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The Greek word “biblia” is a plural noun derived from the word “biblion,” which means “scroll.” The general meaning of “biblia” is “books.” In a biblical context, the word “biblia” is commonly used to refer to the collection of books that make up the Christian Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.
The Greek word “bibliia” (βιβλία) is used in the Greek New Testament to refer to books, especially religious or sacred books. In the context of the New Testament, the word is typically used to refer to the Old Testament, which was the collection of sacred texts used by Jews in the time of Jesus and the early Christians.
The related word “bibliōn” (βιβλίων) is also used in the New Testament to refer to a scroll or book. For example, in Revelation 5:1, it is written, “And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” The Greek word used here for “scroll” is “bibliōn.”
These words are used in the New Testament to emphasize the importance and sacred nature of the books and the written word, particularly the Old Testament, as a source of divine revelation and guidance.
The word “Bible” came into the English language from the Latin word “biblia,” which was a plural noun used to describe books. The word “biblia” is derived from the Greek word “ta biblia,” which means “the books.” The Greek word “biblion” was originally used to describe a single scroll or a written document, and eventually came to mean a collection of written works. The Latin word “biblia” was used in a similar way to refer to collections of books, and eventually came to be used specifically to describe the collection of sacred scriptures known as the Bible. In the Middle Ages, the Latin word was adopted into Old English as “bible,” and this is the word that has been used in English ever since to describe the collection of sacred scriptures of Christianity.
The writers of the Bible testified to its being God’s inspired word through the claims they made in their writing. For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul wrote that “all scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness”. The writer of Hebrews 4:12 referred to the “living and active” word of God. The Gospel of John refers to Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. These claims and others like them demonstrate the belief of the writers of the Bible that what they were writing was not of their own accord but was inspired by God. Additionally, the fulfilled prophecies, miracles, and other supernatural elements in the Bible also testified to its divine inspiration.
The Divine Library of God’s Word
The Bible is a collection of sacred texts that are considered to have been divinely inspired. These texts were written over a period of 1600 years and were later compiled into what was referred to by Jerome as the “Bibliotheca Divina” or the “Divine Library.” The Bible has a limited catalog of books, which are authorized and recognized as part of its scope and specialty. This catalog is determined by God, who serves as the Great Librarian and sets the standards for what should be included. As a result, the Bible has a fixed number of 66 books that are considered to be the product of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
The concept of a fixed list of books accepted as genuine and inspired Scripture is known as the Bible canon. The word “canon” comes from the Greek word “ka·non,” which refers to a “rule of conduct” or a “territory” that is measured out. In the same way, the books in the canon are considered to be true and inspired and serve as a guide for determining the correct faith, doctrine, and conduct. Using books that are not part of the canon as a reference would result in a flawed understanding and may fail the test of the Master Surveyor.
The determination of a book’s canonicity, or its inclusion in the canon of the Bible, was based on several factors. These factors include:
- Apostolic Authorship: Books written by apostles or their close associates, such as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were given significant weight.
- Widespread usage and acceptance: Books that were widely used and accepted by the early Christian communities, such as the letters of Paul, were also considered for inclusion.
- Consistency with Orthodox Christian teaching: Books that aligned with the core teachings of the Christian faith, such as the Nicene Creed, were also considered for canonization.
- Historical reliability: Books that were historically reliable and could be verified through multiple sources were also given consideration.
- Inspiration: The books that were believed to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit were given great importance in the canonization process.
These factors were not strictly adhered to and some books were included based on more subjective criteria, such as tradition and consensus among early Christian communities. The canon of the Bible was formalized at various councils and synods in the early centuries of Christianity, such as the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the 4th century.
The Hebrew Old Testament
The process of completing the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament was a gradual and progressive one that took place over several centuries. Here are some of the key steps:
- Collection of individual books: The first step was the composition and collection of individual books. The books were written by various authors and prophets, and as they were recognized as authoritative, they were collected and preserved by the Jewish community.
- Recognition of prophetic books: The books of the prophets were recognized as authoritative first, and the canon of the prophetic books was established by the end of the 5th century BCE.
