CANONS OF THE BIBLE
by -- Raymond A. Cutts
-- " All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
2 Peter 1:2
-- "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but
holy men of God spake as they were moved by the holy ghost."
-- Webster's Dictionary (1974 Edition) - An authoritative of books
accepted as Holy Scripture. Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771
Edition) Canon of Scripture: A catalogue or list of inspired by God writings,
of such books of the Bible called canonical; because they are in the number
of those books which are looked upon as sacred, opposition to those which
are either not acknowledged as divine books, or are rejected as
heretical and spurious and are called apocryphal (not inspired by God;
ma 's personal view).
TESTAMENT -- The Old Testament was originally written in
Hebrew. Traditionally it is divided by the Jews into three parts:
PENTATEUCH, together with the book of Joshua (Hexateuch)
a history of Israel in the promised land and the stories of the prophets
to the people.
"writings", Job, Ecclesiastes and the poetic works and history.
2 -- The time span of the writing of the Old Testament is approximately
1,000 years - Exodus written about 1300 BC to Ezra written shortly before
400 BC: for accounts preceding the Exodus very few chronological data
Looking at the three
or torah (Law) - book of Israel's beginning (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, Deuteronomy). Among the Jews, the Law has held a unique place
within Biblical literature, a place that was not changed with the adoption
of other sacred books.
under this title there are 21 books in all; 6 historical, 3 major prophets
and 12 minor prophets.
6 historical books - Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings.
3 Major Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
12 Minor Prophets - Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum,
Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
NOTE: Daniel is not
included as a prophet to the Jews.
is considered a miscellaneous collection of sacred writings that cannot
be classified in either the Pentateuch (Law) or the Prophets. The Hagiographer
is in three sections:
literature - Psalms, Proverbs and Job.
Megilloth or Rolls - Songs of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations,
Ecclesiastes and Esther. The Jewish Classification of these five books
by their secular tone has made a problem to their status in scripture.
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These last five books are gathered together more as chronicles
of history according to the Jews. - Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and I and
In the formation
of the Old Testament Canon we will now look at the Jewish and Christian
Canons of the Old Testament.
It is not known when and how the earliest collection of sacred writings
in Hebrew arose. The incident reported in II Kings 22 -- 640 BC boy King
Josiah clearly presupposes the existence of some such collection; but
both the incident and the collection are impossible to date exactly (approximately
630 BC). The Pentateuch (or at least its first four books) was in process
of assembly in Jerusalem before that time.
Division of the Old
Testament into the Law, the Prophets and the Hagiographa may reflect stages
in the history of the canonization of the Old Testament. Thus the Law
may have been the first to be canonized, then the written form of the
message of the prophets, then some other writings.
of sacred writings were put together quite early in the history of Israel,
but they did not become a canon until much later. How much later, depends
upon the list of books assembled in the Greek translation of the Old Testament,
the Septuagint. Most scholars have drawn the inference that the Jewish
collection of sacred books was still in a fluid state in the 2nd Century
BC, that the status
4 -- of the Apocrypha, as well as that of some books in the
Hagiographa, was unclear.
The Name canon may
properly be applied to the books that seem to have been adopted by the
assembly of rabbis at Jamnia about AD 90 or 100 under the leadership of
Rabbi Akiba. Until then, apparently, the status of the Song of Solomon
and of Ecclesiastes remained doubtful, but at Jamnia they were definitely
included in the canon. That canon did not include the additions
of Esther, Jeremiah and Daniel that are found in the Septuagint. Formally,
then, the Jewish canon of scriptures came to include the Pentateuch, the
Prophets and the Hagiographa, as it has ever since.
on the process by which the Jewish canon of the Old Testament was formed
has come from the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. The books of the
Old Testament included in them suggest that the Pentateuch and the Prophets
had been standardized by about the 4th Century BC, together with most
of the Hagiographa; but some of the Hagiographa (including Daniel) were
still in dispute until the assembly at Jamnia. After the fall of Jerusalem
in AD 70 and the rise of the Christian movement, the Jewish community
felt obliged to fix the limits of its Bible more precisely.
5 -- Christian Canon of Old Testament: The
Bible of Jesus and of the early Christians was the Old Testament, but
no list of the books it might have included exists.
For most of the early
Christian Fathers the Old Testament meant the Septuagint, since few of
them other than Origen knew Hebrew. Although they were aware of the divergence
between the canon as accepted by the Jews and the list of books contained
in the Septuagint, the examples of Melito, Origen and Athanasius suggest
that the status of the disputed books remained in doubt during the first
four centuries of the Christian era.
Jerome was one of
the few Christians in those centuries to learn Hebrew. What he learned
from the Jewish rabbis caused him to distinguish sharply between the canon
as approved by the Jews and the catalogue represented in the Septuagint.
As he came to prefer the Hebrew text to the Septuagint, so he also assigned
primary authority to the Jewish canon and put the Apocrypha into, at best,
a secondary position. Jerome's contemporary, Augustine, on the other hand,
provides a catalogue of Old Testament writings that includes these books.
