A Canon of Books
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (vv. 44–45).- Luke 24:36–49
Our english term Bible comes from the Greek word biblios, which means “book.” Though we rightly think of the bible as one book, it is also appropriate to say that it is a collection of books, for it is made up of sixty-six different documents that together present God’s saving truth to the world. any discussion of biblical authority must deal with its existence as a canon—a collection—of books that the church receives from the lord.
Issues of canon are important because they deal with such things as the basis upon which we know that we have the correct Scriptures. after all, there remains some disagreement regarding the canon among professing Christians. although Roman Catholics, the eastern Orthodox, and Protestants all agree on the twenty-seven-book New Testament canon, the Roman Catholic Old Testament canon is larger than the Protestant Old Testament canon, and the eastern Orthodox include a still greater number of books in their Old Testament canon. How, then, do we know which canon is correct?
Roman Catholicism and eastern Orthodoxy essentially maintain that the church infallibly determines the canon, and therefore our certainty of the canon is based on the church’s decree. but this finally places the church over the Word of God, for it is the church that has final say on the canon, not God Himself. In the modern era, careful Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox theologians are less inclined to state the church’s determination of the canon so boldly, but they maintain the assumption that the church must be infallible to tell us what the canon is.
Simply put, the view that the church determines the canon does not take into account how believers have recognized God’s Word. In the first place, the very words of Jesus Himself give us the Old Testament canon. He refers in today’s passage to the traditional threefold Jewish division of the Old Testament—the law, Prophets, and Psalms (or Writings)—which corresponds to the Protestant canon and does not include the extra books used to determine Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox doctrine.
The reception of the New Testament canon is more complex, for we have to rely more on postbiblical history. Here we see evidence of Christ’s sheep’s hearing His voice, for there was early agreement on most of the books in the New Testament canon (John 10:27). Thus, we can be confident that we have God’s full new covenant revelation.
As scholars look at the issue of canon, they find that the church focused on three matters when receiving a book as Scripture—apostolic (or prophetic) authorship, its corporate use in the church, and the witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the work as inspired by God. God has confirmed our canon in many different ways, so we need not fear that we are missing something He wants us to have or are drawing doctrine from a book He did not reveal.
Passages for Further Study
2 Peter 3:15–16
For permissions, please see our Copyright Policy.