Intro: Here is a question that many of the children here can answer – How many books are in the Bible? Answer: 66 Books: O.T. – 39 books (Genesis – Malachi); N.T. – 27 books (Matthew – Revelation)
A more difficult question – Why these 66 books and no others?
- What about the additional books found in the Roman Catholic versions of the O.T.?
- What about the so-called “lost books of the Bible” (“Lost Gospel of Judas”, etc.)
Defining terms: Before we begin a study of these questions we need to define some terms that we will use in our study:
- Canon – (not found in scripture) the writings (or books) that are accepted as inspired. The word “canon” means a measuring rod rule or standard for anything. For early Christians, it meant the rule of faith, what is accepted as authoritative Scripture; the product of the true prophet or apostle.
- Those books that were inspired were included in the Canon of scripture. We have discussed the subject of inspiration earlier. God authored scripture by providing the very words through the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 – 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
- So the inclusion of any book into the canon follows two basic steps…
- Inspiration by God – God determined the canon by co-authoring it.
- Recognition by men – Man recognized what God revealed and accepted it as the canon, or the rule of faith. “A book is not the Word of God because it was accepted by the people, it was accepted by the people because it was the Word of God.”
- In the book The Origin of the Bible, R.T. Beckwith writes: “What qualifies a book for a place in the canon of the Old Testament or New Testament is not just that it is ancient, informative and helpful, and has long been read and valued by God’s people, but that it has God’s authority for what it says. God spoke through its human author to teach his people what to believe and how to behave…. “It is not just a record of revelation, but the permanent written form of revelation. This is what we mean when we say that the Bible is ‘inspired,’ and it makes the books of the Bible in this respect different from all other books” (1992, p. 52).
I. Views of How the Canon was established? There are two prominent views of the Canon in the religious world. Most sources work for these two views, and thus come to the wrong conclusions.
A. The first view is the canon established by the formal decree of some authoritative institution or organization, such as the edicts of the Roman Catholic Church issuing from the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, or Trent (which officially canonized the Apocryphal books.
1. Even many Protestants who reject the authority of the Roman Catholic Church accept the methodology:
- “It is then to the Church, as a ‘witness and keeper of holy writ,’ that we must look both for the formation and proof of the Canon. The written rule of Christendom must rest finally on the general confession of the Church” (Westcott 12-13).
- My understanding of the true church and its nature causes me to reject the notion that any group had the authority to act in any capacity to legislate on this matter – what to believe – what not to believe. We will also see that these claims are simply not true.
B. The other popular view that developed, especially among the Protestants who reject the authority of the Roman Catholic church, rested on the Holy Spirit’s inward illumination to discern what books were scripture and which ones were not. (This was expounded in Calvin’s Institutes of Religion). Simon Kistemaker’s view is typical: Believers do not come to acknowledge the canonicity of Scripture without the working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. ‘The Holy Spirit speaks within the heart of the believer and testifies that Scripture is self-authenticating and true…. The authoritative writings of the apostles and their associates cannot be identified without the operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. (13-14)
1. This approach is the same made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding how one can be sure that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. This is religious subjectivism at its worst, and there is no support for it in the scriptures themselves. (every person sets their own canon)
C. The Canon of Scripture rests in the Testimony of Christ. He is the Key to the Canon. Recognizing that the scriptures are a historically accurate record, then Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Son of God who speaks from heaven with all authority. The concept of a canon [a body of authoritative scriptures] existed in the time of Christ and, more importantly, was validated by Him. Jesus’ constant reference to what the scriptures said necessarily requires an identifiable body of authoritative writings recognized by both Jesus and His listeners. This is first applicable to….
II. The Canon of the Old Testament – We will begin with a consideration of the books contained in the O.T. Why can we trust that these books are to be recognized as God’s Word?
A. The Scriptures of the Hebrew Canon were recognized by Jesus. John 5:39 – 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. Jesus clearly recognized a unit of scriptures given by God. In John 10:35 Jesus said “the Scripture cannot be broken”. He taught that the authority of the recognized O.T. Scriptures was absolute and unquestionable.
1. Luke 24:44 – Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
a. This verse is significant in that Jesus catalogues the three major divisions of the Hebrew Canon (the Scriptures that the Jews recognized as inspired). Those were the same 39 books now contained in our Old Testament (although arranged in 22, or 24 books)
1) The Law of Moses (Torah) – the five books of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy)
2) The Prophets – “the former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the latter prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and a book containing the 12 minor prophets).
3) The Writings (Psalms) – Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes and several historical books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles). This teaches us that Jesus followed the arrangement of the OT books that was customary among the Jews. Luke 11:49-51 – 49 Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’50 that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation.Jesus speaks of the persecution of the prophets from the murder of Abel to the slaying of Zechariah. The murder of Abel is found in Genesis (the first book of the Hebrew Canon) and the death of Zechariah is found in 2 Chronicles (the last book of the Hebrew Canon). “Jesus does not quote from every book of the Old Testament, but he does quote from all three of the main divisions, showing that he accepted the entire Old Testament as canonical.” – Wilbert R. Gawrisch (How The Canonicity Of The Bible Was Established)
B. The Hebrew Canon was recognized by the Apostles. Paul acknowledged the Hebrew canon
1. Romans 15:4 – 4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 1 Corinthians 10:11 – 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
2. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 3:16 that all scripture is inspired of God was a reference to the O. T. writings that Timothy had known since his youth.
