What is the Canon of Scripture? | THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE SERIES (Part 1)


Published on May 24, 2021

We live in a day where it is becoming increasingly harder to filter through all the misinformation and recognize credible sources. Fake news is a real issue and people are becoming increasingly confused about what they can trust and where to go. Thus, in our day-to-day lives, we see the immense importance of knowing how to recognize a good source of information and the impact it can have on us. If this issue is so important for regular sources of information, such as news, media, and health advice – then it is definitely significant for our spiritual lives as well.

Theotivity aims to help equip Christian creatives (and Christians in general) with solid and robust theology for all of life. There is no greater issue than our theology of Scripture. Our doctrine of Scripture lays the theological groundwork that will significantly affect the shape and depth of our faith. Many have found or even lost their faith depending on their views and understanding of the Bible. In this 6-part series of articles, we are going to take a look at the books of the Bible because there is no more important question for the Christian (and the non-Christian) than what we make of the Bible.

Series Outline

In this series, we’ll take a look at the important issue of what books belong in the Bible. We’ll look at:

  1. What is meant by the ‘canon’ of Scripture?
  2. The books of the Old Testament – how was it formed and organized?
  3. The Apocryphal books – why do Protestants and Catholics have different books in their Bibles?
  4. The books of the New Testament – why were these added to the collection of Scripture?
  5. How did the Church recognize what books were Scripture and what books weren’t?
  6. Is the Bible missing any books today? What if we found a lost letter of Paul today – would we add it to the Bible?

There are many more questions we could look at when it comes to the Bible, and I hope to have more article series addressing those in the future – but that’s where we’re going in this little series. So, I hope you’ll join me and pray that the Lord would use this to strengthen your trust in His Word and deepen your faith.

What is meant by the ‘Canon’ of Scripture?

There are many books out there today claiming to have some sort of authority. Usually, a book’s authority has to do with what is claimed to be its source. For example, a book whose author is a ten year old boy would not have the same authority as a book whose author is a PhD scholar who has spent many years studying, especially if it is on a topic of specialty of that scholar. A book may also come with significant authority if its author is someone of high esteem or status in society – like a president or a religious guru. So, a book’s origin has major implications for its authority.

The Bible claims that its author is the infinitely wise, Triune, Eternal God who created everything. Thus, Scripture carries with it unmatched authority because of the authority of its Author. However, before we can talk about Scripture – that is, the book which God has inspired – we need to know what books are considered Scripture. God inspired some books, but not all books. This mere fact means that there must be some limitation to our Bibles. This is what we call the ‘canon of scripture.’

The Definition Of ‘Canon’

No, it’s not that thing that pirates use to shoot iron balls at each other’s ships….

The term ‘canon’ – from the Greek word κανών (kanṓn) – simply means “measuring rod, standard”. It refers to the standard by which you access something, or determine the limits of something. When we use it in terms of the Bible, we mean the limits of the books that belong in the Bible. The term ‘canon’ refers to the collection of books which are divinely authoritative and deserve to be in our Bibles.

“The canon is an artifact of revelation, not an object of revelation itself. It is known infallibly to God by necessity and to man with a certainty directly related to God’s purpose in giving the Word to the church. The canon exists because God has inspired some writings, not all writings. It is known to man in fulfillment of God’s purpose in engaging in the action of inspiration so as to give to His people a lamp for their feet and a light for their path.” (James R. White, Scripture Alone, 101)

This is an important point that Dr. White makes here. The canon is an artifact or by-product of the activity of God’s revelation in Scripture, not an object of revelation itself. God did not float down a divine list of authoritative books out of heaven. Instead, the canon was formed naturally as God gave authoritative writings to us. We know the canon (list of God-given books) because God inspired some books not all books. We will come back to the question of how do we recognize which books are inspired in a later article in this series.

So, whenever you see the word ‘canon’ in these articles, this is what is meant. It is the list of authoritative, divinely inspired books of the Bible.

The Importance of the Canon of Scripture

Of course, the word canon is not in the Bible, so why is it important that we have a Canon of Scripture? Why do we need a collection of God-inspired writings preserved for us today?

Well, primarily because God intended it to be so.

The idea of not adding to or taking away from the books/writings which God has given to us comes from God himself.

“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

This command from Deuteronomy implies that we must know which writings are from God so that we would not add to or take away from it. This concept is reiterated in the last book of our Bibles:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

So we see from the Bible itself that this is a very serious issue. Theologian, Wayne Grudem, says this in his Systematic Theology:

“To add to or subtract from God’s words would be to prevent God’s people from obeying him fully, for commands that were subtracted would not be known to the people, and words that were added might require extra things of the people which God had not commanded.” (Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 54)

The Apostle Paul says this of the Scriptures:

“Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

God superintended what was written earlier by the OT authors so that it was not just for them and their audience in their time, but also for us and His people throughout time. For this to happen implies that what was given by God was meant to be preserved and passed down to future generations. This implies writing and thus implies knowing what writings are from God. So, we see from Scripture itself that God intended there to be a canon.

No Small Issue

What is at stake here in the doctrine of the canon of scripture is nothing less than what God requires of us to be saved! It is no small issue at all and several other religions differ from Protestant (and Reformed) Christianity in their views towards the Bible. For example, Roman Catholicism and certain cults add to the canon of Scripture and thereby add to (or take away from) the material that God has given us. From these additions come distortions of the true Gospel – and thus this is a matter of eternal significance. We must know what books are Scripture in order to know what we must believe to be saved.

In today’s world of fake news and misinformation, the issue of the Canon of Scripture is a very important one. It is not just some nebulous or abstract theological concept, but rather one which will have significant implications on your day-to-day life.

So, I invite you to join me for this series of articles, The Books of the Bible, to discover what books should be in the Bible and why.

Articles in this series:

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