The Incredible Bible Chapter 2 - The Bible Canon
Before we actually study Canonicity , which determines how each book became included, lets first look at the Names and Divisions of the Bible .
(1) The Names of the Bible
The word "Bible" comes from the Greek word "biblos" which means"a little book." It comes from the word given to the inner pulp of
the papyrus reed that ancient books were written on. Here are two scriptures
in the New Testament that use this word "biblos":
Matt 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David', the Son of Abraham:
Lk 4:17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah . And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
Other names besides Bible are used in the New Testament . For example:
Mark 15:28 So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And He was numbered with the transgressors."
Lk 24:27 And beginning at Moses' and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in
all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Rom1:2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures,
Rom 3:2...Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.
Rom 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
(2) The Divisions of the Bible
The Bible has an Old Testament and a New Testament. The word "testament" means a covenant that God made with
His people. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New
A. The Old Testament
The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into 3 sections:
-The Law (Torah), 5 books:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
-The Prophets (Nebhim), 8 books:
Former Prophets - Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
Latter Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah , Ezekiel, The Twelve
-The Writings (Kethubim), 11 books:
Poetical Books - Psalms, Proverbs, Job
Megilloth - Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes
Historical Books - Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.
B. The New Testament
-Biography of Jesus (4 books): Matthew , Mark, Luke, John
-Historical (1 book): Acts
-Epistles (21 books): Romans - Jude
-Prophetic (1 book): Revelation'
It is very important to realize that the Bible wasn't originally divided into
chapters and verses as we know it today. In fact, they were first introduced by Stephen Langton,
Archbishop of Canterbury, around 1201 AD. The first Bible to be published which
was divided into chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible of 1560. Nevertheless, we have to remember that chapters and verses werenot inspired, though they are helpful. They can mislead us if they come right in
the middle of a subject being dealt with.
(3) The Canon of the Bible
The word "canon" comes from the Greek "kanon" which means "a measuring rod or
reed," and signifies a rule, a standard. Therefore, canon means those books
which have been measured, found satisfactory, and approved through the decision of
Rabbis or a church council to be inspired of God and, therefore, a standard
for men. Notice that these Ecclesiastical councils did not give these books their
divine authority, but merely recognized that these books already possessed
The Bible reveals when the Old Testament canon began, but is never clear about
when it was complete. The law was written down by Moses and periodically read to the people. For example:
Deut 31:9-11 9 So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark
of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses
commanded them, saying: "At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in
the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, 11 "when all Israel comes to
appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read
this law before all Israel in their hearing.
This marks the very earliest beginning of the Old Testament Canon. Also:
Deut 31:24-26 24 So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this
law in a book, when they were finished, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the
ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: 26 "Take this Book of the Law, and put
it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as
a witness against you;
Samuel also wrote certain events of his day in a book, as it says:
- The Canonicity of the Old Testament.
Later on in Old Testament history the prophets wrote books, as it says:
Is 30:8 Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it on a scroll, that it may be for time to come, forever and ever:
Jer 36:2 "Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against
Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spoke to you,
from the days of Josiah even to this day.
Hab 2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: "Write the vision and make it
plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.
Zech 7:12 "Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law
and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
Even Daniel searches "in the books" to discover God's will about Jerusalem and the people of God in Babylon:
Dan 9:2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah
the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of
There is no doubt that the Old Testament Scriptures were recognized during
those times as the very Word of God. Many scholars, inluding Norman Geisler, and
Gleason Archer, who are foremost among the scholars of our day in these
subjects, believe that the Old Testament Canon was completed and recognized as authoritative during the time of Ezra (444 BC). This was confirmed by the famous Jewish historian Josephus in many of his ancient writings, especially "Against Apion" and also by the
What is most important is that the Old Testament Canon was, no doubt, complete at the time of Christ. Jesus had some very interesting things to say about the absolute authority of
the Old Testament Canon as we Know it today:
- Sam 10:25 Then Samuel explained to the people the behavior of royalty, and wrote it in a book and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man
to his house.
Jesus referred to it as the "Scriptures" when He said:
Jn 5:39 "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which
testify of Me.
Lk 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in
all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
In the Hebrew Bible, Genesis is the first book and 2 Chronicles is the last book. Jesus made a remarkable statement that would not only put His seal of approval
on the entire Old Testament, but gave us exact knowledge that the entire Old
Testament books were in existence, and were approved at the time He was here on earth. This is spoken of in
Lk 11:51 "from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be
required of this generation.
Jesus was referring to the martyrs of the Old Testament. Abel was the first,
recorded in Gen 4, and Zechariah was the last, recorded in 2 Chr. 24. Wow, what
an amazing verse to substantiate the authority of the Old Testament Canon and
spoken by Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus many times authenticated people and events in the Old Testament to show His belief in the literal interpretation and
authorship, such as:
Adam & Eve - Matt 19:4 And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who
made them at the beginning `made them male and female,'
Noah & the Flood - Matt 24:37 "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son
of Man be.
