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The Canonization Of The Bible











In Christian usage, “Canon” means, “a rule or standard.”  By the middle of the 3rd Century, the word had come to refer to those doctrines recognized as orthodox by the Christian Church.  It was later used to designate collectively the list of Books accepted as Scripture.


Canonization then, would have to come from the extent Manuscripts that we have “Canonized” via doctrine and agreement between them (exact same textual meaning).  Please see also my Bible Study, “BIBLE, MANUSCRIPTS OF THE.”


The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox understanding of “Canonization” is, the Bible is “An authoritative list of Books,”  The Protestant view is that the Bible is “A list of authoritative Books.”  If the Bible is “An authoritative list of Books,” then there is some authority over them (i.e., the Roman Catholic church).  By contrast, if the Bible is “A list of authoritative Books,” then they establish what the (truth) Bible is.  The Bible then, is The Authority.  It can NEVER be a church or institution that has The Authority.  But rather, the Bible Itself; the very Breath of God, is The Authority.






There are over 5,300 Greek Manuscripts; over 10,000 Latin Vulgate Manuscripts; over 9,300 Manuscripts in various languages; and over 60,000 Hebrew Manuscripts (codex’s).  Of the existing Manuscripts that we have today, only 230 were compiled (copied) before the 6th century.  All of these are not originals, but copies of copies.  Which is why it is so remarkable that they agree with each other at all (hand of God).


We can also know that the Bible we have today is the original.  How?  Granted, we know that there can be copyist errors; and that men may have their own opinions as to what the text should say (their opinion; a translator should only translate and let the reader come to their own reasoning power).


By contrast, we know where these errors all are.  How is that?  Because we have about 24,000 Manuscripts to compare each Manuscript to.  In addition, we have over 86,000 Church father statements and quotes of the Scriptures to compare with.  9,300 of the Manuscripts are written in different languages than Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic.  And we have statements from atheist leaders and historians of the time.






The “Muratorian Fragment,” also known as the “Muratorian Canon” or ”Canon Muratori,” is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of most of the Books of the New Testament.  It is the oldest such ancient list to be found as of this date.  The original document was probably written in Greek and is dated to about 180 A.D., and lists 22 of the 27 Books that were later included in the New Testament of the Christian Bible.


The “Muratorian Canon” was discovered by the Italian historian Ludovico Muratori in the “Ambrosian Library,” in northern Italy, and was published by him in 1740 A.D.  The Manuscript copy that Muratori discovered was written in Latin and has been dated to the 7th or 8th century A.D.  Several internal indicators have convinced most experts that the original “Muratorian Canon” should be dated near the end of the 2nd century (180 A.D.).  It is noteworthy that the “Muratorian Canon” omits several Epistles that later did win acceptance in the Christian New Testament, such as the Books of James and Second Peter (see below).


This may go to demonstrate that the early Church practiced discernment in recognizing which Books carried with them apostolic authority.  They did not immediately accept any Book or Letter that claimed to be associated with an apostle.  This fact makes it all the more remarkable that the “Muratorian Canon” includes all four Biblical Gospels as well as the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline Epistles, and most of John’s writings.  This means that within 150 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the core Writings that were later included in the New Testament were already deemed authoritative by early Christians.


For instance, in the documents listed in the “Muratorian Canon,” Jesus is repeatedly referred to as “Lord” (Romans 10:9; Acts 2:36; Jude 1:17), and is equated with God (John 1:1-3; 20:28; Philippians 2:6-8).  Also, that Jesus took upon Himself human flesh (John 1:14; First John 4:2), died in the place of sinners (First Corinthians 15:3), and was soon raised bodily from the dead (Luke 24:36-40; Acts 1:3; 2:24-35; First Corinthians 15:4).  Also, that a person can find forgiveness of sins only through faith in Him (John 6:47; Acts 13:38-39; Galatians 2:15-16).

It is important to understand that these central doctrines represented Christian orthodoxy for the early Church.  The existence of the “Muratorian Canon” demonstrates that, well before the New Testament Canon was officially recognized, early Christians already had access to authoritative Documents carrying apostolic authority.  It was from these apostolic Books and Letters that the early believers derived their central beliefs about the Person and atoning work of Jesus Christ.


Another early source is known as the “Athanagius’ Letter.”  Athanasius lived in the fourth century during the time of what used to be considered the greatest crisis of faith ever to befall the Roman Catholic Church, known as the “Arian Heresy” (the Arians denied the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ).  The vast majority of the Roman Catholic churchmen fell into this heresy, so much so that Jerome wrote of the period, “The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian.”


Athanasius was the Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt for 46 years.  He was banned from his diocese at least five times and spent a total of 17 years in exile.  He even suffered an unjust excommunication from Pope Liberius (325-366 A.D.) who was under Arian influence.  It is a cold fact of history that Athanasius stood virtually alone against the onslaught of heretical teaching ravaging the Roman Catholic church of his day -- begetting the familiar phrase, “Athanasius contra mundum”, that is, “Athanasius against the world.”






The Old Testament comes to us from the Latin word for “covenant.”  The Jews possessed It and these Books [Scrolls] were also used by Christ and His apostles.  Apart from references in the New Testament Itself, an important aid is here afforded by a passage from Josephus, in “Apion,” I, 8, which may be taken to represent the current belief of the Jewish communities in the 1st Century A.D.  After speaking of the prophets as writing their histories “through the inspiration of God,” Josephus states:  “For we have not myriads of discordant and conflicting books, but 22 only [see breakdown below], comprising the record of all time, and justly accredited as Divine.”


