The Canon of Scripture

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Do you remember the Da Vinci Code book and movie? And the fuss they created over the supposed Lost 'Gospel of Judas', a book that claims Jesus was in love with Mary Magdalene, that he had children with Mary, and that Jesus basically conspired with Judas and gave Judas permission to betray Him. I went to the opening night of the film to see what it was saying and how it was received. The cinema was absolutely packed and there was a level of anticipation. However, praise God, the film was absolutely terrible and at the end one guy stood up and shouted 'Well that's the end of all that then!' And the hype died down but the questions are still being asked by some spurious historians whose books appear in WH Smith. They bring up other so‐called 'lost books'. For example, the supposed 'Gospel of Thomas', which claims that when another child bumped into Jesus as a child, Jesus struck the other child dead. There's the so‐called 'Acts of John', where John supposedly commands bedbugs to leave and behave themselves. Or the so‐called 'Acts of Paul', where Paul baptizes a lion, which later spares Paul from death in the amphitheatre in Ephesus. But these books aren't really 'lost gospels', rather they're books that were written later that are obviously not 'canonical', meaning books that don't 'measure up' as Scripture.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been very active recently claiming that their version of the Bible - The New World Translation - is the true Bible and teaches that Jesus is not God, which is what many false texts teach. Their version is a changed translation to fit their views and does not 'measure up'. They've added and taken away. Psalm 119:160 states that the entirety of God's Word is truth. And neither the so called lost gospels nor the JWs Bible pass the truth test. 2 Timothy 3:16 - All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching and training. These are therefore not inspired and do not agree with Scripture. God never lies (Titus 1).

But then in some Bibles you find something called 'The Apocrypha'. What is that some of you may have asked? Some churches use it some don't.
How do we know that what is in the Bible that we have in the pews - which doesn't have The Apocrypha - is all that is meant to be there? Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation but what is counted as Holy Scripture?

Well this morning in our series on the 39 Articles we're looking at part two of Article 6 on The Canon of Scripture. Now that doesn't mean we're looking at the Bible as a camera or as a weapon of mass destruction, though it is powerful the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6). The term the 'canon' of Scripture actually refers to the collection of books that are recognized as being the inspired word of God. Part Two of Article 6 says,

"In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books. [There follows a list of the books of the Old Testament as found on the Contents page of the church Bibles] And the other Books (as Jerome says) the Church does read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet does not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following: [There follows a list of the books of the Apocrypha] All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical."

So John 7:53-8:11, which doesn't appear in any early manuscript and wasn't included by the early church fathers is not part of John's Gospel but it does represent genuine tradition about Jesus and can be learned from as it agrees with Scripture. Mark 16:9-20, which appears to have been added later is most likely not part of Scripture but, again, in so far as it agrees with Scripture can be learned from. But these are the exceptions. The rest of the NT is canonical.

The word 'canon' refers to a measuring stick. The canonical books 'measure up' as Scripture. From very early on if they met the standard or 'rule' they were passed around as God's word. The word 'canon', is actually used in the New Testament, as in Galatians 6:16, where Paul refers to what he's just written in that letter and says, "As for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." In other words, Paul's words in Galatians were to be considered a 'rule' or a 'standard'. Then the early Christians started realizing that other writings were also to be considered a standard - as 'Scripture'. In fact, a man by the name of Origen in the third century AD alluded to the 'canonized Scriptures' - to the 66 books we have in the pew Bibles. So at least by the early 200's AD, people clearly realized that certain writings 'measured up' and others did not. So first


I remember discussing with someone from a R.C. Church what the Bible actually says and the man was stuck. He could see that some of what he believed was wrong when compared to the Scriptures, and said, "Well, we (the RC Church) gave you the Bible, so who do you think you are?" You see, it got back to a matter of authority. In his view, at least, his church gave us the inspired books, his church told us which books to follow, so we have no real right to make any arguments from those books that in any way contradict the Catholic Church. But a book's canonicity (that is, whether it should be in the Bible) depends on its authority (whether it's from God), and not the other way round. In other words, at no point in history was a book of the Bible meaningless until it got voted on by an early church council. But instead, the book (say 1 Corinthians) was authoritative the moment the Apostle Paul's words hit the paper. He was writing the inspired word of God. It was God breathed. In 1 Corinthians 14:37 p961. Paul writes:

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

In fact, there's an interesting quote from 2 Peter concerning Paul's writings. Peter was writing about false teachers who love to twist God's message concerning the coming judgment. 2 Peter 3:14-16 (p1019):

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

So, even as Peter wrote (in roughly 60 AD), Peter understood that Paul was writing "Scripture." Later these writings were accepted as canonical because they had authority. So, there's no vote that can ever make a letter inspired; but rather, a letter is inspired, and then it's accepted as such because it 'measures up' as the authoritative and inspired word of God - it agrees with other inspired writing, it was accepted as inspired and that it was written by an Apostle or someone very closely associated with the Apostles by those who read it for the first time. You see there was no giant printing press in heaven.

No church council made the canon of Scripture. No church by its decrees gave to or pronounced on the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the New Testament books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves. As a child identifies its mother, the later church identified the books which it regarded as having unique authority. For an example of all this let's secondly look at


By the time of Christ, the canon of the Old Testament had already been set. In fact, Jesus and the Apostles quote from the books we now know as the 'Old Testament', and they refer to them as 'Scripture'. Acts 8:32 (p917):

Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth."

