Determining the Canon of Scripture

Introduction

How do we determine that the books in the Bible are true and that these books are from God? What sets them apart from other writings? I’d like to present to you what I believe to be the Christian Canon at this time in my study and the most logical ways to determining what should be considered Holy Scripture. Let me start out by highlighting some of the fundamentals of the faith as received from the Apostles.  

Basic Christian Beliefs

W=As Christians we have committed ourselves to: 

  • YHWH as the only God
  • Jesus of Nazareth with His teachings  
  • The prophets with their prophecies 
  • The Apostles and their teachings
  • The faithful who have gone before us with their writings 

Order of Commitment

Those who have committed themselves to these things above have not all done so in the same order as others who have also committed themselves to these things. One may have believed in God being YHWH because they first heard and committed themselves to Jesus, but another may have believed in Jesus because he first believed in YHWH and the prophecies of the prophets. The order does not matter, but all of these are connected and must be committed for the Christian.  

For the majority of people who were not raised by believers they probably became committed to Jesus before they committed to the Christian Scriptures. For that person the Scriptures are validated because Jesus validated them. For the person raised by believers the Scriptures were no doubt first believed because they were taught to do so. These two most common ways of validating the Scriptures are pretty much inescapable for all new followers of Jesus. These two forms of accepting Scripture can be classified as Authority and Tradition respectively. These two are good and when both given and received honestly these are ideal. As to giving honestly I mean the church or the men of old passing down and referencing the works written by the Apostles and Prophets. As to receiving honestly I mean knowing that those writings which are being given are from the Apostles and Prophets. To complete the honesty of both one needs to confirm the validity of the tradition of what has been given.  This is because the most important reason that anyone should be reading the Scriptures is because they are true and represent God’s teachings. How do we rationally conclude then that these writings we commit to today are God’s teachings and how do we do make that conclusion on any writings in general?  

Logical Validating Methods

When it comes to our commitment to Jesus and the Scriptures, I have listed these three as some of the only and biggest methods to determining what is true teaching from God in writing format.  

  • Validation by our authorities: Jesus, Prophets, Apostles (Authority) 
  • Validation by the religious use and acceptance as proven by historical record (Tradition) 
  • Validation by prophetical fulfillment (future)   

Authority

Like I mentioned earlier we must never forget the fact that we read and commit to the Scriptures because we first commit to Jesus. When we commit to Jesus we become faithful to that which He also was faithful to. We want to identify ourselves with the One who knows truth and is Truth. Jesus demonstrated through His teachings, His religion, and His quotation of sources that He Himself was faithful to the “Old Testament” portion of what we call the Scriptures. Jesus never lists out which writings He affirms and which He does not, but because of His teachings and His religion we can come to a pretty good idea of which He held to. Jesus committed to YHWH as the “only true God” and regarded the God of the Jews as the only one that mankind should “serve”. He taught in Synagogues and affirmed the “religion of the Jews”. The Jews at that time had a collection of writings they affirmed to be Holy Scripture, but it should be noted that there is no evidence to support that there was one agreed upon collection. Instead it is demonstrable that others at the time held to more of or less of what could be called the common collection, or canon, of their day. The next section will discuss more about this. 

Tradition

The common collection of Scripture is the collection of writings which can be traced throughout time by historical records as generally being held to by most sects of Judaism and Christianity. If we start from today’s sects of Christianity we will have a few handfuls of collections at our reference, at least when it comes to the “Old Testament” portion. This is mostly because the “New Testament” portion has enjoyed less debate throughout history.  Within today’s sects of Judaism we see fewer collections than in Christianity, but there still are at least a few different collections. Generally for all sects of Christianity it is agreed upon that the 66 books of what is known as the protocanon, or the Protestant collection of writings, is true. Accordingly, the major sects of Judaism would agree that the “Old Testament” section of the protocanon is true as well.  The majority of old translations of the Scriptures from the time of the completion of the New Testament until now also agree with these 66 books. There is witness however to people who believed in the 39 Old Testament writing collection but also held to other books as also true and important. Looking at the different versions of the Septuagint will lead someone to understand that not only did some hold more books to be true, but also that there were more than one variation of this different collection. Many of the early church fathers quoted other books and regarded them as true. These books are referred to by many people as the apocrypha or Deuterocanon depending on the book. The scrolls found at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) show that there were many other religious works by the time of the first century. These works attest to other writings in Hebrew. It is now widely believed that there was a Jewish sect known as the Essenes who lived at the time of Jesus. This group of people was those who hid the scrolls found at Qumran/Dead Sea and held to them as truth. The Ethiopian Jews now known as Beta Israel hold to a collection of writings that includes some of these other writings along with the common Jewish collection. It is commonly said that these Jews left Israel before the destruction of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. When it comes to the New Testament the same principles apply as did with the Old. The only thing with the New Testament is that the common collection was finalized so early on in the history of the Church that any divergence from this common collection does not enjoy nearly as large of a witness as the divergences within the Old Testament. In conclusion of this section it is demonstrable that historically the common canon (protocanon) of the Scriptures have been revered by most throughout time. This does not mean however that these are the only books that were or should be regarded as true. 

