The Christian Bible’s New Testament includes twenty-seven books such as canonical Gospels, Revelation, acts as well as letters, the majority of which were authored by the apostles. The canon was developed according to specific criteria, such as the prophetic authorship of the writings, the Witness of the Spirit, the acceptance of the people of God, as well as the alignment of the content of the mentioned books and the teachings of the apostles who authored them. Early church leaders only included the writings that were inspired by God and thus could be incorporated into the New Testament canon.
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The term canon is often used for describing the books included in the Scripture. It comes from the Greek word kanōn, denoting measurement or rule of standard. Thus, a canonical text is such that it is seen as the standard of the Scripture as compared to others, which implies that it should be considered the authoritative Word of God (Chapman, 2010). The Christian Bible’s New Testament includes twenty-seven books such as canonical Gospels, Revelation, Acts as well as letters, the majority of which were authored by the apostles. In the canon of the New Testament, the books were primarily compiled prior to 120 AD.
The criteria used for determining which books belong in the Bible are considered to be associated with Divine inspiration. However, given the fact that the Scripture does not provide the criteria used for identifying which writings should be included, several factors might have been taken into account. First, prophetic authorship was an essential indicator of a canon-worthy book as it must have been compiled by an apostle or a prophet or by another person who had a special relationship with such (Wall & Nienhuis, 2015). Therefore, only those who bore witness to the events or had recorded the account of the eyewitnesses could produce writings that could be considered canonical.
Witness of the Spirit could be another important indicator of canonical work. The appeal to the Holy Spirit’s inner witness should be included in the criteria because it would give people an understanding of whether the work could belong to the New Testament canon. Even though the Spirit did not provide a list of inspired books but left the recognition to a historical process within which the author of the book and the Spirit were active. Finally, the must be the acceptance of the people of God. Therefore, any work that would claim canonical status, although diverted from the truth when retelling the life of Christ, would not have been accepted by the own discipline of Jesus, who was the eyewitness to the events of the New Testament. The acceptance of God’s people should be considered an essential criterion for a book to be considered a canonical work.
The content of the mentioned books bears importance when it comes to their canonical value. The writings should have agreed with the Christian doctrine that the apostles used to teach orally or wrote during their lifetime. If there was something that had not aligned with the actual teachings of the Apostles, it was seen as spurious and not the exact Word of God. Essentially, this motivated religious leaders to determine and delineate the real New Testament canon in the first centuries of the current millennium. Thus, all of the mentioned criteria create a set of qualities that would define the quality of the source with regard to its belonging to the canon. For instance, the Gospel of Thomas was not qualified as canonical because the writing bore the name of the apostle, but its content did not go with the teachings of that particular apostle. For many years, the book was recognized as Gnostic-based forgery that espoused the heresy of Gnosticism. Thus, even though the writings bore the name of an apostle, it did not mean that the book would be considered apostolic due to the issues with its content.
Several important dates should be noted when it comes to the recognition of the New Testament canon. In 367 AD, the Bishop of Alexandria wrote a letter to the faithful for the occasion of the Passover (Veldt, 2007). The letter mentioned twenty-seven books that the church had accepted to be the canonical New Testament, as a part of the eastern church tradition. In the western church, the Council of Carthage of 397 AD met to publish the names of the twenty-seven books to be considered as genuine Scripture (Veldt, 2007). Thus, it becomes evident at the close of the fourth century, the church had no debates about the twenty-seven books that would be embedded into the New Testament. The books included Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Acts of the Apostles, Letters of Paul to the Romans and the Corinthians (I Corinthians, II Corinthians), Letters of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians (I Thessalonians and II Thessalonians), Letters of Paul to Timothy (I Timothy and II Timothy), Letters of Paul to Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, Letter of James, Letters of Peter (I Peter and II Peter), Letters of John (I John, II John, and III John), Letter of Jude, and Revelation to John.
The New Testament canon has undergone a history of developments and evaluations in order for a system to be considered a valid representation of the Christian belief system. Those who penned the writings in the New Testament wrote in a similar manner, and their work in God’s Word should have been considered entirely accurate and the result of His sovereign provision and insight. By appealing to the grace and providence of God, early church leaders were capable of recognizing the writings that were inspired by God and thus could be incorporated in the New Testament canon.
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Chapman, S. (2010). The canon debate: What it is and why it matters. Journal of Theological Interpretation, 4(2), 273-294.
Veldt, M. S. (2007). Christian attitudes toward the Jews in the earliest centuries AD. Dissertations. Web.
Wall, R. W., & Nienhuis, D. R. (2015). One reading canonical collections: A response. Journal of Theological Interpretation, 9(1). 149-158.