Jonah in the Whale - Matt 12:40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the
great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart
of the earth.
Many other examples could be given such as the lives of David , Daniel, Abraham, Lot's wife, Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, etc. Events
like Sodom & Gomorrah, the lions den, the burning bush, manna, etc. all were
mentioned by Jesus. He either quoted from or alluded to every book of the Old Testament.
- Jesus and the Old Testament Canon.
The word "Apocrypha", refers to the 14 "Apocryphal Books" which have been
added to the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church, who believe them to be part of the Old Testament Canon. The books are
- The Apocrypha .
These books were written during the first two centuries BC. and fill the gap
between the Old Testament (which ended about 400 BC.) and the New Testament. The
question is...Should we accept these books as Scripture along with the Old
Testament? Most Christians and Jews would definitely say, "No," though they do have historical value. Roman Catholics since the Council of
Trent (1546) have held these books to be canonical, as quoted at Trent,
"If anyone receives not as sacred and canonical the said books (including
Apocrypha) entire with all their parts...let him be anathema".
There are several reasons for rejecting these books. Here are a few:
a. They were never considered canonical by Christians or Jews until the
Council in 1546, which was an obvious lash at Martin Luther.
b. They were never accepted as canon by Jesus, or the N.T. writers.
c. Virtually all of the early Church leaders rejected their canonicity.
d. Jerome , the great Hebrew scholar and translator of the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate , strongly rejected the Apocrypha.
a. The Apocrypha doesn't claim to be the Word of God.
b. It doesn't speak with God's authority as the O.T. books.
c. It contains historical errors (see Tobit 1:3-5 and 14:11).
d. It contains theological heresies such as praying for the dead (2 Mac), and
intercession to the saints.
e. It doesn't contain any prophesy and adds nothing to the messianic hope.
4. The Canonicity of the New Testament
There is much more evidence for the canonicity of the New Testament than that
of the Old. The 27 books of the New Testament were written during the last half
of the first century AD. The Christian Church was being formed and they had
the Old Testament Scriptures as the basis for their faith, as well as the
teachings of Jesus, passed on through the word of the apostles, and also the
authoritative teachings of the apostles. It was not long until the Gospels and the words
of the apostles were placed alongside the Old Testament. The authority of the
apostles of Christ is revealed:
- & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of 'Solomon,
Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, with the epistle of Jeremiah, The Song of the Three Holy
Children, The 'History' of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, 1 &
Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The same was immediately true of the apostle Paul's writings:
- Jn 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our
fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
- Pet 1:16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to
you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
Col 4:16 Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you
likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
Even in Peter's epistle, he recognizes Paul's writings as equal to the Old
Testament Scriptures when he writes:
- Thes 5:27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.
The process of collecting authentic apostolic literature began in the first
century. Though many books were written, there were tests to prove a books
canonicity. The following principles were used to determine this:
a. Apostlicity. Was the book written by an apostle, or one who was closely associated with
b. Spiritual Content. Was the book read in the churches and did its contents spiritually edify
c. Doctrinal Soundness. Were the contents of the book doctrinally sound?
Any book containing heresy, or any teaching contrary to the already accepted
canonical books was rejected.
d. Usage. Was the book universally recognized in the churches, and was it widely
quoted by the church leaders?
e. Divine Inspiration . Did it claim or give true evidence of divine inspiration? This was the
By the second century all but 7 of the 27 books were included in the canon.
these books were: Hebrews, 2 & 3 John, 2Peter, Jude, James, and Revelation . The process was rushed when Emperor Diocletian (302 AD) ordered that all the
Scriptures be burned with fire. Within 25 years, Constantine, the new Emperor,
had embraced Christianity and ordered Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea and church
historian, to prepare and distribute 50 copies of the New Testament. Athanasius
(born about 298 AD), in one of his pastoral epistles, lists all 27 books used
by Eusebius as Scripture, the same 27 that are in our New Testament today.
There were literally hundreds of books to be considered during the first four centuries. One group worth
mentioning is called the pseudepigrapha. These writings are clearly heretical.
Many heretical doctrines, such as those held by the Gnostics , who denied the incarnation of Christ; the Docetics , who denied the reality of Christ's humanity; and the Monophysites , who rejected the dual nature of Christ, are found in these books.
Fortunately, there were great influential leaders and councils that maintained the purity
of the New Testament Canon and it has maintained that same purity up to the
present day, despite what the higher critics of the Bible might say.
©1995 The Bible Knowledge Accelerator Created by Rusty Russell
- Pet 3:15-16 15 and account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation--
as also our beloved brother Paul , according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all
his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard
to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own
destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.