The Bible - Determining Canon

The Bible – Determining Canon
Randall Caselman
1/12/97 pm


Reading - 2 Chronicles 34.15; Luke 24.44; II Peter 3.1-2 & 2.15-16

Our series on Sunday evening is a study of the Bible and how it came to us.
Last week we talked about the Old Testament Text and how we can know it has been preserved as it came from God.
The credibility, the authority, of the New Testament is seen in manuscripts. Copies of the original in the original language.
This is difficult for the Old Testament. Not many manuscripts are available today—there are three reasons for this:
(1) Time — Moses wrote 3500 years ago.
(2) The Jews destroyed old, worn text, much like we destroy American flags when they are worn and tattered. Rather than the word of God being defaced, they buried scriptures what were worn and tattered.
(3) Because of the Messorite’s text. The Messorites were copyists who were interested in the perfect preservation of Old Testament scriptures. When a scribe would make a mistake, regardless of how insignificant, the copy was destroyed. This has had its effect on the number of copies of the Old Testament in the Hebrew language.
The greatest witness to our Old Testament text is not in manuscripts but in the preservation of old translations.
The Samaritan Pentateuch - not a pure translation because it is still in the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Samaritans. This translation can be traced back to around 400 B. C.
The Septuagint - A translation from the original Hebrew into Greek. This was the text of the early church. It was the Bible most quoted by Jesus, the Apostles and New Testament writers.
The Aramaic Targums were a translation out of the original Hebrew into Aramaic so that all the people would understand the scripture.
The Syriac Peshitta - A translation, a version, finished about 100 AD
And the Latin Version - There are two. The Old Latin (150 AD) and Jerusalem Latin Vulgate - Finished about 400 AD
Of course the greatest find in Old Testament material was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They contain portions of every Old Testament. book except Esther and they are earlier manuscripts than some of these translations that we have talked about. Yet when compared to our K.J., are by all practical consideration, the same.
Here is a bit of interesting information. Olga, (Spanish lady in our congregation) who uses both the Spanish and English translations, uses a Spanish translation that pre-dates the K.J. by 42 years. The Spanish Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate. In 1921 it was revised and adjusted to the newly discovered Greek text.
In English, in Hebrew, in Spanish, in Greek; God’s word has been providentially preserved for us to read. Praise God for His providence!
Well, this brings us to our study. The canon of the scriptures...
A lot of religious books have been written in the past 4000 years. Which ones rightfully belong in our Bible and which should be excluded? On what grounds are some writings to be accepted as scripture and others rejected? Answers to these questions are found in a study of what is known as the canon of the scriptures.
Our English word CANON goes back to the Greek word Kanon and the Hebrew word QANEH. The basic of both is reed. Our English word CANE is derived from it. The reed was used sometimes as a measuring rod. The word canon came to mean a standard...a times it was used to refer to a list of index (which when applied to the Bible denotes the list of books accepted as Holy). When we speak of canonical writings we are meaning those books regarded as having divine authority, those inspired by God.
The Old Testament canon was already in existence before the lifetime of Christ It cannot be disputed that both Jesus and His apostles quoted often from a body of writings known and accepted as “scriptures.” So then if some writings were considered “scripture” others were not... Right? Some were canonical others non-canonical.
According to Jesus in Luke 24:44, canonical writings were composed of:
(1) the Law of Moses
(2) the prophets and
(3) the Psalms.
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
The Hebrew Bible has a different arrangement of the books than we do in our English Bible. The Hebrew Bible is:
(1) The Law
(2) The Prophets and
(3) The writings.
Former (early?) prophets:
1 and 2 Samuel,
1 and 2 Kings.
Latter prophets:
And the books of the 12 including all 12 minor prophets as one book.
Song of Solomon,
I & II Chronicles.
This arrangement may look strange, yet the books, the actual material included is the same as found in our English Bible we carry today, no change.
Jesus once spoke of the “time from the blood of Able to the blood of Zechariah, Luke 11:51. He was referring to the martyrs of the Old Testament, the first being Able, the last being Zechariah.
See II Chronicles 24:20-21.
(Note in the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles is the last book.)
Jesus then is calling canon those books from Genesis through Chronicles.
Josephus, Origin and Jerome, all three clearly speak of the number of books received as “scriptures”. They write of 22 books in the Hebrew Bible which equal our 39.
Another proof of Old Testament canon is the translations of the Septuagint; the Targums and the Latin Vulgate include the books we have in our Bible. Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah; plus the book of 12 minor prophets.
The New Testament. canon began to take shape about the middle of the second century. One hundred-fifty AD after John wrote Revelation.
Justin Martyr speaks of Christian worship being made up of the readings of the “Memoirs of the Apostles.” and the writing of the prophets.
When the church was first established the inspired writers had no thought of replacing the Old Testament with a new book, but holy men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit to write helpful letters and recollections to the early Christians; thus the Gospels.
The letters of Paul and others began to be collected and used in the worship of the early church.
The early break-down of books looked like this:
