The Biblical Canon

It is interesting to learn how the books of the Bible, The Cannon, were determined. Sometime between AD 156 and 172 a man named Montanus appeared in Asia Minor. He and his two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla, went about prophesying in the name of the Spirit, and foretelling the speedy second coming of Christ. These new prophets, in contrast to prophets in biblical times, spoke in a state of ecstasy, as though their personalities were suspended while the Paraclete spoke in them. Montanus was convinced that he and his prophetess were the God-given instruments of revelation. Montanists insisted that opposition to the new prophecy was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and many churches split over this question. Montanus argued that the new age of the Spirit had displaced the previous ages including the Ten Commandments. Montanus denied that God’s decisive and normative revelation had occurred in Jesus Christ.

In the face of these false doctrines the Church leaders felt they needed to identify a Canon of books that would make all Christian teaching center in Christ and the apostolic witness by setting apart the apostolic writings as uniquely authoritative. This led to a renewed sense of urgency to finalize a cannon of accepted Scripture. The books from the Old Testament that are included today in the Protestant Cannon were accepted by most Christians early on for various reasons such as Jesus quoting from these books and Jesus being the fulfillment of the promises running through them. However Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, among others, also included all or part of 15 other books called The Apocrypha. Protestants rejected the Apocrypha books and only accepted the 39 Old Testament books currently included in the Protestant Bible for various reasons mainly due to passages in the Apocrypha that contradicted other Scripture or seemed to teach clearly false doctrines.

The books to include in the New Testament Canon also was disputed early on but by the early third century a common consensus was to include most of the 27 books currently included. Hebrews, Revelations, James, II Peter, II and III John and Jude were, in various places, disputed into the fourth century for reasons of doubt of inspiration due to questions of authorship, included quotes from non-canonical sources such as the Apocrypha and in Revelations case the difficultly in understanding the book. The first list of the 27 books of the Canon that we have today came in an Easter letter written in 367 by Bishop Athanasius from Alexandria. Shortly thereafter councils in North Africa at Hippo and at Carthage published the same list. The New Testament Canon has essentially been agreed upon by Christians since that time. The main factor for acceptance into the New Testament Canon was the author’s ties to an apostle or to a man that had a direct contact with the circle of the apostles. This was a safeguard of Truth against the false teachers like Montanus, who brought extra-biblical false teaching to the Church.

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