A Basic Explanation of the Canon of Scripture

 

A Basic Explanation Of The Canon Of Scripture

While taking Professor Scot Keen’s Bibliology course here at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute, I began to realize that even though I had grown up in a solid church and had had Christian education, there was a lot I didn’t know about the history of the Bible and how it’s come to us today.  When Professor Keen started throwing around the phrase “canon of Scripture” I had only a very vague idea of what he meant, and it wasn’t a topic that sounded too riveting. But the rest of my Bibliology class had surprised me with its relevance and importance, and when we began discussing the canon of Scripture more in depth I found myself pleasantly surprised once again. 

Having at least a basic understanding of the canon of Scripture can bring us a lot of confidence about the Bible, as we’re about to see.

Canon Of Scripture – What Does That Even Mean?

So, first things first, what does “canon of Scripture” mean? For those of us who aren’t natural scholars, it isn’t a term you hear much in Christian circles these days.  Well, the literal meaning of the  Greek term kanon, from which we derive the English word canon, is simply “reed”.  But through culture, years, and usage, this word evolved to mean something more. Professor Keen explains,

“Over time the word came to mean a standard or rule of measurement. Early Christians gave it the meaning “rule of faith”. “

Nowadays, when someone refers to the canon of Scripture, they are most often referring to the book of the Bible included in the Old and New Testament.

The first reference to the canon of Scripture in Christian history was recorded way back in 367 A. D.,in a letter written by a bishop of Alexandria, whose name was Athanasius. He wrote,

“But for the sake of greater accuracy I must needs, as I write, add this: there are other books outside these, which are not indeed included in the canon, but have been appointed from the time of the fathers to be read to those who are recent converts to our company and wish to be instructed in the word of true religion.”

History tells us that Athanasius was quite a polarizing leader in the early Church, vehemently defending the message of Christ against heresies. And he brings up a great point in this quote. We have many influential Christian writers that inspire us in our faith today, but we know their writings aren’t God’s Word. In the same way, there were many great spiritual writings in his day that were helpful for reading and learning, but were not inspired Scriptures.

The canon of Scripture includes only the inspired and revealed word of God Himself. His word is divine truth, and is distinguished from all other writing.

How Is Canonicity Determined?

It is commonly misconceived that the canon of Scripture was determined by the Jews or early church leaders. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

God alone determined which books belonged in the Bible, and He was their origin. He sovereignly and providentially wrote the books; the Word is His, and mankind doesn’t get to decide what is His Word and what isn’t.

In, “A General Introduction to the Bible”, by Geisler and Nix, J.I. Packer is quoted as having said,

“The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by His work of creation, and similarly He gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up.”

The church may have discovered the canon of Scripture, but it definitely didn’t create or ordain it.

How Were Canonical Books Discovered?

The book we hold in our hands as the Bible today did not always look that way – all its books gathered together and neatly organized. The Jews first had the Law, and later came the historical books, Wisdom and Poetry, and Prophecy. But after Malachi, there were 400 years of silence, when God did not inspire any Scripture. The New Testament had not been written yet.  And when it came to be, there was lots of controversy as Jews were divided on their opinions of the Messiah, and the Church was newly birthed and wading through growing pains. How did they discover which writings were truly from God? And how can we today know that they made the right judgement calls? How can we be confident that the Bible we have is the Bible God intended for us?

Here at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute, we believe there are a number of God-given and logical principles that help us when we’re wondering if the canon of Scripture has been discovered accurately. We refer to information from “A General Introduction to the Bible” 1. We can ask these questions of the biblical texts given to us :

  1. Is it prophetic? Was the book written by a prophet of God? Were the authors Apostles or Prophets? God put His words in the mouths of the prophets and they declared what God had revealed to them. Therefore, books written by a prophet were immediately accepted.
  2. Is it miraculous? Was the writer given God’s affirmation through signs, fulfillment of prophecy, or comparison to other truth revealed up to that point? 
  3. Is it authentic? Does the message speak the truth about God?
  4. Is it dynamic? Does it manifest the power of God? The word of God is able to accomplish its stated purpose.
  5. Is it received? Was it accepted by the people of God?

These principles have been used to discover what writings are God’s and belong in the canon of Scripture, and they are still dependable for us to reaffirm its discovery today.

Is The Bible Really Finished?

Once we have confidence that the books of the Bible really are what God intended to be included, the question arises – do we have them all? We may be correct in discovering the writings that belong in the canon of Scripture, but did we discover it completely?

