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Understanding the Bible Canon
Initially, a reed, known in Hebrew as qa·nehʹ, was used as a measuring tool. (Eze 40:3-8; 41:8; 42:16-19) Paul referred to ka·nonʹ when speaking about his assigned “territory” and when describing the “rule of conduct” Christians should follow. (2Co 10:13-16; Ga 6:16) Eventually, the term “Bible canon” was used to identify the list of inspired books that act as a standard to evaluate faith, teachings, and behavior.
Simply writing a religious book, preserving it over centuries, and its admiration by countless people doesn’t confirm its divine foundation or its place in the canon. The book must carry evidence of being divinely inspired. As the apostle Peter highlights, “Prophecy was never produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2Pe 1:21) A review of the Bible canon reveals that its books fully meet this standard.
Establishing the Hebrew Canon
The foundation of the Bible began with Moses’ writings around 1446 B.C.E. These writings include God’s guidelines given to figures like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, as well as the rules of the Law covenant. The first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, make up the Pentateuch. Additionally, Moses likely wrote the book of Job, which falls between Joseph’s death in 1635 B.C.E. and Moses’ recognition as a faithful servant. Moses might have also written Psalm 90 and possibly 91.
The internal evidence strongly supports the divine origin of Moses’ writings. Despite his initial reluctance, Moses became Israel’s leader. His miraculous abilities were so profound that even Pharaoh’s priests acknowledged their divine origin. (Ex 4:1-9; 8:16-19) God commanded Moses to document the scriptures. (Ex 17:14) These scriptures were God-endorsed, and no council of men made that decision.
After the scriptures were documented, Moses instructed the Levites to place “this book of the law” beside the Ark of the Covenant as a witness. (De 31:9, 24-26) Israel acknowledged these writings, even when they portrayed the nation in a negative light.
The priests preserved and taught these commandments. Years after Moses penned the Pentateuch, the stone tablets remained in the Ark (1Ki 8:9), and the “book of the law” was still highly regarded in 622 B.C.E. during King Josiah’s reign. (2Ki 22:3, 8-20) After their return from Babylon, the people rejoiced as Ezra read from the book of the Law. (Ne 8:5-18)
After Moses, other writers like Joshua, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Kings David, Solomon, and prophets from Jonah to Malachi, contributed to the expanding Bible. Each prophet met Jehovah’s requirements of a true prophet: they spoke in His name, their prophecies came true, and they directed people towards God. (De 13:1-3; 18:20-22) When Hananiah and Jeremiah were tested, only Jeremiah’s words were fulfilled, proving his status as a prophet. (Jer 28:10-17)
It’s logical to believe that Jehovah, after inspiring these writings, would oversee their collection and preservation to guide genuine worship. Tradition suggests Ezra played a role in this after the Jews returned from exile. Ezra, a priest and a “skilled copyist in the law of Moses”, was equipped for this role. (Ezr 7:1-11) Only Nehemiah and Malachi’s books were left to be added, finalizing the Hebrew Bible Canon by the end of the fifth century B.C.E.
The Structure of the Hebrew Bible Canon
The Hebrew Bible Canon is traditionally organized into three key sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, which together make up 24 books. Some, by pairing Ruth with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah, prefer to count 22 books, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Notably, Jerome suggested that both counts could be valid, depending on whether one views Ruth and Lamentations as part of the Hagiographa, resulting in 24 books.
In his work Against Apion around 100 C.E., Jewish historian Josephus confirms that the Hebrew Scriptures canon had been established for some time. He highlighted that only 22 books were recognized, including the five books of Moses, 13 books of history after Moses till Artaxerxes, and four books of hymns and precepts.
The canonicity of a book is not determined by any council or community’s acceptance or rejection. Such non-divinely inspired opinions only serve as evidence of what God has already authorized through His chosen representatives. Whether two books are merged or left separate, or the sequence of their listing, is less significant than their inclusion in the canon. Historical evidence suggests persistent opposition to adding other texts. Jewish councils held in Yavne around 90 and 118 C.E. specifically excluded Apocryphal writings.
