Lecture 13b: Canonicity
“And on the day called
Sunday there is a
gathering together into one
place of all those live in
cities or in the country,
and the memoirs of the
apostles or the writings of
the prophets are read, as
long as time permits.
Then when the reader has
ceased the president
;[leader or head] presents
admonition and invitation
to the imitation of these
good things” ~Justin
Martyr (A.D. 100-165).
If the Scriptures are indeed inspired by God
then a significant question arises:
Which books are inspired? Historically,
it was important for the people of God to
discover which books God has inspired
and which ones were not.
The Canonicity of Scripture
Definition of Canonicity
Canonicity of the Old Testament
Canonicity of the New Testament: Debate of N.T. Apocrypha.
Completeness of the Canon
Confirmation of the Canon
Preservation of the Canon
The Canonicity of Scripture:
Definition of Canonicity:
A. The word “canon” is used to describe the inspired
books. The word comes from the Greek kanon and
probably from the Hebrew qaneh, signifying a “measuring
rod.” The terms canon and canonical thus came to signify
standards by which books were measured to determine
whether or not they were inspired. It is important to note
that religious councils at no time had any power to cause
books to be inspired, rather they simply recognized that
which God inspired at the exact moment the books were
The Canonicity of Scripture:
B. Jews and conservative Christians have
recognized the 39 books of the O.T. is
inspired. Evangelical Protestants have
recognized the 27 books of the N.T. as
inspired. Roman Catholic have a total of 80
books because they recognize the
Apocrypha as part of the Canon.
The Canonicity of Scripture
“It is not the antiquity, authenticity, or religious
community that makes a book canonical or
authoritative. A book is valuable because it
is canonical, and not canonical because it is
or was considered valuable. Its authority is
established by God and merely discovered
by God’s people.”
~ Dr. Norman Geisler.
The Canonicity of Scripture
1. “Incorrect View” presupposes the following:
Authority of Scripture is based upon the
authority of the church
Places the church over the canon
2. “Correct View” presupposes the following:
Authority of the church is to be found in the Scripture.
The Church is under the canon.
“It is God who regulated the canon; man merely recognized the
divine authority God gave to it. God determined the canon, and
man discovered it.” ~ Dr. Norman Geisler
The Canonicity of Scripture
Authority Relationship Between Church and Canon:
Incorrect View:
- Church is determiner
- Church is mother of canon
- Church is magistrate
- Church is regulator
- Church is judge of canon
- Church is master of canon
Correct View:
- Church is discoverer
- Church is child of canon.
- Church is minister.
- Church is recognizer
- Church is witness of canon
- Church is servant of the canon.
The Canonicity of Scripture
“In this affair, then, the Church is a servant and not a
mistress; a depository and not a judge. She
exercises the office of a minister, not of a
magistrate….She delivers a testimony, not a
judicial sentence. She discerns the canon of the
Scriptures, she does not make it; she has
recognized their authenticity, she has not given
it….The authority of the Scriptures is not founded,
then, on the authority of the Church: It is the
church that is founded on the authority of the
~ Louis Gaussen, Theopnesustia.
The Canonicity of Scripture
Definition of Apocrypha:
This word refers to disputed book that Protestants reject
and Roman Catholic and others accept into the O.T.
The word apocrypha means “hidden” or “doubtful.” So
those who accept these documents prefer to call them
“deuterocanonical or books of the “second canon.”
The Canonicity of Scripture
Definition of Apocrypha:
This word refers to disputed book that Protestants reject
and Roman Catholic and others accept into the O.T.
The word apocrypha means “hidden” or “doubtful.” So
those who accept these documents prefer to call them
“deuterocanonical or books of the “second canon.”
E. Why Canonicity?
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
6 Reasons
why the N.T.
Books were
1. They were Inspired.
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
Because these
books were
written by a
prophet or an
apostle of God,
they were
Invaluable. Thus,
needed to be
collected, &
2. The Needs of the Early Church.
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
needed to
know which
books should
be read,
revered, and
3. The Rise of Heretics and False Teachers.
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
As early as A.D. 140,
the heretic Marcion
developed his own
incomplete canon
and began to
propagate it. The
church needed to
counter influence these false
teachings by
collecting all
the N.T. Scriptures.
4. The circulation of counterfeit Writings.
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
The church needed to gather
the inspired books in
order to set them apart
from the counterfeit
writings and other
religious materials that
were being written and
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
The need to
circulate and
translate the
Bible into other
languages as the
Bible began to
spread among
6. Persecutions
~ Adapted from McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 23.
