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The Bible Canon

Updated on July 29, 2019
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Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

What is the Bible?

The Bible is a collection of writings that were penned by human authors and claims divine inspiration. The Bible was written by about 40 different authors, over a 1500 year period and the majority of the writings are in two major languages (Hebrew and Greek). The Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Old Testament is composed of 39 books that were written between approximately 1400 B.C. to 450 B.C. This collection of books records creation, the formation of the nation of Israel and God revealing Himself in His dealings with the nation.

The New Testament is composed of 27 books that were written by nine different authors. They were written between 50 A.D. and around 95 A.D. These books give the account of the life of Jesus and God revealing Himself through the preaching of the Gospel and the Church.

As early as A.D. 367, Bishop Athanasius lists the 66 books we consider to be the Bible today as books being used by the Church. This is an important point. Some would argue that certain groups or counsels constructed the Bible, but that is simply not true. The various churches agreed that these books were from God and instructive to the Christian life.

Around 400 A.D, Jerome assembled a manuscript that contained all of the 66 books. It is important to note that the manuscripts of the Bible were not written in a printed, bound volume. Scripture was recorded on scrolls, animal skins and plant-based documents (papyrus). All these documents were handwritten, as the printing press was not invented until much later.

The Old Testament

There is very little debate over the books of the Old Testament. The reason there is little debate is that the books were preserved by the nation of Israel. Archaeological discoveries such as those at Qumran caves validate that the Bible we have today matches what the authors wrote. There were Biblical as well as non-biblical texts stored there. The Biblical texts are more famously known as the "Dead Sea Scrolls." These documents are dated between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D.

The New Testament

There is a greater debate in secular circles over the New Testament. As I said before, it is composed of 27 books, written by 9 authors. These books were not chosen randomly but had to meet the following criteria.

1) Apostolic: Either written by an Apostle or by someone closely associated with an apostle.

2) Antiquity: The book must have been written during the time that the Apostles lived.

3) Orthodoxy: Nothing in the writings could contradict with the rest of Scripture

4) Catholicity: The book needed to be accepted by the Christian Church.

5) Inspired: The book needs to either claim inspiration or given evidence that the author was directed by God to write the book.

6) Preserved: There must be manuscripts of the book available for verification.

The "Lost Books of the Bible"

It is somewhat humorous that these books are referred to as the "lost books," given that every serious Bible student is aware of them. Much has been said and written, often in the most sensationalists ways, about the so-called "Lost Books of the Bible." These books are divided into two major groups: The Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. The Apocrypha (which means "hidden), refers to those Jewish manuscripts that were written between 400 B.C. and the time of Christ. It is important to note that the Jews have never considered these books to be inspired or part of Scripture. They were merely various forms of literature. A few of the early church fathers seemed to go back and forth on their position of these books. But in general, they were rejected.

In fact, it was not until the Council of Trent in 1546, that the Roman Catholic Church declared that they were inspired and therefore, authoritative. The date is significant. The Council of Trent was responding to the Protestant Reformation and desperately looking for a defense of their unbiblical practices. They saw that they could assert their practices from the Apocrypha and thus declared them part of the Biblical canon.

Why is the Apocrypha Rejected?

These writings were never quoted by Jesus or the Apostles, who very often quote the Old Testament books. It could be that some New Testament authors allude to the writings, but never in an authoritative sense, like the Old Testament books.

As previously said, the Jewish people never considered these books to be inspired.

The books have no prophetic or supernatural confirmation of the authors.

The books blatantly disagree with the accepted texts of the Bible.

What About the Pseudepigrapha?

You might recognize the prefix "pseudo." It indicates that something is false. The Pseudepigrapha refers to that collection of manuscripts whose authors are not who they claim to be. The works attempt to imitate Scripture but they were written under false names. This is the obvious reason why they are not included in the Bible.


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