Josephus emphasized the Jewish community’s deep respect for the canon, noting that no one dared to modify these texts. He commended the Jewish dedication, acknowledging their readiness to die for their Scriptures if necessary. Such devotion underscores the importance of the Jews’ role in preserving the Hebrew Scriptures, as Paul alluded to in Romans 3:1, 2, highlighting their guardianship of God’s sacred pronouncements.
Early councils, like Laodicea (367 C.E.) and Chalcedon (451 C.E.), and esteemed church figures have recognized and adhered to the Jewish canon while excluding the Apocryphal books. Such influential figures include Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Origen, and Jerome, the latter of whom explicitly stated that anything beyond the established 22 books should be regarded as apocryphal.
Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures
When analyzing the canonicity of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus Christ and the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures offer the most compelling evidence. Notably, their statements strongly suggest that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures did not incorporate the Apocryphal books.
The phrases and references used by them, such as “the Scriptures” (Mt 22:29; Ac 18:24), “the holy Scriptures” (Ro 1:2), and “the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 5:17; 7:12), indicate that there was a recognized and distinct collection of Holy Writings. When Paul alludes to “the Law,” he even cites from Isaiah, demonstrating the breadth of the term’s usage.—1Co 14:21; Isa 28:11.
Though the original Greek Septuagint likely didn’t feature Apocryphal books, even if later versions in Jesus’ time did, neither he nor the Christian Greek Scripture writers quoted from them. Their deliberate avoidance of citing any Apocryphal writing as “Scripture” highlights a clear distinction between canonical texts and those considered apocryphal. In contrast, Jesus confirmed the Hebrew canon when he referenced “the law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms” (Lu 24:44), covering the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Additionally, Jesus’ statements at Matthew 23:35 (and Lu 11:50, 51) provide insight into the canon’s scope. He mentions the range of “righteous blood spilled on earth, from Abel to Zechariah.” This range covers the span from the first book, Genesis, to the last, Chronicles, in the traditional Hebrew canon. In essence, Jesus acknowledged the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures by referencing its breadth, similar to the modern expression “from Genesis to Revelation.”
Apocryphal Writings of the Old Testament
Understanding the Greek Term “A·poʹkry·phos” and Its Implications
Origins of the Term “A·poʹkry·phos”
The Greek term “a·poʹkry·phos” originally referred to concepts “carefully concealed.” This meaning is evident in specific biblical contexts (Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17; Colossians 2:3). When related to literary works, it initially denoted texts not publicly recited, thus, “hidden” from the masses. In time, the term evolved to denote writings of dubious authenticity, often characterized as non-canonical. The term now predominantly refers to specific texts that the Roman Catholic Church integrated into the biblical canon during the Council of Trent in 1546. Catholic scholars label these texts as “deuterocanonical,” which means “of the second (or subsequent) canon,” distinguishing them from the “protocanonical” texts.
Identifying the Deuterocanonical Writings
The writings acknowledged as deuterocanonical include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (attributed to Solomon), Ecclesiasticus (distinct from Ecclesiastes), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, extensions to Esther, and three supplements to Daniel: The Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna and the Elders, and The Destruction of Bel and the Dragon. Pinpointing their exact date of composition remains elusive, but prevailing evidence suggests they emerged no earlier than the 2nd or 3rd century B.C.E.
Challenging Their Canonicity
Although some of these writings offer historical insights, their claim to canonical status lacks substantial grounds. There’s convincing evidence that the Hebrew canon was solidified after the fifth century B.C.E., with the completion of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi. These so-called Apocryphal writings were notably absent from the Jewish canonical scriptures, a fact that persists to the present day.
Josephus, a prominent first-century Jewish historian, highlights the exclusive acknowledgment given solely to the recognized sacred books. He articulates, “We do not possess countless inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our acknowledged books, totaling twenty-two [equivalent to the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures in contemporary categorization], encompass the chronicle of all epochs.” Josephus further accentuates the awareness of the Apocryphal books and their intentional omission from the Hebrew canon. He elaborates, “While the comprehensive history from Artaxerxes to our era has been recorded, it hasn’t been granted the same reverence as earlier accounts due to the evident discontinuation of the prophets’ direct lineage.”—Referencing Against Apion, I, 38, 41 (8).