- Acceptance of the Law: The Law, or Torah, was accepted as authoritative and was added to the canon of prophetic books, forming the canon of the Law and the Prophets.
- Collection of Writings: The collection of Writings, including books such as Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, was added to the canon during the second century BCE.
- Council of Jamnia: The canon was finalized and accepted by the Jewish community at the Council of Jamnia in the late first century CE. At this council, the canon of the Old Testament was confirmed, and the books that were not recognized as authoritative were excluded from the canon.
In conclusion, the process of completing the Hebrew canon was a gradual one that took place over several centuries, as books were composed, collected, recognized, and accepted as authoritative by the Jewish community. The canon was finally confirmed and accepted at the Council of Jamnia, forming the canon of the Old Testament that is recognized by Jews and Christians today.
The canonicity of the prophetic books of the Bible was established by several factors, including the following:
- Divine Inspiration: The primary factor that determined the canonicity of the prophetic books was the belief that they were inspired by God and communicated his message to the people.
- Historical Reliability: The prophetic books had to have a proven historical reliability and authenticity, demonstrating that the events they described had actually taken place.
- Consistency with other books of the Old Testament: The prophetic books had to be consistent with other books of the Old Testament and not contradict their teachings or messages.
- Use by the Jewish Community: The prophetic books had to have been widely used and accepted by the Jewish community, demonstrating their recognition and approval of them as authoritative and inspired scripture.
- Acceptance by the Early Church: The prophetic books were also recognized and accepted by the early Christian church as part of the Old Testament canon, demonstrating their value and importance for understanding the teachings and message of the New Testament.
Overall, the combination of divine inspiration, historical reliability, consistency with other Old Testament books, use by the Jewish community, and acceptance by the early Christian church established the canonicity of the prophetic books of the Bible.
The canonicity, or the authoritative recognition and inclusion, of many books in the Hebrew Scriptures can be confirmed through direct references and citations by Jesus and the authors of the Christian Greek Scriptures. However, this is not the case for every book, for example, the books of Esther and Ecclesiastes. When it comes to determining the canonicity of the Bible, it is crucial to consider another vital factor that applies to the entire canon. Given that Jehovah God inspired individuals to write down His divine revelations for their educational, uplifting, and inspiring purposes in worshiping and serving Him, it is logical to conclude that He would also oversee and guide the collection and compilation of these inspired writings to establish the Bible canon. This would ensure that there is no uncertainty regarding the components of His truthful Word and what serves as the permanent standard of genuine worship. This is the only way that people on earth can receive “a new birth through the word of God” and affirm that “the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:23, 25)
Establishing the Hebrew Canon
The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was fixed by the end of the 1st century CE. The process of canonization had begun centuries earlier and continued throughout the 1st century. By the end of that century, the Jewish rabbis had generally accepted the canon of 39 books as authoritative and inspired. These books are considered the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.
The traditional Jewish canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Tanakh, is divided into three sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Torah includes the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and is considered the most authoritative and sacred part of the canon. The Prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets, and is considered the next most authoritative part of the canon. The Writings include Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles, and complete the canon. The arrangement of these books within the canon reflects their relative authority and significance within Jewish tradition.
The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was confirmed by various factors, including the use of the books in synagogues and by early Christian writers, as well as the Septuagint translation into Greek. The canon traditionally ended with the book of Malachi, the last of the prophetic books. It is important to note that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was considered closed, meaning no further books would be added to it. This was due to the belief that prophetic revelation had ceased, and that God’s word had been fully and finally given through the prophets.
The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was accepted as inspired by both Jesus Christ and the early Christian church. The writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures often quoted from these writings and introduced the quotations with phrases such as “as it is written” to confirm their status as the Word of God. In discussing the complete inspired writings, Jesus referred to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, the first book of the Hagiographa, which includes the rest of the books. The last historical book to be included in the Hebrew canon was the book of Nehemiah, which was likely added under the direction of God’s spirit. This book provides the starting point for the prophecy in the book of Daniel and also the historical background for the last prophetic book, Malachi. Jesus quoted Malachi a number of times, further confirming its place in the canon. The Christian Greek Scriptures also make no quotations from any other so-called inspired writings after Nehemiah and Malachi down to the time of Christ, which confirms the traditional Jewish view and the belief of the first-century Christian church that the Hebrew Scripture canon ended with Nehemiah and Malachi.
