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canon

From Greek kanon, "measuring stick." Religious texts authoritative for members of a given religion (DVC, 231-32).

OLD TESTAMENT CANON: In AD 90, Jewish rabbis at the Council of Yavneh (also known as Jamnia) formally recognized (rather than established ) thirty-nine books as authoritative Scripture for the Jewish faith — the texts the Jewish people had for centuries already received as authoritative. These books are the same that appear in Protestant Bibles today. The Old Testament canons of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include several books (deuterocanonical, or apocryphal ) that do not appear in the Jewish canon. See also apocrypha; Bible; Marcion of Sinope.

NEW TESTAMENT CANON: According to Dan Brown, the New Testament canon did not emerge until the fourth century, when books were compiled and edited by men who possessed "a political agenda... to solidify their own power base" (DVC, 234). It is true that the New Testament underwent a compilation process; however, most of it was established before the second century—twenty of the twenty-seven books were accepted as part of the Christian canon from the very beginning. This list included the four gospels, Acts, the thirteen letters of Paul, 1 Peter, and 1 John. Even if the New Testament had included only these writings, every essential doctrine of the Christian faith would remain intact.

In the second century, when Marcion of Sinope questioned the authority of some of these writings, a threefold consensus among church leaders emerged about whether a book should be accepted as canonical or authentic:

(1) Because the apostles were the eyewitnesses of Jesus' resurrection, the writing had to be directly connected to an apostle.
(2) The writing had to be "orthodox"; that is, it could not contradict Old Testament or apostolic teachings.
(3) The writing had to be accepted in churches throughout the known world; in other words, it could not be accepted only by one group of believers.

These requirements specifically prevented canon manipulation by any single group. Disagreements did continue concerning several books, including Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Revelation, Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Diatessaron, Gospel of the Hebrews, Acts of Paul, and Apocalypse of Peter. Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were recognized as meeting the threefold test of canonicity (see first chart below).

In 367, the Festal Letter of Athanasius listed as an authoritative canon the same twenty-seven books that appear in modern New Testaments. See also Acts of Paul; Apocalypse of Peter; apocrypha; Athanasius of Alexandria; Bible; Bruce, Frederick F.; Diatessaron; Didache; Epistle of Barnabas; Eusebius of Caesarea; Gospel of the Hebrews; Marcion of Sinope; Muratorian Fragment; orthodoxy; Shepherd of Hermas.

For understanding of Old and New Testament formation, three charts follow:

  • Why Writings Were Included In or Excluded From the Bible
  • New Testament and Early Church Writings: Comparisons From the First Four Centuries
  • The Final Result: Comparisons of Bibles (Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox)
WHY WRITINGS WERE INCLUDED IN OR EXCLUDED FROM THE BIBLE
(OLD TESTAMENT)

Writing Reason for Acceptance As Authoritative Reason for Exclusion
Torah ("Law"): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy From the time of Moses, Israel accepted God's self-revelation to Moses through the Torah as the authoritative standard for their lives. Further writings could be accepted as authoritative only if they conformed to the Torah.  
Nevi'im (Prophets): Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 and 2), Kings (1 and 2), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) At least as early as the intertestamental period (c. 400-4 BC), these writings were recognized as authoritative prophetic utterances conforming to God's self-revelation in the Torah. During this time, the Jewish people came to understand that divine prophecies had ceased (for whatever length of time) after these books were written. The deuterocanonical 1 Maccabees says (9:27), "There was great distress in Israel, such as had not occurred since the time that the prophets ceased to appear."  
Kethubim (Writings): Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles (1 and 2) In addition to conforming to the Torah's teachings, these Hebrew documents had important functions in corporate worship and personal devotion. They complete the "twenty-four books" that — according to the author of 2 Esdras (14:45-46) — the Jews accepted as universally authoritative. (The Jews consider their Bible to have twenty-four books, rather than the Protestant Old Testament thirty-nine, because they count the twelve minor prophets as a single book, and they group together 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah.)  
Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, additions to Daniel (Susanna, Bel and the Dragon)   Accepted by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, but excluded by Jews and Protestants for the following reasons: (1) These apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) books, never part of the Hebrew Bible, were later additions written in Greek. (2) They stand outside the twenty-four books recognized at least as early as the late-first century AD as God's authoritative self-revelation to the Jewish people.
1 Esdras (called 2 Esdras in the Russian Orthodox Church), Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 3 and 4 Maccabees   Accepted by the Eastern Orthodox, but excluded by Jews and Protestants for the same reasons as with other apocryphal books. The Roman Catholic Church excludes them primarily because they were never widely accepted or used in the Western half of the Roman empire.
2 Esdras (called 3 Esdras in the Russian Orthodox Church)   Accepted by the Russian Orthodox (Slavonic) and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. Other Christians exclude 2 Esdras largely because it was written after the time of Jesus Christ and because it wasn't universally recognized among Christians.


