Why I Trust My Bible - Lesson 8

Canonicity: Why We Have the Books We Do

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.)

Bill Mounce
Why I Trust My Bible
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Canonicity: Why We Have the Books We Do

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

  • Some people feel that it is wrong to ask fundamental questions such as whether or not they trust the Bible. But if you never seriously ask the question, you will never be convinced that it really is true and trustworthy.

  • Some question whether Jesus actually lived, claiming there's only one non-biblical reference. This is false; there are many more.
  • Learn about the reliability of the New Testament through oral tradition, the impact of Jewish oral culture, three approaches to orality, memorization techniques, corporate memory, scholarly presuppositions, the Holy Spirit's role, and the delayed documentation of the Gospels.
  • While the gospels are anonymous, tradition is very strong as to who wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and all four authors were in a position to know the truth and we can trust their writings. If the church did not care about authorship traditions, they would not have picked these four.
  • If the biblical writers were not concerned about historical accuracy, we would expect more verses that would have answered the burning questions of the first century, and we certainly would not have the many embarrassing and difficult verses that we do have. The gospel is couched in historical fact, and if the events did not happen then the teaching is false.

  • How can we trust the Bible when it is so full of mistakes and internal contradictions? Really? Where are they? Doesn't harmonization help us see how the gospels can describe the same event but in different terms? If the Bible and science and history disagree, doesn't the Bible, properly interpreted, deserve the benefit of the doubt?

  • There is no question that Jesus and Paul sound different, but are their differences complementary or contradictory? What effect would their different contexts have on how they speak and what they write about?

  • 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.)

  • It does no good to talk about inspiration and canonization if the church altered the contents of the Bible through the centuries. And why are there differences among the Greek manuscripts? This is the topic of textual criticism. The current situation is that we are confident of 99% of the New Testament text, and the 1% we are unsure of contains no significant theological doctrine.

  • Unless you can read Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, you need a translation. But why are there so many, and why are they so often different? Can they be trusted? Bill Mounce, chair of the ESV translation for 10 years and currently on the Committee on Bible Translation that is responsible for the NIV, shares his answer to these questions.

  • We have looked at attacks on the trustworthiness of the Bible and given reasonable counter-arguments. it remains but to share personally why I trust my Bible.

We can no longer assume that people trust their Bible. The popular media has launched such an attack on the believability of Scripture that our people have serious questions about the Bible. Are you ready to answer them? Did Jesus actually live? (Bill Maher on Larry King Live says no.) Did the biblical writers get it right, or did they slant/create the message? The gospels were written so long after Jesus lived; how can you trust them? How can you believe a Bible that is full of internal contradictions with itself and external contradictions with science? Doesn’t archaeology disprove the Bible? Why should we believe the books that are in the Bible; many good ones were left out, like the Gospel of Thomas. Why trust the Bible when there are so many and contradictory translations? These questions and more are discussed and answered in this class.

The YouTube Videos and handouts that Dr. Mounce is referring to in lecture 1 are the links that you will find on the class page. The two handouts are a list of the books of the Apocrypha, and a chart showing translations of the Bible on a continuum from formal to dynamic equivalence. The two links are an article by Dr. Blomberg, and a YouTube video of a debate between Dan Wallace and Bart Ehrman. 

The bibliography and footnotes in the book, Why I Trust the Bible, by Dr. Mounce, also provide a detailed list of the resources that are the basis for this online course and for the book.

Some additional resources that will give you a picture of what is going on in culture are interviews and debates with people like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Bill Maher, Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, Tim Keller and Steven Crowder (e.g. "Change my mind"). You will find many of these by searching on YouTube. Many of these people are not believers, and Harris and Maher, for example, think that religion is the underlying cause of all the problems in the world. 

For biblical responses regarding issues raised outside of the trustworthiness of the Bible, you can see classes on BiblicalTraining.org like C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy, Advanced Worldview Analysis, and others. Other websites that you may find helpful are Apologetics 315 and Summit Ministries


This is the 8th lecture in the online series of lectures on Why I Trust My Bible by Dr Bill Mounce. Bill was a preaching pastor at a church in Spokane, WA, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He also taught at Azusa Pacific University and is the author of the bestselling Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek.

