Vol. 7, No. 6
~ Page 12 ~
How do we know that the sixty-six books that make up our Bible are the only writings that should be included in Holy Scripture? Do the Apocrypha, the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospels of Thomas or Barnabas belong in the canon? Why should these books not be included in the Bible? The answer to these questions lies in the concept of canonicity. The English word "canon" comes from Hebrew and Greek words both of which mean, "a measuring rod." This signifies that there is a standard that must be met by all books that make up the Bible. There are several inadequate views of what the standard for canonicity should have been, such as the age of the writing, its agreement with the Torah, if written in Hebrew or its religious value. But each of these criterions is reached by making a common mistake, which is, they confuse God's determination of what Scripture is with man's recognition of what it is. In the final analysis, whatever the Holy Spirit moved a servant of God to write is inspired and belongs in the canon, and whatever is the mere writing of man does not!
There are several crucial questions that have been asked by scholars in the church in determining which books are to be accepted as canonical. The first and most basic is, "Was the book(s) written by a recognized prophet of God?" Deuteronomy 18:18 tells us that only a prophet of God will speak the Word of God. And we know that by observing what he has to say, and if it comes to pass, we recognize him as a prophet of God and fear him. If it does not come to pass, we simply ignore that self-proclaimed prophet. God revealed himself in times past by the prophets, but in the Christian era he revealed himself through his Son and those chosen by the Son to serve as preachers and writers of the Gospel.
The second question is, "Was his message confirmed by acts of God?" We are told in such places as Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4 that God confirmed the teaching of his chosen men with signs and miracles. God has always confirmed the messages of his true prophets. Moses had his rod that turned into a serpent and back to a rod, as well as many other miracles. Jesus performed all manner of miracles, and finally resurrected from the dead to prove his right to speak the Word of God. The apostles were given the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which they duplicated many, if not all, of the miracles of Jesus, thus proving their right to speak God's Word. Many of the prophets lived to see the fulfillment of their prophecies that would confirm the truthfulness of what they said.
The third question is, "Does it tell the truth about God?" Paul said that even if he, the other apostles, or an angel from heaven preached a Gospel that was not in harmony with what already had been preached, that person was anathema (Galatians 1:6-9). What the New Testament apostles, prophets and evangelists taught had to stand in full agreement with all earlier revelation on that subject. This kept false prophets from slipping their works into the Bible.
The fourth question is, "Does the writing evidence the transforming power of God?" Does it demonstrate that it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) by transforming the lives of those who come to know it (Romans 12:1-2)? Paul said the Gospel is the power of God to save (Romans 1:16). It must demonstrate that power.
Finally, "Is it accepted by the people of God?" Do those who know most about all the rest of the Scripture accept a particular book as being in harmony with all the rest, as did the people of Thessalonica, for example (1 Thessalonians 2:13)? Does it appropriately quote other Bible books? The Old Testament prophets studied one another (Daniel 9:2), and so did the New Testament writers (2 Peter 3:14-18). These, briefly stated, are the tests for the canonicity of the books of the Bible.