First five books were considered History, later to be divided into the four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles or the Life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles.
The first three are called the synoptic Gospels simply because of their similar content.
John was evidently written several years later and presupposes the presence and knowledge of the other three.
Sometimes Luke and Acts are put together and Acts becomes a continuation of Luke.
Then there are the 21 books of doctrine...
Epistles, written by various men, the first 13 by Paul. Those written before his imprisonment, those written during and after to individuals (pastoral).
The general (Catholic-Universal) epistles are James, Peter, John, and Jude. In early Greek manuscripts these books are located after Acts not Hebrews.
And our Scriptures end with The book of Prophecy.
Revelation - Apocalypsis may or may not have been written last but does without doubt belong at the end of our Bible.
By the middle of the Second Century, lists began to appear as to what was canon and not.
An example of these lists was the Muratoreeun Fragment. This fragment was from 180 A.D. and contained a name delivered from L.A. Muratori who first discovered and published the list in the 18th century.
The Gospel of Luke is listed first by name but is referred to as the 3rd gospel indicating the knowledge of Matthew and Mark.
This list then follows with John, Acts, 13 letters of Paul and others. The only New Testament book not included in this list are Hebrews, James, I & II Peter and I John.
In the 3rd century, Origen names all of the New Testament Books but questions Hebrews, James, I & II John and Jude.
Eusebius of the 4th century - 300 years after the close of our New Testament - names all of the New Testament books but questioned James, II Peter II and III John and Jude.
In 367 AD Athanasius of Alexandria published a list of 27 New Testament books accepted in his lifetime and is the same as ours today. This is 267 years after the close of the New Testament.
The word cannon refers to the list of books which are acknowledged as being divinely inspired and which are included in the Bible. The formation of the canon was a gradual process over 1500 to 2000 years from Moses to the 4th century AD
Remember the Old Testament canon had been established by the time of Christ and the New Testament by 400 AD
We must note that no church councils our elders’ meeting by any degree can give to or take away the infallibility of God’s word.
The Bible owes its authority to no person or group of persons--the church does not control the scripture, but the scripture the church. Let’s make sure this always exists in the church in OUR lives. We must never be guilty of accepting what I want out of the Bible and rejecting what does not please me...or adding to its precepts.
At this point we must discuss the Apocryphal books and writings. The word Apocrypha came from the Greek and means hidden - scattered or concealed.
In a Bible context, it means those writings (books) that are not canonical--Apocryphal Books--these are both Old Testament and New Testament Apocryphal writings.
First Old Testament (14 or 15 books are accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as canon) 2nd, Esdras (Greek form of Ezra) 3rd,
II Esdras, Tabit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Barucle, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, Bel & the Dragon, Players of Manasseh, 1st Book of Maccabees, 2nd Book of Maccabees. (First two prayers of Meanassah Church other 12 are in their Bible)
Some Apocryphal Books are quoted from the New Testament.
• One is Jude vs. 9 and is a reference to the “Assumption of Moses”. The Assumption of Moses is a story about the possession and disposal of Moses’ body.
• Verse 14 of Jude refers to the book of Enoch--there is no doubt that during the life of Jesus and Jude there was a book, a very popular Jewish book known as the Book of Enoch.
Most all these books were written between 200 BC and 70-100 AD by Jews.
McClinton & Strong list 34 books mentioned in the Bible that are not in the Old Testament now. They are not canon because:
1. Never included in the Old Hebrew canon of the Old Testament.
2. Never, as best we can tell, accepted by Jesus.
3. Not accepted as scripture by Jewish historian Jerome as late as 400 AD . Jerome translated the Bible used by the Catholic Church today (basis for) maintained these works to be Apocryphal.
4. They include many historical, chronological and geographical
5. No two early manuscripts of the Septuagint include the same
ones. Septuagint had no chosen cannon.
6. Most good Bible students could tell the non-inspired tone.
The New Testament Apocryphal writings exist also--extra writings from every area:
• Extra gospels tell of Jesus’ early childhood, teen years, etc. Stories of Him ma
king wooden animals and clay pigeons and bringing them to life. The religion of ZIN is a strange belief that Jesus after 12 and before 30 went south of the Dead Sea Area known as Armenia.
There are stories of Jesus killing his playmates and giving life to dried fish, in the wilderness of Zin where he met a prophet and started the Religion of ZIN.
We must not confuse some of the early Christian writers and their works with the Apocryphal books. Apostolic fathers wrote during 80-150 AD letters of edification and encouragement written by ordinary Christian men and claim no Apostolic wisdom or authority; claim no divine inspiration.
Good books by uninspired men circulated among early Christian churches. Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas were okay to read in the church but not inspired.
The canon of Scripture, the Bible as we know it, has come to us through two sources:
• The divine inspiration of God,
• And the divine providence of God.
Inspiration gave us the writings and providence has preserved them for us.
May God bless our study together and may he give us an open mind to His Divine truth.

Written By

Bella Vista Church of Christ


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