Canonicity -

Doctrine of Canonicity
1. Canonicity
1.1 A tremendous mass of literature appeared in the first three or four centuries, all of
which claimed to be authoritative and inspired.
1.2 Something had to be done to determine which books were "in" and which were "out"
of the Canon.
1.2.1 There was little if any controversy regarding the content of the New Testament; the
controversy related only to the Old Testament.
1.3 The early Church fathers agreed upon five criteria to determine what books were to
be included. These were:
1.3.1 Was the Book of Divine Origin? - Does the book itself purport to be divinely
1.3.2 Was its claim to inspiration adequately sustained by the awareness of the writer
that this was indeed a sacred Scripture?
1.3.3 Documentation by quotation; for example, the New Testament contains numerous
quotations from the Old Testament made by not only Jesus Christ but by virtually every
writer of Scripture.
1.3.4 The law of public or official action as in the Old Testament a priest, a prophet, a
king or in the New Testament, our Lord would read from it in public.
1.3.5 External evidence was used in the sense that the Masoretic copyist only preserved
for us that which all of Israel seem to know was the Canon.
1.4 From the Grolier Encyclopedia and the World Book we find an unbiased description
of what is known as the pseudepigrapha and the apocrypha:
"Pseudepigrapha - The word pseudepigrapha meaning "books with false titles," refers to
books similar in type to those of the Bible whose authors gave them the names of
persons of a much earlier period in order to enhance their authority. The best known
“Three and Four Edras and the Prayer of Manasses, which are included in the
Apocrypha. The term is applied to many Jewish and Jewish-Christian books written in
the period 200 BC-AD 200 ... Fragments of the Damascus Document have been found
among the Dead Sea Scrolls ... The pseudepigrapha are important for they throw light
on Judaism and early Christianity … There is no evidence (internal or external) of divine
authorship or inspiration, i.e., canonicity claimed.
“Apocrypha - "The Apocrypha are books of the Old Testament included in Roman and
Orthodox Catholic Bibles as deutero canonical (added to the earlier canon), but
excluded from the Hebrew Bible and from most protestant Bibles. It is not certain, why
the term Apocrypha (hidden things) was originally applied to them but they were
considered less authoritative than the other biblical books because of the relatively late
origin (300 BC-100 AD) ...”
From the World Book - "The Apocrypha includes the first and second books of Edras,
Tobit, additions to the book of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Jesus the
Son of Sirach, Judith, Baruch, the Song of the Three Children, Susanna and the Elders,
Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses and the 1st and 2nd books of Maccabees ...
The apocrypha are important sources for Jewish history and religious developments in
the 1st and 2nd centuries BC.
1.5 There are many other pseudepigrapha books such as the Book of Mormons and
devotional/prayer books of the Christian Science Denomination which are accepted by
some as biblical. There are also other Orthodox Catholic books accepted in their faith as
supplemental to the Bible although rejected by the Roman Catholic Church.
1.6 If you consider the copies available, age and accuracy of the documents it becomes
quite obvious that we have the inspired Word of God preserved for us and need no
extra-biblical revelation.
1.7 Flavius Josephus was an unbeliever who in Contra Apion describes the sacred
"books of the Jew" for you see canonicity was an accepted part of Jewish History. Not
surprisingly he tells us (without any axe to grind) that the Old Testament is the Canon
and has no need for added pseudepigrapha.
1.8 R. B. Thieme in his book Canonicity writes concerning the Apocrypha under the
heading "The Rejection of the Apocrypha.”
“The Apocrypha was never in the Hebrew Canon. Every card-indexing of the Canon of
Scripture in the ancient world listed only ... the Old Testament, but it excluded the
“Neither Jesus Christ nor any of the New Testament writers ever quoted from the
Apocrypha. Never even once. Josephus expressly excluded them from his list of Sacred
Scripture in his book. He explained that these books were excluded from the Canon
because they were spurious.
“No mention of the Apocrypha was made in any catalogue of canonical books in the first
four centuries AD. It was not until the 5th century AD that a well-known organization
slipped them into the catalogue!
“These Apocryphal books were never asserted to be divinely inspired or to possess
Divine authority in their contents!
“No Prophets were connected with these writings! Each Old Testament book was written
by a man who was a prophet either by office or by gift or both.
“The Apocrypha contained many historical, geographical and chronological errors. They
so distorted and contradicted Old Testament narratives that in order to accept the
Apocrypha one had to reject the Old Testament.