1. Challenge

In this session we are going to look at the whole issue of what is called canonicity. This has to do with the discussion of why we have the books of the Bible that we do and why don’t we have others. The challenge has most recently come from Bart Ehrman in a book called Lost Scriptures, Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Even on a more popular level, we have Dan Brown's book, the Davinci Code. Both question why we have the books in the Bible that we do have. Brown's book is really interesting; it claims that the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD was about Constantine and his control over the Canon. Even though it is a novel, he says, there are some university professors teaching the Davinci Code as fact. Well, the fact of the matter is that the Council of Nicaea had nothing to do with the Canon. It was about Arianism and the divinity of Christ and about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. So this whole idea of the Council of Nicaea and Constantine’s role being involved with the issue of Canonicity is simple made up. There is no truth to this at all.

2. Definitions

So what is the Canon? The word Canon refers to a standard, the guide by which you decide whether something is true or false. When we talk about the Canon of the Bible, we are talking about the collection of the books that are received as divinely inspired and therefore are authoritative for faith and life. So this is the actual books of the Canon and canonicity is the study of why we have the books in the Canon that we do and why others were left out.

3. Two Issues – Hebrew Canon and New Testament Canon

There are two issues when it comes to canonicity; the first is the Hebrew Canon and the Old Testament Apocrypha and then there is the issue of the New Testament Canon along with the New Testament Apocrypha and something called the Pseudepigrapha. On the class site, there is a download of a list of the Old Testament Apocrypha books if you want to see them. There are twelve books in the Roman Catholic Canon that are not in the Protestant Canon. And if you look at the Greek Orthodox Church’s Canon, the list is a little longer than that. In the Catholic Canon we have books like the Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, the Song of the Three Children, the Story of Susanna, Bel and the dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, 1st and 2nd Maccabees; these books in the Roman Catholic Church’s Canon that aren’t in the Protestant Canon.

4. The Old testament Apocrypha

a. Apocrypha

Etymologically the word apocrypha means hidden. Unfortunately, it is used sometimes to refer to something that is inauthentic, but this is not what the word originally meant. Jerome used the word Apocrypha to describe books that were suitable for reading in the church but not suitable for determining doctrine. This is an important distinction that we see in the first fifteen hundred years of the church; these books were viewed by some people as good to read. They were a good story with ethical values, yet not using them for determining doctrine and why we believe. So it means hidden in the sense that they shouldn’t be used for doctrine.

b. Characteristics

There are some basic characteristics of these books. While some of them were written in Hebrew, most of them were written in Greek which makes them different from the Old Testament which was written in Hebrew with a small part being Aramaic. The Apocryphal books were all written after Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament in the 4th century. These Old Testament Apocryphal books were written between 300 BC and 100 AD. They were written in a different time frame than the books in the Hebrew Scriptures. Neither was The Old Testament Apocrypha accepted by Judaism into their Canon. Also, it’s interesting that Jesus never quoted from them either. He quotes from the Old Testament but not from the Old Testament Apocrypha books.

c. History

In terms of history, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, called the Septuagint and sometimes referred to as LXX, it was translated with the Apocryphal books and so the Bible that Paul carried would have been the Septuagint which meant that he had at least had these twelve extra Apocryphal books with it. But, as you look at church history, the church leaders understood that these twelve books were secondary. There were something different about them; read them for ethics but not for theology. When Jerome came along, he wrote the Latin Vulgate which became the most dominate translation in history. It exerted much more influence than the King James Version of the Bible did. But Gerome was forced to include the Apocrypha in the Latin Vulgate and hence it went from the Latin Vulgate into the 1611 King James Version. So, that’s how these books got into the English Bible. It is interesting in what Jerome said about them, the Old Testament Apocryphal books are an example of life and instruction of manners but yet doesn’t apply in establishing doctrine. The point again, it is okay to read them but don’t determine any theology from them. Bruce in his book, The Books in the Parchment tells the story of how Jerome did not want to include them in the Latin Vulgate but he was tricked into it. So as to history, they were not accepted by the Jews, they were written into the Septuagint with secondary significance; they got into the Latin Vulgate and therefore got into the King James Bible.