3. The apostles frequently quoted from those books in the Hebrew canon. It was the absolute authority of God in establishing the truth of their message. Acts 17:2-3 – 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.
4. I believe Paul is asking Timothy to bring these writings while he is imprisoned in Rome. “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). The word translated “books” in this passage is the Greek word biblion where we get our English word “Bible” today. Paul was asking for the body of scriptures to be brought when Timothy came.
5. The O.T. scriptures were considered a rule of faith. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11)
6. It is evident that Jesus and His apostles accepted the authority (canon) of the Hebrew Scriptures which include the 39 books in the Old Testament.
C. The O.T. Apocrypha: (The term apocrypha literally means hidden or obscure, but used to refer to the non- canonical books of the Old and New Testament, later accepted by Roman Catholicism)
1. The writings called Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch, and additions to the canonical book of Esther and the canonical book of Daniel. The Catholic church calls these books the “deuterocanonical” books. “Deutero” means “second” and therefore these books are the second canon.
- Written between the testaments
- Not originally considered as inspired.
2. At the Concil of Trent in 1546, The Catholic Church accepted these writings as inspired. Some of the reasons they use to support their decision: Since the Jews had the Hebrew canon intact and Jesus affirmed that canon while on the earth, why does the Catholic Bible have more than the 39 books of the Old Testament regarded as inspired? There are a few reasons why the Roman Catholics include other “apocryphal” books.
a. There was some evidence that these writings were found in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
b. Some church fathers accepted these books (such as Irenaeus Tertullian, Clement).
c. Some have been found among other OT books with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
3. But these reasons do not support the canonization of these books. Some reasons why they are not canonical.
a. There is no evidence that these books were included in the original Septuagint translation. The same books are not found in the various manuscripts of the LXX.
b. There is no evidence that the Jews ever considered these books inspired.
c. Josephus, the Jewish historian (30-100 AD) and others excluded these books from the canonical list.
d. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever quoted from these books, even though there are hundreds of quotations from the canonical books of the O.T.
e. These books were not recognized as canonical (even by the Catholic church) until 1546.
f. These books do not even claim to be inspired and contain historical discrepancies.
g. In addition it might be concluded that these books were canonized to help support some of the distinctive doctrines of the Catholic church, such as baptism for the dead, and purgatory.
I. Is Our New Testament The New Testament? Could it be that Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are not the real story?
A. The 27 books of the N.T. are much more widely agreed upon than the 39 of the O.T. (by both Protestants and Catholics). Of the 27, there were only 7 that were doubtful at all; Hebrews, James, 2 peter, 2nd & 3rd John, Jude & Revelation. Authorship was the question and once this was established these books were considered inspired with the others.
B. How was the canon of the NT decided upon?Actually there was no voting process involved. To understand the process we have to recognize the situation in the early years of the church.
1. The New Testament claims that the Apostles and prophets were speaking the Word of God with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The early Christians knew who was and was not an apostle because the Holy Spirit provided accompanying signs.
2. The writings of the apostles were filled with the inherent authority that you would expect in inspired writing. 1 Thess 1:5 – 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake 1 Thess 2:13 – 13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 2 Peter 1:16-21 – For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory:”This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
3. So the central question involved was, Was it written by an apostle? (such as Peter, Paul, Matthew, John) or a close associate of an apostle (such as Mark with Peter; Luke with Paul)? The N.T. church understood the unique position of the apostles as inspired eyewitnesses. Thus the writing had to be “apostolic” and show the evidence of inspiration.
4. When a writing was considered as “apostolic” it was circulated among the churches and read publicly. Paul told the Thessalonians that his letter to them was to be read among all the churches (1 Thess. 5:27), and he gave a similar encouragement concerning the Colossian letter in Col. 4:16. Although it took some time for all documents to circulate to all the world, in time the acceptance of the 27 books was pretty much universal.
II. What evidence do we have that the New Testament books were accepted by early Christians?
A. Listen to the opposition. In the 2nd century a heretic named Marcion (AD 96-160) from Pontus (modern Turkey) began to preach “another gospel.” Expelled by his home church for adultery he began to develop his own form of “Christianity.” He denied the essentials of Christianity and created his own Bible.
1. Marcion’s Bible consisted of the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters, all “cleansed” of Old Testament influences.
2. The books Marcion rejected he nonetheless acknowledged as being accepted by the church as a whole and as being written by the original apostles and prophets. He just thought he was right and they were wrong.
3. The response to him was harsh. Polycarp (AD 69-155) who knew the apostle John personally, called Marcion “the first-born of Satan”.
