The word, “Canon,” is used to describe the list of books that we have in the Old and New Testament. Originally the word, “kanon,” described a length of reed that was used to make a measurement. The modern day equivalent is the yard stick.
Lists or canons of scriptures began to appear as early as 140 AD (Shelley, B. L. (1995). Church history in plain language (Updated 2nd ed.) (58). Dallas, Tex.: Word Pub.). Marcion had begun to come up with a list of books he believed should be studied. This list did not include the Old Testament or several accepted books. So individual leaders from all the world began to decide that a formal listing of books that God had preserved and should be used by all Christians needed to be created.
Let’s take a look at the history of how the New Testament came into being and tomorrow we will get to the formation of the Old Testament.
The Church spent 300 to 400 years dealing with constant list making of different teachers and bishops. There were synods and councils, such as the Synod of Hippo in 393 or the Councils of Carthage in 397 AD. and 419 AD. Whether we want to admit it or not, the organization of the books into a singular format was a long process. However, there were specific criteria that guided these men into recognizing what God had already accomplished.
There were four points of criteria for a book to be admitted to the Canon of Scripture.
- A book had to have a connection to the apostles. The book needed to be attributed to a first century apostle or the assocate of an apostle. For example, Luke was an associate of Paul. We believe that John Mark (Mark) went on the mission trips with Paul and was a close associate of Peter. The gospel of Mark is often declared to be Peter’s recollection of events.
- A book had to be acknowledged by the Christian community. It had to be understood to be authoritative to all people everywhere.
- It had to be used widely in the early church through public reading. The early church through their affirmations in writing had to quote and use it.
- The book needed to contain a message that was consistent, coherent, and fit the general meaning of the entire Bible. The theological content had to be consistent with orthodox Christianity. A book denying the deity of Jesus Christ would be stopped here. That book could be attributed to Paul (Paul would never do this by the way), widely used and acknowledged but denied Christ’s deity and it would be tossed from Canonization.
There are still some exceptions to the rule. The Book of Hebrews is problematic because authorship is unknown. Paul’s authorship is assumed but there is no real knowledge of who wrote it or when it was written. It fits three of the four and was affirmed by the Council of Carthage in 419. We believe that God worked through his people to allow us to read that we have a high priest who can identify with our struggles.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
5 Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Heb 4:14–5:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.