Pastor F. William Darrow
Notes From The Adult Classes 2006 Evening Vacation Bible School
Webster Dictionary definition: "a rule or law, as of a church; standard for judgment, as the canons of art; the authorized books of the Bible, a bishop’s assistant.
The Church In History by B.K. Kuiper gives this definition:
"a list" – a list of books that belong in the New Testament
In his book, A Systematic theology of the Christian Religion,, James Oliver Buswell said, "The canonicity of the Bible is the quality or character of the Scriptures by which they are our rule of faith and life, as the infallible Word of God. Canonicity thus is equivalent to authority, the divine authority of the Scriptures."
It must be understood that the canon of Scripture did not come from the approval of men or approval of church councils. When God through inspiration gave the Scriptures to men it was at that point they were canonized. It was THE WORD OF GOD.
In the last half of the second century, 2 heresies became a problem.
Gnosticism – Christ never dwelt on the earth in human form.
Out of this struggle with the two heresies came three things:
A creed, a canon, and an organization
It must be understood that God established His canon and not "THE CHURCH". The canon of Scripture does not get its authority from the church but the church gets its authority from the canon of Scripture. Remember that the books were inspired when written and thus canonical at that point.
In The Da Vinci Deception by Erwin W. Lutzer he lists six steps as to how the New Testament canon came to be. Though these steps are given later, I would like to quote his six steps here which may help one understand.
When the church started in Acts 2 there were no New Testament writings. The title New Testament appears to have been used by an unknown writer against Montanism about 193 AD. The term was used regularly by Origen (185-254 AD) and later writers; The Incomparable Book by Dr.D.L.Brown.
Acts 2:42 says they "continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine". The Holy Spirit spoke to the church through them. They carried what we refer to as apostolic authority. In time the holy Spirit led them to write down the apostolic doctrines. That is where we get our New Testament. There is evidence in the book of Acts that the Apostles ruled on questions of major consequence concerning doctrine and practice. Acts 8:14, Acts 11:19-24, Acts 15:1-2
There were many letters and papers written in the early days of the church that were copied and passed around, but they were not all inspired. Only those that came to be recognized as inspired from God were canonized.
John confirmed this of Jesus’ ministry – John 21:25.
All the New Testament books were written from the time the church started in Acts 2 until around 95 AD when Revelation was completed. Several things must be considered. First, there were no printing presses so all these original writings had to be hand copied and then passed around so some churches may not have gotten certain books for a long period of time. This would explain why some books may not have been mentioned or used. There also was no headquarters for the church so geographical location played a big part. Judaism had the Temple in Jerusalem but the church was scattered. Christianity was an international religion. The churches were scattered from eastern Asia (1 Peter), western Asia (Revelation), and even Europe (Romans). From this it is easy to understand that not all churches immediately had copies of the various letters. Limitation on travel and communication affected the distribution as well. Obviously a method of selection and verification was important to the early church. As long as the apostles were still alive verification was not a problem but after John died it became different. There was a sort of round-robin circulation of books that steadily grew in number. (Colossians 4:16) By the end of the first century more than two thirds of our present New Testament books were considered inspired. Thus we must consider how those 27 books became known as the Inspired Word of God.
What became an issue then was which writings were the inspired Word of God and which were not. Not every writing, even by the apostles, was inspired.
Antiquity did not determine their inspiration.
In the early days, all of the divisions of Christianity – Roman, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox – agreed on the New Testament canon.
The New Testament books were all written in the latter half of the first century A.D. and almost all of them were clearly known, reverenced, canonized, and collected well before a hundred years had passed.
Consider the period of time from 70 A.D. to 170 A.D.
In his book, 1 CLEMENT, Clement made mention of four of Paul’s Epistles (1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, Titus) as well as James, John’s Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Clement also referred to the star appearing at Jesus’ birth, which he had to have gotten from Matthew.
Ignatius left us 7 letters from which we gain information. He referred to the Pauline Epistle of Ephesians by name. He references 1 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. He also refers to Matthew and John. He mentions the birth of Christ narratives, the Virgin Mary, the Davidic ancestry, the birth star, the Crucifixion with details, the Resurrection and Christ’s eating with the disciples; all of which came from the 4 Gospels.
Polycarp wrote a letter after the martyrdom of Ignatius, (108-117 A.D.). He refers to the Epistles of Paul implying authority. He referred to Matthew, Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1 & 2 Peter and 1 John.
Basilides, the Alexandrian Gnostic (117-139 A.D.) also confirmed certain writings as Scripture. He spoke of 1 Corinthians, Romans, Matthew, Luke, John, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, and 1 Peter. Basilides’ error was not in accepting Scripture but in interpreting it to his own end.
The Ophites, one of the first Gnostic groups, referred to Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews and Revelation. While they used other writings, there is no indication they considered the other writings canonical.
Another work called the EPISTLE OF BARNABAS (author unknown) is the first orthodox writing to quote a book of the New Testament as Scripture. It quotes Matthew 20:16 with the phrase, "as it is written" prefixed. There also may be a reference to 1 & 2 Timothy.
The next period is from 120-170 A.D. Extensive writings by numerous others are available. They merely confirm views already established. Many false teachers come on the scene, but they also confirm certain books to be Scripture. Marcion, a noted Gnostic, had a list of books he considered canonized. His list contained an abbreviated copy of Luke, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. He seemed to rely heavily on Paul’s writings and avoided Peter’s.