The “Septuagint” and the Inclusion of Apocryphal Writings
Presence in the “Septuagint”
A primary argument supporting the canonicity of the Apocryphal writings revolves around their presence in many early versions of the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This translation project commenced in Egypt around 280 B.C.E. Yet, the absence of original Septuagint manuscripts makes it uncertain whether these Apocryphal books were initially part of that work. Given that many of these writings were crafted after the Septuagint translation began, it’s evident they weren’t in the original selection chosen for translation. Therefore, at most, they might be considered later additions to the Septuagint.
Varied Acceptance Among Different Jewish Communities
Though Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria integrated the Apocryphal texts into the Septuagint and seemingly regarded them as part of an expanded canon, the aforementioned statement by historian Josephus underscores that these writings never gained acceptance in the Jerusalem or Palestinian canon. Instead, they might have been perceived as secondary, non-divine texts. This perspective is reinforced by the Jewish Council of Jamnia (circa 90 C.E.), which explicitly omitted such writings from the Hebrew canonical scriptures.
The Significance of the Jewish Stance
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 3:1-2, underscores the importance of acknowledging the Jewish perspective on this matter.
Ancient Views on the Apocrypha
Lack of References by Early Christians
A significant argument against the canonicity of the Apocrypha is that none of the early Christian Bible authors cited these books. While this isn’t entirely conclusive—given that some canonical books like Esther, Ecclesiastes, and The Song of Solomon also lack citations—it’s noteworthy that Apocryphal texts aren’t referenced even once.
Stances of Prominent Early Church Figures
Moreover, prominent Bible scholars and “church fathers” during the initial centuries of the Common Era predominantly viewed the Apocrypha as secondary. Origen, from the early third century C.E., distinguished between the Apocrypha and canonical books after thorough research. Figures from the fourth century C.E., including Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Amphilocius, created lists of sacred writings in alignment with the Hebrew canon, either omitting the Apocrypha or relegating them to a lesser category.
Jerome, considered “the premier Hebrew scholar” of the early church and the individual behind the 405 C.E. Latin Vulgate completion, held a firm stance against the Apocryphal books. In fact, he was the first to use the term “Apocrypha” to denote non-canonical writings. In his introduction to the books of Samuel and Kings, Jerome aligned with the Hebrew canon (where the 39 books are grouped as 22) and remarked: “There are twenty-two books… This introduction to the Scriptures can serve as a gateway to all the books we translate from Hebrew to Latin, so we may understand that any book outside of these is to be classified as apocryphal.” When advising a woman named Laeta on her daughter’s education, Jerome advised: “Stay clear of all apocryphal writings. If there’s ever a desire to peruse them—not for their doctrinal veracity but for their intriguing narratives—understand they aren’t genuinely authored by those they’re attributed to. They contain many inaccuracies, and sifting truth from fiction in them is akin to searching for gold in mud.”—Select Letters, CVII.
Catholic Perspectives on the Apocrypha
The push to recognize these supplementary writings as canonical was largely spearheaded by Augustine (354-430 C.E.). Nevertheless, even he eventually acknowledged a clear demarcation between the Hebrew canon and these “external books.” Riding on Augustine’s coattails, the Catholic Church incorporated these additional texts into the sacred canon established by the Council of Carthage in 397 C.E. However, it wasn’t until 1546 C.E., during the Council of Trent, that the Roman Catholic Church firmly solidified its acceptance of these supplementary writings. This decision was pivotal because even internally, there were varying opinions regarding these texts.
John Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar, embarked on the ambitious project of translating the Bible into English in the 14th century, with subsequent assistance from Nicholas of Hereford. While Wycliffe did incorporate the Apocrypha in his translation, he emphatically stated in the preface that such writings lacked “authoritative belief.”
Prominent Catholic theologian and Dominican Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534 C.E.), often referred to as the “torchbearer of the Church” by Clement VII, drew a clear line between the books of the authentic Hebrew canon and the Apocryphal texts, frequently referencing Jerome’s works to bolster his stance.
