Before we actually study Canonicity , which determines how each book became included, lets first look at the Names and Divisions of the Bible .
(1) The Names of the Bible
The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblos” which means “a little book.” It comes from the word given to the inner pulp of the papyrus reed that ancient books were written on. Here are two scriptures in the New Testament that use this word “biblos”:
Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Luke 4:17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written.
Other names besides Bible are used in the New Testament. For example:
Mark 15:28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Romans 1:2 Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures.
Romans 3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
(2) The Divisions of the Bible
The Bible has an Old Testament and a New Testament. The word “testament” means a covenant that God made with His people. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament.
A. The Old Testament
The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into 3 sections:
* The Law (Torah), 5 books:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
* The Prophets (Nebhim), 8 books:
Former Prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
Latter Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah , Ezekiel, The Twelve
* The Writings (Kethubim), 11 books:
Poetical Books – Psalms, Proverbs, Job
Megilloth – Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes
Historical Books – Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.
B. The New Testament -Biography of Jesus (4 books):
Matthew , Mark, Luke, John
* Historical (1 book): Acts
* Epistles (21 books): Romans – Jude
* Prophetic (1 book): Revelation’
It is very important to realize that the Bible wasn’t originally divided into chapters and verses as we know it today. In fact, they were first introduced by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, around 1201 AD. The first Bible to be published which was divided into chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible of 1560. Nevertheless, we have to remember that chapters and verses were not inspired, though they are helpful. They can mislead us if they come right in the middle of a subject being dealt with.
(3) The Canon of the Bible
The word “canon” comes from the Greek “kanon” which means “a measuring rod or reed,” and signifies a rule, a standard. Therefore, canon means those books which have been measured, found satisfactory, and approved through the decision of Rabbis or a church council to be inspired of God and, therefore, a standard for men. Notice that these Ecclesiastical councils did not give these books their divine authority, but merely recognized that these books already possessed canonicity.
1. The Canonicity of the Old Testament.
The Bible reveals when the Old Testament canon began, but is never clear about when it was complete. The law was written down by Moses and periodically read to the people. For example:
Deuteronomy 31:9-11 And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
This marks the very earliest beginning of the Old Testament Canon. Also:
Deuteronomy 31:24-26 And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.
Samuel also wrote certain events of his day in a book, as it says:
1 Samuel 10:25 Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.
Later on in Old Testament history the prophets wrote books, as it says:
Isaiah 30:8 Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.
Jeremiah 36:2 Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.
Habakkuk 2:2 And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
Zechariah 7:12 Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.
Even Daniel searches “in the books” to discover God’s will about Jerusalem and the people of God in Babylon:
Daniel 9:2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that the Old Testament Scriptures were recognized during those times as the very Word of God. Many scholars, including Norman Geisler, and Gleason Archer, who are foremost among the scholars of our day in these subjects, believe that the Old Testament Canon was completed and recognized as authoritative during the time of Ezra (444 BC). This was confirmed by the famous Jewish historian Josephus in many of his ancient writings, especially “Against Apion” and also by the historian Philo.
What is most important is that the Old Testament Canon was, no doubt, complete at the time of Christ. Jesus had some very interesting things to say about the absolute authority of the Old Testament Canon as we Know it today:
2. Jesus and the Old Testament Canon.
Jesus referred to it as the “Scriptures” when He said:
John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
In the Hebrew Bible, Genesis is the first book and 2 Chronicles is the last book. Jesus made a remarkable statement that would not only put His seal of approval on the entire Old Testament, but gave us exact knowledge that the entire Old Testament books were in existence, and were approved at the time He was here on earth. This is spoken of in Luke 11,
Luke 11:51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
Jesus was referring to the martyrs of the Old Testament. Abel was the first, recorded in Genesis 4, and Zechariah was the last, recorded in 2 Chronicles 24. What an amazing verse to substantiate the authority of the Old Testament Canon and spoken by Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus many times authenticated people and events in the Old Testament to show His belief in the literal interpretation and authorship, such as:
Adam and Eve – Matthew 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female?
