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I. Introduction

“Canon” is a word that comes from Greek and Hebrew words that literally means a measuring rod. So canonicity describes the standard that books had to meet to be recognized as scripture.

This study discusses the tests of canonicity that were used, the history of canonization and a brief explanation of why certain disputed books are not scripture.

The early church councils applied several basic standards in recognizing whether a book was inspired.

B. Is it prophetic (“a man of God” 2 Peter 1:20)?

C. Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?

E. Is it received (accepted and used by believers –1 Thessalonians 2:13)?

IV. The History of Canonization

1. Christ refers to Old Testament books as “scripture” (Matthew 21:42, etc.).

3. Josephus, the Jewish historian (A.D. 95), indicated that the 39 books were recognized as authoritative.

1. The apostles claimed authority for their writings (Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:14).

3. The Council of Athenasius (A.D. 367) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) recognized the 27 books in our New Testament today as inspired.

A. The Apocrypha is not scripture.

Below are listed several additional reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha as inspired:

2. The Apocrypha never claims to be inspired (“Thus saith the Lord” etc.) – In fact, 1 Maccabees 9:27 denies it.

4. Matthew 23:35 – Jesus implied that the close of Old Testament historical scripture was the death of Zechariah (400 B.C.). This excludes any books written after Malachi and before the New Testament.

1. There were other books that some people claimed to be scripture. Some of them were written in the intertestamental period and called Old Testament psuedopigrapha (or “false writings”). Others were written after the apostolic age (2nd century A.D. and following). These are called New Testament psuedopigrapha.

2. There were some other more sincerely written books that had devotional value and reveal some of the insights of Christian leaders after the 1st century (Shepherd of Hermas, Didache, etc.). Although they are valuable historically, and even spiritually helpful, they also do not measure up to the standards of canonicity and were not recognized as scripture.


Athanasius is the first one known to have used canon in such a context.


Origen used the word canon to denote what we call the rule of faith, the standard by which we are to measure and evaluate everything.

The church did not create the canon. Rather, Christians came to recognize the books for what they were:God's inspired revelation. All Scripture is God- breathed (inspired) and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness 2 Timothy 3:16.

The Old Testament canon

One way to answer the question: How and when were the books of the Bible put together? would be to say that ultimately it was God who decided which books would be included in the biblical canon and which books would be excluded from the biblical canon.

It was not a matter of some council or synod deciding which books they were going to have in the Old Testament. Rather it was a matter of God convincing the church which books should be included in the Bible.

The Council of Jamnia

The Council of Jamnia, held in about A. D. 90, established and closed the canon of the Old Testament for nearly all Jews. It has been their canon ever since and consists of the twenty- seven books of what we know as the Old Testament. However, the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible differs from the order of the books in what Christians call the Old Testament.

The canon of the whole Bible

All of the books of the New Testament as we know them today we officially recognized:

In the Eastern Church in A. D. 367 in Athanasius 'Festal Letter;

In the Western Church in A. D. 397 at a conciliar decision at Carthage.

The sixty- six books which we are now used to seeing in our Bibles were recognized as being the canonical ones in the above 4th century letter and council.

Before the first church council formally ratified the question about which books made up the Christian Scriptures, the decisions had already been made. The council only went on record, approving what was already acknowledged.

Some religious persons have had an incorrect view as to the basis of the determination of the true canon. They have said that the books were made canonical on the basis of the decision of church councils. In reality all that the church leaders could do would be to discover and recognize that list of books which were obviously inspired.”

Roy D. Merritt

Canon of Scripture (RE STATED)

May be generally described as the “collection of books which form the original and authoritative written rule of the faith and practice of the Christian Church,” i.e., the Old and New Testaments. The word canon, in classical Greek, is properly a straight rod, “a rule” in the widest sense, and especially in the phrases “the rule of the Church,” “the rule of faith,” “the rule of truth.” The first direct application of the term canon to the Scriptures seems to be in the verses of Amphilochius (cir. 380 a.d.), where the word indicates the rule by which the contents of the Bible must be determined, and thus secondarily an index of the constituent books. The uncanonical books were described simply as “those without” or “those uncanonized.” The canonical books were also called “books of the testament,” and Jerome styled the whole collection by the striking name of “the holy library,” which happily expresses the unity and variety of the Bible. After the Maccabean persecution the history of the formation of the Canon is merged in the history of its contents. The Old Testament appears from that time as a whole. The complete Canon of the New Testament, as commonly received at present, was ratified at the third Council of Carthage (a.d. 397), and from that time was accepted throughout the Latin Church. Respecting the books of which the Canon is composed, see the article Bible. (The books of Scripture were not made canonical by act of any council, but the council gave its sanction to the results of long and careful investigations as to what books were really of divine authority and expressed the universally-accepted decisions of the church. The Old Testament Canon is ratified by the fact that the present Old Testament books were those accepted in the time of Christ and endorsed by him, and that of the 275 quotations of the Old Testament in the New, no book out of the Canon is quoted from except perhaps the words of Enoch in Jude.

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