Sunday, June 5, 2011


In the United States of America alone we have an abundance of Bibles to choose from. We can get it in many different styles, colors and even translations. As a matter of fact this year the King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version) celebrates 400 years in print. When it comes to the Bible in our culture we are spoiled, we want it packaged in a nice way and for it to be super easy to comprehend. And if it’s not we complain because we were expecting something different.

Long before we have the Bible in the form we recognize and agree upon (as protestants), the Jews had to agree upon what they knew to be scripture. Their scriptures which we call the Old Testament took a little while to be formed, while it contains all same books they are arranged in a different order.

Now let us go forward to the times of Jesus. Scripture was not something that every person had in their home, even some of the smaller synagogues did not have a copy of all the scriptures of that time, so the best place to learn from the teachings were the manuscripts found in the temple of Jerusalem. Then fast-forward around a hundred and fifty years and a group of people known as Gnostics began to force the hand of the church. They would claim some materials as authoritative and others were of no value.

With all of these different options how do we even know what we are getting? This is where the study of orthodoxy and the canon take us on a trip, showing where men met heresy with truth and stood toe-to-toe. In the end we have the Holy Bible containing sixty-six books recognized as the inspired word of God, with the power to change lives.


What is orthodoxy and how are we supposed to obtain it? In response to this question Gonzalez says,

“… orthodox Christianity began to define itself by reaffirming such elements of its Jewish heritage as the doctrines of creation, of the positive value of the created world, or the rule of God of all of history, of the resurrection of the body—a doctrine learned from the Pharisees—and a coming final reign of God.” [1]

To be orthodox was to be the complete opposite of a heretic. Heretics wanted to go around changing the Word to make it fit their way of life without surrendering to its power. The importance of the canon of Scripture is one thing that must not be taken lightly because if we doubt the Bible we begin to lose the very foundation of our faith. Grudem gives a great explanation for why we should not mess with Scripture,

“To add to or subtract from God’s words would be to prevent God’s people from obeying him fully, for commands that were subtracted would not be known to the people, and words that were added might require extra things of the people which God had not commanded.[2]

Many of the first combatants the church had to face were a wide group called Gnostics. The Gnostics were corrupt in their thoughts and provided a perverted gospel. They felt that they had been given direct revelation and were in an elevated place above other men. Shelly informs us, “Orthodox Christians found Gnostics very difficult to combat. In arguments they always claimed that they had some secret information denied their opponent.”[3] It is easy for people of our era to say negative things about the early church because we are not faced with the same issues. While it may sound awkward we should be grateful to the early challengers of the faith, because, “Heretics, in fact, served the church in an unintended way. Their pioneering attempts to state the truth forced the church to shape “good theology”—a rounded, systematic statement of biblical revelation.”[4]

One of the earliest and most well know heretics was Marcion, he felt that the Old Testament God was one of wrath and could have nothing to do with the God displayed in the New Testament writings. After rejecting so much of Scripture, “…he was left with only a mutilated version of Luke’s Gospel (omitting the nativity stories) and ten letters of Paul.”[5] While Marcion was the first to try and put together a New Testament[6], he and other Gnostics would be answered and refuted by the forming of the “Apostles Creed”. The next man to stir things up would be Montanus, he tried to push the idea that the Old Testament era had past along with Jesus’ time and now the Spirit would be in charge for the next era. While Montanus tried to separate the Spirit from all of his work it would be Irenaeus who would go on to prove that the same Spirit was at work in all eras.[7] After dealing with the likes of men like these and others it helped to lead to the creation of the canon of Scripture.

New Testament Canon

Now with the understanding of what orthodoxy means lets tackle the issue of canonicity. First what does the word “canon” mean? According to Schmid, “A canon is an infallible rule or measure by which no means allows that anything maybe added to it or taken from it.”[8] This begs the question of how do we know what books then belong in the canon and how do we decide? Generally there are three rules that need to be met, first did the book conform to orthodoxy?, was the writer an apostle or someone closely associated to an apostle?, and was it recognized widely throughout the church as Scripture?[9]

The first books accepted into the New Testament were the four gospels, and the Pauline Epistles. According to Reid,

“But towards the end of the second century the canonical minimum was enlarged and besides the Gospel and Pauline Epistles, unalterably embraced Acts, I Peter, I John (to which II and III John were probably attached), and Apocalypse. Hebrews, James, Jude and II Peter remained hovering outside the precincts of universal canonicity and the controversy about them and the subsequently disputed Apocalypse form the larger part of the remaining history of the Canon of the New Testament.”[10]

The issue concerning the New Testament was not considered resolved until very close to the middle or end of the fourth century. According to Driscoll,

“In the fourth century the church moved to settle the issues of the New Testament canon. In the East, it was done by the Thirty-Ninth Paschal Letter of Athanasius in AD 367. In the West the canon was not fixed until the council of Carthage in AD 397.”[11]

So what about the books that don’t qualify as Scripture? These are commonly referred to as the Apocrypha. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith we are to view them as, “…no part of the canon of Scripture, and therefore of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”[12] However not everyone holds to that view because the Catholic Church as we know it today has allowed these materials to be used as scripture.


In the end everyone should be grateful for the men who chose to be obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and compiling the greatest best-seller there has ever been. We would be wise to trust the Scriptures as they have been presented to us and head their instructions, listen to the warning John provides,

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev 22:18-19, ESV).

May this help you come to a deeper understanding of Scripture and help you to hold it ever more dear to you and the life you lead.


Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christinaity- Volume 1. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Reid, George. "Canon of the New Testament." The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1908. (accessed June 4 , 2011).

Schmid, Heinrich. "Doctrinal Theology- Of the Canon and the Apocryphal Books." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1889. (accessed June 4, 2011).

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Nelson, 1995.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Lawerenceville, GA: Christian Education and Publications, 2005.

[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christinaity- Volume 1. (New York: Harper Collins, 2010) 69.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 54.

[3] Bruce L Shelley,. Church History in Plain Language. (Nashville: Nelson, 1995) 54.

[4] Ibid, 47.

[5] Ibid, 63.

[6] Gonzalez, Christianity. 75

[7] George Reid, "Canon of the New Testament." The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1908. (accessed June 4 , 2011) 5.

[8] Heinrich. Schmid, "Doctrinal Theology- Of the Canon and the Apocryphal Books." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1889. (accessed June 4, 2011).

[9] Mark Driscoll, and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010)54 .

[10] Reid, "Canon” 5.

[11] Driscoll, Doctrine. 53-54.

[12] The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. (Lawerenceville, GA: Christian Education and Publications, 2005) 4.