Understanding The Bible
Part I - Introduction to the Canon of Scripture


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


    1. The PURPOSE of the course
      To determine why, when, and how the 66 books of the Bible (Protestant) were united in one volume; to answer the question "Is any book added or omitted which should not be?"
    2. The METHOD of study
      An investigation of historic facts; what the Jews and early Church actually did -- not what we wish they had done or think they did.
    3. Two things assumed and not investigated
      1. Inspiration - it is assumed God revealed Himself in certain writings.
      2. Authorship - it is assumed that the books were written by those whose names appear as authors.
        These two things pertain to entirely different fields of study covered in other courses.
    4. The meaning of the word "canon"
      1. Originally meant "a measuring rod." In the course of time it became used metaphorically for "anything that serves to regulate other things" or "the things so regulated." Cp. NT usage in Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 10:13-16.
    5. Where does authority reside--in the church or the writings themselves?
      1. The Roman Catholic Church claims that authority resides in the church; this is illogical. The Roman Church claims to get its authority for existence from Christ. But the only things known about Christ and the sayings which they allege give them basis for understanding authority came to them through Peter are found in the Bible (e.g., Matthew 16:18-19). Yet, the Romanists claim the right to determine what is the Bible. How can an organization get authority from something yet to be investigated to determine whether it (the thing under investigation) is authoritative or not? This is arguing in a circle, like a dog trying to catch his own tail. (This type of reasoning reminds one of the evolutionist who "proves" the age of the fossil by the stratum of rock in which it is found, and then turns around and "proves" the .age of the stratum by the relative development of the fossil in the scale of animal life!)
      2. The Protestant Church holds that authority for recognizing certain books as worthy of a place in the canon rests IN THE WRITINGS THEMSELVES. Truth is truth whether recognized and accepted, or ignored or rejected. A red light is red whether we drive through it or not. No book is canonical because a Church Council said so. It was inherently authoritative in itself, and men of God simply recognized the fact through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. The Gallican Confession beautifully states it thus: "We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule (canon) of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church as by the testimony and inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books." Another writer has put it: "The Bible is not an authorized collection of books, but a collection of authorized books."
    6. Inadequate tests for canonicity
      1. Age test
        It was the suggestion of Eichhorn that the oldest books were venerated most and hence considered canonical. This view cannot be sustained since in the accepted Scriptures themselves we find reference to older religious literature which was not considered canonical. Cp. Numbers 21:14; Joshua 10:13; 1 Chronicles 29:29 (Chronicles alone makes reference to 25 extra-biblical books according to ISBE).
      2. Hebrew language
        This suggestion being made by Hitsig claims that the fact that the book be written in Hebrew was sufficient to establish it as canonical. We object to this view for the reason that other religious writings were written in Hebrew but were omitted from the OT canon. Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, and 1 Maccabees are examples of non-canonical Hebrew literature. Also, portions of Daniel and Ezra are in Aramaic.
      3. Conformity to the Law
        The theory is advanced that the Law is the real canon and that the agreement of other literature with it was sufficient to establish the canonicity of the agreeing literature. Such a theory does not stand the test of fact since there are examples of non-canonical literature which are consistent with the spirit and the letter of the Law.
      4. Pragmatic test
        This theory suggests that each book was tested by private use for a longer or shorter period of time. If it manifested "the loftiest morals and the spiritual power to elevate," it was accepted. This is putting the cart before the horse. As W. H. Green writes, "It is not the religious profit derived from these books which led to their admission into the canon, but it is their being inspired of God to guide the faith and practice of His people, i.e., their canonicity, which makes them profitable to the religious life."
    7. The true, guiding principle in the determining of the canon
      There was no formal declaration of the canonicity of a particular book. It was not necessary. Just as the spoken words of the men of God were deemed authoritative, so the written words. Their books were accepted immediately and the growth of the canon was a gradual growth. In this connection, check the following references: Deuteronomy 31:24-26; 31:10-13; 17:18-19; Psalms 1:2; Joshua 24:26; 1 Samuel 10:25; 2 Kings (The Jewish community never considered the Apocrypha as canonical).


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