Thursday, September 26, 2013

So How Did They Determine the Books of the Bible?

You may have heard an objection like, "You can't really sure of what books in the Bible should be there and what books should not?"  Or, "Why is the Apocrypha not in the main books of the Bible?  Who made that distinction?"  Whether it is either of these or some other facsimile of an objection like it, one will either hear it in a spirited conversation with someone challenging the authority and authenticity of the Bible, or one will hear it in a liberal professor's classroom. Not matter where the objection comes from, there is an answer.

To start things off, we need to understand that there were many ancient writings considered in the process of putting the books of the Bible together into one book. There had to be a determining authority selecting the books making the cut and the others getting "the boot."  Should some of the excluded writings have been included?  Why or why not?

The hub of the question is whether or not a book was inspired by God. But there is a prior issue that emerges, and that is if God inspired any writings, wouldn't He be the one who guided the process of collecting those books and putting them together into one Book? The logic seems obvious, and the historic view of the Christian church who hold a high view of Scripture is just that -- God determined the canon of Scripture.

What does canon mean?  The word canon is a word that originally meant a reed used for measuring; then, a standard for acceptance.  It finally emerged to mean a list of books recognized as written by God.

In addition to the desire to know what really came from God and what did not, four developments emerged which forced the early Christian church to act:

1.  The rise of heretic circulating incomplete collections (pseudepigrapha - false writings).

2.  Counterfeit books, falsely written under the name of an apostle, began to appear in a few churches.

3.  Christianity was spreading rapidly in new lands and the missionaries needed to know which books were sacred for translation into new languages.

4.  The Edict of Diocletian (AD 303) ordered the destruction of the Christians' sacred writings and death was the penalty for those who had refused. The early believers wanted to know what books would be worth paying for with their lives.

A major factor for recognizing a book's inspiration was apostolic authorship, or approval, since the apostles' authority came directly from the Lord Himself. Specific questions were used in the process.[1]  These questions were:

1. Was it actually by God's prophet or apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle?

2. Was the author confirmed by acts of God?

3. Did the book's message tell the truth about God and His attributes?

4. Did the book contain God's authoritative power?

5. Was the book accepted by God's people?

I have just listed these critical questions. There are compilations written by others in libraries and on the web that go deeper into this discussion.

The Process.

The process was far more complex and time consuming than the previous questions might suggest.[2] Christians then and today believe that the Holy Spirit guided the process because He was the One who inspired the writings in the first place. It would be highly unreasonable for the Holy Spirit to give us certain writings but not ensure that the right ones were recognized as belonging to God.

What of the writings that did not make the cut?  Books like the ones found in the Apocrypha didn't make it. Why?  The Apocrypha is a "collection" of fourteen books of Jewish history and tradition written from the Third Century BC to the First Century AD.  The reasons for not including the Apocrypha include the following:

1. The Jews never accepted it as Scripture and did not include it in their canon (the Old Testament).

2. What acceptance the Apocrypha did enjoy was only local and temporary.

3.  No major church council ever included it in Scripture.

4. The Apocrypha contains errors.[3]

5. The Apocrypha also teaches doctrines that are contrary to Scripture.

6. Neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers quoted it, even though they quoted Old Testament books and other outside sources hundreds of times.[4]

7. The Christian churches that eventually accepted it, did not do so until many centuries after the canon was completed.


God is the divine Author of Scripture, inspiring men moved by the Holy Spirit. He totally superintended the recognition of the books just as much as He inspired them. So the Bible that you hold in your hands whenever you open it up and read it in your devotional time, your study time, your reading time, or a worship service contain all that He inspired and nothing that He didn't.


[1] Here is another great article that addresses our discussion here in this posting:


[3] Matt Slick at has a great piece on what these errors are at

[4] Jude v. 9 is an example of a reference not found in the Apocrypha, but in an outside work that was contemporary and pseudepigraphal.  The source is known as the Assumption of Moses. The Book of Enoch in the Apocrypha references the Assumption story, but does not have any ties to Jude's letter like the Assumption does.

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