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The Canon

The Canon, simply named, is the books of the Bible officially accepted as Holy Scripture.  Written by about forty authors over the course of 1500 years, it was essential that a list be drawn up of the books which reflected the truth of God's message and were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Although each book was canon in God's eyes as it was written, the canon had to be identified by religious leaders as God did not give a list of books to include. Determining the canon was a process conducted first by Jewish rabbis and scholars and later by early Christians. Ultimately, though, it was God who decided what books belonged in the biblical canon. 

The Old Testament Canon:

Jewish scribes were so meticulous  when coping holy documents, that if they found an error (word and line counts) they would burn the copy and do it again.  The Books of The Law (Gen-Deut) were recognized as Holy as early as 2 Kings 22The prophets were identified as Scripture by the end of the second century BC. The Psalms were accepted, but the remaining books varied depending on Jewish sect.  The rabbinical school of the Pharisees in Jamnia arrived at a final list of twenty-four books, which equate to the thirty-nine books of the Christian Old Testament.

 The Old Testament scrolls found (Dead Sea Scrolls) were copied between 200BC and 100AD. Comparing those to 900AD manuscripts we see the reliability in the copying.

The Septuagint is a greek translation of the accepted Hebrew Bible.  Commissioned by Ptolemy and translated by Jewish elders into Koine Greek around the 3rd Century BC.  It contained all modern Old Testament books but included some apocrypha.  It was widely used by the first Jewish Christians and new gentile converts.

The Council of Jamnia of 90AD helped officially complete the Hebrew canon and this was also supported by the Jewish Historian Josephus in 95AD when he stated "... no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable..."

The New Testament Canon:

The Apostles made it important that those who proclaimed the message (oral or written) were creditable and accurate (Acts 1:21-22).  Paul considered Luke's writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter referred to Paul's writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). 

Also read Why The Bible Is Divine: Christology

Clement of Rome mentioned at least eight New Testament books (AD 95). Ignatius of Antioch acknowledged about seven books (AD 115). Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, acknowledged 15 books (AD 108). Later, Irenaeus mentioned 21 books (AD 185). Hippolytus recognized 22 books (AD 170-235).  

The first "canon" was the Muratorian Canon, compiled in AD 170, which included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. The Council of Laodicea (AD 363) concluded that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Councils of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (AD 397) reaffirmed the same 27 books as authoritative.
  1. The Muratorian Canon (170AD) 
  2. The Melito Canon (170AD)
  3. Origen in his writings discusses the books in detail (240AD)
  4. Around 324 AD, Eusebius attempts to compile a list from ancient writers to this time of documents the church believed to be authentic and authoritative and which ones were not.
  5. Cyril of Jerusalem formulated a canon around 350AD, and Hilary of Poitiers in 360AD.
  6. The Council of Laodicea formulated a list in 363AD. 
  7. The Athanasius' Canon (367AD);Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389) concurred with Athanasius' list.
 How where New Testament books filtered?

The principles used by the councils to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit were fourfold. 
  1. First, the author must be an apostle or have a direct close connection with an apostle. 
  2. Second, the book must have been accepted by the body of Christ at large. 
  3. Third, the book had to contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching. 
  4. Finally, the book had to bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit as the divine Author. Most importantly, however, it must be recognized that it was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible. God, via the inspiration of the Spirit, imparted to His followers what He had already decided. 
The human process of collecting the books of the Bible was flawed, but God, in His sovereignty, and despite the limitations of sinful man, brought the early church to the recognition of the books He had inspired, and those books are recognized today as the canon of Scripture.  

First Editions

In 331AD, the Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople.  Jerome helped publish the Vulgate in 400AD.  By this time the Canon was settled.  The Wycliffe Bible was translated in 1383AD.  Even though the Roman Catholic Church banned any translations of the Bible apart from the Latin Vulgate, individuals such as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Catalan, Erasmus, John Huss, Martin Luther, and others translated the bible in the common language between 1383 to 1530AD.

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