycliffe deemed the Old Testament Jewish canon is followed. This would eliminate the Apocrypha, books that are used in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches today. It is not believed that the Apocrypha cannot be useful; rather, it is not canonical.[15]


Bill, Warren, and Archie W. England. “Bible Formation and Canon.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad Brand, & Charles Draper. Nashville, TN: Holaman Bible Publishers, 2003.

Davis, John J. Paradise ot Prison. Salem, Wisconsin: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998.

Geisler, Norman L, and William E. Nix. A General Introduction To The Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986.

Henry, Carl, F. H. “God, Revelation and Authority.” God Who Speaks and Shows. Vol. 3. n.d.

Robinson, George L. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1943.

Thiessen, Henry C. Introduction to the New Testament. 4th. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948.

[1]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 2 Ti 3:16. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[2] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 276-77.

[3]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 1 Ti 4:13. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[4] John J. Davis, Paradise ot Prison. Salem, Wisconsin: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998. 74.

[5] Ibid., 119-23.

[6] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 276-77.

[7]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Ex 17:14. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[8]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Dt 31:24–26. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[9] George L. Robinson, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1943) I, 554–563.

[10]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 1 Jn 1:3. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[11] Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948) 4th edition, 10.

[12]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 2 Ti 3:15. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[13] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 3: God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part Two, p. 47.

[14] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 293.

[15] Warren Bill and Archie W. England, “Bible Formation and Canon” In , in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 202.


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