All Christians realize that if God has revealed Himself by communicating His will to man, man must be able to know with assurance where that revelation lies. Hence the need for a list (i.e. canon) of books of the Bible. In other words, man needs to know without error (i.e. infallibly) what the books of the Bible are. There must be an authority which will make that decision.
The canon of the Bible refers to the definitive list of the books which are considered to be divine revelation and included therein. A canon distinguishes what is revealed and divine from what is not revealed and human. "Canon" (Greek kanon) means a reed; a straight rod or bar; a measuring stick; something serving to determine, rule, or measure. Because God did not explicitly reveal what books are the inspired books of the Bible, title by title, to anyone, we must look to His guidance in discovering the canon of the Bible.
Jesus has told us that he has not revealed all truths to us.
Jesus then told us how he was planning to assist us in knowing other truths.
The New Testament writers sensed how they handled truth-bearing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.
There was a constant history of faithful people from Paul's time through the Apostolic and Post Apostolic Church.
There was no canon of scripture in the early Church; there was no Bible. The Bible is the book of the Church; she is not the Church of the Bible. It was the Church--her leadership, faithful people--guided by the authority of the Spirit of Truth which discovered the books inspired by God in their writing. The Church did not create the canon; she discerned the canon. Fixed canons of the Old and New Testaments, hence the Bible, were not known much before the end of the 2nd and early 3rd century.
Catholic Christians together with Protestant and Evangelical Christians hold the same canon of the New Testament, 27 books, all having been originally written in the Greek language.
Catholic Christians accept the longer Old Testament canon, 46 books, from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Alexandrian Canon.
Protestant and Evangelical Christians, from the Reformers onward, accept the shorter Old Testament canon, 39 books, from the Hebrew Palestinian Canon. Jews have the same canon as Protestants.
Canonical books are those books which have been acknowledged as belonging to the list of books the Church considers to be inspired and to contain a rule of faith and morals. Some criteria used to determine canonicity were
Other terms for canonical books should be distinguished: the protocanonical books, deuterocanonical books, and the apocryphal books.
The protocanonical (from the Greek proto meaning first) books are those books of the Bible that were admitted into the canon of the Bible with little or no debate (e.g., the Pentateuch of the Old Testament and the Gospels)
The deuterocanonical (from the Greek deutero meaning second) books are those books of the Bible that were under discussion for a while until doubts about their canonicity were resolved (e.g. Sirach and Baruch of the Old Testament, and the Johannine epistles of the New Testament).
The apocryphal (from the Greek apokryphos meaning hidden) books have multiple meanings:
Another word, pseudepigrapha (from the Greek meaning false writing) is used for works clearly considered to be false.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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Last Updated: July 17, 2004