Throughout the Middle Ages the status of the Apocrypha remained doubtful.
Some theologians followed Jerome and excluded them altogether from the
Bible in the strict sense; others followed Augustine and accepted them
with very little hesitation; still others had reservations about them
but used them as Holy Scripture. Contact between Jewish and Christian
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which was commoner during the Middle Ages than is often supposed, served
to point out to many Christian theologians the discrepancies between their
Old Testament and the Bible of the Jews. But it was not until the period
of the Reformation that the issue once more became a matter of concern
and of controversy to Christian thinkers.
As part of their
insistence that the church return to the Bible, the Protestant Reformers
called for the elimination of the deuterocanonical books from the Scriptures.
Luther's translation of the bible included them but put them into a separate
section as "Apocrypha", which deserved to be read but not to
be put on the same level as canonical scripture. The other Reformers were
even more vigorous in their opposition. Believing that the Old Testament
canon in use among the Jews of their time was also the Bible of Jesus
and of the early Christians, they refused to accept quotations from the
Apocrypha as support for Christian teaching.
Ever since the 16th
and 17th centuries, therefore, the churches of Christendom have had a
clearly defined canon of the Old Testament. The canon of Protestantism
and that of Judaism are identical, but the order of books is different.
The New Testament is the shorter portion of our Christian
Bible, however, despite the size, more is written and talked about in
the New Testament than the Old. Christians in general are more familiar
with the New Testament. Again, as in the Old, the New Testament is a collection
of books which ids divided in four sections:
7 -- 1. THE GOSPELS which
are the teachings and the life of Jesus.
BOOK OF ACTS which is the story of Christianity from the resurrection
of Jesus, to the end of the career of Paul, the
EPISTLES which are letters by early church leaders applying to sundry
needs and problems in the church, the
THE BOOK OF REVELATION or "Apocalypse or Prophetic"
is the only book in the canons that is primarily all prophetic in nature.
The history of the New Testament is a short time span.
Looking at each
THE GOSPELS are comprised of books; Matthew, Mark Luke and John.
What the Pentateuch is to the Old Testament the Gospels are to the New
Testament. The Gospels are the events surrounding Jesus Christ. Though
they seen to be dependent upon one another for much of their material,
the first three are distinct books each with its own purpose and structure,
the book of John is more individual than the others. These four portraits
form the basis for the rest of the New Testament.
BOOK OF ACTS is written as a continuation of Luke. This book links
the Gospels and the Epistles; it is historical in nature. Neglected as
it has been sometimes by students, Acts in the New Testament performs
the same function as the books of history do in the Old Testament. Without
Acts the reader of the Epistles looses his orientation.
EPISTLES comprises twenty-one books in all, most of which were composed
for a specific need in the early church; more than half are ascribed to
Paul. The books contained are: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians,
Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, the (Pastoral
Epistles) are I and II Timothy, Titus and Philemon; the
8 -- book Hebrews was considered an elaborate
argument for Christianity as the successor of Judaism, James, I and II
Peter, I, II and III John and Jude.
BOOK OF REVELATION, the last book in the Bible consists of a series
of visions which caused alarm and bewilderment to students of the Bible.
Now let us look at
how the New Testament canon was formed:
Several factors seem
to have been responsible for the rise of the New Testament canon, but
church historians vary in the amount of weight they assign to each. One
factor certainly was the sheer passage of time, as the church needed to
discover whatever resources it could to bind it to its past and to guarantee
its continuance in the tradition of the faith; the "Memoirs of the
Apostles" were one such resource. Also responsible for the establishment
of the canon was the circulation of writings that bore the names of Apostles
but did not contain apostolic teaching.
The only way to
eliminate these forgeries was to define the limits of the apostolic writings.
Such a definition became a crucial necessity when the heretic Marcion
compiled a canon of the New Testament containing his edition of
the Epistle of Paul and of the Gospel of Luke, which he regarded as the
only genuine Gospel. Although it now appears that Marcion did not cause
the church to establish its canon, he did accelerate the process. Another
heretical movement that helped to accelerate it was Montanism. The task
of sifting through the writings of the early church occupied the Christians
well into the 4th Century.
p 9 --
suggested the following division of these writings:
were acknowledged almost universally as part of the New Testament;
were disputed but finally accepted;
others were considered more or less serious but eventually rejected.
BOOKS -- The earliest pieces of Christian literature to be collected
seem to have been the letters of Paul, but it could appear that initially,
at least, they should qualify as "Scriptures". From the liturgical
usage of the church at Rome it would appear that the Gospels were the
first Christian books to be added to the Old Testament as supplementary
Scriptures, and that this had happened by the middle of the second Century.
Also from Rome and also apparently from the second Century comes the oldest
existing list of New Testament writings, the so-called Muratorian fragment,
so named because it was published by Ludovico Muratori. It was written
in Latin and contains the names of the books being read in the church
at Rome about AD 200. By about that time, as the writings of Irenaeus
and Tertullian suggest, both Lyons and Carthage were using the Gospels,
the Epistles of Paul and some other Epistles as Scripture. A few years
later the works of Origen in Alexandria make it clear that he also was
working with a similar, though not identical, collection.