WHY WRITINGS WERE INCLUDED IN OR EXCLUDED FROM THE BIBLE
(NEW TESTAMENT)
Writing Reason for Acceptance As Authoritative Reason for Exclusion
Matthew One of Jesus' first followers, Matthew was an eye-witness of his life and ministry.  
Mark John Mark served as the apostle Peter's translator; as such, the words of Mark's gospel reflect Peter's eyewitness testimony.  
Luke and Acts Luke was an associate of Paul (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24), an apostle specially commissioned by Christ  
John, 1, 2, and 3 John, Revelation One of Jesus' first followers, John was an eye-witness of his life and ministry.  
Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon Paul was an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus, who personally commissioned him as an apostle (Acts 9:1-17; 1 Cor. 15:8-10; Gal. 1:13-16).  
Hebrews Although initially disputed, Hebrews was accepted into the canon because of its connection (through Timothy) to the apostle Paul (13:23).  
James Because James was Jesus' physical half-brother, his testimony to Jesus was viewed as apostolic and authoritative (Gal. 1:19).  
1 and 2 Peter One of Christ's first followers, Simon Peter was an eyewitness of his life and ministry.  
Jude Jude seems also to have been a physical half-brother of Jesus. As such, his testimony — like that of James — was viewed as apostolic and authoritative (See Gal. 1:19).  
Didache   Although completely orthodox and in agreement with the canonical New Testament, Didache was eventually excluded from the canon, possibly because it could not be clearly connected to an apostle.
The Epistle of Barnabas   Appears in Codex Sinaiticus in an appendix to the New Testament, but was ultimately excluded from the New Testament, probably because it contains a false prophecy and because of its anti-Jewish tone
Shepherd of Hermas   Excluded primarily because it could not be connected to an eyewitness of Jesus; probably written around 150 by the brother of Pius, bishop of Rome.
Diatessaron   Harmonized (and edited) version of the canonical Gospels; probably excluded because it didn't provide any new material.
The Gospel of the Hebrews   Has been lost; may have been an early version of the canonical gospel of Matthew.
The Acts of Paul   Excluded because it didn't represent historical testimony. A church leader admitted around 160 that he'd written this novel "out of respect for Paul."
The Apocalypse of Peter   Rejected (although completely orthodox) because Peter didn't write it. (Authored around 135, long after his death.)


NEW TESTAMENT AND EARLY CHURCH WRITINGS:
COMPARISONS FROM THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES

* = Writings ultimately excluded from the canon that some early Christians had considered to be canonical
NH = Writings found at Nag Hammadi

First Century
Gnostic Writings (non-canonical) Unorthodox Writings (non-canonical) Christian Writings (non-canonical) Christian Writings (canonical)
    *1 Clement
*Didache
Galatians (49), James (49?), Matthew (50-70), 1 Thessalonians (51), 2 Thessalonians (52), 1 Corinthians (55), 2 Corinthians (57), Romans (58), 1 Peter (60s?), Hebrews (60s?), Philippians (61), Ephesians / Colossians / Philemon (62), 2 Peter (65), Mark (65), Jude (65-70?), Luke- Acts (65-70), 1 Timothy (66), 2 Timothy, Titus (67), Revelation (late 60s or mid- 90s), John & 1, 2, 3 John (90s)


Second Century
Gnostic Writings (non-canonical) Unorthodox Writings (non-canonical) Christian Writings (non-canonical) Christian Writings (canonical)
Gospel of Thomas (NH), Secret Book of James (NH), Dialogue of the Savior (NH), Gospel of Basilides, Gospel of Truth (NH), Apocryphon of John (NH), Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Eve, Acts of Thomas (NH) Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of Peter *Epistle of Barnabas, *Apocalypse of Peter, Gospel of Matthias, Gospel of the Egyptians, Shepherd of Hermas, *Diatessaron, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Infancy Gospel of James, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter  


Third Century
Gnostic Writings (non-canonical) Unorthodox Writings (non-canonical) Christian Writings (non-canonical) Christian Writings (canonical)
Vision of the Savior, Gospel of Mary (NH), Gospel of Philip (NH), Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians (NH), Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (NH)   Acts of Andrew  


THE FINAL RESULT:COMPARISONS OF BIBLES

Fourth Century
Protestant Canon Roman Catholic Canon Eastern Orthodox Canon Russian Orthodox Canon
The sixty-six books listed above under "Why Writings Were Included In or Excluded From the Bible" (second column) The sixty-six, plus Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, additions to Daniel and Esther The sixty-six, plus 1 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Psalm 151, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Odes (with Prayer of Manasseh), 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees, additions to Daniel and Esther The sixty-six, plus 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Psalm 151, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Prayer of Manasseh, 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees, additions to Daniel and Esther


Printed with permission from Bethany House Publishers, South Bloomington, Minnesota from the book "The Da Vinci Codebreaker : an easy-to-use fact checker for truth seekers" by James L. Garlow.
 

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