Luke refers to the book of Isaiah as being Scripture. So in 65 AD, Isaiah was considered to be the word of God. It wasn't God's word because someone voted on it, but it was God's word from the moment it was written, and it was accepted as such. It was a part of the Old Testament 'canon.' We see something similar in Romans 4:3 (p941) where Paul quotes Genesis 15:6:

For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."

(That we are saved by grace through faith is the message of the OT and the NT. Two Testaments one Bible. Yes there's a developing revelation in the OT but God's plan, providence and message run right through the whole canon.)

Paul recognized the book of Genesis as being "Scripture," as did Jesus in his teaching on marriage as a creation ordinance between one man and one woman for life (Mark 10:1-12). It was Scripture not simply because Paul said it was, but it was Scripture from the moment it was first written. Not only do we have examples of this from the prophets and from the Law, but we also have an example of the Psalms being referred to as 'Scripture'. In fact, it's Jesus himself who does this. Matthew 21:42 - Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22:

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes'?

In fact in Luke 24:44-47: Jesus said to his disciples,

"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem..."

Notice, when the Lord referred to the 'Scriptures', He included, "…the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms." That's all of the Old Testament. Everything we have fits into one of those three categories. In fact, in roughly 95 AD, the Jewish historian Josephus referred to the books of the Old Testament as being 22, and when we divide them the way they did (combining 1‐2 Samuel, Ezra‐Nehemiah, and Jeremiah and Lamentations, for example), we have the same number and the exact same books today as they did then. Again Jesus endorses the Hebrew canon in Matthew 23:35 when He cites one of the first narratives and one of the last in the Scriptures of his day.


From very early on certain books were considered to be inspired. Justin Martyr records that in 140 AD on Sundays in Christian worship, the 'memoirs of the apostles' were read together along with the 'writings of the prophets'. So not too long after the last New Testament document was written, we have certain writings from the apostles being read in worship along with the Old Testament and therefore were put on the same level as the 39 inspired books of the Old Testament. From Colossians 4:16, we know that Paul's writings were circulated among the churches from the moment they were written, "When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans..." By the 200's AD, Origen lists exactly the same 27 NT books that we have today as being inspired and authoritative. Later Athanasias published a list of those 27 books, saying "…these are the springs of salvation…Let no one add anything to them or take anything away from them." But in as early as 60AD Jude wrote (v3):

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Since our faith is defined by Scripture, Jude is essentially saying that Scripture was given once for the benefit of all Christians. Isn't it good to know there are no hidden or lost manuscripts yet to be found, there are no secret books only familiar to a select few, and there are no people alive who have special revelation to add. Furthermore, the end-time subject matter of the book of Revelation, and the prohibition of adding to the words of the book in Revelation 22:18-19, argue strongly that the canon was closed once this book was written down. Look at v18&19:

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, 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.


a) Although RC Bibles do include them, the 14‐15 books of The Apocrypha were never included in the Old Testament canon. So the Jews didn't accept the Apocryphal books as inspired.
b) Secondly the books of The Apocrypha were never quoted by Jesus or the Apostles. All but two Old Testament books are quoted in the New, but the New Testament writers never quote a book from The Apocrypha.
c) Thirdly, they were never accepted as Scripture by any of the early Christian writers. In around 400 AD, Jerome (whose Latin Vulgate translation is still the basis for the official Roman Catholic Bible) maintained that these books weren't to be included in the canon of Scripture.
d) Fourthly, they don't 'measure up' to the level of inspiration. There are chunks that are fictitious, and they often contain historical, chronological, and
geographical errors.


The Bible you have in front of you contains the canon of Scripture. It's the whole inspired Word of God. We're not to add to it or take from it. But we're to read it, hear it taught and put it into practice in the power of the Spirit. Not just our favourite bits but the whole counsel of God. 2 Timothy 3:16:

'All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

All Scripture - that's why David Holloway has insisted that we read from the OT, the Psalms and the NT almost every Sunday. That's why we have sermon series on what can seem some rather obscure passages in the OT as well as from the NT. All Scripture - the whole canon of Scripture - is profitable.

So read it and obey it. What a gift - that we have the whole of God's Word written in this one book of books - the Bible. Some of you might be saying - read even the OT? Yes! Jesus Christ is on every page. He says so in Luke 24:27. Use helps (see below) some of which are listed on your service sheet and are all available from the resources area. Ask the HS to help you know the truth. Do you really want to grow in your faith and in Christ likeness? Do you really want to be equipped to serve whether here or at St Joseph's or on your frontline? For we all have a ministry in the church and a mission in the world. Then read from the canon of Scripture day by day, be part of a small Bible Study group and hear the Scriptures preached. Come twice on a Sunday or at least catch up online. And act on them. Pass the message on and guard it (2 Timothy 1:15).

Suggestions to help you read the whole Bible (all available from the resources area)
How to Read the Bible Book by Book - Fee & Stuart
Through the Bible Through the Year - John Stott
For the Love of God: Vols 1&2 - Don Carson
Taking God at his Word - Kevin De Young
New Bible Commentary - IVP

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