Selective Inclusion by the Council of Trent
Interestingly, the Council of Trent did not embrace all the writings that the earlier Council of Carthage had approved. Three texts – the Prayer of Manasses and 1 and 2 Esdras (distinct from the 1 and 2 Esdras in the Catholic Douay Bible that align with Ezra and Nehemiah) – were omitted. As a result, these three texts, despite their presence in the accepted Latin Vulgate for over a millennium, were now sidelined.
Analyzing the Apocrypha: An Internal Look
The Apocrypha’s Contradictions
The Apocryphal texts themselves provide significant evidence against their canonical status. These writings lack the prophetic quality seen in canonical texts. Their teachings often conflict with canonical books and even contradict their own content. They contain numerous historical and geographic errors, and instances of anachronisms. Some of these writings falsely claim to be the work of earlier inspired authors, a clear act of deception. They also exhibit pagan Greek influences and at times employ an extravagant literary style not in line with the inspired Scriptures. Interestingly, a couple of Apocryphal writers suggest they weren’t inspired at all. Hence, one of the most compelling arguments against the canonicity of the Apocrypha is found in the Apocrypha itself. A brief overview of an example text, Tobit, underscores this point:
A Look at Tobit
This narrative revolves around a devout Jew named Tobit, from the tribe of Naphtali, who is exiled to Nineveh and later becomes blind due to bird droppings in his eyes. He dispatches his son, Tobias, to Media to recover a debt. During his journey, guided by an angel in human guise, Tobias comes into possession of a fish’s heart, liver, and gall. In Media, he meets a widow who, despite having been married seven times, remains a virgin since a demon kills each of her husbands on their wedding night. Following the angel’s advice, Tobias marries her and uses the fish’s organs to fend off the demon and later restore his father’s vision.
The account, likely originally penned in Aramaic, is believed to date back to the third century B.C.E. Its credibility is questionable due to the superstitions and errors woven into the story. For example, Tobit claims to have witnessed the northern tribes’ rebellion in 997 B.C.E., post-Solomon’s demise, and subsequently, his own deportation to Nineveh with the tribe of Naphtali in 740 B.C.E. This timeline implies Tobit lived over 257 years, which contradicts another passage in the text stating his age at death was 102.
Assessing Additional Apocryphal Texts
Judith: An Overview
Judith tells the story of a stunning Jewish widow from the city of “Bethulia.” Nebuchadnezzar deploys his general, Holofernes, to the west with a mission: eradicate all forms of worship other than those directed at Nebuchadnezzar. As the Jews face a siege in Bethulia, Judith poses as a betrayer of the Jews. She’s granted entry to Holofernes’ camp, where she deceives him with misinformation about the city. During a banquet, she exploits Holofernes’ inebriated state, decapitating him with his sword. Triumphantly, she returns to Bethulia with his severed head. The next day, chaos ensues in the enemy camp, culminating in a resounding Jewish victory.
However, The Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic translation, notes that Judith is markedly detached from accurate “history and geography.” It highlights glaring inaccuracies, like Nebuchadnezzar being dubbed the king of the Assyrians in Nineveh, even though he was the king of Babylonia and never reigned in Nineveh, which was actually razed by his father, Nabopolassar. Notably, the Illustrated Bible Dictionary remarks, “The story is frank fiction.”
Most scholars believe Judith was penned in Palestine during the Greek era, between the late second and early first century B.C.E., and its original language was Hebrew.
Additions to Esther
Esther contains six supplementary sections. The first section, situated before the primary chapter in several old Greek and Latin versions, comprises 17 verses detailing Mordecai’s dream and his unmasking of a plot against the king. Following this are five more additions: the text of the king’s decree against the Jews, Mordecai and Esther’s prayers, Esther’s interaction with the king, the king’s command allowing Jews to defend themselves, and an interpretation of Mordecai’s dream from the beginning.
These supplemental sections appear differently across translations. Some, like Jerome’s version, append them at the book’s end, while others intersperse them within the canonical content.