PAPIAS, the bishop in Asia Minor, also had a canonical list. He refers to Matthew, Mark, John, 1 John, 1 Peter and Revelation. He seemed to be opposite of Marcion and avoided Paul’s writings.
GNOSTIC VALENTINUS cites Ephesians, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, Corinthians and Hebrews. His disciple, HERACHION, followed suit.
JUSTIN was martyred in 148 A.D. He clearly refers to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews and Revelation. He refers to well-defined copies of sacred books.
MURATORI (170 A.D.) had his own canon called the Muratorian Canon. The first lines are missing. It starts with Luke, Acts, 13 Epistles of Paul, Jude, 2 & 3 John and Revelation. He denies certain spurious books. He omits Hebrews, James, 1 John, and 2 Peter. This list is almost exactly like our 27 New Testament books today.
Several minor witnesses are, 2 Epistle of Clement, Dionysius, and Hegesippus. They add nothing to the total picture but confirm it by showing the use of all four Gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, James, 1 Peter and Revelation.
The final witnesses of this period are actual translations of the New Testament into SYRIAC and LATIN.
The SYRIAC, also known as PHESHITO, is dated about 150 A.D. It was used in Syrian churches and contained all of the present New Testament canon, except 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation.
The OLD LATIN version dates also to the 2nd century (150 A.D.) Carthage, Africa was the center of OLD LATIN CHRISTIANITY. The Old Latin version contained all our present canon except 2 Peter, James and Hebrews. Because there was a false APOCOLYPSE OF PETER abroad, the 2 Epistle of Peter was not to be lightly accepted.
Combining the two versions of the extreme East and extreme West at the early date of 170 A.D., we have just what we should expect from abundant other evidence – the present canon of the New Testament with no additions and the omission of only 2 Peter.
There was not even one book that gained any noticeable degree of recognition only to lose it later on. The Gospels and Paul’s Epistles gained immediate recognition. Other books were accepted in certain areas and yet not in others. Finally, they were all universally accepted. The last one to pass the test was 2 Peter.
TESTS FOR THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON
The four Gospels and the Epistles of Paul were widely accepted, so there is no reasonable doubt concerning them. From there we can use the principles laid down in the unquestioned books, in the undoubted teaching of Christ and the Apostles to assist in deciding questions where the evidence is more scanty.
Before I go into detail concerning the tests, I want to print a list of tests that is printed in General Biblical Introduction by Rev. H. S. Miller.
The early church held the view that if it was inspired, it also was apostolic. If a book was part of the New Testament, it was recognized as inspired if it had been written by an apostle – either by himself or with the help of an understudy (amanuensis).
A third test was acceptance by the churches. "As the books circulated they had to gain acceptance by the churches. Actually there was no book that was doubted by any large number of churches that eventually was accepted into the canon." Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie.
A fourth test was conformity to the rule of faith, or was it consistent with the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. For example, though the author of Hebrews is unknown, it is seen as an inspired exposition of how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Law and its rituals.
Much of the above material is compiled from Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible by R. Laird Harris.
"Early in the 4th century Eusebius of Caesarea (260-340), as a historian reviews the situation in his Church History. He makes three classes; first, including the Gospels, Acts, Epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John is acknowledged; to these, if one likes, one may add the Apocalypse (Revelation). The second class is questioned but accepted by the majority: James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John. The third class of works to be decidedly rejected, contains the Acts of Paul, Hermes, Apocalypse of Peter, Barnabas, Didache…The Incomparable Book by Dr. D.L. Brown
These spurious books were called pseudoepigraphical; that is, fraudulent writings.
Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367) gives us the earliest list of New Testament books, which is exactly like our present New Testament. This list was in festal letters to the church. Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh MacDowell.
In the 5th century, a letter, dated 414 AD, written by Jerome, accepted the New Testament books listed by Athanasius, a list that corresponds to today’s New Testament. Since the 4th century, history, tradition, and worship have approved the canon of the New Testament. While there were some attempts to exclude or add some books, these 27 books have remained the non-negotiable New Testament Canon of Christendom. The Incomparable Book by Dr. D.L. Brown
"When at last the Church Council – the Synod of Hippo in AD 393 – listed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, it did not confer upon them any authority which they did not already possess, but simply recorded this previously established canonicity. (The ruling of the Synod of Hippo was re-promulgated four years later by the Third Synod of Carthage. 397 AD)" - F.F. Bruce
Since that time there has been no serious questioning of the twenty-seven accepted books of the New Testament by either Roman Catholic or Protestants. Even if a letter of Paul were discovered today, it would not be canonical because the canon has been determined long ago. Even more recent books written by cults have no claim to be part of the canon of Scripture no matter what their claims may be.
You may have heard, as I have, that Martin Luther believed that the book of James did not belong in the canon but here is his actual statement. "St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and St. Peter’s Epistle – these are the books which show to thee Christ, and teach everything that is necessary and blessed for thee to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book of doctrine. Therefore, St. James’ Epistle is a perfect straw-epistle compared with them, for it has in it nothing of an evangelic kind." Thus Luther was comparing (in his opinion) doctrinal value, not canonical validity. Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie.
As the church councils became the functions of the Roman Catholic Church they eventually recognized some of the non-canonical books. However, the Reformers never accepted the non-canonical books as Scripture.
COUNSEL OF TRENT – POPE PAUL III – 1545-1563
OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA – 15 books
NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA – 16 books
PSEUDEPIGRAPHICAL BOOKS (false writings)
OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS
NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS
This information about the non-canonical books is
quoted from A Dispensational Theology by Charles F. Baker.