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Canon: The Sixty Six Books of the Bible

What is theology, and why should we study it? Theology is the study of God, and as we learn more about His person and works we come to know God more, are able to grow closer to Him. Below you will find the lesson handout used in our recent Sunday School class, and you can download the PDF file to view the slideshow of the lesson.

Theology: The Study of God (based on Charles F. Baker, “A Dispensational Theology,” chapter 13 p.83-92)

Today we can waltz into any bookstore and purchase a brand new, leather-bound Bible, complete with all sixty-six books, from Genesis to Revelation.  However, God’s people have not always enjoyed this luxury.  The individual books were composed over an extensive period of time, as the Lord spoke through His prophets and apostles.  Their words were written down, preserved, and added to an expanding collection of sacred Scripture.  But we might wonder how God’s people were able to distinguish between divinely inspired books, which rightfully belong in the Bible, and other religious writings of their day that did not carry the same authority?  Certainly, the Holy Spirit was actively involved in this process, but there are other reasons to be confident in all sixty-six books of our Bible.

“Canon” = a m_______________ or standard

  • When we talk about the “canon of Scripture” we are referring to the list of books that m_________________ up to the divine standard and belong in our Bible
  • The Moody Handbook of Theology notes, “If the Scriptures are indeed inspired by God then a significant question arises: Which books are inspired? Historically, it was important for the people of God to determine which books God had inspired and which ones were recognized as authoritative.” (p.170)

Tests to Measure the Canonicity of a Book:

  • Was it written by a p________________ or an a___________________ or close associate?
  • Was it w____________ accepted by God’s people (OT = by Israel, NT = by the Church)?
  • Is the message c___________________ with sound doctrine?
  • Does it bear the marks of i______________, setting forth high moral and spiritual values?

Old Testament Canon:

1. In the OT, God commanded his people to preserve a collection of Sacred Writings.

  • This collection grew throughout Israel’s history (Deut. 31:24-26; Josh. 24:26; 1 Sam. 10:25; 2 Chron. 32:32).
  • Over time there came to be three main divisions in the Hebrew Scriptures: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (see Luke 24:44).
  • The books were numbered differently (i.e. the twelve minor prophets were all counted as one), they were arranged in a different order, but the ancient Hebrew Bible contained the exact same books as our Protestant Old Testament.

2. The books of the OT were already established before the time of Jesus

  • These works would come to be known as…
  • Jewish Tradition and the Great Synagogue of Ezra
  • The Jewish Historian Josephus (37-100 AD)

New Testament Canon:

a.) The writings of the apostles were received by the church as Scripture

  • Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would speak through them (John 16:13)
  • Peter referred to the letters of Paul as “Scripture,” equal with the OT (2 Pet. 3:15-16)
  • Paul instructed the churches to copy and share the letters they received (Col. 4:16)
  • The books were inspired when they were written, not because of a church council

b.) Which books did the early church regard as Scripture?

  • Early Christian leaders quoted from the books of the NT extensively…
  • Towards the end of the second century lists of the NT books appear
  • Because individual churches received some letters before others, there was slight variation in some of these lists, but it didn’t take long before there was consensus

c.) The early church historian Eusebius (263-339 BC) tells us that the early church placed books into four categories as they were sorting through issues relating to canonicity:

  • R__________________ books: a core of 22 books universally accepted very early
  • D__________________ books: considered canon but not known by all the churches
  • R__________________ books: not considered Scripture, but were good and useful
  • H__________________ books: theologically flawed leading people astray from truth

Additional Sources:

Lightfoot, Neil R.  “How We God the Bible” Baker Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI 1963

An Essential Key to Understanding the Development of the NT Canon


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