From these four places
-- Rome, Lyons, Carthage and Alexandria -- may be compiled a list of books
on which they all seem to have been agreed. They are: Matthew, Mark, Luke,
John, Acts, Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians,
p 10 --
I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy, Titus, Philemon and I John.
BOOKS -- From
these same sources and from several church fathers quoted by Eusebius
may be assembled also a list of the books that were disputed on one or
another ground, but that were eventually included in the canon of the
New Testament. The Epistle of Hebrews belongs to this category. It seems
to have been accepted in the Eastern section of the church, but disputed
in the West, for it does not appear in the Muratorian canon and is also
questioned by other writers. The Epistle of James was in doubt by even
more writers. Although I Peter is almost universally acknowledged, it
is not listed in that category. Because of its absence from the Muratorian
catalogue. II Peter, on the other hand, was questioned by many fathers
who accepted I Peter. The Epistle of Jude appears in the Muratorian canon
but was rejected elsewhere. II and III John sometimes were included with
I John as one book, but they did not receive the universal support that
it did. The book of Revelation probably was the object of more antagonism
than any of the other books eventually canonized. The Montanist movement
made apocalyptic literature suspect in the orthodox church, and some writers
did not believe that the same man who had written the Gospel of John had
BOOKS -- There
is an exhaustive list of books that appear under the article Apocrypha
p 11 --
OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON -- The
writings of Eusebius and of his contemporary Athanasius make it evident
that agreement on the disputed books was approaching by the middle of
the fourth Century, and that the canon of the New Testament that now appears
in our Bibles was gaining general, if not quite universal, acceptance.
That canon appears for the first time in the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius,
in AD 367.
After the Festal
Letter other traditions held their own for a time. Thus the school of
Antioch in general accepted only three catholic Epistles -- James, I Peter,
I John -- while one of its most illustrious representatives, Theadore
of Mopsuestia, rejected the whole of this section of the canon. The West
followed the lead of Athanasius. In 382 AD a synod was held at Rome under
Pope Damasus at which the influence of Jerome secured the adoption of
a list of books answering that of Athanasius. This was ratified by Pope
Gelasius at the end of the fifth Century. The same list was confirmed
independently for the Province of Africa in a series of synods at Hippo
Regius in 393 AD, and at Carthage in 397 AD, and 419 AD under the leadership
of Augustine. The Second Canon of the Second Trullan Counsel of 692 AD,
the Quinisextum, may be taken to have formally closed the process of the
formation of the Canon for the East and the West. This Canon as accepted
then, stands now as found in our Bible.
A Pertinent Message
for Christians Today -- Pertaining
now in theology to three specific books which were under strain as to
whether they would be accepted or not in the Canon play a great roll in
p 12 --
to give to the world today. They are Daniel in the Old Testament, Hebrews
and Revelation in the New Testament.
THE BOOK OF DANIEL
with all its emphasis in prophetic understanding is lightly regarded by
the Jews; it is not considered worthy to be among the books of prophecy
because it is believed that Daniel had the gift of prophecy but not the
office of a prophet. It was also under question because of its apocalyptic
nature and, therefore, Daniel in the Jewish Canon is not found in the
Hagiographa and not in the Prophets.
THE BOOK OF HEBREWS
to the dispute as to the authorship of Hebrews it was under question as
to being accepted in the New Testament. The requirement for acceptance
in the Canon was that it had to be written by an Apostle or a companion
of an Apostle; the authorship, most have ascribed to Paul, others to Barnabas
and others say Apollos.
THE BOOK OF REVELATION
is one of a group of books called Apocalyptic or Visions in Symbols. Other
Apocalyptic books are -- in the Old Testament Daniel, in the Catholic
Apocrypha -- second Esdras, and in the Non-Canonical books such as Enoch
and Baruch, also many parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is interesting
to note that out of all these Apocalyptic books, God made sure that Daniel
and Revelation were included into the canon of Scripture as we use it
p 13 --
VERSIONS OR TRANSLATIONS OF THE BIBLE --
There are many versions or translations of the Bible such as: King James
Version, New International Version, Moffatts, Douay, and many others.
Of all the translations of the Bible the King James Version stands far
above all others in that it was a direct translation from the original
Greek and Hebrew where others are individual translations from the King
The Douay Version
being directly by the Roman Catholic Church by the Jesuits to combat the
King James Version. The Douay was translated from the Latin vulgate which
many Roman Catholic teachers admit to have thousands of errors.
The King James
even though it is written in old English style, is still the preference
of many because all the cross reference materials such as Concordances,
interlinears and word studies all refer to the King James Version in the
English language. This is why I personally prefer to use the King James
Version. Even though others may be easier to read, the King James Version
is closest to the true text of the original. --- END ---