Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 10 Page 2 October 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Biblical Canonicity

 Have you ever pondered: "Which books belong in the Bible?" Probably not. The question of biblical canonicity, though perhaps never considered by most people, is of paramount importance if men are to appropriately serve God. Godís Word must be sure in order for men to confidently prepare themselves for eternity. Godís Word must also be free of corruption, subtraction or addition that might otherwise adversely affect that preparation.  

Fortunately, mortal man has no need to become alarmed pondering which books belong in the Bible. Our God is powerful enough to preserve his Word. Ample evidence overwhelmingly confirms that the Bible with which we are familiar is the complete and uncorrupted Word of God.  

Insofar as translations have been accurately translated from the original languages, those translations are the inspired Word of God. No doctrine has been corrupted in reliable translations. Some translations, however, have not been accurately translated, but there is no doubt concerning the validity of the Bible text in the languages in which it was originally written.  

The word "canon" appears in the Greek New Testament about five times (2 Corinthians 10:13, 15-16; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16) and its meaning has been applied to the inspired body of Scripture--the Bible. Frequently, the word "canon" is translated as "rule" and refers to Godís rules by which men are supposed to live righteously before God, and certainly the rules by which men will ultimately be judged for their non-compliance.  

"Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing" (Philippians 3:16).
"And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
Which books belong in the Old Testament? The Old Testament as we know it has never been seriously doubted. The Old Testament books claim for themselves divine inspiration (e.g., "Thus saith the Lord"). The prophets quoted one another and recognized each other as inspired of God (Micah 4:1-4; Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 9:2). Joshua received Mosesí teachings as the Word of God, and some of the writing prophets are even listed in the Bible (1 Chronicles 29:29).  

Historically, the Old Testament books can be traced back to the time in which they were supposed to have been written and in which the writers lived. The Old Testament books agree with all known facts characteristic of the time of their purported writing and make no mistakes concerning historical information or geography. The Jewish people, the long time custodians of Godís Word, always received the books that comprise the Old Testament. The inspiration of the Old Testament canon was never in doubt by Godís people.  

Confirmation of the Old Testament is also abundantly found in the New Testament. All the Old Testament books are said to be quoted in the New Testament except Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. These books only lacked opportunity for use in the New Testament.  

The New Testament claims that the Old Testament is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Jesus Christ placed his stamp of approval on the Old Testament (Luke 24:44). The early church, first under the direction of inspired apostles, recognized the Old Testament as inspired and true (Acts 13:16-41). Further, in one sweeping statement, Jesus endorsed the entire Old Testament, from Genesis 49:10 to 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 (2 Chronicles was the last book according to the Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament, Matthew 23:35).  

Which books belong in the New Testament? The vast majority of New Testament books were never doubted by Godís people. The determining factor of whether a book belonged in the Bible rested with the integrity of the book, not with the integrity of the church. The uninspired church was not charged with officiating a list of inspired books (canon). The merit and divine qualities of the New Testament books themselves determined the New Testament canon.  

The proof, testimony and evidence of the validity of the New Testament as we know it are abundant. The books themselves claim inspiration. The New Testament writers believed their writings to be inspired Scripture and commanded Christians to circulate them as such (1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16; Revelation 1:3). The apostle Peter recognized the apostle Paulís writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). Warnings appear in the New Testament concerning deviation from or corruption of the New Testament, which attests its divine nature (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19).  

The basis of the New Testament is fulfillment of the Old Testament, chiefly the incontrovertible resurrection of Jesus Christ, which the New Testament affirms. The New Testament is historically correct in all of its facts and geography. The New Testament was accepted as Scripture from the time it was first written, at least initially by those to whom various parts of it were addressed.  

Uninspired writers who knew some of the inspired writers personally verified the validity of many of the New Testament books. Some of those upon whom the apostles had laid their hands doubtless participated in the early collection of our New Testament books. Miracles were to last until the "unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13) or until "that which is perfect is come" (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).  

Which ancient books do not belong in the Bible? First, there is a vast amount of literature that never claimed nor was thought to be biblical (e.g., poetry, legal documents, histories). Additionally, the Apocrypha are extra-canonical books that do not belong in the Bible. None of them are ever quoted or referred to by the biblical books.  

The Old Testament apocryphal books were written in the period between the testaments when admittedly there were no prophets of God. Some apocryphal books do not claim to be inspired. The apocryphal books contain factual errors concerning events and geography. The oldest catalog of canonical books of the Old Testament does not include the apocryphal books. The Old Testament apocryphal books were never accepted by the Jewish community as inspired. The New Testament apocryphal books are also biblically inaccurate and often conflict with inspired books about which there is no question.  

There are about 15 apocryphal books which were written between the testaments, which once even the Catholic Church did not accept. There are also about 15 New Testament apocryphal books besides about 20 pseudepigraphal books.  

Pseudepigraphal books do not belong in the Bible either. These books are falsely ascribed to Bible times or to inspired writers. They were never accepted as inspired. Both the apocrypha and the pseudepigrapha are spurious writings and therefore sometimes both are referred to simply as the apocrypha. The same criticisms leveled against the apocrypha largely apply to the pseudepigrapha.  

In summary, there are sufficient copies of the original texts in the original languages of the Bible to verify both the Old and New Testament texts. Further, enough ancient translations of the Old and New Testaments have survived to verify the Bible text. Some of the versions are even older than the manuscripts surviving.  

The Old Testament canon was accepted as it is at least by the second century B.C. The New Testament canon was accepted within one generation after the death of the apostle John. The Bible canon has stood the tests applied to it by critics throughout the centuries. Counterfeit books of the Bible have been discovered to be false when compared with the genuine. The inspiration of the Bible books is inherent and does not rely upon verification by outside sources.  

(Suggested reading includes: Revelation and the Bible by Berkouwer and others, published by Baker Book House (1958); Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible by Harris, published by Zondervan Publishing House (1974); General Biblical Introduction by Miller, published by Word-Bearer Press (1960); and, Introduction to the New Testament by Thiessen, published by Eerdmans Publishing Co. (1973).  

The Old Testament apocrypha includes: The First & Second Books of Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Additions to the Book of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, The Letter of Jeremiah, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and First & Second Books of Maccabees.  

The New Testament apocrypha includes: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, The Epistle of Barnabas, The First & Second Epistles of Clement, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Acts of Paul, The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, The Seven Epistles of Ignatius, The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, The Protevangelium of James, The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, The Gospel of Nicodemus, The Gospel of the Saviourís Infancy, The History of Joseph the Carpenter.  

The pseudepigrapha includes: The Gospels of Andrew, Bartholomew, Barnabas, Matthias, Thomas, Peter, and Philip; The Acts of John, Paul, Peter, Andrew, Thomas, Matthias, Philip, and Thaddaeus; The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans; The apocalypse of Peter, Paul, Thomas, and John the Theologian.)

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