We believe yes, and here’s why:

    1. The providence of God: It seems highly unlikely that God would have inspired a book that He did not preserve.
    2. Theologically the canon is closed: God used to speak through the prophets of the Old Testament, but in the ‘last days’ he spoke through Christ (Hebrews 1:1) and the apostles whom He empowered. But because the apostolic age ended with the death of the apostles, it may be concluded that God’s ‘last day’ revelation is complete.
    3. Historically the canon is closed: The immediate successors that followed the apostles did not claim any new revelation from God nor did they display any confirmatory signs such as the apostles and prophets did.
    4. Principle taken from the Jewish concept of the Old Testament canon: The Jews believed that if a writing came after the time period of the Old Testament prophets, it could not be scripture because scripture was written by prophets. (This same principle can be applied to all Scripture and relates to the fact that the canon is theologically closed.)2

      The canon of Scripture gives us confidence that the Bible we study today is truly the inspired and complete Word of God. It is the “rule of faith” by which we can live our lives, and it has been preserved by God’s grace so that we have all we need to live life with Him.

       

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Who Wrote The Books Of The Bible? The Real Story Behind Their Inspiration

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Who wrote the books of the Bible? Was it God, since the book is claimed to be divine? Was it men? And if it was men, how can it claim to be God’s Word? Understanding the Bible’s authorship and how it came to be is foundational to our faith.

If we should be taking all the claims of the Bible seriously, we need to know that it’s a book we can trust.

What Scripture Itself Says About Who Wrote The Books Of The Bible

Upon first examination, it seems like a bunch of different men from many different spheres of life all contributed to writing Scripture, and that, in one way, does answer the question of who wrote the books of the Bible. Many books in Bible introduce the author in the opening verses of their first chapter. And while it is true that human authors like Moses, David, Peter and Paul did physically write down the words of the Bible, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye. Okay, actually a lot more. Check it out –

2 Peter 1:19-21 says,

“Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines[g] in your hearts. Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.”

In this passage, Peter is recalling to his audience how he saw Jesus Christ with his own eyes. His life wasn’t just a cleverly designed story – it was all real. Because of what he experienced, he urges believers to take Scripture seriously. And most importantly, they must understand that Scripture didn’t come from human authors, it came from God through the Holy Spirit. This phenomenon is called inspiration.

What Does Inspiration Mean?

Inspiration is key to understanding who wrote the books of the Bible.

It’s profound but simple. God is the source of every word in the Bible, but he used human writers to be the instruments His Word flowed through. These authors were prompted by the Holy Spirit to write exactly what they did.

In fact, 2 Timothy 3:15-16 says all Scripture is inspired by God. Every word.  The marriage of each author that contributed to writing the Bible with God’s purpose is a beautiful thing. The flowing poetry of David’s psalms convey God’s truth in a different way than the theological argument Paul gives in Romans, yet both are part of His holy revelation to us. God used the unique personalities and writing styles of 40 different men to record everything he wanted to communicate to mankind – no more and no less than what He wanted.

Evidences Of Inspiration

Again and again throughout Scripture, the Bible refers to itself as the word of the Lord, or claims to be a direct message from God.  And we believe that the claims of the Bible are enough, but outside evidence just confirms even more that this book and every word in it is really authored by God, and that Peter, Paul and all the rest were just writing out His thoughts.

For one thing, the Bible is scientifically correct.

It’s not a science textbook, but every time it refers to scientific realities it proves true. For example, Isaiah 40:22 refers to the earth being round, Isaiah 55:10-12 talks about water cycles, Job 26:7 names Earth as suspended in space, and Jeremiah 33:22 claims the stars are innumerable (we haven’t found the end of them yet!). God created the world and the system and laws it is run by, so it only makes sense for Him to be able to talk about science accurately – more accurately than us and before some of these scientific discoveries were made.

The Bible hold up historically as well.

Over and over the Bible and historical records have confirmed one other, and we know from secular history that biblical places like Sodom and Gomorrah and figures like Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great, and Jesus existed as real people. Studying history is eye-opening, as through it we see the prophecies of Scripture fulfilled again and again and again.