The Apocryphal Books of the Hebrew Scriptures
The Old Testament Apocryphal books are a collection of 14 to 15 Jewish texts written between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE that were not considered to be part of the canon of the Hebrew Bible by the Jewish community. These texts were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was widely used by the early Christian Church. However, they were later not recognized as part of the canon by the Protestant Reformation, and their canonicity remains a matter of debate among different Christian denominations. The Apocryphal books include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, and additional portions of the books of Esther and Daniel.
The Old Testament Apocryphal books were accepted into the Roman Catholic canon due to a gradual process that occurred over several centuries. During the early Christian era, these books were not widely recognized as authoritative, but they were considered as useful reading material by some early Christian communities. Over time, they came to be accepted by the Western Church as part of the canon of the Bible. In the 4th century, the Councils of Hippo and Carthage confirmed their canonicity, and in the 16th century, the Council of Trent confirmed the canonicity of the Apocryphal books and added them to the official canon of the Roman Catholic Church. This move was largely motivated by the desire to defend against the claims of the Protestant Reformation and to establish a unified canon that was recognized by the Catholic Church.
First Maccabees is of interest because it is a historical account of the events leading up to and during the Maccabean revolt, a significant event in Jewish history that took place in the 2nd century BCE. The book provides valuable insight into the political, religious, and cultural climate of the time and describes the struggles of the Jewish people to maintain their faith and independence in the face of religious persecution and political oppression by the Seleucid Empire. It also details the rise of the Maccabean dynasty, which became the Hasmonean dynasty and ruled over a newly independent Jewish kingdom for several generations. First Maccabees is important not only as a historical source but also as a religious text, as it provides insight into the beliefs and practices of the Jewish people during a critical period of their history.
Jesus and the New Testament authors never referred to the Apocryphal books because they were not considered part of the inspired Hebrew canon. The books of the Apocrypha were written between the time of the Old and New Testament and were not accepted as authoritative by the Jewish community. Instead, Jesus and the New Testament writers primarily quoted from and referred to the books of the Old Testament that were recognized as part of the inspired canon. This supports the view that they considered only the books of the Old Testament canon as authoritative for Christian faith and practice.
Josephus and Jerome were two important figures in the early Christian era who had a significant impact on the canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote extensively about the history of Judaism and the Jewish people. In his works, he confirmed the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures as the same as what is recognized today, comprising the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. On the other hand, Jerome, a Christian scholar, was an expert in Hebrew and was instrumental in the translation of the Bible into Latin. He confirmed the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures and also rejected the Apocrypha, which he considered to be of lesser authority and value than the accepted books of the Old Testament. He indicated his views on the canon in his writings and in the Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate.
The Greek New Testament
The Roman Catholic Church claims that the Council of Carthage in 397 CE officially determined which books make up the Bible canon. However, this claim is incorrect. While the Council of Carthage did affirm the canonicity of the books accepted by the Christian church, it did not determine the canon. The canon of the Bible was determined by the early Christian church, guided by the Holy Spirit, through a process of recognizing which books were accepted and used as authoritative throughout the early Christian communities. This process was not based on the decisions of councils or other religious authorities, but on the widespread and consistent use of certain books in the Christian communities, as well as the testimony of the writers of the New Testament that these books were inspired by God.
The Evidence of Early Catalogs
The Muratorian Fragment is an ancient document from the late 2nd century that lists the books of the New Testament that were recognized and accepted as authoritative by the early Christian church. It supports the canonicity of the New Testament in that it mentions most of the books that eventually came to be considered part of the canon, including the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s letters, and the book of Revelation. The fragment provides valuable evidence of early Christian beliefs regarding the divine origin and inspiration of these books, and the high esteem in which they were held by the early church. It also mentions books that were not accepted as part of the canon, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocalypse of Peter, indicating that the process of canonization was ongoing and that there was some debate and disagreement among early Christians about the exact canon. Nevertheless, the Muratorian Fragment supports the canonicity of the New Testament by providing evidence of the early recognition and acceptance of these books as authoritative by the Christian church.
