The Canon of Scripture


By Don Ruhl

Ira Maurice Price asked, “Why were the apocryphal books not received into the biblical canon of the Old Testament? What constitutes the real difference between the two classes of literature? Who decided what should be Bible and what should not be Bible?” (The Ancestry of Our English Bible, Harper and Brothers: New York, eleventh edition August, 1937, p. 128).

“Canon” comes from a word meaning “reed.” A reed was a measuring rod. Thus, it came to mean “standard.” (See Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 29).

Many books claim to come from God.

  • The Book of Mormon and the other Mormon books
  • The Korah
  • The Bible
  • The Apocrypha
  • The Pseudepigrapha, et al.

Two Lists of Tests 

Ira Maurice Price (p. 129):

  • Antiquity: Known to be ancient
  • Authenticity: Regarded as authentic by those of early days
  • Authorship: Connected with some great name
  • Purpose: Distinct phase in religious thought and life
  • Temper: In harmony with the already accepted biblical books
  • Religious Tone: A religious impression that will be a determining element in its location

According to Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix (A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press: Chicago, 1986, p. 223-231) here are the tests of canonicity [The Scripture texts are mine]:

  • Was the book written by a prophet of God? What was the work of a prophet? There were forgeries and so, the original readers had to know who wrote the letter (2Th 2.1, 2).
  • Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? (Acts 2.22; John 3.2; Heb 2.4; 2Co 12.12).
  • Did the message tell the truth about God? (Deu 13.1–3; 18.21, 22).
  • Does it come with the power of God? (Heb 4.12; 1Th 1.5; 1Co 2.1–5; John 7.17). To see the power of the Scriptures as we have them, consider these two things: How people change their lives because of it. How other people hate it so vehemently. Remember a tree is known by its fruit.
  • Was it accepted by the people of God? (1Th 2.13; Deu 31.26; Jos 24.26, 27; Dan 9.2, 10, 11).

Sidney Collett (All About the Bible, Fleming H. Revell Company: New York, no date), wrote, “It was decided by the internal testimony and intrinsic value of the writings themselves—just as the true character of a tree, though questioned, and even vehemently denied, for a time in the dead months of winter, will, nevertheless, soon be established beyond all doubt—not on the authority of some expert gardener or association of gardeners, but by its own answerable evidence in the flower and fruit it bears” (pp. 58, 59).

The church did not decide which books to include and exclude, but it was by the very nature of Scripture itself that it proved itself to be the inspired word of God.

On this same point F. F. Bruce (The New Testament Documents are they Reliable?, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, Fifth Revised Edition, February, 1977, p. 27) adds, “The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect…what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”

Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix (A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press: Chicago, 1986, p. 221), put it in proper perspective,

Collett says that a tree is known by its fruit (Matt 7.15) and Scripture has shown itself to be true, as evidenced by what happens when the 66 Books of Bible are preached.

Collett (p. 60) uses First Corinthians 3.13 to show that men’s works are tested by fire, then their genuineness is demonstrated, “…each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1Co 3.13). Speaking first of converts, but the principle applies to all of man’s works. If a work is false or a fraud, it will perish.

Collett adds Psalm 12.6 to which I would also like to add verse 7,

The words of the LORD are pure words,
Like silver tried in a furnace of earth,
Purified seven times.
You shall keep them, O LORD,
You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
(Psa 12.6, 7)

There are no impurities in the word of God to bring it down, and so His providence preserves the word forever.

The Promise of God 

In John 16, Jesus promised the apostles that they would be guided into all the truth, not truth mixed with error, but the total and pure truth, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16.13).

Therefore, we can know when God speaks or merely man, because there is such a strong difference in the way the two think and speak. (See John 7.17; 2Ki 22.13; 1Ki 22.15, 16).

Why Some Books Rejected

Price in his book (pp. 129, 130), noted,

  • Ethical teachings were contrary to those of the accepted books
  • Contained manifest errors of history and geography
  • Contents embodied silly, ridiculous, or trifling statements or stories
  • Largely compiled or made up of imitations of other writings
  • Lacked the spiritual element
  • Not accepted by the early Christians or Jews
  • Appeared after the closing of the canon, and whose internal and external evidence locates it after the beginning of the Christian era

The Providence of God 

Jesus promised that, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10.35) and that, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16.17). Peter taught that we have been, “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…the word of the LORD endures forever” (1Pe 1.23–25).

If God could create the heavens and the earth, and could speak to man, surely He could give us a complete Bible, for truly Jude wrote that, “the faith [has been] once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

How do we get our food? We see the workings of nature, and the labor of man to bring us food. We cannot literally see God doing it, but we know that He is responsible because of the teaching of Scripture (Matt 5.45).

Likewise with the canon of the Bible. We see men at work determining which books belong in the Bible and which ones do not, but through God’s providence He gave us the completed revelation. He worked behind the scenes to insure that it was done right.

We know and believe that God gave us the 66 Books of our current Bible. The next question is: What are you going to do with it? Shall you put it on the shelf? Shall you read it, meditate it, and obey it?


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