1. Canon is a Gk. word meaning rule or list. Since the time of Athanasius (d. 373) canonical has come to mean authoritative, inspired, divine. The word is used to denote the collection of inspired books of the Bible.
2. Originally it was the prophet's word which was inspired. As the prophetic oracles were incorporated in written records, many of them achieved canonical status after the voice of prophecy became silent in the 4th c. BC Discovery of the Book of the Law 621 BC had stimulated the canonical consciousness, though the Pentateuch as we know it today did not achieve canonical status until ca. 400 BC In addition to the Law and the Prophets, a 3d division known as Hagiographa* (Gk.) or Kethubim (Heb. Writings), consisting of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, was included in the canon of the OT The OT canon was completed ca. AD 100. Divergences are found among the mems. of the Dead Sea community (see Dead Sea Scrolls) at Khirbat Qumran who recognized or used books rejected by the rabbis. Jews in Alexandria were more liberal than their Palestinian brothers and included in their canon Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, additions to Esther, Judith, additions to Daniel, 1 and 2 Maccabees, I and 2 Esdras, Baruch, and the Prayer of Manasses. These writings are known as the OT Apocrypha.* Jesus and His disciples appear to have adhered to the more limited Palestinian canon. Paul and his converts relied heavily on the LXX, whose inspiration was viewed by many early Christians as equal to that of the Heb. originals. Almost all OT Scriptures, with the probable exception of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and Ezra, are either quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. References to apocryphal writings are also made (Ja 1:19 [Ecclus 5:11]; Mt 27:43 [Wis 2:13, 1820]; Eph 6:11, 1317 [Wis 5:1721]). Occasionally also Pseudepigrapha are cited. Jude 1416 quotes Enoch 1:9. Jerome says the quotation in Mt 27:9 was taken from a writing attributed to Jeremiah, but there is strong possibility that in this passage we are dealing with scribal interpretation. There has been no unanimous agreement in the Christian ch. on the extent of the OT canon. Jerome preferred to exclude the Apocrypha and transmit in the Vulgate* the Jewish canon of the 39 books contained in most Eng. translations. Because of wellest. use of the Apocrypha, these writings gradually became part of the Vulgate and were used also by the framers of the Book of Concord, who make no pronouncements on the extent of the OT canon. Luther's dictum on the Apocrypha expressed in his tr. of the Bible 1534, These are books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading, influenced subsequent generations; we find the Apocrypha excluded from the sacred canon in the translations gen. used in Luth., Angl., and Ref. churches (though the KJV originally included them).
3. The canon of 27 books in the NT was fixed gradually. It took some time before all NT books were universally known and recognized as inspired. The ch. proceeded cautiously, concerned to est. the apostolic credentials of each writing.
4. Most scholars agree that all NT books had been written by the middle of the 2d c.; some think that the yr. 100 is the terminal date. Apostolic writings were gradually gathered into collections (cf. 2 Ptr 3:16), encouraged by the prestige these writings enjoyed in the worshiping community (see Cl 4:16: 1 Th 5:27; 2 Th 2:15; ), and by the use of the codex or book in place of scrolls. By the end of the 2d c. the 4 gospels, Acts, the Pauline letters (exclusive of Hebrews), 1 John, and 1 Peter seem to have enjoyed universal recognition. Most of these are attested by the Muratorian* Canon, dating from the latter half of the 2d c. In the earliest yrs. of the formation of the NT canon the question of authorship was not a major concern. Conflicts with heretics, however, prompted the ch. to emphasize apostolicity as a criterion for canonical status. Little difficulty was encountered with books that had est. themselves throughout the ch. from time immemorial (such as the 4 gospels), but Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were special objects of debate because of their limited use in certain areas of the church. Their canonical status, however, was recognized by the Synod of Laodicea,* and the persecutions begun by Diocletian* in 303 may have been a strong contributing factor. See also Carthage, Synods and Councils of.
5. The classification of Origen* into homologoumena (universally recognized), antilegomena* (not universally recognized), and spurious (mostly uncanonical gospels; the newly discovered Coptic Gospel of Thomas qualifies for this category) is paralleled substantially by Eusebius* of Caesarea. But Eusebius includes under the category antilegomena (1) disputed books (James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude) and (2) spurious (Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter, Barnabas, Didache). Eusebius expresses no personal doubts about Hebrews, which he classifies as a homologoumenon; but he is not sure whether Revelation belongs among the spurious books. Eusebius' doubts about Revelation reflect the more conservative attitude of the Syrian chs. which have gen. adhered to a shorter canon of 22 books (lacking 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation).
6. Throughout the Middle Ages there was no doubt as to the divine character of any book of the NT Luther again pointed to the distinction bet. homologoumena and antilegomena* (followed by M. Chemnitz* and M. Flacius*). The later dogmaticians let this distinction recede into the background. Instead of antilegomena they use the term deuterocanonical. Rationalists use the word canon in the sense of list. Lutherans in Am. followed Luther and held that the distinction bet. homologoumena and antilegomena must not be suppressed. But caution must be exercised not to exaggerate the distinction.
F. Buhl, Kanon und Text des Alten Testamentes (Leipzig, 1891), tr. J. Macpherson, Canon and Text of the Old Testament (Edinburgh, 1892); H. E. Ryle, The Canon of the Old Testament, 2d ed. (London, 1895); W. R. Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 3d ed. (New York, 1912); C. R. Gregory, Canon and Text of the New Testament (New York, 1907); B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, 7th ed. (London, 1896); T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, tr. under direction and supervision of M. W. Jacobus and C. S. Thayer, 3d ed., 3 vols. (New York, 1909); W. H. Green, General Introduction to the Old Testament: the Canon (New York, 1916); A. H. McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, 2d ed., rev. C. S. C. Williams (New York, 1953); E. J. Goodspeed, The Formation of the New Testament (Chicago, ) and The Meaning of Ephesians (Chicago, 1933); A. Souter, The Text and Canon of the New Testament, 2d ed., rev. C. S. C. Williams (London, 1954); K. Aland, The Problem of the New Testament Canon (London, 1962).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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