Early church fathers from the 2nd to the 4th centuries supported the canonicity of the New Testament in several ways. Firstly, they quoted extensively from the New Testament books in their teachings, sermons, and letters, which demonstrated their belief in the authority and inspiration of these books. Secondly, they also made lists of books that were accepted as authoritative and inspired by the church, which helped to establish the canon of the New Testament. These lists included books that are now considered part of the New Testament canon and excluded books that were later included in the Apocrypha. Thirdly, they engaged in debates and discussions with those who questioned the authority of certain books, and they provided arguments and evidence to support the canonicity of the books they considered to be inspired. Fourthly, they also wrote commentaries, homilies, and other works that helped to preserve and spread the teachings of the New Testament, which further reinforced their belief in the canonicity of these books. Overall, the early church fathers played a crucial role in establishing the canon of the New Testament and promoting its use and influence in the early Christian Church.
The early church fathers who supported the canonicity of the New Testament include:
- Irenaeus of Lyons
- Tertullian of Carthage
- Hippolytus of Rome
- Clement of Alexandria
- Origen of Alexandria
- Eusebius of Caesarea
- Athanasius of Alexandria
- Cyril of Jerusalem
- John Chrysostom of Constantinople
- Augustine of Hippo.
Apocryphal Writings of the Greek New Testament
The Apocryphal “New Testament” writings are a collection of texts that were not considered authoritative or inspired by the early Christian Church. They contain a mixture of legend, folklore, and religious teachings, and are often attributed to New Testament characters or to anonymous authors. These texts were not widely accepted as part of the canon of scripture and were not included in the collections of books that would eventually become the New Testament. They are characterized by their lack of historical reliability and by the fact that they were written after the time of the apostles and therefore cannot be considered truly authoritative or inspired.
Some renowned New Testament scholars have renounced the non-canonical “New Testament” writings, characterizing them as having unreliable authorship and being of doubtful origin. They argue that these books were not written by the apostles or by their close associates, and that they contain teachings and beliefs that are not in harmony with the teachings of the apostles. These scholars also argue that these books were not widely accepted or used by the early Christian Church and were therefore not included in the canon of the New Testament. The canon was established based on the criteria of apostolic origin, widespread usage, and agreement with the teachings of the apostles.
Some of the renowned New Testament scholars who have renounced the noncanonical books include F.F. Bruce, J.N.D. Kelly, and Bart Ehrman. These scholars have emphasized that the New Testament canon was a process of recognition and not invention, and that the books that were included in the canon were those that were widely accepted and used by the early Christian communities. They have noted that the books that were eventually recognized as the New Testament canon were those that had been in circulation for a long time and had been deemed authoritative by the majority of the churches.
F.F. Bruce, in his book “The Canon of Scripture,” stated that the canon of the New Testament was formed gradually over a period of time and was not the result of any one council or synod. He also emphasized that the books that were accepted as canon were those that had been used and respected by the early churches.
J.N.D. Kelly, in his book “Early Christian Doctrines,” agreed with Bruce and noted that the canon of the New Testament was a process of recognition, not invention. He wrote that the books that were eventually recognized as canon were those that had been in circulation for a long time and were deemed authoritative by the majority of the churches.
M.R. James, an esteemed New Testament scholar, wrote the book “The Apocryphal New Testament.” In this book, James discussed the apocryphal New Testament writings, which are a collection of early Christian texts that were not included in the canon of the New Testament. James characterized these writings as “spurious” and of “little value.” He also stated that they were written in the name of the apostles and other early Christians but were not considered authoritative by the early Church. He also said, “There is no question of any one’s having excluded them from the New Testament: they have done that for themselves.” James emphasized that the canon of the New Testament was carefully determined by the early Church, and the writings included in it were considered to be inspired by God and authoritative for Christian teaching and practice. James’ book provides an in-depth analysis of the apocryphal New Testament writings and their history and offers a scholarly perspective on their significance and impact on early Christianity.
G. Milligan, a renowned New Testament scholar, in his book “The New Testament Documents,” stated that the noncanonical books, also known as the Apocryphal New Testament, are not part of the inspired Scriptures. He said that these writings do not have the same authority as the books of the New Testament and that they were not written by the apostles or their close associates. Milligan also emphasized that the early Church did not accept these books as authoritative, and that the canon of the New Testament was established by the apostles and confirmed by the early Church. He said, “We have only to compare our New Testament books as a whole with other literature of the kind to realize how wide is the gulf which separates them from it. The uncanonical gospels, it is often said, are in reality the best evidence for the canonical.”
Kurt Aland, a renowned New Testament scholar, discussed the problem of the New Testament canon in his book The Problem of the New Testament Canon. On page 24, he said, “It cannot be said of a single writing preserved to us from the early period of the Church outside the New Testament that it could properly be added to-day to the Canon.”
Inspired Authors of the New Testament
There are several facts about the individual writers of the Greek New Testament that argue for the inspiration of their writings:
- Personal Character: The apostles, who were the main writers of the New Testament, were men of great integrity and moral standing. They lived their lives in accordance with the teachings they were inspired to write.
- Eyewitness Testimony: Most of the New Testament writers were eye-witnesses of the events they wrote about, including the teachings and miracles of Jesus. They had a first-hand understanding of the things they were writing about.
- Education and Background: Many of the New Testament writers were highly educated and had a strong background in Judaism, which gave them the knowledge and understanding to write about the Messiah and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
- Fulfillment of Prophecy: The New Testament writers wrote about the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, which demonstrates their understanding of the divine origin of their writings.
- Unity of Message: Despite being written by different authors over a period of several decades, the books of the New Testament present a unified message, which is a strong argument for their inspiration.
- Historical Accuracy: The historical accuracy of the New Testament writings has been confirmed by both secular and religious scholars. This further supports the view that the writers were inspired by a divine source.
- Impact on the World: The New Testament has had a profound impact on the world for over two thousand years, which is evidence of the lasting power and truth of its message.
All of these factors demonstrate that the New Testament writers were inspired by a divine source, and their writings are therefore considered authoritative and inspired by many Christians.
We accept the Bible as the inspired inerrant Word of God, specifically the 66 books of the Protestant canon of the Old and New Testament, as God’s Word because of the combination of internal and external evidence. Internal evidence refers to the consistency, coherence, and the fulfillment of prophecy within the scriptures themselves. External evidence includes the historical accounts of the church fathers and early Christian communities, which confirm the canonicity of the scriptures. The consensus of the early Christian communities and the consistent teachings of the apostles about the divine origin and authority of the scriptures also support the idea that the Bible is God’s Word. Ultimately, it is up to individual belief and interpretation, but many consider the Bible to be God’s Word because it provides guidance, comfort, and the hope of salvation.
We can show appreciation for the Bible by regularly reading and studying it, applying its teachings in our daily lives, and using it as a source of guidance and inspiration. We can also show appreciation by sharing its message with others and encouraging others to read and study it as well. Additionally, we can show gratitude for the preservation of the Bible throughout history and for the sacrifices made by those who have translated and distributed it. A thankful attitude toward the Bible can deepen our relationship with God and increase our understanding of his purpose and will for our lives.
In Summary, Old Testament Canon
The Bible’s origins date back to the writings of Moses in about 1500 B.C.E., which include the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and possibly the book of Job. The books of Moses are of divine origin, inspired by God, canonical, and serve as a guide for pure worship. The internal evidence supports this, as Moses was not driven by personal ambition but was chosen by God and given divine authority to lead the Israelites.
God set the precedent for writing down laws and commandments, instructing Moses to record and preserve the first five books of the Bible canon. The Israelites acknowledged the divine origin of these texts and maintained a high regard for them, as seen when the Ark was brought into Solomon’s temple and during Josiah’s reign.
After Moses’ death, the writings of Joshua, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, David, and Solomon were added to the canon, followed by the prophets from Jonah to Malachi. These contributors met the requirements of true prophets, as outlined by Jehovah, and their works were divinely inspired. It is logical to assume that God also directed and oversaw the collection and preservation of these writings to provide mankind with a canonical guide for true worship.
Jewish tradition holds that Ezra played a significant role in organizing the Hebrew Scriptures after the exiled Jews returned to Judah. The Hebrew canon was well-established by the end of the fifth century B.C.E. and included the same writings we have today. It was traditionally divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (or Hagiographa), encompassing a total of twenty-four books.
The Jewish historian Josephus confirmed the long-established canon of the Hebrew Scriptures in his work “Against Apion” around 100 C.E., noting that the Jews had only twenty-two books containing divine records and instructions for human conduct. These books served as a solid foundation for the Hebrew Scriptures and provided an enduring guide for true worship.
The canonicity of a book does not rely on the acceptance or rejection by a council, committee, or community. Non-inspired individuals’ opinions hold value only as witnesses to what God has already done through his accredited representatives. The Hebrew scholar W. H. Green emphasizes that the writings of the prophets carried canonical authority from the moment they appeared, deriving their authority from divine inspiration, not from the church. The church’s role is merely as a custodian and witness.
The exact number of books in the Hebrew Scriptures and their specific order are less important than the books themselves, as they remained as separate scrolls long after the canon was established. Ancient catalogues vary in the order they list the books. It is crucial, however, to recognize which books are included in the canon, as only those currently in the canon have a legitimate claim for canonicity. Attempts to include other writings have been historically resisted, with Josephus and Philo not giving credence to apocryphal books, and Jewish councils held at Jabne or Jamnia expressly excluding them.
Josephus highlights the historical position of Jews towards the Hebrew Scripture canon, emphasizing that no one has been bold enough to add, subtract, or change any content of the canonical books. Jews naturally esteem these books as divine, and they are willing to die for them. This stance is significant considering that the Apostle Paul said Jews were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God, which included writing and protecting the Bible canon.
Early councils and “church fathers” acknowledged the Bible canon authorized by God’s holy spirit but did not establish it. They were notably unanimous in accepting the established Jewish canon and rejecting the apocryphal books. Several examples include Justin Martyr, Melito, Origen, Hilary, Epiphanius, Gregory, Rufinus of Aquileia, and Jerome.
The most compelling evidence for the canonicity of the Hebrew Scriptures comes from Jesus Christ and the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Although they do not provide an exact number of books, their words strongly suggest that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures did not include apocryphal books.
If there was not a recognized collection of sacred writings acknowledged by them and their audience, they would not have used expressions such as “the Scriptures,” “the holy Scriptures,” “the holy writings,” and “the Law” (often meaning the entire body of Scripture), or “the Law and the Prophets” (referring to the entire Hebrew Scriptures). When Paul mentioned “the Law,” he quoted from Isaiah.
It is highly improbable that the original Septuagint included apocryphal books. Even if some of these writings of uncertain origin were present in later copies of the Septuagint used during Jesus’ time, neither he nor the authors of the Christian Greek Scriptures quoted from them. They never cited any apocryphal writing as “Scripture” or a product of the Holy Spirit. Thus, not only do the apocryphal books lack internal evidence of divine inspiration and validation by ancient inspired writers of Hebrew Scriptures, but they also lack the endorsement of Jesus and his divinely accredited apostles. However, Jesus did approve the Hebrew canon, referring to the entire Hebrew Scriptures when he spoke of “all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms.”
Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:35 (and Luke 11:50-51) are also significant: “That there may come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” Prophet Urijah was killed during Jehoiakim’s reign over two centuries after Zechariah’s murder near the end of Jehoash’s reign. If Jesus intended to mention the entire list of martyrs, why did he not say ‘from Abel to Urijah’? It appears that Jesus referred to Zechariah’s instance found in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, near the end of the traditional Hebrew canon. In this context, Jesus’ statement encompassed all murdered witnesses of Jehovah mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, from Abel in the first book (Genesis) to Zechariah in the last book (Chronicles), akin to our saying “from Genesis to Revelation.”