Prophecy

According to the Law of Moses a man who claimed to be a prophet was either justified or damned depending on if what he said was going to happen actually did happen. For us in this age there aren’t many predictions of the prophets that have yet to be fulfilled. We pretty much are solely waiting for the last strong leader, whom is commonly referred to as the anti Christ, and the second coming of Jesus. When it comes to validation of Scripture one of our last ways of determining its validity is by seeing if its predictions come true. Unfortunately, when these final predictions take place it will all but be too late for the skeptic. The Scriptures are full of predictions that were fulfilled in the times of later writers of the Bible. The final remaining prophecies are the coming of the man called anti-Christ and then the Second Coming of Christ. The only other prophecy fulfilled that we can see today is the continuation of first century prophecies such as the continuation of the Church and the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Summing up the Points

So if we take those principles into account we should be able to come to at least a pretty good idea of what should be considered. History proves that the sixty six books that are in the common collection have been highly venerated by a large majority of Christians and Jews (In regard to the “Old Testament” portion). Jesus and the Apostles are recorded as having quoted or alluded to many of these books and holding them to be true. So, I suggest that we should start from here. The Apostles and other New Testament writers are also recorded as having quoted and held to other writings. The Apostle Jude undeniably quotes from 1 Enoch, a book which is esteemed by many to not be Holy Scripture, and says that Enoch is the prophet who spoke the quotation. Paul alludes to deuterocanonical works in his writings. If we hope to be consistent in our identification of Holy Scripture we have to consider these books as well. I am not going to define the canon totally. This is something that is going to be impossible to totally figure out. At this time I can only see these points as being the only rational way to determine what the Scriptures are.  

Canons of Scripture

Protocanon Common Collection

Genesis  

Exodus 

Leviticus 

Numbers 

Deuteronomy 

Joshua 

Judges 

Ruth 

1 Samuel 

2 Samuel 

1 Kings  

2 Kings 

1 Chronicles 

2 Chronicles 

Esther 

Ezra 

Nehemiah  

Psalms 

Proverbs 

Ecclesiastes 

Song of Solomon 

Job 

Isaiah 

Jeremiah  

Lamentations 

Ezekiel    

Daniel 

Hosea 

Jonah 

Nahum 

Habakkuk 

Joel  

Amos 

Obadiah  

Micah 

Zephaniah 

Haggai 

Zechariah  

Malachi 

Matthew  

Mark  

Luke 

John 

Acts of the Apostles 

Romans 

1 Corinthians 

2 Corinthians 

Galatians 

Ephesians  

Philippians 

Colossians 

1 Thessalonians  

2 Thessalonians  

1 Timothy 

2 Timothy 

Titus 

Philemon 

Hebrews  

James 

1 Peter 

2 Peter 

1 John 

2 John  

3 John 

Jude 

The Revelation of John  

Deuterocanon Eastern Orthodox

Tobit 

Judith 

Additions to Esther  

Additions to Daniel 

The Books of Maccabees (1,2,3) 

The Wisdom of Solomon  

The Book of Sirach 

The Letter of Jeremiah  

The Prophecy of Baruch  

The Prayer of Manasseh 

Psalm 151 

Where to Start?

I have mentioned a few different thing that may be new to the reader and they may like to find out how to apply these methods and to validate certain comments I made. Let me help with a list.

1. Early Christians Quotation and Belief of other Writings

I could give the reader an example and will give one below, but here are two websites where you can read early Christian writings for yourself! Check to see what early Christians believed! Read the Ante Nicene Fathers for an especially early look.

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/

https://www.ccel.org/fathers.html

“I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, which has assigned this order of action to angels, is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either.” Tertulian (On the Apparel of Women I 3:1-3) 

2. Different Bible Canons at the Time of Jesus?

I mentioned several things that are relevant to this point. Deuterocanonical books were available at the time of Jesus and the Apostles. I mentioned early Christian writings as one proof, but other proofs include the many Hebrew fragments found at Qumran, which validate that these were written by Jews, and the historical Essenes. The Essenes, who likely hid the scrolls, were of some of the Jews who believed in these writings. Check out google for my resources on Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls!

3. Other Christian Bible Canons

Our brothers in the other churches are not hiding what they believe. Check out their individual websites for what canons these churches have historically held to. 

4. Early Bible Translations

Check out info on various early copies of the Septuagint and see what books this early Greek translation of the Scriptures included! 

Determining the Canon of Scripture

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