d. Reformation

What happened to counter that was the Reformation of the 1400’s. Luther didn’t like some of the doctrine that the Catholic Church had that came out of the Apocrypha, such as the doctrine of the baptism of the dead, the doctrine of indulgences which were supposedly Biblical based. Luther didn’t like those doctrines or the books. Luther wanted to return to the Greek and the Hebrew. With the Renaissance of the 1300’s, there was an emphasis to go back to the Greek and Hebrew. Between that and Luther’s view of Greek and Hebrew, suspicion of these Old Testament Apocryphal books grew. The Coverdale Bible in 1535 was the first Bible to take the Old Testament Apocryphal books and move them to a section between the Old and New Testament. Before that, they were interspersed throughout the Septuagint chronologically. What happened with the Coverdale Bible, they were taken out and put into a separate section and within about a hundred years, publishers had decided to no longer include the Apocrypha within newly printed versions of the Bible. F.F. Bruce’s book talks about this.

e. Jews

As far as the Jews were concerned, they never accepted them and thus appeared to have closed their Canon around about 95 AD. They did not want Christian writings to get into their Canon. So the Jewish people never accepted the books in the Apocrypha. So, this is a brief overview of the Old Testament Canon, Old Testament Apocryphal books and why they are around but not included any longer in the Protestant Bible.

5. New Testament Canon

a. Challenge

We are going to turn our attention now to the New Testament Canon. The challenge goes something like this: The books that were included and those that were left out were decided by some council and church leaders. But this took them some four hundred years to really make their decisions. Given how it was made and how long it took, how can we trust their decision? One of the interesting quick comebacks for this was the fact that there was no council that formally met to determine issues of Canon for the New Testament until the Council of Trent in the 1500’s in the Counter Reformation. The Council of Trent met to finally and officially establish the Old Testament Apocrypha as being part of the Bible. So there never was a council whose major purpose was to meet and decide what books belong in the New Testament. Let’s look at this historically.

b. Problem Developed

Problems started to develop; as the church got a little older in the 1st century, their eyewitnesses and apostles started to die. So, the church started to lose the people who were exerting control over what Christianity was and what we believed. Then you had the rise of persecution within the Roman Empire and there was a time that it was a capital offense to even own a book of the Bible. You had this growth of persecution that made people to want to be sure and careful over the books they accepted and the teachings they accepted because they didn’t want to die for something that wasn’t true. In addition, there was also the rise of heresy and false writings. You already get a little of this in the New Testament itself. For example, Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 that they may have received a false letter that seemed to be from Paul saying that the Day of the Lord had come. So, someone wrote a false letter to the church saying that Christ’s return had already happened. Later on in Galatians in 6:11 Paul says, ‘see what large letters I’m writing, that is how I sign all of my books.’ Apparently, it was his signature of authenticity; the assumption was that people were forging letters supposedly from Paul. Then you had the whole rise of Gnosticism in the 2nd century and other heresies. So there was the problem as to what books they should accept, and so this started the process of canonization both in the Old and the New Testaments.

c. Process of Canonization

There is a covenant in the Old Testament with documents supporting and defining that covenant; you then have the prophecy of the New Covenant. So there is going to be an expectation that with the New Covenant there were to be a new set of authoritative documents to define it. You have built into the Old Testament the concept of a Canon being created for this New Covenant. Also, even in the New Testament itself, you have the realization that a new Canon is being created. The most important verse is in 2nd Peter 3:15 ‘And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.’ Peter died in the late 60’s according to church tradition and so even by his time most was starting to realize that Paul’s writing were on par with the Old Testament writings and hence the development of the New Testament Canon. You also have an interesting comment of Paul in 1st Timothy 5:18 about the leaders of the church being paid. ‘For the Scripture says, you should not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain, and the laborer deserves his wages.’ The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4 but the second is actually of a citation from Luke 22 which has interesting ramifications for the dating of Luke; for he had to have written for Paul to quote him. The point is that Paul says, ‘Scripture says’ quoting Deuteronomy and Luke as being Scripture. You see that you have the beginning of this concept that there is a new Canon being created to go along with the New Covenant. You can see this with the early church fathers as they quote the New Testament writings authoritatively and hence we have the creation of the New Testament Canon.

d & e. Omitted Books and Basic Definitions of Canon

What were the books that were left out of the Canon? They were all written in the 2nd to 3rd century and perhaps even later than that. They are not first century writings. The Gospel of Thomas and others weren’t 1st century writings. So they say that Thomas wrote something about Paul or Peter, but none of those people were alive in the 2nd century. So, we know that their authorship is suspect. Second of all, these books were never accepted as authoritative by the church as a whole. Perhaps smaller groups here and there considered them but the church as a whole didn’t. Thirdly, these books often disagree; sometimes they don’t, but more than often they disagree with the books that have already accepted as authoritative. I want to give you some examples of these shortly.

