Of course the picture of a cannon is a joke…


Is that a word you use?

Well Paul Little has written a book about attacks on Christianity and a common attack comes from folks who question the canon.

Maybe you thought a canon was something that soldiers used to propel artillery shells at the enemy.

Well it is a multiple use word and it also means a list of texts (or “books”) which a particular religious community regards as authoritative scripture.

The “sticking points” with doubters is who picked the canon? How did they decide which books went in and which books did not go in the canon?  Aren’t there some books that got left out?

You know where the doubter is coming from. They think that mere humans made decisions that were inaccurate.  Little says “How do we know the books in our Bible, and no others, are the ones that should be there?”

All Protestant Churches accept the same Old Testament that the Jewish people do. The Roman Catholic Church includes some of the books of the Apocrypha [more on that later].  The Christian era means the Scripture of the New Testament.  When Jesus came, the writers of the New Testament contributed material to the Bible based on the time from Jesus onward, the second part of Scripture for the Protestant Church.

For the church, the issue of the canon is simple. The church did not create the canon; it did not determine which books would be called Scripture, the inspired Word of God.  Josh McDowell says “the church recognized, or discovered, which books had been inspired from their inception.”  The following five principles guided the recognition and collection of the books in the canon: 1. Was the book written by a prophet from God?  If it was, then it was the Word of God.  2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?  True prophets were able to perform miracles; false prophets could not.  3. Did the message of Scripture tell the truth about God?  God does not contradict God.  4. Does the Word come with the power of God?  The presence of God’s transforming power is a strong indicator that a given book has God’s stamp of approval.  5. Was the book accepted by the people of God?  When a book was received, collected, read and used by the people of God, that was a factor in including it in the canon.

I have always thought the canon was determined by a group of “high church” officials gathering together to gerrymander the books of the Bible, maybe pushing their own political agenda. I had always heard about the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and the Council of Trent in 1545 because I was a history major.  But the canon was determined less by high church council members and more by common people who read and worshipped Scripture.  Bart Ehrman says it best: “The historical reality [of the canon] is a good reminder that [it] is not just a man-made construct.  It was not the result of a power play brokered by rich cultural elites in some smoke filled room.  It was the result of many years of God’s people reading, using, and responding to these books. The same was true for the Old Testament canon.  Jesus himself used and cited the Old Testament writings with no indication anywhere that there was uncertainty about which books belonged.  Indeed, He held His audience accountable for knowing these books.  But, in all of this, there was no Old Testament church council that officially picked them (not even Jamnia).  They too were the result of ancient and widespread consensus.  In the end, we can certainly acknowledge that humans played a role in the canonical process.  But, not the role that is so commonly attributed to them.  Humans did not determine the canon, they responded to it.  In this sense, we can say that the canon really chose itself.”

Professor Ehrman’s ideas are echoed by Paul Little. Ehrman mentions Jamnia above, a church council in 90 A.D. that had discussion about the canon.  “The discussion [at Jamnia] seemed to center not on whether certain books should be included in the canon, but whether certain ones should be excluded.  In any case, those present recognized what already was accepted.  They did not bring into being what had previously existed.  In other words, they recognized but did not establish the canonicity of the Old Testament books as we have them.”

There’s that word again…canonicity.

A subject of concern that would shake a person’s faith?

I don’t think so.

Like the previous post about the King James Bible and the different translations of the Bible, the canon is a necessary way to get all of us “on the same page.”





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