The Edit of Diocletian
(A.D. 303) called for
the destruction of the
sacred books of the
Christians. Who
would die for a books
that was perhaps
religious, but not
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
The Masoretic (Hebrew) text of the O.T. divided into three categories:
Law (Pentateuch)
Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, major
& minor prophets)
Writings (sometimes called “The Psalms,” including poetry
and wisdom books-Psalms, Proverbs and Job; the RollsSong of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and
Esther; the Historical Books-Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1
and 2 Chronicles).
Originally these 39 books were counted as 24 by combining 1 & 2 Samuel,
1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles, the minor prophets, and EzraNehemiah.
By the N.T. this threefold division was recognized (Luke 24:22).
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
1. “The Scripture” (John 10:35)
2. “The Sacred Writings” (2 Tim. 3:15-17)
suggests a generally accepted O.T. Canon.
1. Josephus (A.D. 37-95),
2. Bishop Melito of Sardis (A.D. 170)
3. Tertullian (A.D.160-250), and others recognized the
threefold division.
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
The Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90 is considered by
many the occasion whereby the O.T. Canon was
publicly recognized (while debating the canonicity of
several books).
Jamnia, a city 13 miles south of Joppa, was the location
wherby after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, an assembly of
religious Jewish teachers were established. This body was
regarded as to some extent replacing the Sanhedrin, though it
did not possess the same representative character or national
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
There is evidence of the manner whereby the O.T.
were recognized as canonical:
1. Moses was recognized as writing under the authority of
God: Ex. 17:14; 34:27 cf. Josh. 8:31; 23:6.
a The criterion for acknowledging the Pentateuch was
whether it was from God’s servant, Moses.
2. Following Moses, God raised up the institution of prophecy
to continue revealing Himself to His people (cf. Deut.
18:15-19; Jer. 26:8-15).
a The prophets to whom God spoke recorded their revelation
(cf. Josh. 24:26; 1 Sam. 10:25; Isa. 8:1); Exek. 43:11)
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
Additional Information:
Faith of Israel existed independently of a book for
hundreds of years between the time of Abraham and
None of the patriarchs before Moses is recorded as
having written sacred literature (Ex. 24:4, 7).
Old surviving list of the canonical scriptures of the OT
comes from about 170, the product of Christian
scholar, Melito, who made a trip to Israel to determine
both the order and umber of books in the Hebrew
Bible. Neither his order not his contents
agree exactly with our modern English Bibles.
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
Additional Information:
During the entire period of biblical history, the Jews
lived their faith without a closed canon of Scripture.
The books were collected into a canon as an act of
God’s providence, historically prompted by the
emergence of apocryphal writings and
pseudepigraphical literature in the intertestamental
- Pseudepigrapha (are writings ascribed to someone other
than the real author, generally with a view to giving them an
enhanced authority; e.g., Book of Enoch).
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
“The law was accorded the respect of the author,
and he was known as God’s messenger. Similarly,
succeeding prophets were received upon due
authentication, and their written works were
received with the same respect, being received
therefore as the Word of God. As far as the
witness contained in the books themselves is
concerned, this reception was immediate.”
~ Laird Harris.
How was Canonicity
discovered in the O.T.?
“Evidence is obviously not complete for all the OT books. But
evidence is clear for the principles of their acceptance. Those written
by prophets were accepted, and kings and priests were also sometimes
prophets. Any man to whom God revealed His Word was a prophet.
Thus David and Solomon were prophets as truly as Joshua and Daniel.
There are, of course, some books whose authorship is now not known.
These were, however, classified by the Jews and by Christ as among the
Prophets, and in the absence of the slightest evidence to the contrary,
they may be thus accepted. God gave the Jews no test of an inspired
book or list of canonical books. But He did not give them very obvious
and practical tests of a prophets, and it is clear that they accepted the
writings of these prophets equally with their spoken words.”
~ Laird Harris, “Canon of Scripture-O.T.” Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 303.
III. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
1. Test of Divine Authority. This is a question of divine inspiration.
Books which were held to be inspired were revered and received,
and were collected into a canon. When the question of
inspiration was answered, so was the question of canonicity. The
test of inspiration was wrapped up in the other tests.
2. Test of Human Authorship: “Is the book written, edited, or
endorsed by a prophet or spokesman from God?” Prophetic
authorship was the key criterion of canonicity.
II. Canonicity of the Old Testament:
3. Whether the book could be traced back to the time and writer from
which it professed to come. Was it genuine?