“The Apocrypha teaches doctrines and upholds practices which are contrary to the
Canon of Scriptures! Documentation regarding the false doctrines found in the
Apocrypha is as follows:
“a. Prayers and offerings for the dead. In 2Ma 12:41-46, not only are prayers offered for
the dead, but monetary offerings are brought on their behalf and even recommended! I
am quoting from the Douay version ... of the Old Testament, which is a revised version
of the Vulgate: ‘It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that
they may be loosed from sin’ ...
“b. Suicide Justified. 2Ma 14:41-46 deals with a revolt against the "Syrians", led by the
Maccabean brothers ... the Apocrypha justifies this suicide and calls it a noble death.
“c. Atonement and salvation by almsgiving. At least two of the books of the Apocrypha
state that sins may be atoned for and salvation may be obtained by giving large
donations. Tobit 4:11 "For alms deliver from all sin, and from death and will not suffer
the soul to go into darkness".
“d. Cruelty to Slaves Justified. In Ecclesiasticus 33:25-29 we read that the best way to
treat a slave is to pile the work on him, and that, if need be, cruelty to slaves is fully
justified ...
“e. The doctrine of emanations. This is a cosmological concept characteristic of ...
Gnosticism. It explains the world as an "outflowing" from One Absolute source but
never uses the word God ....
“f. The preexistence of souls is also mentioned ... which claims that the soul, as well as
the body is produced in procreation ... We know that ultimately only God can give soullife.
“g. other fallacies in the Apocrypha ... hatred of Samaritans ... lying is sanctified in
certain cases ... incantations are encouraged as is assassination ... seven angels are said
to have the power of intercession ... purgatory is established as a place ... "
2. Interestingly neither the Roman or Greek Orthodox Church accepts all of the theology
of the Apocrypha but rather they have chosen to pick and choose and have therefore no
absolute standard or Canon.
2.1 Much of that taught in the Apocrypha is vehemently opposed to sound Catholic
teaching and many of the early Church fathers without question ... considered the
Apocrypha as questionable and not to be considered as equal with the Bible.
3. There has been far less controversy with reference to what represents the New
3.1 Criteria for New Testament Canonicity can be summarized:
a. Apostolicity - every Book must be written by an apostle or someone close to an
b. Reception by the early local Churches as being authentic.
c. Consistency - doctrines in the Book must be consistent with extant Christian teaching.
d. Each Book must give either internal or external evidence of Divine inspiration.
3.2 The Church Councils finally resolved all question as to what constituted our New
Council of Laodicea - 336 AD
Council of Damascus - 382 AD
Council of Carthage -397 AD
Council of Hippo - 419 AD
3.3 The Council of Laodicea recognized and accepted all books of the New Testament
except the book of the Revelation however the next three councils included the book of
Revelation into the Canon.
3.4 The question of Canonicity never came up again until the rise of liberalism in the
nineteenth century which led to our twentieth century modernism.
How We Got Our King James Bible
The following has been taken from a book written by Col. R. B. Thieme, Jr. The title of
the book was Canonicity. It is necessary you understand some of the background
connected with the reign of King James I. Elizabeth, Queen of England, had a beautiful
cousin, Mary Stuart, who had returned from France in 1561 to take her rightful place as
Queen of the Scots.
Scotland was in a state of turbulence: the clans fomented discontent; the new faith
preached by John Knox swept across the chilling lochs; and Catholic Mary was held in
contempt, not only for her presence in Scotland, but for her continuing claim to the
Tudor crown of Elizabeth. Mary unwisely married the Scottish Lord Darnley. This
created further antagonism, both to the English because of his Tudor connections and to
the Scots because he was Catholic.
The Scots had become Calvinistic in their beliefs and resented Mary's Romanism and
the influence of her French court. The people were determined that never again should
the Roman Church be allowed to gain and hold political power in their nation. After a
series of indiscretions and acts of poor judgment, Mary was forced to abdicate in favor
of her infant son, who then became James VI of Scotland. Fleeing the wrath of the
Protestant nobles, Mary sought refuge in England.
Elizabeth was in a quandary. She dared not send Mary back to Scotland, for the Scots
might execute their ... monarch; she was equally afraid to give her sanctuary in England
where Mary was certain to be a rallying point for all manner of malcontents. Therefore,
Elizabeth was obliged to keep her 'guest' strictly confined and thus began a kaleidoscope
of intrigues and plots that was to span almost two decades. Eventually, Mary's continued
sedition left Elizabeth no other alternative. Mary was executed in 1587.
