THE BIBLICAL CANON
How has the Bible been put together?
The claim is often made that our current Bibles contain those books/letters that a church synod (meeting) decided on. They chose these books reportedly to present some false idea about who Jesus was and about how we should live. Very often the sceptic will associate these claims with the emperor Constantine and the council of Nicaea in AD 325.
Is there any truth in this and, how did this book that we have known as the Bible come to be?
Initially all our current 4 gospels were grouped as one, as were the letters of Paul. These were grouped together for transport sake, (brought around the churches) in documents known as a Codex. These books were being used in all churches and were accepted due to their apostolic authority.
Some books such as Hebrews were accepted later due to doubts (which remain) over their authorship. The theological consistency with other apostolic documents has meant that it received widespread support despite the author being unknown.
The impetus to have an accepted list (Canon) was in part due to heretical gospels and letters which were not recognised by the majority (e.g. Gospel of Thomas & Marcion) who was known to have rejected the Old Testament.
An accepted document according to Eusebius (263AD – 339AD) had to meet three criteria:
1) Use in the Church
2) Apostolic Origin
3) Theological Consistency
Eusebius; (History Eccl. 3.25.1-7)
Our current books were the ones that met these criteria from the very beginning, they had widespread acceptance, were being used in the churches and were speaking a consistent message.
The question should not be why are our current books are in the Bible, but why were others rejected and, on the basis of what criteria where they rejected?
Princeton Professor B.M. Metzger states that:
“The canon was not so much chosen as recognised, and the books that were left out were not excluded by an arbitrary decision. They excluded themselves because under careful scrutiny by many different Christians it was recognised that these documents were in some way inconsistent and lacked agreement or harmony with the sacred texts which all respected. Orthodoxy preceded canon, and helped the process of discerning what the canon should be like.”
Here are the four facts which confirm our canon and the current 27 books.
1) Almost all current books had widespread acceptance from the very beginning (e.g. Start second century).
2) Muratorian Fragment dated to AD170 contains a list of the generally accepted books (long before any church council).
3) Early church fathers listed many times between 2nd-4th centuries a list of accepted and non-accepted books. Again, these were agreed by the majority of Christendom.
4) The Council of Nicaea is well described historically and at no point did they remove or include any book which wasn’t already accepted. They met to consider the deity of Jesus and the nature of the trinity.
The above assertion (Council of Nicaea decided on the Canon) is a myth, as are many old and newer claims, such as Dan Browns Da Vinci Code.
These four facts above make such claims e.g. that we cannot trust the Bible because of how it was put together, untenable.
In conclusion, it is clear from history that no church council made the canon of Scripture.
Final word goes to Neil Lightfoot:
“No church by its decrees gave to or pronounced on the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church.” (Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible)