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Development of the Christian Biblical canon

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The Biblical canon is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and thus constituting the Christian Bible. The Christian Biblical Canon consists of the canons of the Old and New Testaments.

Development of the Old Testament canonEdit

The Old Testament (sometimes abbreviated OT) is the first section of the two-part Christian Biblical canon, which includes the books of the Hebrew Bible as well as several Deuterocanonical books. Its exact contents differ in the various Christian denominations.

The Protestant Old Testament is, for the most part, identical with the Hebrew Bible. The differences between the Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Old Testament are minor, dealing only with the arrangement and number of the books. For example, while the Hebrew Bible considers Kings to be a unified text, the Protestant Old Testament divides it into two books. Similarly, Ezra and Nehemiah are considered to be one book in the Hebrew Bible.

The differences between the Hebrew Bible and other versions of the Old Testament such as the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac, Latin, Greek and other canons, are greater. Many of these canons include books and even sections of books that the others do not. For a full discussion of these differences, see Books of the Bible.

Following Jerome's Veritas Hebraica, the Protestant Old Testament consists of the same books as the Hebrew Bible, but the order and numbering of the books are different. Protestants number the Old Testament books at 39, while the Jews number the same books as 24. This is because the Jews consider Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles to form one book each, group the 12 minor prophets into one book, and also consider Ezra and Nehemiah a single book.

The traditional explanation of the development of the Old Testament canon describes two sets of Old Testament books, the protocanonical and the deuterocanonical (or Biblical apocrypha) books. According to this theory, certain Church fathers accepted the inclusion of the deuterocanonical books based on their inclusion in the Septuagint (most notably Augustine), while others disputed their status and did not accept them as divinely inspired scripture (most notably Jerome). Michael Barber argues that this reconstruction is grossly inaccurate.[1]

~ Books of the Old Testament ~
The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh.

Canon common to Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity (excepting the minority of Protestant denominations sometimes called New Testament only Christians which reject the "Old Testament")

Canon Common to Judaism and Christianity but excluded by Samaritans

These are one book in the Jewish Bible, called "Trei Asar" or "Twelve".

Included by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, but excluded by Jews, Samaritans and most Protestants:
Included by Orthodox (Synod of Jerusalem):
Included by Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox:
Included by Ethiopian Orthodox:
Included by Syriac Peshitta Bible:

Development of the New Testament canonEdit

The development of the New Testament canon was, like that of the Old Testament, a gradual process.

Irenaeus quotes and cites 21 books that would end up as part of the New Testament, the excluded ones being Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude.[2] By the early 200's, Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books as in the modern New Testament, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation[3], see also Antilegomena. Likewise by 200 the Muratorian fragment shows that there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the New Testament, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them.[4] Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christian authorities by the middle of the second century.[5]

In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the New Testament canon,[6] and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them.[7] The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was confirmed by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419[8]. These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.[9] Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above,[10] or if not the list is at least a sixth century compilation.[11] Likewise, Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, circa 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West.[12] In 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the church."[13]

Thus, from the fourth century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today),[14] and by the fifth century the Eastern Church, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon.[15] However, official finalizations of the canon were not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism,[16] the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox.

~ Books of the New Testament ~

ReferencesEdit

  1. Barber, Michael (2006-03-04). "Loose Canons: The Development of the Old Testament (Part 1)". http://singinginthereign.blogspot.com/2006/03/loose-canons-development-of-old.html. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  2. Bruce, F. F. The Books and the Parchments. (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963) p. 109.
  3. Both points taken from Mark A. Noll's Turning Points, (Baker Academic, 1997) pp. 36–37.
  4. H. J. De Jonge, "The New Testament Canon," in The Biblical Canons. eds. de Jonge & J. M. Auwers (Leuven University Press, 2003) p. 315.
  5. The Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1) eds. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 308.
  6. Lindberg, Carter (2006). A Brief History of Christianity. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 15. ISBN 1405110783. 
  7. David Brakke, "Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria's Thirty Ninth Festal Letter," in Harvard Theological Review 87 (1994) pp. 395–419.
  8. The Book of Revelation wasn't added till the 419 Synod of Carthage according to McDonald & Sanders's The Canon Debate, Appendix D-2, page 595, note 19.
  9. Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) p. 320; F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 230; cf. Augustine, De Civitate Dei 22.8
  10. Lindberg, Carter (2006). A Brief History of Christianity. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 15. ISBN 1405110783. 
  11. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 234
  12. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 225
  13. Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) p. 320, which cites: Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origins, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) pp. 237–238, and F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 97
  14. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 215
  15. The Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1) eds. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 305; cf. the Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the New Testament
  16. Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the New Testament

Further readingEdit

  • Armstrong, Karen (2007) The Bible: A Biography. Books that Changes the World Series. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0871139693

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