Canon Of The Bible

Canon Of The Bible

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


One of the more incontrovertible issues confronting any serious study of the Bible is the glaring historical vacuum of consensus over what constitutes a legitimate canon. Much like the early theological controversies, the Church was plagued from its very infancy with heated debates over what precisely qualified as “scripture”. Indeed, the widespread division over the most basic elements of Christian faith led each of the major doctrinal factions to champion their own versions of an “inspired scripture”.

The extent of this disagreement was only to intensify with the coming of the Reformation. The ensuing secession by Protestant Christians (themselves later to explode into literally tens of doctrinally distinct denominations) ensured that these major divisions would remain into perpetuity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this less than flattering problem of multiple canons is conveniently exempted from the literature of missionary Christianity. The reasons for this range from humble ignorance (itself admittedly less humble in proportion) to the more subtle means of diplomatic guile so perfected by missionary propagandists. It is our aim to fill this factual void with a few helpful resources. Honest readers will conclude that it requires no stretch of the imagination nor any excercise of lofty reasoning to acknowledge some very serious problems in what Christians call “The Word of God”.

It is our aim here to educate the Muslims about the evolution of Biblical Canon and to show that in the absence of any agreed set of books as “inspired” and the reasons of why they can be considered as “inspired”, there is simply no reason to believe they are “inspired”. Putting it quite succintly: one man’s scripture is another man’s apocrypha.1. Early Lists Of The Books Of The New Testament

Below are the lists of the books drawn that were drawn by various Church authorities showing, in their opinion, what constituted the extent of New Testament. The list is till the end of 4th century.

 The Muratorian Canon

 The Canon Of Origen (A.D. c. 185 – 254)

 The Canon Of Eusebius Of Caesarea (A.D. 265 – 340)

 A Canon Of Uncertain Date And Provenance Inserted in Codex Claromontanus

 The Canon Of Cyril Of Jerusalem (c. A.D. 350)

 The Cheltenham Canon (c. A.D. 360)

 The Canon Approved By The Synod Of Laodicea (c. A.D. 363)

 The Canon Of Athanasius (A.D. 367)

 The Canon Approved By The ‘Apostolic Canons’ (c. A.D. 380)

 The Canon Of Gregory Of Nazianzus (A.D. 329 – 89)

 The Canon Of Amphilochius Of Iconium (d. 394)

 The Canon Approved By The Third Synod Of Carthage (A.D. 397)

 The Canons Of The Old Testament & The New Testament Through The Ages

A comprehensive collection of biblical canons throughout the history from the time of Jesus to the modern day critical editions.

 The Formation And Closure Of Biblical Canons: A Multifaceted Development

Has there been a uniform canon of the Bible from apostolic times or has there been a uniform misrepresentation of the historical processes relating to the conception, formation and closure of the biblical canons? A critical appraisal of evangelical, missionary and apologist claims regarding the history, formation and closure of the biblical canons, especially the twenty-seven book canon of the New Testament, is provided.

2. To Every Church A Canon…

 Anglican Church: The canon of the Anglican falls between the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations by accepting only the Jewish canon and the New Testament as authoritative, but also by accepting segments of the apocryphal writings in the lectionary and liturgy. At one time all copies of the King James Version of 1611 included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments.

 The Origin And Authority Of The Biblical Canon In The Anglican Church, H. W. Howorth, Journal Of Theological Studies, 1906, Volume 29, pp. 1-40.

As the name of the article suggests, it deals with the origins of the Canon of the Anglican Church. The author shows that the Anglican Canon originated as a result of a strange and confused mixture between the past and the present and obviously it was something that never existed before!

 Armenian Church: The noteworthy features of the Armenian version of the Bible was the inclusion of certain books that elsewhere was regarded as apocryphal. The Old Testament included the History of Joseph and Asenath and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the New Testament included the Epistle of Corinthians to Paul and a Third Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

 Armenian Canon Lists IV – The List Of Gregory Of Tatʿew (14th Century), Michael E. Stone, Harvard Theological Review, 1979, Volume 72, No. 3-4, pp. 237-244.

This is the list of Old Testament books in the Armenian Canon according to Gregory of Tatʿew. It is interesting to note that Gregory calls the Old Testament books rejected by Protestants as the “inspired” scriptures.

 Canons & Recensions Of The Armenian Bible.

A listing of “accepted” books in the Armenian canons and recensions.

 Coptic Church: Athanasius issued his Thirty-Ninth Festal Epistle not only in the Greek but also in Coptic, in a slightly different form – though the list of the twenty seven books of the New Testament is the same in both languages. How far, however the list remained authoritative for the Copts is problematical.

The Coptic (Bohairic) translation of the collection knowns as the Eighty-Five Apostlic Canons concludes with a different sequence of the books of the New Testament and is enlarged by the addition of two others: the four Gospels; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen Epistles of Paul (not mentioned individually); two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; the Apocalypse of John; the two Epistles of Clement.

 Ethiopic (Abyssinian) Church: This Church has the largest Bible of all, and and distinguishes different canons, the “narrower” and the “broader” according to the extent of the New Testament. The Ethiopic Old Testament comprises the books of the Hebrew Bible as well as all of the deuterocanonical books listed above, along with Jubilees, I Enoch, and Joseph ben Gorion’s (Josippon’s) medieval history of the Jews and other nations.

The New Testament in what is referred to as the “broader” canon is made up of thirty-five books, joining to the usual twenty-seven books eight additional texts, namely four sections of church order from a compilation called Sinodos, two sections from the Ethiopic Book of the Covenant, Ethiopic Clement, and Ethiopic Didascalia.

