What is the Canon?

  1. Give a definition of the word “canon” and describe the basic criteria and time-line of the formation of the New Testament canon. Why did early Christians feel a need to establish an authoritative list of Scripture? What element in the criteria is most important in your opinion? Which element is least important in your opinion? Be sure to give reasons why you chose these particular elements. How would you respond to a person who claimed that the canon of the Bible should still be open?

In order to understand the meaning of the word “canon” we must understand the origins of the word. The word “comes from the Greek word kanon, which in turn derives from its Hebrew equivalent kaneh and means “rule or “standard.”’[1] Unfortunately for the modern reader, this is impractical for now the word canon has come to describe the scripture as a whole. “The Canon is the standard by which the sixty-six books in the Bible and their content were determined and the basis upon which they were included in Scripture.”[2] Most scholars will agree that the books that compose the Canon of scripture were compiled around A.D. 100[3] as the members of the church in that day had started collecting the words of Jesus and the Apostles as they were read in the churches to the congregation.

At the time of canonization, there were other letters that did not get included in the Canon, many of which are known as Apocrypha. In order to determine what books should be included as scripture and what should not be, there were four basic principles in order for a book to be considered. However, the list of criterion does vary slightly depending on who you consult, but they are ultimately the same consisting of the following.

First, the book had to be authored by an apostle (some exceptions are given due to relation to the apostles by the author). Second, the book had to be spiritual in nature and conform to the church’s “rule of faith”. This is considered the books orthodoxy.[4] Third, the book had to already by universally accepted and used by the pastors of the churches. And lastly, there had to be evidence of divine inspiration. Some would argue the last criteria to its antiquity or the dating of the book to the age of the apostles.

Among these qualifications, there really is not one individual criterion that could be left out, so I would argue that there is not one specific criteria that should be labeled as least. However, I would say that chief among these criteria is likely the apostolic authorship due to how many books that alone excludes from scripture. However, without the rest of the criteria, any person could claim to write any book from an apostle and claim it to be scripture.

For anyone who would claim scripture should still be open, I would say that it makes no sense to add to scripture or take away from it. We know that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”[5] but we shouldn’t be adding to scripture for that reason alone. The church fathers considered scripture to be complete with the writing of Revelation which is fitting because of the last few verses warning that “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”[6]

  1. What is the traditional evangelical position regarding the canon? Describe some recent developments in scholarship on the NT canon and offer a short critique. What was the status of the OT canon in the first century according to Sundberg? Which NT books were slow to be universally received? Which book on that list is a surprise to you? Why?

The traditional evangelical position regarding the canon is that the canon was settled by the early church fathers and is now closed. In what is known as the argument of organic termination of doctrine, we know the Bible is complete and whole. Was delivered to the saints, and the next historical event in God’s plan is the rapture.[7] Contrary to traditional thought, recent scholastic developments tend to view more documents as scriptural even if they were not included with the original canon because the canon wasn’t closed until the third or fourth century when the church councils made formal announcements. Although this route is logical to an extend, it fails to take into account the working of God and that most NT books were already recognized as part of the church’s canon of sacred Scripture.[8]

Sundberg would propose that the OT canon in the first century would include the Apocrypha based on the idea that same councils that enumerated the 27 book NT canon also included the OT Apocrypha.[9] However, protestants have rejected the Apocrypha that the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546.[10]

Although most of the books in the New Testament were received with relative speed, there were some that were slower than others to be accepted than others such as James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation. Of these, the book of James surprises me the most is the book of James and maybe 2 Peter. I can understand why it might have taken 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation a while to be fully accepted. The books of James and 2 Peter seem to be so doctrinally sound and in line with the rest of scripture that I never even thought of those two books as being disputed.

[1] Kostenberger, Andreas & L. Scott Kellum, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group 2009). 3

[2] Towns, Elmer. Theology for Today. (Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008) 29

[3] Towns, Elmer. Theology for Today. (Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008) 84

[4] Kostenberger, Andreas & L. Scott Kellum, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group 2009). 9

[5] 2 Timothy 3:16

[6] Revelation 22:18-19

[7] Towns, Elmer. Theology for Today. (Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008) 81

[8] Kostenberger, Andreas & L. Scott Kellum, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group 2009). 14

[9] Kostenberger, Andreas & L. Scott Kellum, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group 2009). 14

[10] Hindson, Ed & Ergun Caner, The Popular Encylopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the truth of Christianity. (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers 2008). 101

Bibliography

Hindson, Ed & Ergun Caner, The Popular Encylopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the truth of Christianity. (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers 2008).

Kostenberger, Andreas & L. Scott Kellum, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group 2009).

Towns, Elmer. Theology for Today. (Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s