Christ’s View of Scripture

Jesus was clear about His view of Scripture, and that’s the most convincing argument about who wrote the books of the Bible. He plainly believed that Scripture was God’s Word (a.k.a HIS word!). He studied and valued it, quoted it as authority in His confrontation with Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), and taught it as truth. He even described Scripture as unbreakable, or unable to be altered (John 10:35).  Jesus was God and man, the sacrifice for our sin. He knew that He Himself was the fulfillment, climax, and glory of all that God had to say to man, which is why he said to the religious leaders at the time,

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39).

It Only Makes Sense For God To Be The One Who Wrote The Books Of The Bible

At the end of the day, the Bible is not a book that could have and would have been written by man. If you think about the message of the Bible, it’s anti-human nature. No man would have come up with the idea that all of our hearts are desperately wicked and that we need a Savior. We would never judge ourselves and the entire world so harshly and accurately. There is also no way we know the character and heart of God, as well as His perfect plan for our redemption, had he not revealed it to us Himself.

What The Inspiration Of Scripture Means For Us

The beauty of inspiration is in the fact that it can bring us rest. Imperfect people may have recorded God’s thoughts, but He is perfect and his words to us are perfect. This wasn’t just some men shooting in the dark and hoping they came to close to saying what God was thinking. No, God Himself was guiding these men as they wrote. Through the hands of chosen men, God  was the one who wrote the the books of the Bible. Because of what we know about Him, we can also know that His book is authoritative, inerrant, and sufficient.

History of the Bible: God’s Revelation to Man

History of the Bible: God’s Revelation to Man

The history of the Bible is a long story, filled with many characters and unlikely happenings. The book’s origins, evolution, and preservation through the ages is a magnificent tale of God’s grace and sovereignty, and it concerns all mankind – from the highest kings to the lowliest servants. The details of how it was written and has survived through the centuries is found in later posts. For now, let’s start at the very beginning of the story – with God Himself.

The History Of The Bible Starts With Its Author

When we study the history of the Bible, we have to begin before the opening words of its first chapter, before secular records of its existence, and before the Church’s traditions of how it came to be. We must start with its Author, the God of the Universe.

Through different means, of which the Bible is one, God Almighty has revealed Himself to us.

As we get to know Him in comparison to ourselves, this fact should stagger us more and more.

We as human beings are both finite and fallen. We are limited by time, physicality, and knowledge. Beyond that, we are broken by sin.

In and of ourselves there is only so much we can attain or accomplish, and we can never live up to even our own moral standards.

In contrast, God is infinite – unbound by time, space, or any other limitation. He is also Spirit; we cannot see Him.  We could never discover the truth about God by our human devices. He bridged the differences between us, knowing that we could never on our own enter into His world.

And God has done just that. The fact that He has made great efforts to communicate Himself to us shows us that He is not just some cold and distant god. No, He is a God who wants us to know Him. He is a God who wants relationship with man.

He is, as we will come to see through the history of the Bible and the message it contains, a God who stops at nothing to save us and invite us to come back into relationship with Him.

God’s Revelation To Man

God has revealed Himself to mankind in different ways at different times of history to different groups of people. He has spoken to us all through the witness of creation. He spoke to His chosen nation of Israel through judges, prophets, and kings. He has historically visited certain people in dreams and visions, and during the life of Christ He revealed Himself through His Son. And slowly through the years He compiled His holy Word so that all the earth could have a record of His thoughts and a clear message of truth.

He has never revealed all that He could – we do not have a complete revelation of God and His plan. However, God has always revealed enough of Himself that His people can know how to live in fellowship with Him and according to His will.  In whatever age and fashion God has spoken, the purpose of His communication has primarily been to pull us out of darkness and offer us redemption from sin.

General Revelation vs. Specific Revelation

In order to accomplish this, God has communicated both generally and specifically. In our Bibliology class here at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute (which explores the history of the Bible much more in depth!), Professor Scot Keen gives us great definitions for each. He says this about general revelation:

“We call this aspect of revelation general because it does not reveal specifics about God, but generalities. From creation one can recognize that there is a God, but cannot discern His moral characteristics.”

Its true; when we look around we can figure out that there is a creative God, and He has made the world as a witness to Himself. But we cannot know about Christ and the plan of salvation just by observing nature. Our conscience is another form of general revelation. God has hardwired each of us to have a sense of right and wrong. Through this revelation we can see our sinful hearts, but this revelation is limited, because our consciences may condemn us, but they cannot save us. Creation and  our inner conscience are only part of what God has to say.

Specific revelation, on the other hand, gives us deeper insight into God and his thoughts. Professor Keen defines specific revelation as:

“God’s specific communication to certain men thought history intended for the benefit of all. Specific/special because God directly revealed specific information to mankind through supernatural means.”