James VI, Mary's son by Lord Darnley, who had been King of Scotland since 1568 under
the regency of the Earl of Moray, was reared a protestant. He was taught Calvinistic
theology, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Jamie was quite a student. He could discourse on
theological subjects in both English and Latin. When Elizabeth died, she left no heirs,
thus ending the House of Tudor. James VI was brought down from Scotland and
crowned James I of England, beginning the reign of the House of Stuart. The year was
1603. James had led an uneasy life in Scotland and actually looked forward to coming to
However, he soon found that England, too, had its troubles; the Puritans were in revolt
against the established church. One thousand Puritan preachers had gathered together
to write a petition. They beseeched his noble Majesty and parliament for a change in the
established church service and the removal of such superstitions as the sign of the cross.
Furthermore, the Puritans refused to use the prescribed prayer book because of its
corrupted translations.
This petition became known in history as the Millenary Petition because of the
thousand signatures affixed to it. It resulted in the Hampton Court conference on
January 14, 1603, over which King James himself presided. It was during one of the
endless debates that the leader of the Puritans, John Reynolds, said, "May your Majesty
be pleased, that the Bible be new translated, such as are extant not answering to the
Immediately Reynolds' request ran into opposition from Bancroft the Bishop of London.
The Bishop claimed that if all who wished were permitted to come up with translations,
the country would be swamped with Bibles. So the talks dragged on.
Finally the King of England grew weary listening to the debates in Parliament. He sided
firmly with Reynolds in favor of a new Bible. He admitted that he had "never yet seen a
Bible well translated into English," and he wished that "some special pains were taken
for a uniform translation … done by the best learned of both universities ... lastly ratified
by royal authority … to be read in the whole church and none other."
James was vitally interested in theology and in languages. He was knowledgeable in the
Scriptures and in Bible doctrine. Besides, the thought that a new and better translation
of the Bible should be published during his reign appealed to James tremendously. He
made but one condition: He would handpick the translators himself. Although the new
translation had his complete backing and would eventually be ratified by him, he did not
contribute one penny toward its expense. It is said to have cost 3500 pounds sterling - a
considerable sum in those days. On July 22, 1604, the King announced that he had
appointed fifty-four men to make the new translation. How did he select the scholars?
His only requirement was that they must be good linguists.
Half of them were Hebrew experts and the other half experts in Greek. The list included
Anglicans and Puritans, believers and unbelievers. Of those selected, seven men died
before the work was begun, including John Reynolds, who had asked for this
translation. Actually, only forty-seven men worked on what we call today "The
Authorized" or "King James Version of the Bible."
It was a perfect time for the translation to be undertaken, for the English language had
been greatly improved by men like Shakespeare, Donne, and Spenser; classic literature
had reached its peak. The beauty of the English language of that day and its power of
expression are thus preserved for us in the King James Bible. Thus, a style of language
which would otherwise be long outdated has come down to us fresh and, with the
exception of some words, very much to the point.
The scholars were divided into six teams; two teams worked at Oxford, two at
Cambridge, and two at Westminster, with the work portioned among them. In each of
the groups, the teams were further broken down into an Old Testament team and a New
Testament team. All worked independently of each other. That explains, of course, why
the word pneuma was translated "spirit" in one place and "Ghost" in another. It was
simply a matter of esprit de corps - school spirit. The Westminster group used Ghost,
and the Oxford group used Spirit. Each put down what he preferred. One of the teams
worked entirely on the Apocrypha, which as you know, is no longer included in the King
James Version of the Bible. The teams translating the Old Testament used the Masoretic
Text as their source.
For the Greek, the Textus Receptus ("the text received by all") was used. All in all, the
1611 edition was a good translation from the manuscripts that were then available. The
majestic Anglo-Saxon, with its clarity and style, its directness and force, have made the
King James Bible an English classic and a model for hundreds of years. Yet upon its
release, the Authorized Version turned out to be the most unpopular and universally
condemned translation that had ever come off the printing press. It caused the biggest
ruckus ever raised over an edition of the Bible in the English-speaking world.
Some criticism was justified because, in the process of printing, over four hundred
typographical errors were made which had to be corrected. For the most part, however,
the criticism was unfounded and biased. The Catholics condemned it for favoring the
Protestants. The Arminians thought it favored Calvinism. The Calvinists claimed that it
favored Arminianism. The Puritans objected to the church polity and the ritual, as well
as the use of such words as "bishop," "church," "ordain" and "Easter." In short, everyone
who considered himself to be an expert on the subject screamed in protest and began to
write pamphlets condemning the new version of the Bible. No one liked it except King
James I.