Canonicity • Sermon • Submitted • 1:00:14
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Wenstrom Bible Ministries
Pastor-Teacher Bill Wenstrom
Tuesday October 28, 2014
Lesson # 1
The term “canon” or “canonicity” in Christianity refers to a collection of many books acknowledged or recognized by the early church as inspired by God.
Both Jews and Christians possess canons of Scripture.
We must remember that the first Christians did not possess a New Testament canon but rather they relied on the gospel that was being proclaimed to them by the apostles and others.
They also relied on the books of the Old Testament canon.
The Jewish canon consists of thirty-nine books while on the other hand the Christian canon consists of sixty-six for Protestants and seventy-three for Catholics.
The Protestant canon has thirty-nine Old Testament books like the Jews and twenty-seven works compose the New Testament.
The subject of canonicity is an extremely important subject for the Christian to grasp since it answers the question as to why certain books found their way into the Bible and why others did not.
It answers the question as to whether or not the church determined what was in the Bible and what would not be included.
Did the church determine which books got into the Bible or did the church merely recognize that certain Christian literary works were inspired and others were not?
This study seeks to answer this important question.
The subject of canonicity also answers the question as to whether or not certain criteria was employed by the church to determine which books were inspired by God and which were not.
If there was certain criteria employed, then what tests did the church use to identify certain works as inspired and those which were not.
In the twentieth-century, movies like The Da Vinci Code have drawn attention to the subject of canonicity by communicating the idea that there were “other” Gospels in addition to the four that got into the Bible.
It alleges that there was a conspiracy in the church to deliberately keep certain books out of the Christian Bible because they would contradict the church’s teaching that Jesus was God.
These “other” Gospels are a reference to such works as the Gospel of Peter and Thomas which are Gnostic productions which were discovered in Egypt in 1945 at Nag Hammadi.
The Da Vinci Code amazingly claims that these Gnostic Gospels portray Jesus of Nazareth as purely human and never do they view Him as being God.
This claim is based upon fiction and not fact since these Gnostic Gospels emphasize that Jesus was deity or a supernatural person with supernatural powers who was dubiously human.
These books in reality downplayed the humanity of Jesus and many cases rejected His humanity altogether which is called “Docetic Gnosticism.”
In this study we learn that canonicity is actually determined by God.
In other words, a book is not inspired because men determined or decreed that it was canonical.
Rather it is canonical because God inspired it.
It was not the Jewish people who determined what should be in their Old Testament and it was not the Christian community that determined which Christian literary works would be in the New Testament canon.
Therefore, inspiration determines canonization.
Canonicity is determined authoritatively by God and this authority is simply recognized by His people.
The term English term “canon” comes from the Greek noun kanōn (κανών) which etymologically is a Semitic loanword and was most likely from the Hebrew qāneh and Akkadian, qaň.
The Greek noun kanōn originally meant “reed” but then later came to mean “measuring reed” and thus “rule, standard, norm.”
The term literally means: (1) a straight rod or bar; (2) a measuring rule as a ruler used by masons and carpenters; then (3) a rule or standard for testing straightness.
The term kanōn was employed six times in the Greek New Testament (2 Cor. 10:13, 15-16; Gal. 6:16; Phlp. 3:16).
In 2 Corinthians 10:13, 15-16, the word speaks of a set of directions for an activity and is used of the sphere that God allotted to Paul for his work as a missionary.
Paul uses the word in Galatians 6:16 where it means “rule, standard” referring to the means to determine the quality of the Christian’s conduct.
The early patristic writers would use the word many times in the sense of “rule” or “standard.”
During the first three centuries, the noun kanōn was used of those doctrines which were accepted as the rule of faith and practice in the Christian church.
Eventually, from about 300 A.D. onwards, the term was applied to the decisions or decrees or regulations of the church councils or synods as rules by which Christians were to live by.
By the fourth century though, the term came to refer to the list of books that constitute the Old and New Testaments.
In other words, it was used for the catalogue or list of sacred books which were distinguished and honored as belonging to God’s inspired Word.
This is how the word is used today by Christians meaning it refers to the closed collection of documents that constitute authoritative Scripture.
The biblical canon is not, of course, primarily a collection or list of literary masterpieces, like the Alexandrian lists, but one of authoritative sacred texts. Their authority is derived not from their early date, nor from their role as records of revelation (important though these characteristics were), but from the fact that they were believed to be inspired by God and thus to share the nature of revelation themselves. This belief, expressed at various points in the OT, had become a settled conviction among Jews of the intertestamental period, and is everywhere taken for granted in the NT treatment of the OT. That NT writings share this scriptural and inspired character is first stated in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 2 Peter 3:16. Pagan religion also could speak of ‘holy scriptures’ and attribute them on occasion to a deity (see J. Leipoldt and S. Morenz, Heilige Schriften [Leipzig, 1953], pp. 21f., 28–30), but the Jewish and Christian claims were made credible by the different quality of biblical religion and biblical literature. In a dictionary of biblical theology, the canon provides both boundaries and a basis. We are not engaged in producing a general survey of ancient Jewish and Christian religious ideas; if we were, all the surviving literature from the period would have an equal claim to our attention. Rather, we are engaged in interpreting the revelation of God, and for this the books which are believed to embody that revelation, and their text, are alone directly relevant. The accepted ways of arranging the canonical books are also significant, in so far as they highlight the historical progression of revelation and the literary forms in which it was given.
There were other terms used when speaking in regards to the Old and New Testament canons. In the early church the Old Testament was called “Scripture” (John 2:22; Acts 8:32; 2 Tim 3:16; etc.) or “the scriptures” (Mark 12:24; 1 Cor 15:3–4, etc.). Other terms used were “holy scriptures,” “the writings,” “the sacred scriptures,” “the book,” “the sacred books.” However the use of such terms does not indicate exactly which books were being referred to beyond the Law and the Prophets in the Law, Prophets, and Writings. “Holy writings” (kitbê haqqōdeš), is used to refer to holy or inspired writings but not exclusively to the Bible (Šabb. 16:1; B. Bat. 1: end; t. Beṣa 4 [Blau JEnc, 141]), another indication of the necessity to distinguish between “inspired” and “canonical” (Leiman 1976: 127; Metzger 1987: 254–57); the term is reflected in Greek in Rom 1:2; John 5:47; 2 Tim 3:15–16; Ant 1.13; 10.63; etc.
OT Old Testament
NT New Testament
OT Old Testament
NT New Testament
 Alexander, T. D., & Rosner, B. S. (Eds.). (2000). In New dictionary of biblical theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
B. Bat. Baba Batra
Beṣa Beṣa (= Yom Ṭob)
JEnc The Jewish Encyclopaedia, 12 vols., ed. I. Singer et al. New York, 1901–6
Ant Josephus, Jewish Antiquities (= Antiquitates Judaicae)
 Sanders, J. A. (1992). Canon: Hebrew Bible. In (D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.