Recognizing the Canon

Who put the Bible together? Who chose those books to be bound together in that order?

That is a good question. Some of it is fairly self-evident. Let me start by giving you just a little analogy. If you look at certain Gospels, that are oftentimes considered to be Gospels, that were left out and read them, you will immediately realize why they are left out.

Over the last decade or so, for example, a Gospel that has gotten a lot of press is the Gospel of Judas. It is supposed to be far, far superior to the Gospel of John, and there is a lot of static on this on the Web. One day — and this has been quite a while ago — I decided to pick up the Gospel of Judas and, along with a colleague who has worked with me almost twenty-eight years, we sat in my office and read the thirteen papyrus pages. When we got done, we were on the floor laughing. Laughing because of the absurdity of the Gospel of Judas. In other words, people talk about it in glowing terms, but when you actually read it, you see the difference between that and the literary masterpiece that we call the Gospel of John or even the five books of John, including his epistles in the Book of Revelation.

I think the more fundamental answer to your question is that the books that we have in our Canon, or the books that were used in the early Christian church, obviously Jesus giving ratification to the Old Testament Canon but with respect to the New Testament Canon, these are books that were widely distributed and read prolifically in the early Christian church. They were letters. Those letters were not letters that were determined by men to be canonical or part of the Canon of Scripture; rather, they were discovered to be canonical based on the principles of canonicity.

A canon is a measuring rod or a stick by which you measure, and there are principles associated with that measure, and these books fall in line with those principles, including the principle of perspicuity. The principle of perspicuity means that the books are clear and consistent not only within themselves but also amongst themselves.

The operative way of taking about the Canon of Scripture is this: it is not human beings determining but human beings discovering.

When you are talking about the Old Testament, that Canon was established early on. That Canon was ratified by Christ and the Apostles prior to the time the New Testament Canon came into existence. I mean, there was a long time when there was no such thing as a New Testament Canon. The New Testament Canon came into existence over time. But, the practices of the early Christian church have been perpetuated to this day through Christ, through the Apostles, and through the early church fathers — Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch and later through the early New Testament catechism, a first or second century document. So, upon the basis of the tradition that has been passed down from Christ to the Apostles to the church fathers, we also have a tradition whereby we know what was used, what was circulated, in the early Christian church. That is how the Canon came to be.

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21)

For further related study, please see the following:

Is the New Testament Canon Authoritative or Authoritarian? (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Fictitious Gospel of Judas and Its Sensational Promotion (Daniel Hoffman)

The Gnostic Gospels: Are They Authentic? (Douglas Groothuis)

Overcoming the Media Mania of the Gnostic Gospels (Paul Maier)

Please also check out these resources in our e-store:

Memorable Keys to Essential Christian D-O-C-T-R-I-N-E (P401) by Hank Hanegraaff

The Origin of the Bible (B1089) edited by Philip W. Comfort

The Canon of Scripture (B329) by F. F. Bruce

This blog is adapted from the 9/18/2017 Bible Answer Man broadcast.

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