When the “narrower” New Testament canon is followed, it is made up of only the familiar twenty-seven books, but then the Old Testament books are divided differently so that they make up 54 books instead of 46. In both the narrower and broader canon, the total number of books comes to 81.

 The Biblical Canon Of The Ethiopic Orthodox Church Today, R. W. Cowley, Ostkirchliche Studien, 1974, Volume 23, pp. 318-323.

The article discusses the Biblical Canon of the Ethiopic Orthodox Church as seen today. This canon consists of a “broader” and a “narrower” canon.

 Greek Orthodox Church: The Bible of the Greek Orthodox church comprises all of the books accepted by the Roman Catholic church, plus I Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and 3 Maccabees. The Slavonic canon adds 2 Esdras, but designates I and 2 Esdras as 2 and 3 Esdras. Other Eastern churches have 4 Maccabees as well.

 Protestant Church: Historically, Protestant churches have recognized the Hebrew canon as their Old Testament, although differently ordered, and with some books divided so that the total number of books is thirty-nine. These books, as arranged in the traditional English Bible, fall into three types of literature: seventeen historical books (Genesis to Esther), five poetical books (Job to Song of Solomon), and seventeen prophetical books. With the addition of another twenty-seven books (the four Gospels, Acts, twenty-one letters, and the book of Revelation), called the New Testament, the Christian scriptures are complete.

 On The Textual Sources Of The New International Version (NIV) Bible.

What are the textual sources of the NIV Bible? Can these textual sources be considered “inspired” or “original”? Such issues are dealt with in this article. It should be added that the arguments made against the “inspiration” or “originality” of textual sources of the NIV Bible are also valid for RSV, NASV and other Bibles. Please note that the article is not about translations of the Bible; it is about their textual sources.

 Sir David Dalrymple (Lord Hailes), The Patristic Citations Of The Ante-Nicene Church Fathers And The Search For Eleven Missing Verses Of The New Testament

Based on a narrative whose source is alleged to have been the renowned Scottish Judge Sir David Dalrymple (Lord Hailes), it is frequently asserted that the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from the citations of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries, with the exception of only eleven verses. Going back to the original documents, something which none of the authors have attempted to study, it is shown that the data in them clearly disproves this claim – repeated in numerous missionary and apologetical publications for a period of more than 165 years.

 Biblia Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible, Richard D. Weis, TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2002, Volume 7.

Weis explains the current situation with regards the critical editions of the Hebrew Bible, namely, Biblia Hebraica QuintaBiblia Hebraica & Biblia Hebraica StuttgartensiaHebrew University Bible and Oxford Hebrew Bible. We know that some of these critical texts are the basis of modern day translation of the Bibles. Are the modern day editions of the Bibles based on editorial judgment or are they the “inerrant”, “infallible” and “eternal” word of God? You read and decide!

 “Biblical Inspiration” & Modern Day Textual Criticism.

It is well-known that the modern day Bibles are based on eclectic texts. The Christians make a theological statement about the Bible’s ‘inspiration’ on the basis of an uninspired eclectically reconstructed biblical text, which is nothing but a product of judgment of committee of scholars. Such a position gives rise to an interesting paradox.

 Luther And “New Testament Apocrypha”, A. Wikgren in R. H. Fischer’s A Tribute To Arthur Vööbus: Studies In Early Christian Literature, 1977, © University of Chicago Press, pp. 379-390.

Luther’s treatment of four New Testament books (Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation) reflected his early doubts about their full canonicity. This created a huge impact for over two centuries, in certain printed editions of the Bible. These four books were either printed as “apocrypha” or sometimes they were eliminated altogether from the printed editions!

 An Early Protestant Bible Containing The Third Book Of Maccabees: With A List Of Editions And Translations Of Third Maccabees, B. Metzger in M. Brecht’s Text – Wort – Glaube Studien Zur Überlieferung, Interpretation Und Autorisierung Biblischer Texte, 1980, pp. 123-133., © Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin.

This Protestant Bible comes with the Third Book of Maccabees, a book that is now demoted to the status of apocrypha.

 Roman Catholic Church: The Protestant canon took shape by rejecting a number of books and parts of books that had for centuries been part of the Old Testament in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate, and had gained wide acceptance within the Roman Catholic church.

In response to the Protestant Reformation, at the Council of Trent (1546) the Catholic church accepted, as deuterocanonical, Tobit, Judith, the Greek additions to Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, three Greek additions to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), and I and 2 Maccabees. These books, together with those in the Jewish canon and the New Testament, constitute the total of seventy three books accepted by the Roman Catholic church.

 Lost Books Of The Bible?, A. C. Cotter, Theological Studies, 1945, Volume 6, pp. 206-228.

An interesting discussion about the “lost books” of the Bible and its implications on the Catholic and Protestant canons.

 Syriac Church: Syriac Churches used the Diatesseron, the four-in-one Gospel, introduced by Tatian, and was read in the Syriac Churches for quite some time before it was replaced by Peshitta. Peshitta has again a different number of Books in the New Testament. This represents for the New Testament an accomodation of the canon of the Syrians with that of the Greeks. Third Corinthians was rejected, and, in addition to the fourteen Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews, following Philemon), three longer Catholic Epistles (James, 1 Peter, and 1 John) were included.

The four shorter Catholic Epistles (2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude) and the Apocalypse are absent from the Peshitta Syriac version, and thus the Syriac canon of the New Testament contained but twenty-two writings. For a large part of the Syrian Church this constituted the closing of the canon, for after the Council of Ephesus (431 CE) the East Syrians separated themselves as Nestorians from the Great Church.

Credit Islamic Awareness