The Holy Spirit and the Canon…

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The canon.

In Billy Graham’s book The Holy Spirit, he discusses the Holy Spirit in the world, the Holy Spirit in The Church and the Holy Spirit in the believer.

As Christians, we can see evidence of Holy Spirit references in the Old Testament and certainly the New Testament [see some of my previous posts or much better yet, read the Bible]. We think of the Holy Spirit that was unleashed in Acts 2 and we believe that that same Holy Spirit is at work in us today, in our everyday lives. I certainly believe God is at work in my life through the Holy Spirit.

But I would like to write about some seminal events in the history of The Church and how the Holy Spirit manifested itself in those events.

The term “canon” is used to describe the books that are divinely inspired and therefore belong in the Bible. We have a Bible that was written over the course of 1,500 years by about forty authors. God did not provide a list of what went into the Bible or what must be left out. There was no ancient instruction book for the construction of the Bible. The canon came about due to serious work done by Jewish rabbis, scholars and early Christians. Graham states “contrary to the opinion of many, the question of what books were included in the Bible was not settled simply by the human choice of any church council. The Holy Spirit was at work in Spirit-filled believers who selected the sixty-six books we have in our Bibles. And at last, after years and years of discussion, prayer and heart searching, the canon of Scripture was closed.”

The complete canon of the Old Testament was not completed until the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.* The process of recognizing and selecting the books of the New Testament began in the first centuries of the Christian church. What is not known by everyone are the principles that were established for determining the canon of the New Testament. Early church leaders had standards. One principle had to do with the author of the book. The author had to be an apostle or have close connection to an apostle. Another guideline was that included books must be accepted by the body of Christ at large. Consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching were a must and finally an included book must have evidence of high moral and spiritual values that reflect the work of the Holy Spirit and the divine Author [note the A means God as ultimate Author].

The first New Testament canon was called the Muratorian Canon which was compiled in AD 170. The Council of Laodicea in 363, the Council of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397 all affirmed the same 27 books of the New Testament. By AD 397, the canon was established.

This was serious stuff folks. Most believers see the construction of the canon as a God-breathed process brought about by people of faith, determined to carry out the work of the Lord. That is why we see statements like “It must be recognized that it was God and God alone who determined which books belonged in the Bible. God, via the inspiration of the Spirit, imparted to His followers what He had already decided.”* Humans met and decided the canon and they were flawed [all humans are, but God overcame the limitations of sinful man]. He brought the early religious leaders to a learned consensus despite their differences.

Why is all of this important?

I have conversations with people who doubt the value of God’s Word. They think that The Bible is just an “important” book, a compilation of stories that many people read. I encounter people who make blanket statements like the “Bible means what it says and say what it means” and that is as far as they go. They accept every jot and tittle, without question. There is nothing wrong with that; maybe it is wonderful evidence of great faith.

Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle** shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” in Matthew 5:18. He was stating emphatically that God’s Word is true.

Whether you feel every part of your Bible is perfectly God’s work or whether you feel that God worked through man, most believers can agree on one statement.

God is reliable, and so is His Word.
* “What is the canon of the Bible and how did we get it?”
** For the curious, a jot is the smallest letter in the Jewish alphabet; a tittle is how an alphabet letter is extended which makes it even smaller than a jot.

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