The Bible: God’s Compiled Revelation

The Bible is God’s specific revelation that has been compiled over many years and through the pens of many different human writers. It gathers up the history of God’s dealings with His people, His character and attributes, His plan for redeeming mankind, and most importantly, it introduces us to Christ, the ultimate expression of God Himself. God has seen fit to preserve His Word through the centuries so that His truth is available to us. This revelation from Him is His most direct communication to us and is His authoritative voice. We can put all our hope in its message and stake our lives on its claims.

The history of the Bible is a big subject, but it starts with the God who speaks to us.

The revelation of God to man is a phenomenon of grace. It is the God who lives in purity and light reaching into a world where men stumble and fall in the darkness. If we are going to undertake to truly understand the Bible, we must start with this foundation.

Bibliology Explained : An Introduction To The Ins And Outs Of The Bible

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If you were to close your eyes and imagine the most exciting topic you could ever study, chances are bibliology isn’t the one that would come to mind.  When I found out it was one of the first classes I had to take during my freshman semester at Ethnos360 Bible Institute, I was less than thrilled.  Bibliology? Really? How about something more exciting, like Romans or Galatians? Studying bibliology conjured up images of dry dusty bookshelves and old scholars spending hours pouring over the details of decrepit scrolls. Great fun.

However, while Bibliology started as simply a necessary class, I began finding true excitement and awe instead of the boredom I had expected.

What Is Bibliology?

Bibliology might look like a big word, but really it’s just the doctrine of the Bible. That ending, ‘ology’ means ‘the study of’, and the beginning, ‘biblio’ means ‘relating to a book or books.’ ‘Biblio’ is derived from the Greek word used for ‘papyrus’. Papyrus was the type of “paper” God’s Word was originally written on – scrolls upon scrolls  that were carefully copied by scribes through the centuries. But, more on that topic in a later post. The plural form of this Greek word was “biblia” and it meant “the books”.

So when we study Bibliology we are studying the book – the Bible – how it came to be, and what it says about itself.

Why Do We Need Bibliology?

Bibliology gives us answers, proofs, and a historical record of where the Bible came from, how it was written, and how it has been preserved until now. It affirms our belief in the authenticity and validity of Scripture. In other words, we need Bibliology because it gives us confidence that the book we are believing and basing our lives on is legitimate.

A subject that may seem all dry facts at first glance becomes crucial to our confidence as Christians in today’s world.

 

“When we study bibliology we can be confident that what we have today is the Word of God; it hasn’t been changed over the ages.”
– Jeb, Ethnos360 Bible Institute alumni

 

Here at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute, we believe all Christ followers need at least a basic understanding of Bibliology for three reasons:

-To understand both how and why God’s Word came to us.

-To have absolute confidence that the Bible is indeed the Word of God, and to be confident that we can live and die by faith in God’s Word and not be disappointed in the least.

-To enable us to remain true to the faith with assurance as we interact in a world of skeptics who are sometimes hostile to our faith.

Bibliology Basics

When learning about the Bible it’s important to start with the basic facts and lay a foundation. What is this book? Who wrote it? Where did it come from?

The Bible says this about itself:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

The first bibliology basic fact is that Bible is God’s thoughts and words to us, it’s purpose is to communicate His truth to man.

Secondly, the Bible was written by forty different authors over a time period of 1600 years. These writers were from separate backgrounds, with varied upbringings, life circumstances, and personalities, which lends to the different writing styles in different books of the Bible. The most important thing about these writers and the common tie between them is that they were each inspired by God to write what they did, when they did. They were the human instruments through which God has spoken to all mankind. Even though they were all different and most never knew any of the others, the unity of what they express is amazing. The theme of the Bible that each of the writers contributes to is God’s glory, which is manifested fully in the life and lordship of Jesus Christ.

Structurally, the Bible is divided into two major parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament took the longest to write – about a 1000 years, and contains 39 books. In between the two parts was a gap of time where no Scripture was written, and then came the New Testament, taking 60 years to write and made up of 27 books.

So What’s Next?

We believe the Bible is absolutely perfect and true in every way. God thought out and wisely wrote and preserved His Word. The truth that He reveals about Himself and Jesus Christ is worth living and dying for. As we continue to study further aspects of Bibliology, we’ll find more and more reason to believe that it’s message is the one avenue to true life.