The canon of Scripture is the official list of books that belong in the Bible. While we can thumb through a Bible today and see there are un cours en miracles france included in Scripture, how did we arrive at those books? Were some books ever in the Bible and then excluded? Who decided what books were Holy Writ and what books were not? This is an important question for those who look to the Bible as an authoritative document.
Biblical scholars call this topic “canonicity” or the determination of which books are part of the “canon” of Scripture. The canon is the collection of books recognized as Holy Scripture. The actual word comes from the term for “measuring rod.” The canon are the books that are to serve as the “measuring rod” for God’s people.
By the time Jesus Christ walked the earth, the 39 books of the Old Testament were widely recognized as Jewish Scripture. Jesus Himself talked about Scripture and the Jewish historian Josephus (who lived approximately the same time as Jesus) mentioned the 39 books as authoritative Jewish Scripture. An official council in Jamnia in the year 90 A.D. also confirmed the same 39 books we know today as the Old Testament were Scripture.
Interestingly, the Old Testament books of that day were often presented on scrolls. The Torah or the first five books of the Bible might be on a single scroll, but sometimes other writings were on individual scrolls, such as the scroll of Isaiah. When books were first printed, the Jewish arrangement of the Old Testament put the Torah first, then the prophets. It was Martin Luther who arranged the books of the Old Testament in to the order Christians have today.
New Testament writings consist of 27 books written in a relatively short span of time, approximately 40 or 50 to 90 AD. Early church fathers had certain standards for inclusion of books as Scripture. First of all, the book had to be written by an apostle or be written by someone close to an apostle. Apostle, in this case, was defined as a man who had seen the resurrected Jesus and was known to be specially taught by Him. This criteria was similar for the Old Testament, which required books to be authored by people who were known to be prophets, kings, scribes, or other authorities.
Furthermore, New Testament writings had to be authentic, prophetic, and authoritative. It also had to be accepted by the believers and used by them. This may sound vague, but it happened that when Matthew wrote his account of the life of Jesus the text was quickly recognized as being authored by Matthew (one of the 12 apostles) and was accepted by believers who incorporated its authoritative teachings into their services. The same holds with John, Peter, and Paul. Although no one knows for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews, it was widely accepted by the early church and was incorporated into canon. Luke and Acts were written by a man who was not an apostle—Luke was an early convert to Christianity and a physician by trade. However, he was closely associated with the apostle Paul and many others in the early church and his accounts gained the status of Scripture as well.