One of the greatest joys of being a Bible teacher is the amazing questions I get from my students. Young eager minds have much to consider when it comes to life and faith. Once such question I have received over and again is “How do we know which books belong in the Bible?”
My hope here is to provide a very, very brief answer to this question. Hopefully this will stir you to want to research the topic further on your own.
Please keep in mind this is in no way an exhaustive look at the process nor criteria of which books belong in the Bible. Just something to wet the appetite a bit.
I have provided some resources at the bottom for your consideration.
This topic is commonly known as “Canonicity” or “Which books belong in the Bible”.
What is the Canon of Scripture?
The term Canon generally means standard, however a nuance of the term means a collection of works by a particular author or a collection of religious writings deemed authoritative.
Thus Christians believe that the Bible is a collection of authoritative writings (66 in total) authored by various people, yet divinely superintended by God.
Where did the idea come from?
God began the tradition of writing down His character, will and dealings with humanity by having His prophets’ journal from generation to generation. Not to mention God himself wrote the 10 commandments on tablets of stone. (Ex31:18, 32:16; Deut 4:13, 10:4-5)
This coupled with various false teachings about God’s character & will and how they related to mankind, prompted Gods people to put together a collection of writings that they believed to be inspired by God.
What were the criteria to be included in the collection?
There are literally hundreds of letters written by various teachers to various churches that carry all kinds diverse content to its constituency(s), however there were certain criteria for acceptance into the Canon.
Ancient – The letter must come from the time of the prophets (basically any time prior to or contemporary with the prophets Haggai, Zachariah Malachi; 450-400BC)
Catholic/Approved – Not to be confused with Roman Catholic, but rather catholic in the truest sense of the word, broad or widely accepted. The letter had to have been accepted by the majority of the Jewish community (including the prophets of the day who were established by God and solidified in the eyes of the people through supernatural means) as being God’s word to man through a human mouthpiece. In addition the letter had to be deemed useful for God’s people
Orthodox – The letter could not contain any information that would contradict already established truth. Consistency was key!
Early – The letter had to have been written within the lifetime of the Apostles. Many letters have been written that bare the name of an apostle, yet were written decades (and even centuries) later.
Catholic/Approved – Just like the O.T. canon, these N.T. letters had to have been accepted and deemed useful by the Christian community abroad (including by the apostles and their direct associates/disciples).
Apostolicity – The author of the letter must have a first hand connection to either Christ or an apostle (including Paul). This would verify it’s apostolic authority, which was given by Christ to the apostles in Matthew 28. If heresy was written during this time, you could rest assured that either an apostle of a close associate would have a hand in its refutation.
I hope this brief explanation helps you in your studies of where the Bible came from. Here are a few resources concerning the topic that might enhance your study in this area.
-The question of canon by Michael Kruger
-Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger
-Intro to biblical interpretation by Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard
-Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
-The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church by Roger Beckwith
-The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha by William Webster
-The Anchor Bible Dictionary by Freeman (Various others)
-The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce
-www.csntm.org by Daniel Wallace