They do make nice photography equipment, but I’m not speaking about a camera manufacturing company. Nor am I talking about the big things Tchaikovsky used in his musical piece that most people recognize but couldn’t tell you the name of it to save their lives (it’s the 1812 Overture in case you’re wondering). What I’m speaking of is the books that comprise the Holy Bible – the Canon. How did we come to accept only those books?
We get our English word “canon” from the Greek word kanon which originally meant a straight line or ruler. A canon was something you would use to measure other things against to determine if they were accurate. This is exactly what we do with the Scriptural Canon. The church examines the teachings and truth-claims of others against the canon of Scripture. If it goes against the doctrine contained in Scripture then that particular truth-claim must be rejected as false. Seeing as there is so much weight given to the canon of Scripture it is a good idea to understand, at least a little bit, of how the canon of Scripture came to be.
There is quite a bit to be said and entire books that address this topic. This post isn’t aimed at answering every question you may have, but to briefly show that the accepted books of the Bible were not comprised via a power play over the reigning few at the time, or the cunning work of one man that just wanted to sculpt his own Jesus and sell it to the masses. I’ve discovered that many do not know how the Bible came to be the Bible as we know it – believers and unbelievers.
Each book, especially those of the New Testament, has it’s own story on it’s path to canonization. I will not give each one here. What I will do, is hopefully set you off on a quest to better know your church history and enable you to speak more intelligently when asked, “How did they decide which books belonged in the Bible anyway?”
The early church wasn’t a bunch of ignoramuses running around accepting anything and everything with the name of Jesus on it (that seems to better characterize today’s American Christianity). There were pseudo-writings floating around, trying to pass themselves off as authentic, as well as writings by genuine Christians that contained accurate historical accounts and truth. How did they know to discount the false writings and why did they exclude the good one’s such as the writings of Barnabas?
There were three main criteria the church used (notice the church as a whole, not one man who was calling all the shots) in determining if a book was in or out: orthodoxy, apostolicity, universality. Here they are explained by Thomas Lea and David Black:
- Church leaders often appealed to the agreement of the book with what they called “the rule of faith”. This meant that the teaching of the book followed the beliefs the church regarded as acceptable and correct.
- The book had to demonstrate apostolicity. This criterion required authorship by an apostle or by the associate of an apostle (as in the instance of Mark and Luke).
- The church applied the test of universality. This required that the book be accepted by a broad segment of the church. 1
In other words, the church as a whole was merely confirming what believers had already accepted. Some have approached me with the conspiracy theory that creating the cannon was a power play by the few in as an attempt to try to build a Christianity to their liking by picking and choosing out of the plethora of “Jesus papers” that were available at the time. Just sharing with them a bit of the history of how the Bible came to be the Bible seemed to help them to lay down some of their false ideas of the origin of the Bible. Maybe you will find it useful as well.
1Lea, Thomas D., and Black, David Alan, The New Testament It’s Background and Message, B&H Academic, 2003