To interrupt here; Josephus was a Pharisee, a priest, and a military leader in Galilee.  He later was a trader to his troops, fighting against Rome during the first Jewish uprising; surrendering to Rome in 67 A.D.  It was at this point that he changed his name to “Titus Flavius Josephus,” (born Yosef Ben Matityahu), in honor of the emperor of Rome at that time.  He then served Rome as a translator and historian during their war against the Jewish people.  Regardless of him being generally known as a biographer who did not let facts get in the way of a good story, Josephus had ready access to ancient scrolls that are no longer extent.  Thus, the writings of Josephus preserve for us Manuscripts that would otherwise be lost records that help us to better understand Biblical times and attitudes of peoples both of Jews and nationalities within the Jewish sectors.


Continuing on, Josephus states:  “Of these, ‘five’ are books of Moses, which embrace the laws and the traditions of mankind until his own death, a period of almost 3,000 years.  From the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, the successor of Xerxes, king of Persia, the prophets who followed Moses narrated the events of their time in 13 books.  The remaining ‘four’ books consist of hymns to God, and maxims of conduct for men.  From Artaxerxes to our own age, the history has been written in detail, but it is not esteemed worthy of the same credit, on account of the exact succession of the prophets having been no longer maintained.”  Josephus goes on to declare that, in this long interval, “no one has dared either to add anything to (the writings), or to take anything from them, or to alter anything,” and speaks of Them as “the decrees (dogmata) of God,” for which the Jews would willingly die.


Philo (B.C. 20 -- 50 A.D.) uses similar strong language about the Law of Moses (in “Eusebius,” Pr. Ev., VIII, 6).  In this enumeration of Josephus, it will be seen that the Jewish Sacred Books -- 39 in our Bible -- are reckoned as 22 (after the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), namely, “five” of the Law (called the “Torah”), 13 of the prophets and “four” remaining Books.  These last are the Books of Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastics.  The middle class includes all the historical and prophetical Books, such as Job, and the reduction in the number from 30 to 13 is explained by Judges and Ruth being combined; along with First and Second Samuel, the Books of Kings and Chronicles, Ezra with Nehemiah, Jeremiah with Lamentations, and the 12 minor prophets being combined and united as one Book.  In his 22 Books therefore, Josephus includes all those in the present Hebrew Canon, and none besides; not even the books known as the “Apocrypha,” though he was acquainted with and used some of these.


The most important, and generally most reliable witnesses to the Hebrew Scriptures, are the “Masoretic Texts” [see my Bible Study:  “BIBLE, THE MAKING OF THE”], which are those produced by Jewish scholars (called the Masoretes) who assumed the task of faithfully copying and transmitting the Bible.  These scholars, active from the early Christian centuries into the Middle Ages, also provided the text with punctuation, vowel points (the original of the Hebrew text contains only consonants), and various notes.  The standard printed Hebrew Bible in use today is a reproduction of a “Masoretic Text,” written in 1088 A.D.


In an interesting note, the “Masoretic Text” copyists, would copy one line of script, count the number of letters in the original, then count the letters in their copy, in order to ensure that they had copied correctly.  Then another would come along and read each line from the original to the copy.  Any mistakes would have the copy be destroyed and thrown out, instead of  notes being made on the copy of a copyist error.


It was seen above that the main divisions of the Old Testament are recognized in the New Testament, and that, under the name “Scriptures,” a Divine authority is ascribed to them.  It is therefore highly significant that, although the writers of the New Testament were familiar with the “Septuagint,” which contained the Apocrypha, no quotation from any book of the Apocrypha occurs in their pages.






The New Testament consists of 27 documents written between 40 A.D. and 100 A.D.  The “acknowledged” Books of the New Testament present little difficulty.  They are enumerated by Eusebius, whose statements are confirmed by early lists (e.g., that of “Muratori,” 170 A.D.).  The “disputed” Books of the New Testament were the Epistles of James, Jude, Second and Third John, and Second Peter.  These, however, do not all stand in the same rank as regards authentication.  A chief difficulty is the silence of the western fathers regarding James, Second Peter, and Third John.


On the other hand, the Book of James is known to Origen, and is included in the “Syriac Peshitta.”  Also, the “Muratorian Fragment” attests to the Books of Jude and Second John.  The weakest in attestation is Second Peter, which is not distinctly traceable before the 3rd Century.  The complete acceptance of all of the Books in our present New Testament Canon may be dated from the “Councils of Laodicea” (circa 363 A.D.) and of “Carthage” (397 A.D.), confirming the lists of Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome and Augustine.


Here is my Second Peter All Note in my Bible Commentary:  The genuineness of this Second Epistle [of Peter] was at first questioned, in that it found no place in the catalogues of the New Testament Scriptures of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.  The first Church employing it was at Alexandria, Egypt, but subsequently the Church at large became satisfied from internal evidence of its genuineness and inspiration, and when the Canon was pronounced complete in the 4th Century, It was without hesitancy received.  To reject this Book is to also reject the entire Book of Jude, which is basically so similar to Chapter Two of this Epistle that you would believe them to be written by the same author (Divine comes to my mind).


In a side note, back in the 1600’s, Bible translators of the “KJV” not only had to read the Greek fluently, but by their second year of college, they would have had to be able to debate in the Greek language.


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