So, these omitted books were written in the 2nd to 3rd century and not accepted by the church as a whole and often disagree with the books already accepted as Canon. In considering these books there are two other important terms. A book by Michael Kruger, The Question of Canon, provides a lot on the discussion of this point. Two words are important here: extrinsic and intrinsic. If you define a Canon as something that is extrinsic or external, what that means then, the Canon is a list of the books that the church determined would be authoritative. In other words, the power is not in the New Testament books, but it is in the church and the church decreed that this book is authoritative. If that is your definition of Canon, then the Canon wasn’t closed until the end of the 4th century. But there is another way to look at this, an intrinsic way of those books being authoritative and thus are recognized as such by the church. This is often called an ontological Canon or internal Canon. So the churches role in this case, was to recognize the books intrinsically. Another way of looking at it; did the church confer authority on Matthew or did Matthew inherently process authority and the church simply recognized it. Now, if you accept this definition of Canon, then the books were Canonical as soon as they were written. As soon as Matthew was written it was intrinsically, inherently authoritative and the church recognized it as such. It is important whether you accept an extrinsic or intrinsic definition of the Canon. I really think that the intrinsic definition is the correct definition of the Canon. In a very real sense, the original Canon is Jesus and so anything that he says or does is authoritative and so the books that write about what Jesus said and did are intrinsically authoritative because they were a reflection of Jesus and then the church recognized them as such. If you follow the intrinsic definition, the Canon was from much earlier than the end of the 4th century.

f. Three Criteria of Authenticity

How did the church determine which books were authoritative? There appears to have been three basic tests. Now, these were never written down anywhere but when we look at what the church said about the different Biblical books, we can see these three things points in the decision making process. There is the issue of apostolicity; did an apostle or an associate of an apostle write it? Authorship was a really big deal when it comes to Canonicity. The church understood that the apostles had the authority of Christ. The church accepted Matthew’s authority, Paul’s authority and also John’s authority. And anything they wrote also bore that authority. The issue of who wrote it was a big issue in determining what books belonged in the Canon. We can see how this can ripple down with different kinds of questions that might be asked. Another question is how did the later church leaders refer to the Apostles and their writings? One such person was Polycarp who was a bishop of Smyrna at the turn of the 1st century. He actually knew John the apostle personally. When he quotes Paul, he says that it was Scripture. He understood that Paul had the authority of Christ and therefore Paul’s writing had that authority and therefore Paul’s writing was Scripture. Kruger, in his book on the Question of Canon on page 68 and following, provides quite a lot of detail on this. 1st Clement 47, (Clement died around 95 AD) he said that God sent Christ and Christ sent the apostles. So there is a direct connection between God, Christ and the apostles. Ignatius who died about 110 AD says that the Apostles were the mouth piece of Christ. Justice Martyr who died around 165 AD says that the Apostles were sent by God. Irenaeus, who died about 202 AD, says that the Apostles handed down the Gospels in the Scriptures to be the ground and pillar of our faith. When you look at these citations and also others, you will recognize that the early church clearly understood that the apostles carried Christ’s authority and therefore their writings carried Christ’s authority. So if they wrote then their writings needed to be included in the Canon.

It is also interesting to see what the early church leaders said about orthodoxy and non-apostolic writings. In other words, some of these books are not in the New Testament, like the Shepherd of Hermas and Didache. These are good books and fun to read and they completely agree with the Bible, but they weren’t written by Apostles and the church uniformly left them out of the Canon. They understood that because of authorship issues, they did not process the authority that the Canonical books needed. On this issue of authorship, you can also see it when it comes to forgeries. When the church found a book that claimed to have been written by an apostle, but they knew it wasn’t, they uniformly rejected it. There was a letter to the Laodiceans which Paul makes reference to. The Muratorian Canon says that the letter to the Laodiceans is good to read but it isn’t Scripture since it was written in our time. They understood that it was written in the 2nd century and thus wasn’t written by an apostle. It was rejected. 3rd Corinthians was another apocryphal book that was written out of love for Paul and yet when it was discovered as a forgery, not only was the book removed from discussion but the man who wrote it was removed from his church office. The reason for this, you don’t forge letters and claim that they are from the apostles. So apostolicity was an important criteria the church used to determine whether a book should belong in the Canon or not.

