Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Canon of Scripture (2 Peter 3:10-18)

"His [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16b).

A common question raised in discussions about the authority and authorship of Scripture is “How do we know that the books in the canon of Scripture are the right ones?” How we answer this question greatly affects our confidence in the Bible’s authority.

A canon is a standard by which other things are judged. The canon of Scripture developed during the first four centuries through a number of councils. The 66 books that now comprise the Bible were finally established as the complete Canon in 397 A.D. at the Third Council of Carthage.

Prior to this date, even from the latter half of the first century, the various books of the New Testament were in circulation. It is not as if the Bible suddenly appeared in 397. These letters and books had been used by the church for years. However, there developed abuses and controversies over what books were sacred Scripture. And so, the church responded by recognizing and establishing the final Canon.

When the councils met, there were more than 2,000 books in contention. Yet, only two books beyond the final Canon were seriously considered: Shepherd of Hermes and 1 Clement. These books were rejected because the authors indicated a clear difference between themselves and the apostles. By their own testimony, they were excluded from sacred Scripture. Of the books that are now in the Canon, some were questioned—for example, Jude, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and the three letters of John. But after much consideration, they were adopted into the final version.

While it may cause some to be uneasy knowing that the Bible was compiled by fallible men, we can put our confidence in God’s providence and in the methods employed by the early church councils in making their decision. They used three criteria: 1) the book had to be written or endorsed by an apostle; 2) the book had to have been received by the early church from the beginning; and 3) questionable books could not contradict any books of which there was no doubt—conformity was paramount.

Through these means and the grace of God, we can trust that the right books have been included in the Bible and safeguarded through the ages.

Consider the confidence New Testament writers put in the canonicity of the Old Testament (Read Luke 24:25–45). What does this say about God preserving His Word? What does this say to us about the confidence we should have in the New Testament?