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The Canonical Criteria For the Holy Bible

Updated on September 26, 2013

The Canonical Criteria of the Holy Bible

The term, holy scriptures translate to mean the writings that “were set apart”. Both the Jewish Synagogue and the Christian church regarded these writings as different from secular wittings on the belief that they had been inspired by God. The sacred canon was another phase in which the list of such sacred writings were derived as a closed collection such that no other texts could be added, subtracted or changed in any manner. The word canon which is derived from the Semitic language is translated to mean an authoritative standard through which all things are calculated. In biblical perspective, this word means a collection of writings which carry a divine purpose for all humanity. The following is the multiple elements that were used in the canonical criteria.

The Elements in canonical Criteria

Old Testament

a) Confirmation of the divine scripture by Christ and apostles

b) Consistency of the message with regard to God’s redemptive plan for humanity and God’s attribute.

c) The culture and history of the Israelites.

d) Determination to safeguard the scripture by the Israelite leaders and also the Church.

e) Statements concerning the choosing of the writers as the spokesmen of God.

f) The writing of Jewish scholars and rabbis, the early church leaders as well as other Christian scholars.

g) Corroboration by history and archaeology

h) Corroboration by Apocrypha

The Canonical Criteria in the New Testament

a) Authorship by an apostle of Jesus or one who was closely related with an apostle.

b) Uniformity in the writings in the book of acts and the messages presented in the epistles plus the teaching of Christ in the Gospels.

c) The nature of the values contained in the new testament message

d) The consistent use and preservation by early Christians, writings by the early Christian leaders as well as the Christian scholars.

e) Consistent on the use of the holy testament scriptures by Christ, apostles and other New Testament writers.

f) Consistent acceptance of the scripture by Christians even to the present times.

g) Corroboration by the Christian moment by the apocrypha writings.

h) The decree of the Christian church in the Council of Carthage and the council of Hippo.

i) Corroboration by historical and archaeological

Strength and weakness of those elements

Critics have consistently questioned the trustworthiness of the bible history especially in the case when extra biblical confirmation was missing. In the period of the past half century, the findings of archeologists were explicitly publicized by Albright and other archeologists. These archeological findings nurtured buoyancy that the scriptural writings accurately reflected the Mosaic and patriarchal eras. The confirmation further turned the edge of some theorist such as Wellhausian who had argued that the dating of the pre-prophetic period in the bible were wrong and needed to be altered.

Although there are specific books in the New Testament such as the Gospel of Luke and Mark which may not be claimed to have been written by an apostle, it is generally acknowledged that Mark was closely related to Peter as his interpreter. Concerning him, Papias affirms that Mark had been careful on one thing, not to omit anything he had heard or state things which were not true”. On the same note, Luke had been a companion of Paul the apostle, and was very much committed to writing historically true facts concerning the life of Jesus Christ and that of the early church in the book acts. This shows that there was a close connection between Paul and Peter.

During the early church period, there were accounts of Jesus’ life that were circulating in the local area and among the early churches. For instance, Clement, writing in about 90CE referred to the writings in Mathew. On the other hand, Barnabas also quoted Matthew 22:14 by saying “many are called, few are selected? This saying is found nowhere else other than in this book. Other scholars who made reference to early Christian documents include Valentinus and Gnostic Basilides. Gnostic Basilides quoted Paul’s epistles in I Corinthians and also the Gospel according to John. His quotes appear to be an extant in the refutation of Hippolytus against his hearsays. Valentinus is ascribed to writing “The true Gospel and the ‘Epistle to Rheginus on Resurrection’. In this epistle, he refers to Gospel writings especially those of Luke, Mathew and the epistles of Paul alongside the book of revelation.

Both Canonical narratives and exegesis disallow the emphasis that humanistic present experience provides the best key and the actual sense of scripture. They instead stress on giving the priority to the biblical narrative as in the case of canon exegesis, the source of meaning illuminating our sense of experience. The shaky critical assumption relating that the bible canon emerged from an evolutionary advancement and was fixed by a much later ecclesiastical council virtually eluded interest in a normative text. The recent theories of hermeneutic have rejected the interpretation not on the fact that there is no interpreter who is free of assumptions, but through claims that the interpreters own epistemic contribution is rated above that of the author, or that metaphysical or historical facts exclude the shared meaning in the global perspective.

In most cases, not all churches or Christians agree concerning the church tradition, and also the authority of the bible. For instance, many protestant church entities such as the Church of England rejected the comparison and use of the Apocrypha books as one of the canonical criteria. Moreover, the church only recognized the first four ecumenical church councils as authoritative with regard to the canon. This logic has left many Christians and critics to inquire on the real books of the bible. The additional note in this perspective is that during the second century A.D, a number of books that presently constitute the New Testament had started taking shape. There were many other works which were used but are now not included in the scripture. The 27 books in the New Testament scripture were brought together during the fourth century CE. Presently, Christians still do not agree on which books should be in the Old Testament and which should be left.

It is expressed that the reticence of conservative evangelicals in discussing the canon issue stems from the fact that it has remained conservative and finds itself engrossed with the 19th century Biblicism which believes that questioning the validity of the canon is the same as undermining the authority of the bible. Outside this fold, the query is centered on the nature of the canon itself. As Bruner notes, though the canon is declared closed and should not be opened, the question of the canon has not particularly been answered in particular but and is consistently being reopened on new perspectives. Since the church in the second, third and fourth centuries had a right on deciding what was relevant or “apostolic” and also what was not in their own perspective as believers, Christians in this era are deprived on this right in selecting and adding the new insights or revelations .Whereas Bruner may be overstating the facts, a high regard is placed on the certainty of the historical facts. This query has had a profound impact to the Christian faith.


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