One notable inconsistency arises in the first supplementary section. Here, Mordecai is shown as a captive under Nebuchadnezzar in 617 B.C.E. and as a prominent courtier over 100 years later in the reign of Ahasuerus. This portrayal clashes with the canonical parts of Esther. Scholars believe an Egyptian Jew in the second century B.C.E. authored these additions to Esther.
Analyzing Apocryphal Texts: Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus
Wisdom (of Solomon)
The Wisdom of Solomon is essentially a discourse celebrating the virtues of seeking divine wisdom. Throughout the text, wisdom is portrayed as a heavenly woman. Included is Solomon’s prayer requesting wisdom. The latter sections recount history from Adam to the conquest of Canaan, emphasizing the blessings derived from wisdom and the catastrophes from its absence. The pitfalls of idol worship are also discussed.
Though the book occasionally hints at Solomon being its author, certain elements suggest a much later origin. For example, the text references scriptures written centuries post Solomon’s demise (around 998 B.C.E.), and these references are based on the Greek Septuagint, which was translated circa 280 B.C.E. Most scholars believe a Jewish author from Alexandria, Egypt penned this book around the mid-first century B.C.E.
Notably, the text heavily leans on Greek philosophy, introducing Platonic concepts such as the immortality of the human soul. Other non-canonical beliefs include the preexistence of souls and the idea that the body restricts the soul. The recounting of historical events, especially from Adam to Moses, includes several embellished details that deviate from canonical records.
While some scholars draw parallels between passages in this Apocryphal work and the Christian Greek Scriptures, the resemblances are generally faint. Where similarities do appear pronounced, it’s likely that Christian writers were drawing from canonical Hebrew Scriptures, which the Apocryphal author also utilized.
Also known as The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, Ecclesiasticus stands out as the lengthiest Apocryphal book and is uniquely attributed to a known author, Jesus ben-Sirach from Jerusalem. The text delves into the essence of wisdom and its practical applications in life. There’s a potent emphasis on adhering to the Law. The writer offers advice on a spectrum of daily life aspects, from table etiquette and interpreting dreams to traveling. The book culminates in a retrospective on influential figures in Israel’s history, concluding with high priest Simon II.
However, the text also contains viewpoints contradictory to canonical scriptures. For instance, while Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:12-19) attributes the origin of sin to Adam, Ecclesiasticus asserts, “From the woman came the beginning of sin, and by her we all die.” (25:33, Dy) The text further suggests that the “wickedness of a woman” is paramount to all other evils. (25:19, Dy)
Ecclesiasticus was originally composed in Hebrew during the early stages of the second century B.C.E. and has been cited in the Jewish Talmud.
Examining Additional Texts: Baruch and Daniel’s Additions
Baruch (Including the Epistle of Jeremias)
This book presents its first five chapters as if penned by Baruch, Jeremiah’s associate and scribe, while the sixth chapter purports to be a letter from Jeremiah (Jeremias) himself. It chronicles the remorse and prayers of the Jews exiled in Babylon, urges the pursuit of wisdom, instills hope for promised salvation, and condemns Babylon’s idol worship.
However, there are discrepancies. The text places Baruch in Babylon, but according to the Scriptures, he was in Egypt alongside Jeremiah, with no indication he ever visited Babylon. (Jer 43:5-7) Another inconsistency arises when Baruch’s timeline of the Jews’ stay in Babylon contradicts Jeremiah’s prophecy of a 70-year exile. (Jer 25:11, 12; 29:10)
Historical writings, such as Jerome’s preface to Jeremiah, offer insights. Jerome did not see the need to translate Baruch. The Jerusalem Bible hints that sections may date as late as the first or second century B.C.E., suggesting a different authorship. The primary language was probably Hebrew.
The Song of the Three Holy Children
Inserted after Daniel 3:23, this addition comprises 67 verses. It details a prayer by Azariah inside a fiery furnace, describes an angel extinguishing the flames, and presents a hymn sung by the three Hebrews within the furnace. Although the song parallels Psalm 148, its allusions to the temple and cherubim don’t align with its alleged timeline. Believed to be from the first century B.C.E., its original language might have been Hebrew.
