The Canon of Scripture

I wrote this paper for my systematic class last fall and really enjoyed writingit so I thought I would share it with you.  It will come in multiple parts: 1) Intro, Issue at hand, explanation of different positions, 2) Support for the Protestant Canon 3) Objections that have been raised against this view and conclusion.  For whatever reason when I copied it into this blog the formatting is all messed up, please bear with me while I work on fixing it.  Enjoy–Dirk

THE AUTHORITATIVE CANON

Introduction

The canon of Scripture is the list of inspired writings of the Christian church.  The word canon comes from the Greek word kanwn, which generally means the rule or standard.  It became adopted in the second century to mean rule of faith.  From there the list of divinely inspired books got its title canon of Scripture.[1] But what belongs in this canon of Scripture? 

Issue

Evangelical Christians say the canon is the 66 books of the Bible alone, Roman Catholics add in the apocryphal writings, groups such as the Mormons say that there more writings along with the Bible, while other religions like Islam have their own writings.  The purpose of the paper is to argue for the 66 books of the Christian Bible as the inspired and ultimate authoritative canon by summarizing leading positions for and against this thesis, giving evidence for this thesis, and finally showing how objections to the 66 books of the Protestant Bible as canonical scripture are not valid.  The main focus of this paper will be toward Evangelical and other Christian positions on this matter as it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the apologetics related to other religions.

Positions

There are multiple positions within the realm of Christendom on this topic.  First there is the protestant position.  This position holds that the 66 books of the Bible, comprised of 39 books of the Old Testament (OT) and 27 books of the New Testament (NT), are the ultimate and final revelation for Christians.  There have been, however, a few variations that will be discussed below.  The OT is the set of Jewish Scriptures that was adopted by the early Christians.  The apostles, early church fathers, and most importantly Jesus himself quoted these and claimed these to be God’s word.  It is natural then for the early Christians to accept it.  The more pressing issue in the early in the church was which new writings, if any, were scripture.  Over the course of the first couple of centuries letters and writings started to make themselves known as inspired scripture.  The Church did not claim they were canonizing writings, but merely affirming inspired texts of divine origin.[2]  By the fourth century the 27 books of the NT were overwhelmingly affirmed as the set writings of scripture for the Christian faith.  Athanasius’ Easter letter that listed out the accepted books of the NT and found no opposition can attest this.[3]  This paper will argue that this is the proper view of canonical scripture.

 

The second position to be discussed is the Roman Catholic position.  The Roman Catholic Church affirms the 66 books of the protestant Bible and several Apocryphal[4] books as part of the canon.   There was some debate in the early church whether or not these Apocryphal writings should have a place in the canon, but it was not until the year 1546 at the council of Trent that the Roman Catholic Church made their inclusion official.[5]  But that is not all that the Roman Catholic Church believes about the canon of the Bible.  They hold the position that the Church and Pope are to give the correct interpretation of the Bible.  Since the Church was in existence before the Bible was completed then the Church (Roman Catholic that is) should be the one to explain it.  While not saying it in these words the Roman Catholic Church holds that the Pope is part of the canon, he is considered to be infallible therefore he is equal to or above the scriptures.[6]

 

The third and last position is the Liberal position.  This position poses a challenge to the traditional protestant view by asserting that the canon of the NT be expanded.  It is argued by this position that the alternative views expressed in writings by early parts of Christianity should be included in the canon.[7]  Some of the scholars proposing this view argue against the authority of the Bible.  Some also say that there was no continuity in early Christianity and therefore there was no “orthodoxy,” instead Christianity was pluralistic from the beginning.[8]  These views challenge the authority of the protestant canon and leave room for additions and deletions from it.


[1] Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature. 3rd ed (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 507-508.

[2] J. I. Packer, God’s Word: Studies of Key Bible Themes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 36.

[3] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 66.

[4]For a complete discussion of all the apocryphal writings see: Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 165-190.

[5]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 59.

[6] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 272.

[7] C. Marvin Pate, “Current Challenges to the Christian Canon,” Criswell Theological Review 1, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 3.

[8] Ibid., 6.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Canon of Scripture

  1. Pingback: The Canon of Scripture Part 2 « The Littlefields

  2. Hi,

    FWIW, the RCC position is not that “the Church and Pope are to give the correct interpretation of the Bible” but rather the Magisterium guided by the Spirit of God gives the authoritative interpretation, though it is remarkable how little authoritative interpretation is provided.

    I would be careful simply parroting what certain Reformed theologians say the RCC teaches and urge upon you the necessity of reading the RCC documents themselves.

  3. I see what you are saying and how your statement is more specific; however, I see little or no difference in the outcome of the two statements. Either way it is stated the RCC and its leaders are the ones that make the authoritative interpretation, no matter how bad it is or how little there is.

    Thanks for you comment, I would do well to read more RCC documents and I appreciate your urging in that matter. I would also state that I don’t consider Erickson a reformed theologian necessarily. Thanks again–Dirk

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