In Summary, New Testament Canon
The process of assembling the twenty-seven books that make up the Greek New Testament canon was similar to that of the Hebrew Scriptures. Christ “bestowed gifts in the form of men,” including apostles, prophets, evangelizers, shepherds, and teachers. (Eph. 4:8, 11-13) With the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, they established sound doctrine for the Christian congregation and reiterated many concepts already present in the Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:12, 13; 3:1; Rom. 15:15).
External evidence suggests that, as early as 90-100 CE, at least ten of Paul’s letters were collected. It is evident that Christians were compiling the inspired writings early on. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. I, p. 563) states that collections of New Testament books likely existed around 115 CE, when Polycarp wrote to the Philippians and when Ignatius wrote his seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor. Additionally, it is probable that the four Gospels were collected in some places as early as this time.
Early writers, including Clement of Rome (30?-?100 CE), Polycarp (69?-?155 CE), and Ignatius (late 1st and early 2nd centuries CE), incorporated quotations and excerpts from various Greek New Testament books, demonstrating their familiarity with these canonical works. In his Second Epistle (chapter 2), Clement of Rome refers to the Gospels and Epistles as “Scripture.” Justin Martyr (died c. 165 CE) used the phrase “it is written” when quoting from Matthew in his Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 49), just as the Gospels do when referring to the Hebrew Scriptures. The same is true in the earlier work, the Epistle of Barnabas (chapter 4). In his first “Apology” (chapters 66, 67), Justin Martyr refers to the ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ as “Gospels.”
Theophilus of Antioch (169 CE) asserted that the righteousness prescribed by the law was supported by both the prophets and the Gospels, as all were inspired by the same Spirit of God. Theophilus used phrases such as “the Gospel says” (citing passages from Matthew) and “the divine word gives us instructions” (quoting from 1 Timothy and Romans). (Theophilus to Autolycus, Book III, chapters 12-15)
By the end of the second century, the canon of the Greek New Testament was firmly established, with figures like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian recognizing the authority of the Christian Scriptures as equal to that of the Hebrew Scriptures. Irenaeus frequently cited Paul’s letters, while Clement asserted that he would answer opponents using “the Scriptures which we believe are valid from their omnipotent authority,” including the law, the prophets, and the blessed Gospel. (The Stromata, or Miscellanies, Book IV, chapter 1)
Some have disputed the canonicity of individual Greek New Testament books, but the arguments against them are generally weak. Rejecting the book of Hebrews solely because it lacks Paul’s name and has a slightly different style is superficial reasoning. As Dr. B. F. Westcott notes, “The apostolic authority [and thus the canonicity] of the Epistle is independent of its Pauline authorship.” (The Epistle to the Hebrews, Greek Text and Notes, 1889, p. lxxi) The objection based on anonymity is countered by the inclusion of Hebrews in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2, which dates within 150 years of Paul’s death and contains eight other letters of Paul.
The canonicity of smaller books like James, Jude, Second and Third John, and Second Peter has been questioned because they are infrequently quoted by early writers. However, these books collectively constitute only a thirty-sixth part of the Greek New Testament, making them less likely to circulate widely and be referenced. Notably, Irenaeus cites Second Peter and Second John, providing evidence of their canonicity. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book V, chapters 23 and 28; Book I, chapter 16; and Book III, chapter 16)
The true test of canonicity lies not in the frequency with which non-apostolic writers quote a book or the number of times it is cited but in the content of the book itself. A canonical book must be a product of the Holy Spirit, free of superstitions, demonism, or creature worship. It must be in complete harmony with the rest of the Bible, supporting Jehovah God’s authorship. Each book must adhere to the divine “pattern of healthful words” and align with the teachings and actions of Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13; 1 Cor. 4:17). The apostles, divinely accredited, spoke in support of other writers, such as Luke and James, Jesus’ half-brother. Through the Holy Spirit, the apostles possessed “discernment of inspired utterances” to determine whether they were of God (1 Cor. 12:4, 10). With the death of John, the last apostle, this reliable chain of divinely inspired men concluded, and the Bible canon closed with Revelation, John’s Gospel, and his epistles.