Susanna and the Elders
This narrative unveils an episode in Susanna’s life, a stunning wife of a prosperous Jew in Babylon. Accosted by two elders during her bath, they wrongly accuse her after she denies their advances. At her trial, young Daniel astutely exposes the elders, and Susanna is acquitted. Its original language remains uncertain, but the writing likely dates back to the first century B.C.E. In different versions, its placement varies relative to the canonical book of Daniel.
The Destruction of Bel and the Dragon
This third addition to Daniel describes King Cyrus urging Daniel to worship a god named Bel. Daniel cleverly exposes the deceit of pagan priests who feign that the idol consumes food. These priests meet their demise, and Daniel then destroys an idol of a dragon. After challenging the dragon’s worship, Daniel faces the wrath of the citizens and is thrown into a den of lions. Miraculously, an angel transports Habakkuk to feed Daniel. Following Daniel’s release, those who opposed him face the lions’ fury. Originating from the first century B.C.E., this text and others like it have been termed as “pious legendary embroidery” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Diving into the Books of Maccabees
This book provides a historical narration of the Jewish quest for independence during the second century B.C.E. The timeline spans from the commencement of Antiochus Epiphanes’ rule in 175 B.C.E. to the demise of Simon Maccabaeus around 134 B.C.E. A spotlight is cast on the adventures of the priest Mattathias and his children, namely Judas, Jonathan, and Simon, as they confront the Syrians.
Although First Maccabees stands out as the most insightful Apocryphal book, primarily due to its historical data on this era, it adopts a purely human perspective, as mentioned by The Jewish Encyclopedia (1976, Vol. VIII, p. 243). Like its Apocryphal counterparts, it wasn’t integrated into the Hebrew canonical scriptures. The original text was likely written in Hebrew during the concluding years of the second century B.C.E.
Despite its subsequent placement, Second Maccabees overlaps in chronology with First Maccabees, roughly covering 180 B.C.E. to 160 B.C.E. It’s distinct from the first, not sharing the same authorship. The book is introduced as a condensed version of preceding works attributed to Jason of Cyrene. It delves into Antiochus Epiphanes’ oppression of the Jews, the temple’s pillaging, and its ensuing reconsecration.
Interestingly, it postulates that Jeremiah, during Jerusalem’s downfall, secreted the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant into a cavern on the mountain Moses had previously surveyed the Promised Land from. (2 Maccabees 2:1-16) This assertion contradicts the historical timeline, as the tabernacle was supplanted by the temple approximately 420 years earlier.
Catholic theology leverages sections of this text to validate doctrines such as post-mortem punishment (2 Maccabees 6:26), saintly intercession (15:12-16), and the legitimacy of memorial prayers (12:41-46, Dy).
In its preamble to the Maccabees’ books, The Jerusalem Bible critiques the narrative style of Second Maccabees, likening it to Hellenistic authors but deeming it verbose and often ostentatious. The author doesn’t profess divine inspiration and even dedicates a portion of the second chapter to rationalize his selected approach (2 Maccabees 2:24-32, JB). Concluding his manuscript, he states: “If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do.” (2 Maccabees 15:38, 39, Kx). The composition, presumably in Greek, was written between 134 B.C.E. and Jerusalem’s 70 C.E. conquest.
The Formation of the Greek New Testament Canon
The Greek New Testament Canon, consisting of 27 books, was composed in a manner reminiscent of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus Christ “bestowed gifts upon men,” appointing individuals in roles such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers. Guided by God’s Holy Spirit, they reasserted doctrines and teachings from the Scriptures, ensuring consistency and continuity.—2Pe 1:12, 13; Ro 15:15.
Historical records indicate that early Christian followers were assembling the sacred Christian writings. As early as 90-100 C.E., several of Paul’s letters were collated. Early writers, such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Ignatius of Antioch, incorporated quotations from the Greek New Testament, demonstrating familiarity with these authoritative texts.
