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A Brief History of the Canon of Scripture June 28, 2006

Posted by mjtilley in Uncategorized.

The Jews were very careful in transcribing the books of the Old Testament. The Talmud describes in detail what practices were to be carried out as the books were copied. Some of these requirements included:

  • The pages had to be lined and spaced so that there were a certain number of columns.
    Not so much as a letter could be written from memory. The scribe had to look at each word before writing
  • If at any point during copying a mistake was made, the page had to be thrown away and a new copy made.
  • There had to be a certain amount of space between letters (about a hair’s breadth).
  • Every letter was counted.

There were countless other rules and restrictions that had to be followed (do some research on the subject, it’s quite interesting), but these few that I have listed should give you enough insight to see that the Jews were extremely careful in their transcription; there was no room for error.

Somewhere around A.D. 70 or A.D. 90 (it depends on whom you read after) the Sanhedrin received permission from the Roman government to reconvene for the purpose of reaffirming that these 39 books were in fact inspired and to be included in the canon. More importantly, the Bible itself gives evidence that these 39 books are inspired of God and to be included in Scripture.

In John 5:39 Jesus told the unbelieving Jews that they were to ‘search the Scriptures’, because they [the Scriptures] testified of Him. Luke 24 is another example of the Biblical evidence.

Luke 24:44-45: “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”

Historically, the New Testament is another story. There apparently was never a time when an official council of any kind met to determine which books should be included in the canon.

How then was it determined?

  • Apostolic authority. The work had to be either written or backed by an Apostle.
  • Inspiration of the content. There had to be internal evidence that a book was inspired of God.
  • General acceptance. The work had to be accepted by the church as being inspired.

David Cloud in his book, “Give Attendance to Doctrine” stated that around A.D. 208, Tertullian, in his “Prescription Against Heretics”, urged heretics to ‘run’ to the apostolic churches because the ‘authentic writings’ were still being read in these churches. Specifically mentioned were Corinth, Philippi, Rome, Thessalonica, and Ephesus. Most agree that the 27 books of the NT canon existed in the Greek language as early as the middle of the second century.Once again, study of the Bible itself gives us the best evidence. For example, you can see 2 Peter 3: 15-17 where Paul’s writings are included as Scripture. Please be reminded that there are other texts you can and should study on your own (these lessons are simply meant to be somewhat of an ‘overview’ of basic doctrine).



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