4. Thus the issue of what writings were inspired and authentic was raised 150 years before the Council of Nicaea. This response to heresy indicates clearly there was already a general agreement on what books were accepted by Christians as being from God. Most scholars recognize that the canon of scripture was clearly set by the end of the 2nd century A.D.
5. So the contention that the N.T. books were not recognized until the 4th century (as suggested by the DaVinci Code) is out of the question.
B. Listen to the Apostolic Fathers. Some early Christians’ writings have survived to the present day. These so called “church fathers” were men who lived in the late 1st to 3rd century A D. They include Irenaeus, Polycarp (a personal friend of the apostle John), Clement of Alexandria and others.
1. These extensive writings not only refer to all 27 books but quote from them extensively. In fact, it has been said if every copy of the New Testament was destroyed, it could be re-created from the quotations found in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.
2. The writings of the apostolic fathers refer to most of these books as scripture, and their writings are almost universally accepted as authentic.
3. Since we essentially have the New Testament embedded in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, their testimony leaves no room to suggest the writings were changed at a later date.
4. All of this evidence points to one clear conclusion – the New Testament books we have today were known in the first century church and regarded as scripture.
Why is this an important fact to recognize?
III. Was the Canon established at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.? One of the most widely accepted views concerning the present canon of scripture is that the Roman Catholic Church established the canon at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. That is simply not true.
A. The Davinci code leaves us with the impression that there were hundreds of books vying for recognition by the early church, and that the 4 gospels were voted into the canon at the Council of Nicaea in order to suppress the truth about Jesus’ divinity.
B. But as we have just seen, the early church had recognized and collected the 27 books of the N.T. long before 325. The Council simply reaffirmed what was already widely accepted.
1. International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states…”there can be no doubt that by the close of the 1st century and the early part of the 2nd century, opinion was practically unanimous in recognition of the authority of the four Gospels of the canonical Scriptures. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (180 AD), recognizes four, and only four Gospels, as “pillars” of the church. The Harmonies of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (168 AD – 180 AD), and of Tatian, and the Apology of Justin Martyr carry back the tradition to a much earlier period of the century, and, as Liddon proves at considerable length… “it is scarcely too much to assert that every decade of the 2nd century furnishes its share of proof that the four Gospels as a whole, and John’s in particular, were to the church of that age what they are to the church of the present.”
2. Origen (185-254 A.D.) who also wrote over 100 years before the Council of Nicaea wrote… “I know a certain gospel which is called “The Gospel according to Thomas” and a “Gospel according to Matthias,” and many others have we read–lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only the four gospels should be accepted.”
IV. What about the other books? The writings of the apostles were not the only ones that claimed to be God’s word. We read that there were many who were claiming to be inspired apostles, but were in fact false apostles, even in the first century.
A. Paul alludes to these false claims in 2 Corinthians 11:13, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” It seems that these people not only claimed themselves to be apostles, but would declare their writings to be the very words of God.
1. Peter also warned about those who falsely claimed to be prophets. 2 Peter 2:1-2 – But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.
B. Because apostolic authorship was such an important criteria as to whether the early Christians would recognize a writing as inspired, many of these false writings were given the name of an apostle (the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas, The Protevangelium of James, The Acts of Paul).
C. There are two categories of non-canonical writings
1. The Pseudepigrapha – (swada -pa – grafa) – (or “false writing”) There are over 280 of these documents and more than 50 of them are accounts of the life of Jesus. (Some of the more well known ones include the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Proevangelium of James.)
a. Their value is limited but they do provide some insight into the ascetic and Gnostic influences in the early church, that were opposed by the apostles.
b. These writings were never considered canonical by respectable leaders. They mainly produced by heretical groups, such as the Gnostics, (i.e. Gospel of Marcion, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of the Ebionites, etc) or contained exaggerated and mythical religious folklore (i.e. Gospel of Thomas, that speaks about the alleged early childhood miracles Jesus, most of them acts of mischief, or evil).
c. Most are known only through citation or quotation by another author, thus their historical connection to the apostles is suspect.
2. The New Testament Apocrypha: These are not to be confused with the O.T. These books were written after the time of Christ. The NT Apocrypha include such books as The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (70-79 A.D.), The Gospel According to the Hebrews (65-100 A.D.), The Shepherd of Hermas (115-140 A.D.), and The Ancient Homily, also known as the Second Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (120-140 A.D.) Some were accepted at first by some in the church and some were found in collections and translations of the scriptures.
a. But these books never enjoyed acceptance by the church in general.
b. These are more valuable than the (False Writings) Pseudepigrapha, because they provide early documentation of the existence of the N.T. books and they fill in the gap between the teaching of the apostles and the writings of the early church of the third and fourth centuries. They also provide clues to the practices, policies and future teachings of the church.
c. These were rejected because none of these were included in the early collections of inspired writings. The reason they had some acceptance was because they wrongly attached themselves to references in canonical books (cf. Col. 4:16) or alleged apostolic authorship (e.g. the Acts of Paul)
Conclusion: God wrote a book. That book exists today. Not because of a church decree or any conspiratorial vote. It exists because the One who wrote has protected it and preserved. God is speaking to you through the pages of this book. Are you listening?