4. Is it a record of actual facts? Is it authentic? This
question relates to the contents of the book and its own claims as
being from God.
5. Testimony of the Jews and the later church
councils and the ancient versions of the Bible. How was the book
II. Canonicity of the New Testament:
27 books, written by 8-10 human authors over
a period of about 2 generations, make up O.T.
The books existed at the end of 1st Century A.D.
throughout the territory.
The N.T. indicates that canonical writings were
gathered. Paul encouraged it (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess.
5:27). N.T. ascribes to its books an authority equal to
that of the O.T. Peter placed Paul’s writings on the
same level as the O.T. (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Paul
classified passages from Deut. And Luke as Scripture
(1 Tim. 5:18).
II. Canonicity of the New Testament:
Three periods in the history of N.T. Canon:
Period of separate circulation (A.D. 70170).
The writings of Scripture were circulated and
read in church gatherings. In principle, the
N.T. and O.T. canon was fixed during this
time. The extent of the canon took a bit
longer, but event his was substantially
complete by the end of this period.
II. Canonicity of the New Testament:
Three periods in the history of N.T. Canon:
2. Period of Complete Separation between Canonical
and non-canonical writings (AD 170-303). This ended with a civil
edict to burn the books of the Bible, which gave Christians added
incentive to collect the canonical writings.
3.During the last period councils formally declared
(not formulate) the canon:
Council of Laodicea (367AD) requested that
only canonical books be read in the churches.
Council of Carthage (397) agreed on a list of
canonical books identical to those in our Bible, a decision
confirmed by the Council of Hippo (419 AD).
II. How was the Canonicity of the
New Testament Discovered:
1. Looked to the Contents and, esp. at its references to the
person and work of Jesus Christ
2. Considered the book’s claim to inspiration and its
concurrence with books already accepted.
3. They evaluated the book’s moral and spiritual aspects, its
ability to influence and transform people’s lives.
4. They asked those closest to the writings of the book
believed about and how it was received by those to whom
it was written.
5. Was the book written by an apostle or someone closely
associated with an apostle?
II. Summary of Discovery regarding
Canonicity of the New Testament:
1. Test of Apostolicity. Was the author an apostle or did he
have a connection with an apostle? Mark wrote under Peter’s
authority, and Luke under Paul’s authority.
2. Acceptance. Was the book accepted by the church at
large? The recognition given a particular book by the church
was important. By this canon false books were rejected.
3. Content. Did the book reflect consistency with what had
been accepted as orthodox teaching. For example, the
spurious “gospel of Peter” was rejected as a result of this
4. Inspiration. Did the book reflect the quality of
III. Debate about the N.T. Canon in
view of N.T. Apocrypha:
Unlike the O.T., additional books have
never been accepted into the N.T. Canon
long after they were written.
There has never been any serious longterm debates over the books that were
accepted into the N.T. Canon.
Nevertheless, there were some questions
about some books for some time; these
books will be called the N.T. Apocrypha.
III. Debate about the N.T. Canon in
view of N.T. Apocrypha:
List of N.T. Apocrypha (“hidden” books):
Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (A.D. 70-79)
Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 96);
Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians (c. 108)
The Teaching of the Twelve [Didache] (c. 100-120);
Seven Epistles of Ignatius (c. 110);
The Ancient Homily
Second Epistle of Clement (c. 120-140)
The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 115-140)
The Apocalypse of Peter (c. 150)
Epistle to the Laodiceans (4th Century?)
III. Debate about the N.T. Canon in
view of N.T. Apocrypha:
List of N.T. Pseudepigrapha (lit. “false writings) which
are sometimes also called apocryphal—these books have
been and are universally rejected by the Christian
church. They include the following:
Gospel of Thomas (a Gnostic work),
Gospel of Peter (contains Docetic heresies…deny
the “real” humanity of Christ);
Protevangelium of James (contains early devotion
to Mary);
Gospel of the Hebrews;
Gospel of the Egyptians.
III. Reasons for Rejecting the N.T.
Not one N.T. apocrypha experienced more than a local or
temporary acceptance;
At best some of them had a quasi-canonical status,
meaning that they were merely added to various
manuscripts (as an appendix) or listed in table of contents.
No major canon or church council accepted them as part
of the inspired Word of God.
Their limited and temporal acceptance on grounds that
they were believed wrongly (1) to have been written by an
apostle, or (2) to have been referred to in an inspired book
(e.g., Col. 4:16). Once this was known to be false they
were completely and permanently rejected by the
Christian church.