Renowned Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, frequently referenced the Greek New Testament. He specifically used the term “it is written” when citing from Matthew. Similarly, Theophilus of Antioch made numerous references to the New Testament, emphasizing its divine inspiration.
By the close of the 2nd century, the canon of the Greek New Testament was indisputably established. Influential figures like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian regarded these Christian Scriptures with reverence, equating their authority to the Hebrew Scriptures.
However, the canonicity of some Greek New Testament books faced skepticism, although the opposition was weak. Rejecting the book of Hebrews, for instance, simply due to its differing style or absence of Paul’s name is a frail argument. Other smaller books, such as James, Jude, and the Second and Third John, faced doubt because they were less frequently cited by early Christian scholars. However, their concise nature explains the limited references. Notably, Irenaeus quoted from these books, solidifying their canonical status. The Book of Revelation, too, enjoyed support from numerous early Christian leaders.
Determining Canonicity of Biblical Books
The primary criteria for determining a book’s canonicity is not merely the frequency of its citations by non-apostolic authors. It’s essential to delve into the content of the book to determine if it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. For a book to be deemed canonical:
- It must be devoid of superstitions or any elements of demonism.
- The content should not advocate creature worship.
- It should seamlessly align with the entirety of the Bible, endorsing the authorship of Jehovah God.
- The book must adhere to the divine “pattern of sound words,” ensuring it is consistent with the teachings and actions of Christ Jesus.—2Ti 1:13; 1Co 4:17.
The apostles, recognized for their divine endorsement, vouched for other writers like Luke and James, Jesus’ half-brother. Enabled by the Holy Spirit, the apostles could discern between divine inspiration and human interpretation, distinguishing genuine spiritual matters.—1Co 12:4, 10.
With the passing of John, the last apostle, this line of divinely inspired men concluded. As a result, with the completion of the Revelation, John’s Gospel, and his epistles, the canon of the Bible was sealed.
In conclusion, the Bible’s 66 canonical books, in their unified and coherent structure, affirm the Bible’s integrity as God’s divinely inspired truth. This scripture has been preserved through time, standing resilient against all challenges.—1Pe 1:25.
New Testament Apocryphal Writings
Internal evidence confirms the clear division that was made between the inspired Christian writings and works that were spurious or uninspired. The Apocryphal writings are much inferior and often fanciful and childish. They are frequently inaccurate. Note the following statements by scholars on these noncanonical books:
“There is no question of any one’s having excluded them from the New Testament: they have done that for themselves.”—M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, pages xi, xii.
“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.”—G. Milligan, The New Testament Documents, page 228.
“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.”—K. Aland, The Problem of the New Testament Canon, page 24.
Diving into Later Apocryphal Works
From the second century C.E. onward, a vast collection of writings emerged claiming divine inspiration and a rightful place in the canon, especially in relation to the Christian faith. These are often labeled the “Apocryphal New Testament.” They essentially mimic the style and content of the Gospels, Acts, letters, and revelations found in the canonical Christian Greek Scriptures. Many of these writings are only known through existing fragments or references by other authors.
These documents seem to fill in gaps intentionally left out in the inspired texts, such as details about Jesus’ early life leading up to his baptism. Some even attempt to validate doctrines or traditions that contradict the Bible. For instance, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protevangelium of James are filled with tales of Jesus performing miracles as a child. However, these stories often depict Jesus as a whimsical and irritable child with great power, which contrasts sharply with the authentic depiction in Luke 2:51, 52. Similarly, the Apocryphal “Acts,” like the “Acts of Paul” and “Acts of Peter,” emphasize avoiding sexual relations, even suggesting that apostles encouraged women to leave their husbands. This portrayal goes against Paul’s genuine advice in 1 Corinthians 7.
The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 166) describes these postapostolic Apocryphal writings as ranging from “trivial” to “disgusting, even loathsome.” Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Bible Dictionary (1936, p. 56) adds that these works heavily influenced sacred legends and church traditions, even giving rise to some doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
Similar to the earlier Apocryphal works, which were not part of the pre-Christian Hebrew Scriptures, these later writings weren’t deemed inspired or included in the initial collections of the Christian Greek Scriptures.