Christian Theology, Biblical Theology

"You are no longer under law but grace; therefore, sin shall not have dominion over you" "The grace of God has appeared teaching men to say no to sin"

Canonization of Scripture

Canonization of scripture, how did we get our bible that we have today? This article briefly explains what went into determining which letters and books were inspired by the Holy Spirit, what criteria were used to determine their inclusion, and the process the church went through to give us what we have as our present day New Testament. Contrary to most spurious beliefs, Constantine did not hold the Nicene council in 325 AD to determine the which books were to be included in the canon nor were the apocryphal books ever considered for canonization. The movie the De Vincci Code erroneously claims that certain books of Gnostic origin were canonical; however, these books were never in any of the canons.

Another point of interest: The Unitarians such as the Watchtower Society are very anti-Catholic and anti-Trinitarian; yet they accept the canon of scripture that was authenticated by the very same Church Fathers that taught the doctrine of the Trinity and were by today's standards very Catholic in their beliefs.

The criteria the early church followed for canonization were: a. Were the books or letters written by the apostles or someone known by them or someone of openly good repute. b. Was the book or letter read in most of the churches. c. Was the book or  letter in coherence with the teachings of the day such as the early creeds or "rules of faith". d. Was the book or letter universally recognized with clear and visible acceptance.

These criteria served the purpose of guarding against any spurious writings gaining access into the canon and guarded against the primary heresy of the day viz. Gnosticism. The Gnostic's taught that the teachings of God were esoteric in nature and only the "enlightened" could understand them - these few enlightened were the only ones that had access to the writings as well. So the criterion of the letters or books being "openly" taught and accepted was the bulwark against any spurious writings of the Gnostics becoming part of the canon. The heretics of the early centuries had compiled their own canons, but most of these sects didn't survive the test of time due to the patently false teachings and erroneous canons. 

The manuscript evidence is stronger than any books in antiquity and shows a 99.5% accuracy and coherence with the bibles of today. This along with the thousands of prophecies that have been fulfilled, the five hundred eye witness accounts to the resurrected Christ; there is no lack of empirical evidence nor epistemic justification for orthodox Christianity and the received canon of scripture.

As we will see below, there were certain books that were included in some of the early canons but excluded in the later and final canon. Some of these letters were written by the Church Fathers such as Clement; none the less were not considered to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and included in the canon according to God's will.

Could there have been letters that were intended to be in the canon but were overlooked, not known to man, or disregarded due to the carnality of man? Yes. There may well have been a third Corinthians or a Second Romans -rest assured though, what we have today is sufficient for salvation and instructing sinners in righteousness. The present canon of scripture is also supported by over 24,000 manuscripts dating back to the second century and nearly every sentence of every book has been referenced in the writings of the early Church Fathers. Many of these Church Fathers were disciples of the apostles and well acquainted with the teachings of Christ. Following are four different lists of books that were found in the Catacombs (Muratorian canon) 200 AD, the writings of the Church Fathers 250 AD, Eusebius the Church historian 300 AD, and the final list agreed to at the council of Carthage in 400 AD.

You will notice in the following table that with the exception of a few books, we don't see any of the Coptic or Gnostic Gospels ever being mentioned, acknowledged, or taught in the Church. Martin Luther did want to have James removed from the canon because he didn't believe that it was consistent with his teachings on salvation by faith alone.

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