The second test is orthodoxy; in other words does the book agree with the doctrine and I would say even the tone of the books that we have already accepted as authoritative? A lot of these books that people say need to belong in the Bible, all you need to do is to read them and you can see why they are not. They just don’t agree with the rest of the Canon. Even if they don’t teach heresy, there is something that is wrong about them. This is from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, it is about Jesus. ‘Know after some days, Jesus was playing in an upper story of a house and one of children playing with him fell down from the house and died. And when the other children saw it, they fled and Jesus remained alone. And the parents of him that was dead came and accused him of having thrown him down. (So they accursed Jesus of killing their child) Jesus replied, ‘I didn’t throw him down.’ But they continued to revile him. Then Jesus came down off the roof and stood by the body of the child and cried with a loud voice, ‘Zenon’ for that was his name, rise and tell me, did I throw you down? Zenon arose and said, ‘no Lord, you did not throw me down, but you raised me up. Now when they saw it, they were amazed and the parents of the child glorified God for the miracle that had happened and worshiped Jesus.’ Now, does this sound like it belongs in the Bible? Jesus is a little kid, leaping off roof tops, raising children from the dead, and accused of killing a child. Here is another one, speaking of Joseph; ‘Jesus’ father was a carpenter and made at that time, plows and yokes. He received an order from a rich man to make a bed for him but when one beam was shorter than its corresponding one; they didn’t know what to do. The child Jesus said to his father, Joseph, ‘put down the two pieces of wood and make them even from the middle to one end.’ Joseph did as the child told him and Jesus then stood at the other end, stretching it, made it equal with the other.’ So, is Jesus in the business of making up for Joseph’s mismeasurement of wood and stretching wood out? This really disagrees with tone. Those stories just don’t fit. I will give you an example of one of the books that has been left out of the Canon which differs when it comes to actually orthodoxy and theory. I want to give you a couple of examples of criteria on whether a book agrees or disagrees with not only in theology but the tone of the New Testament.

The third criterion is Catholicity. I don’t mean part of the Roman Catholic Church but in the older sense of being worldwide. Was the book used by the church as a whole in terms of Catholicity? It was not individuals that recognized the Canonical books but it was the church as a whole. But, yet, the only council that formally met to determine Canon issues was the Council of Trent in 1500 AD and that was in regards to the Old Testament Apocrypha. But rather the churches role as a whole was to recognize the inherent authority of Canonical books. So these are the three tests: who wrote it, apostolicity; does it agree with what we have already accepted in doctrine and tone In regards to Orthodoxy? Was it used in the church as a whole, Catholicity? Those seem to be the three criteria by which the church used in determining whether a book belonged in the Canon. Now, let me give you a test case as there has been a lot of talk about the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas is part of what is called the Nag Hammadi Library, a library that was discovered in Egypt rather recently. It wasn’t used by the church as a whole as it got buried in the sands of Egypt. As it wasn’t used, it fails the test of Catholicity. The second point with the Gospel of Thomas, it is a hundred and fourteen sayings in Coptic dated about 175-180 AD. It fails the second test of Apostolicity. The Apostle Thomas could not have written unless he was a hundred and eighty years old. Thirdly, the Gospel of Thomas is gnostic. It is a heretical belief and hence fails the other test of Orthodoxy. The Gospel of Thomas fails all three tests.

Here is the last of the 114 sayings; ‘Simeon Peter said to them, meaning the Apostles, let Mary leave us, because women are not worthy of life. Jesus apparently appears and says, look, I shall lead her so that I will make her male in order that she also may become a living spirit (as a female, she is not a living spirit) resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Now, this takes misogyny to a whole new level, doesn’t it? The vast majority of the people that want to include this in the Bible have never read it. You can’t read that and think it belongs in the Bible. But it is interesting that in the Jesus Seminar that came along and was determining what verses of the Gospels they thought belonged in the Bible; they published their New Testament with five gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke, John and the Gospel of Thomas. They thought that a higher percentage of the Gospel of Thomas was authentic than they did of any of the other Gospels. Amazing that they would think that! So to finish up, those are the tests of Canonicity of Thomas as a test case.

