Friday, August 18, 2006

Sola Scriptura: The Canon of Scripture

Carrying on after proving the inerrancy of Scripture, I would like to go on to a related issue — the Canon of Scripture, before going on to the issue of ultimate authority which undergirds everything, and finishing with the preservation of Scripture.

The Canon of Scripture refers to the books which are to be found in the Scriptures, to be regarded as the Christian's Rule of Faith. In fact, the word Canon comes from a Hebrew and Greek word and basically means something by which to keep straight; a rule[1]. Thus, the Canon delineates which books are considered to be the Word of God and which books aren't to be considered as such.

Most liberals, probably knowing the weakness of their position with regards to the Bible, question the Bible itself at its core, by questioning the Canon of Scripture. If one holds to the Canon of Scripture as delineating between the inspired writings and the non-inspired ones, then there is simply no logically consistent way that one can hold to errancy of Scripture in light of the evidences, manuscript and otherwise, and thus there is no way one can reject the other doctrines about the Bible without rejecting Christianity. Therefore, the liberals attack the Canon of Scripture, as only then can they still logically be a 'Christian' (in the sense that their worldview is logically consistent with their idea and understanding of Christianity) and remain a liberal.

The Christian Canon is typically made up of 66 books; 39 books in the Old Testament (OT), and 27 books in the New Testament. They are made up of:


Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — Torah or Law
Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadaih, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi — Prophets
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Songs of songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles — Writings


Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — Gospels
Acts — History
Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galations, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon — Pauline Epistles
Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude — General Epistles
Revelation — Apocalytic

The Christian Canon differs from the Roman Catholic Canon in that they add the Apocrypha into their Canon, and their Canon differ from the Orthodox churches also. I would not go into detail over which version of the canon is correct, but instead focus more on the issue of canonicity with regards to the liberals.

The liberals question and reject the idea of the Canon by essentially positing that the Canon was decided by men and thus they could have added in or rejected certain books which are actually authentic books representing what they call 'true Christianity'. The most well-known example of such liberal thinking is that found in the blasphemous and hugely popular novel (and adopted to film) by Dan Brown entitled The Da Vinci Code, in which Brown had his fictitious expert in his novel saying that the Council of Nicea and the Emperor Constantine had decided which books were placed into the canon of Scripture. Liberals can also use the example of the different Canons found within Christendom to show the fact that the Canon is ultimately decided by Man. Of course, the historical development of the Canon shows that the Church was the one who finally decided on the Canon, after accepting some disputed books and then rejecting them, or rejecting other disputed books and then accepting them later[2], which the liberals use to promote the idea that the Canon was decided by fallible, biased Man. The Nag Hammadi finds of the Gnostic gospels and the idea of secret gospels in general also have given liberals fuel to bolster their claims of the Bible being essentially a work of men and not the Word of God.

So, how should we respond to all these attacks? To the existence of different canons in visible Christedom, it must be said that to infer from this that the Canon of Scripture is suspect is a non sequitar. All three traditions (Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox) believe in a fixed Canon while disputing on some of the books which the other side has or hasn't in the Canon of Scripture. Obviously, one side is right and the others are wrong. As an Reformed Evangelical Protestant, I would definitely say that the Protestant Canon is the Christian one, and this is backed up by historical and internal evidence of the rejected writings[3]. Also, based on historical and literary evidences, the 'secret Gospels' like for example those in the Nag Hammadi finds are also rejected as being part of the Canon[4].

The main thrust of the liberal arguments is the argument that the Canon was decided by Man, who were often assumed to be biased in their selection of books to add in the Canon. Feminists and New-Agers could therefore claim that these people suppress the Gnostic 'gospels' as they were patristic and biased against women. Alos, would like to take note that Roman Catholics use a similar form of argumentation also to push their argument for the primacy of the Church over that of the Word. What all these arguments have in common is the argument that people create the canon of Scripture. However, this argument is flawed. The canon was recognized by the Church, not created by it[5]. Since the canon was recognized by the Church, the Church did not have any liberty to add to or remove books from the Scriptures, but to humbly recognized and receive these canonical books as Scripture. Was it possible for the Church and Christians in general to rebel against God and not accept those books which are meant to be canonical? No, for God has said that His Will shall be accomplished and not be thwarted (Dan. 4:35). If God intends for these books to be His Word, it will be done as such. Also, it is written that God's Word in the Scriptures is eternal, standing firm in the heavens (Ps. 119:89), and thus its contents do not dependent on Man's decision of the books of the Canon.

But what about the Roman Catholic church or the Orthodox churches, some might ask? We can see that the Roman church-state only added the Apocrypha during and after the Council of Trent[6], and the Orthodox churches basically accepts all of the Apocrypha, even those that the Roman state-church rejects. The Roman acceptance of the Apocrypha is thus rather recent and was after the Reformation and therefore this does not infringe on the canon of Scripture. As with regards to the Orthodox churches, they do not make a clear distinction between Scripture and Tradition, in fact placing Scripture as the preeminent tradition among many forms[7]. Therefore, nothing much about the Canon can be made from the Orthodox position.

Since this is the case, all the arguments by the liberals and the defense of Rome for Sola Ecclesia is undercut and rendered unsound. The doctrine of the existence of the inspired Canon of Scripture in its present form as stated above with 66 books is thus validated.

[to be continued]


[1] M.G. Easton (1897), Easton's Bible Dictionary, Published by Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI. Public Domain

[2] See Disputed books of the Old Testament ( and The New Testament Canon (

[3] See The Old Testament Canon and Apocrypha at . For more research into the Canon, look at . Also Are the right books in the Bible? ( See the articles in the Canon section at also at

[4] The Gnostics and Jesus ( Even a cursory look at some of these books will show that they are radically different in style and writing from the canonical books. See Lost Books of the Bible, so-called at where you can read some of these books for yourself.

[5] See James R. White (2004), Scripture Alone, pp. 101-103, published by Bethany House, Minneapolis, Minnesota

[6] Reasons why the Apocyrpha doesn not belong to the Bible! (

[7] Eastern Orthodoxy (

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