The Completeness of the Biblical Canon:
There is no evidence that any inspired book has been
lost. This is confirmed by the following:
1. The providence of God;
2. The immediate and careful preservation of the church;
3. The absence of any evidence of any other prophetic or apostolic
Alleged contrary examples are easily explained as either:
4. Uninspired works to which the biblical author made reference, or
5. Inspired works contained in the sixty-six inspired books but with
another name.
V. The Confirmation of the Canon:
Unlike other “holy books” such as the Qur’an & the Book of
Mormon, the Bible alone has been supernaturally confirmed by
signs & wonders. Consider the following…
Only the Scripture were written by prophets who were
supernaturally confirmed by signs and wonders.
When Moses questioned how his message would be
accepted, God performed miracles through him “that they
may believe that the Lord, the God of their Fathers-the
God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacobhas appeared to you” (Ex. 4:5).
When Korah rose up to challenge Moses, God again
miraculously intervened to vindicate his prophet (Num.
Elijah was verified to be a prophet of God by
supernatural intervention on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).
V. The Confirmation of the Canon:
In the Gospels even the Jewish teacher Nicodemus said to
Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has
come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous
signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2;
cf. Luke 7:22).
Luke recorded, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited
by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God
did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).
Hebrews affirms that “God also testified to it by signs,
wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit
through him” (Acts 2:22).
The apostle Paul proved his apostleship by affirming that
“the things that mark an apostle-signs, wonders and
miracles-were done among you with great perseverance”
(2 Cor. 12:12).
The Preservation of the Canon:
The preservation of these books by the church confirms
the Canon:
A collection of these books were made from the
earliest times; even within the N.T. itself this
preservation process was put into action:
Luke refers to other written records of the
life of Christ (Luke 1:1-4), possibly
Matthew & Mark;
In 1 Timothy 5:18 the Gospel of Luke is
Peter refers to Paul’s collection in 2 Peter
Jude had access to 2 Peter (2 Peter 2:4-6).
The Preservation of the Church:
The preservation of these books by the church confirms the Canon:
The contemporaries of the apostles show a concerned
awareness of their mentor’s writings, quoted from them
prolifically. Following them the Fathers of the 2nd to 4th
centuries made some 36, 289 citations from the N.T.,
including all verses except eleven. This includes the
19, 368 citations from the Gospels;
1, 352 from Acts;
664 from Revelation;
The Fathers of the second century alone cited from
every book of the New Testament except for one (3
John) (this may have been because they had no
occasion to cite from 3 John).
The Preservation of the Canon:
The preservation of these books by the church confirms the Canon:
When challenged by heretical teachings, such as that of
Marcion the Gnostic (c. 85-c. 160), who rejected all but part of
Luke and 10 of Paul’s epistles (all but the Pastoral Epistles) 1 & 2
Timothy and Titus), the church responded by officially defining the
extent of the Canon. Lists of apostolic books & collection of their
writings were made from early times, beginning with 2nd century,
which includes the following:
The Muratorian canon (A.D. 170);
Apostolic Canon (c. 300);
Cheltenham Canon (c. 360);
Athanasian Canon (c. 367);
The Old Latin translation (c. 200).
The Preservation of the Canon:
The preservation of these books by the church confirms the Canon:
This process culminated in the late fourth and early
fifth centuries of the Councils of Hippo (393) and
Carthage (410), which listed the 27 books of the New
Testament as the complete Canon.
There has been no significant debate since A.D.
410 regarding the 27 books of N.T.
The only addition occurred at Catholic Council of
Trent in 1546 whereby they added the O.T.
Apocrypha as “infallible” (seven books and four
parts of books) 29 years later after Martin Luther’s
demanded for proof-texts for the selling of
indulgences to free souls from purgatory).
The Preservation of the Church:
The Council of Trent stated:
“If anyone, however, should not accept the said books as sacred and
canonical, enter with all their parts…and if both knowingly and
deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid tradition let him be
anathema [forever cursed].”
Vatican II repeats the same language affirming the Apocrypha to be
part of the inspired Word of God.
The Bible is the only infallible written revelation
of God to man. It is complete, since both Old and
New Testaments contain all the books God
inspired for the faith and practice of future
generations. This is confirmed by the following:
The promise of Christ;
The providence of God;
The preservation by the people of God;
The proclamation of the early church.

2 Tim. 3:16-17: “all Scripture is inspired by God and