g. Canonical books that struggled to be part of the Canon

Were there any Canonical books that struggled to get into the Canon? Yeah, there were a few of them. Now, when Paul wrote his letters, they were accepted as authoritative by the church as a whole, instantly; there was no delay in this. They were recognized as being the writings of an apostle and bearing Paul’s authority and therefore his books were authoritative and as we called them, Canonical. Other apostolic writings were accepted immediately. Matthew was accepted immediately into the Canon. Mark was actually accepted immediately into the Canon even though he wasn’t an apostle. But according to reliable church traditions, Mark wrote the memories of Peter which as an apostle, his authority was behind Mark. So, it was accepted immediately. Interestingly, both Luke and Acts were accepted instantly into the Canon, even though Luke was not an eyewitness, not an apostle, the church understood that what he was writing as a friend of Paul’s was authoritative and accepted. There was some hesitancy with the other books for some period of time. The Gospel of John was used by the Gnostics and so people were a little suspect in whether they should really use it or not. But it got into the Canon because they understood that John had written it. The Book of Hebrews had some trouble getting into the Canon because it was anonymous, not knowing who wrote it. James had a little trouble getting into the Canon because he seemed to have disagreed with Paul in the Doctrine of Justification. 2nd Peter actually had a little trouble also because the Greek of 2nd Peter is really different than the Greek of 1st Peter and in fact much of Jude is repeated in 2nd Peter. Philemon, 2nd and 3rd John also had trouble because they were short books written to very small audiences. They would not have been shared around the Christian world very easily. Jude also had some trouble because it is so short and because it quotes something from the pseudepigrapha, another collection of false writings. And Revelation actually had a little trouble also because it was so different from the rest of the New Testament. Then again, the church understood that John wrote it and so it was accepted. This hesitation didn’t last long. It is interesting to look at the list of the Canonical books that we get from history. Peter Wagner’s book The Journey from Text to Translations gives a lot of detail on this.

Let me tell you how this process worked. First of all, there is the Muratorian Canon, late 2nd century which says that there were twenty undisputed books and this stayed consistent. There were the four gospels, Acts, Paul’s thirteen letters, 1st Peter and 1st John. These were undisputed. The Muratorian Canon also seemed to have included the Book of Hebrews as part of the Canon. Then Irenaeus comes along in the late 2nd century and agrees with the Muratorian Canon but he includes 2nd John as well. Tertulian comes along in the late 2nd century and he agrees with Irenaeus but he wants to include James and Revelation, but he omits 2nd John. Origen is in the 3rd century and he breaks the books into two categories: the widely accepted which are the twenty and he included the Book of Revelation and then there are the books that are disputed: Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John and Jude. Origen also said that there were a few other books that were somewhat disputed: Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Preaching of Peter and Acts of Paul in Thecla. Those books were still around in the 3rd century. You can see that of those twenty there was never any question in regards to Canon; the other ones were figured out and accepted as time went on. There were councils that did meet primarily to determine Canonicity and they did ratify the twenty seven books that we have now. There was a council in North Africa, Hippo in 393 AD and another one in Carthage at 393 AD and then Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria in 367 AD has the same list. So the list was solidified by the end of the 4th century, but that is not when the Canon was formed. It was formed as soon as books that were intrinsically and inherently processed authority was written, twenty, the bulk of the New Testament was recognized instantly and without dispute that they belonged in the Canon.

h. Conclusion

If you get into a discussion with someone about the New Testament Canon, ask them whether they have ever read them. I got tricked while I was in college by someone who was a leader of a parachurch movement in my university. He just seemed to have disappeared for I couldn’t find him anywhere, but months later I saw him and asked him what had happened. He said that he had been in a class of one of the religion teachers that had made him question his faith. The entry point into that was Canonicity. So my friend said, why do we even have the books that we have; we can’t even trust them. Books that should have been included weren’t included. But I am sure there were other things going on in his life spiritually. But the issue with the Canon was the problem and it was how the professor started to twist my friend and with that I got tricked. I wish that I had simply said, ‘have you read them?’ I think that was all I would have had to say, ‘have you read them?’ He would have most likely said no, and then I could have said, ‘well, let’s read them together and see why these books aren’t in the Canon.’ If they have not read them, it tells you whether they really believe they should be in the Canon or not or whether there is another issue at stake. The second thing is to ask whether these books pass the three fold test. Who wrote them; did the church accept them as authoritative, did they agree in doctrine and in tone with those undisputed twenty that we know are Canonical? Thirdly and understand that this decision on Canonization was not made by a few academics in a dusty corner of a room or some rabble rousers or rebels, whatever be the case. The church as a whole recognized the inherent authority of the twenty-seven books that we call the New Testament. And that gives me and should give you a lot more confidence to accept that their decisions were valid.

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