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DFW Theology & Apologetics Meetup Message Board › Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria for the Canon of Scripture

Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria for the Canon of Scripture

Todd H.
Group Organizer
Bedford, TX
Post #: 18
We have often discussed which criteria were used to determine what documents to include and exclude from the canon.

Here are the inclusion/exclusion criteria for the canon according to historian F. F. Bruce (summarized from his book, The Canon of the Scripture):

1. Apostolic Authority -- The primary criterion was that the document was either written by an apostle or was written by an author who used an apostle as his primary source.

2. Antiquity -- The document must have been written during the apostolic age.

3. Orthodoxy -- The document must be in keeping with the "apostolic faith" (the faith that was set forth explicitly in the undoubted apostolic writings and maintained in the churches established by the apostles). The questions asked to determine whether doctrine was consistent with the apostolic faith were as follows:

o What does the document teach about the person and work of Jesus Christ?

o Does the document maintain the apostolic witness to Jesus as the historical Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and raised from the dead, divinely exalted as Lord overall?

o For example, the "Gospel of Peter" contained hints of docetism (the heresy that maintained that Jesus' body was not material because only "spiritual" things could be good) by implying that Jesus did not suffer.

4. Catholicity -- The document must enjoy more than local recognition. It had to be acknowledged by a greater part of the church.

5. Traditional Use -- The document should be examined in terms of how it was viewed traditionally. For example, if a work had been known for quite a while to the church but never recognized as scripture, then this work would not be included in the canon. This criterion would also exclude any new works that had just been introduced to the church.

6. Inspiration -- "For many centuries inspiration and canonicity have been closely bound up together in Christian thinking: books were included in the canon, it is believed, because they were inspired; a book is known to be inspired because it is in the canon. How far was this so in the early church? One distinguished student of the early history of the canon has said that ‘apostolicity was the principal token of canonicity for the west, inspiration for the east’—not indeed in a mutually exclusive sense, since ‘in the west apostolicity to a certain extent includes inspiration, while in the east apostolicity was an attendant feature of inspiration’."

One reason why the canon was such an important issue was that, in times of persecution, the early church needed to be able to distinguish between those works that were and were not worth dying for.

The works which carried apostolic authority were to be used in settling doctrinal matters (as opposed to works that were simply edifying to the Christian). Here's what F. F. Bruce says:

"An issue of high importance for theologians in the church was the distinguishing of those books which might be used for settling doctrinal questions from those which were generally edifying. Only those books which carried apostolic authority (together with the Old Testament writings as interpreted in the New) were to be appealed to either for the establishing of truths to be ‘most surely believed’ in the church or for deciding disputed points in controversies with heretics. In such controversies it was naturally most satisfactory if appeal was made to those writings which both sides acknowledged in common. Tertullian in a legalistic mood might deny the right of heretics to appeal to the holy scriptures, but when he himself engaged in controversy with them, it was on those scriptures that he based his arguments (he could do no other) and he expected his opponents to follow his arguments and admit their force. If the heretics refused to acknowledge the books to which orthodox churchmen appealed, or if they appealed to writings of their own, their error in these respects too had to be exposed; but the unique authority of the canonical writings must be preserved inviolable."

As we have discussed during our meetings, having these criteria set forth means that the process by which the canon was established was far different from a bunch of political hacks trading favors in a smoke-filled back room (which is how most detractors tend to portray the process).

I'd be interested in hearing any particulars about "political issues" or "players" in the canonization process.

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