Noah and the Flood – Matthew 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Jonah in the belly of the Whale – Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Many other examples could be given such as the lives of David , Daniel, Abraham, Lot’s wife, Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, etc. Events like Sodom & Gomorrah, the lions den, the burning bush, manna, etc. all were mentioned by Jesus. He either quoted from or alluded to every book of the Old Testament.
3. The Apocrypha .
The word “Apocrypha”, refers to the 14 “Apocryphal Books” which have been added to the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church, who believe them to be part of the Old Testament Canon. The books are as follows:
1 & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of ‘Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, with the epistle of Jeremiah, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The ‘History’ of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, 1 & 2 Maccabees.
These books were written during the first two centuries BC. and fill the gap between the Old Testament (which ended about 400 BC.) and the New Testament. The question is…Should we accept these books as Scripture along with the Old Testament? Most Christians and Jews would definitely say, “No,” though they do have historical value. Roman Catholics since the Council of Trent (1546) have held these books to be canonical, as quoted at Trent,
“If anyone receives not as sacred and canonical the said books (including Apocrypha) entire with all their parts…let him be anathema”.
There are several reasons for rejecting these books. Here are a few:
a. They were never considered canonical by Christians or Jews until the Council in 1546, which was an obvious lash at Martin Luther.
b. They were never accepted as canon by Jesus, or the New Testament writers.
c. Virtually all of the early Church leaders rejected their canonicity.
d. Jerome , the great Hebrew scholar and translator of the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate , strongly rejected the Apocrypha.
a. The Apocrypha doesn’t claim to be the Word of God.
b. It doesn’t speak with God’s authority as the Old Testament books.
c. It contains historical errors (see Tobit 1:3-5 and 14:11).
d. It contains theological heresies such as praying for the dead (2 Maccabees), and intercession to the saints.
e. It doesn’t contain any prophesy and adds nothing to the messianic hope.
4. The Canonicity of the New Testament
There is much more evidence for the canonicity of the New Testament than that of the Old. The 27 books of the New Testament were written during the last half of the first century AD. The Christian Church was being formed and they had the Old Testament Scriptures as the basis for their faith, as well as the teachings of Jesus, passed on through the word of the apostles, and also the authoritative teachings of the apostles. It was not long until the Gospels and the words of the apostles were placed alongside the Old Testament. The authority of the apostles of Christ is revealed:
1 John 1:3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The same was immediately true of the apostle Paul’s writings:
1 Thessalonians 5:27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
Colossians 4:16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
Even in Peter’s epistle, he recognizes Paul’s writings as equal to the Old Testament Scriptures when he writes:
2 Peter 3:15-16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
The process of collecting authentic apostolic literature began in the first century. Though many books were written, there were tests to prove a books canonicity. The following principles were used to determine this:
a. Apostolicity. Was the book written by an apostle, or one who was closely associated with the apostles?
b. Spiritual Content. Was the book read in the churches and did its contents spiritually edify the body?
c. Doctrinal Soundness. Were the contents of the book doctrinally sound? Any book containing heresy, or any teaching contrary to the already accepted canonical books was rejected.
d. Usage. Was the book universally recognized in the churches, and was it widely quoted by the church leaders?
e. Divine Inspiration . Did it claim or give true evidence of divine inspiration? This was the ultimate test!
By the second century all but 7 of the 27 books were included in the canon. these books were: Hebrews, 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, and Revelation . The process was rushed when Emperor Diocletian (302 AD) ordered that all the Scriptures be burned with fire. Within 25 years, Constantine, the new Emperor, had embraced Christianity and ordered Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea and church historian, to prepare and distribute 50 copies of the New Testament. Athanasius (born about 298 AD), in one of his pastoral epistles, lists all 27 books used by Eusebius as Scripture, the same 27 that are in our New Testament today.
There were literally hundreds of books to be considered during the first four centuries. One group worth mentioning is called the pseudepigrapha. These writings are clearly heretical. Many heretical doctrines, such as those held by the Gnostics , who denied the incarnation of Christ; the Docetics , who denied the reality of Christ’s humanity; and the Monophysites , who rejected the dual nature of Christ, are found in these books. Fortunately, there were great influential leaders and councils that maintained the purity of the New Testament Canon and it has maintained that same purity up to the present day, despite what the higher critics of the Bible might say.