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Canonicity: Why We Have the Books We Do

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Canonization is the process by which the church determined what books belonged in the Bible (and here we are focusing on the New Testament). Despite the frequent assertion to the opposite, the canon was not determined by a few individuals in a haphazard way. It appears that the three tests were authorship, harmony of doctrine and tone, and usage in the church as a whole. Did the church get it right?

Correction: Bill mentions "Dan Block." He means, "Dan Brown." (Dan Block is a friend of his.)


1. Challenge

a. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament

b. Dan Brown and the Davinci Code

2. Definitions

a. “Canon”

b. “Canon”

c. “Canonicity”

3. Two Issues

a. Hebrew canon (OT Apocrypha)

b. New Testament canon (NT Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha)

4. Old Testament Apocrypha

a. “Apocrypha”

1) Etymology means “hidden”

2) Jerome: books suitable for reading in the church ( “ecclesiastical books”) but not suitable for establishing doctrine (“canonical books”)

b. Characteristics

1) Some written in Hebrew, but mostly in Greek

2) Written after Malachi (300 B.C. to 100 A.D.)

3) Never accepted by Judaism or Jesus

c. History

1) Part of the LXX

2) Early Church writers viewed them as of secondary significance

3) Jerome included them in the Vulgate and hence the KJV 1611

d. Reformation (1400’s)

1) Luther

2) Publishers

3) Today

e. Jews

1) Believed Malachi to be the last prophet

2) Closed their canon around 90 A.D. (vs. Christians)

5. New Testament canon

a. Challenge

1) Decided by some Council

2) Took 400 years to complete

b. Problem developed

1) Death of eyewitnesses and apostles

2) Persecution

3) Heresy and false writings

c. Process of Canonization

1) A new covenant needs new authoritative documents

2) NT awareness of a new “canon” (2 Peter 3:15–16; 1 Timothy 5:18)

3) Citations from early Church Fathers

d. Two basic definitions of “canon”

1) Extrinsic (external): list of books the church determined to be authoritative

2) Intrinsic: books are authoritative, and are recognized as such by the church

e. Description of the omitted books

1) Written in 2-3 century A.D.

2) Not accepted by the church as a whole

3) Often disagree with the teachings of the NT canonical books

f. Three criteria of authenticity

1) Apostolic authorship (“Apostolicity”)

a) Written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle

b) Seen in how the later church leaders refer to the apostles and their writings

c) Seen in how the church handled some orthodox but non-apostolic writings

d) Seen in how the church handled forgeries

2) Harmony of doctrine and tone (“Orthodoxy”)

a) Most books not in the canon do not agree with the canon

b) Example of the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 114)

c) Infancy Gospel of Thomas

3) Continual usage in the church as a whole (“Catholicity”)

a) Canonicity not determined by a group of church leaders

b) Church as a whole recognized the inherent authority

g. Did any canonical books struggle to be recognized as canonical?

1) No

a) Paul

b) Apostolic writings (Matthew, Mark)

c) Luke/Acts

2) Hesitancy

a) John

b) Hebrew

c) James

d) 2 Peter

e) Philemon and 2/3 John

f) Jude

g) Revelation

3) Lists

a) Muratorian Canon

b) Irenaeus

c) Tertullian

d) Origen

e) Councils

h. Conclusion

1) Have you read them?

2) Do they pass the three-fold test?

3) Decision was made by the church as a whole

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