The Canonicity of Scripture

Where did the word come from?

The word canon comes from the Greek word kanon. According to Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), the basic meaning of the word is “reed” – as in a basket woven from reeds. The basic sense of “reed” yielded to the figurative usage for a “straight rod or staff” since the word was used of sticks for stretching the rim of a shield, or of the weaver’s beam, or of scales. The word then took on a more general sense when used for a measuring rod or ruler, such as, used in architecture. In the Greek world the concept of the canon stood in a close relationship to aesthetic and ethical beauty in the world of conception. But the word also carried over into the moral sphere – as in standard to judge or measure what is right and wrong. Moreover, the word also carried into academy, such as, in mathematics, astronomy or in historical science, for measuring or judging a “list” or “table” – as in mathematics table (3:596-98).

How is the word used in the Bible?

The same Greek word is used in the New Testament. For example:

  • Galatians 6:16 And those who will walk by this rule (kanon), peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
  • Philippians 3:16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Although the word is not explicitly found textually, the translators have included the word for the sake of clarification and due to its overall context.)
  • 2 Corinthians 10:15, “Not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere (ton kanona), enlarged even more by you. (Here Paul is speaking of a measure of assessment in terms of where he is and what he is going through).

So what does the word mean?

By “canon of Scripture” this refers to which books are inspired (i.e., the real authoritative words of God) and be included in the completion of the Bible. The Jewish people and Christians have recognized the 39 books of the Old Testament as inspired. The Protestants have also recognized the 27 books of the New Testament. Hence, the Protestants recognize the total of 66 books of the Bible, whereas, the Roman Catholic Church recognize the total of 88 books since they have also included the Apocrypha (the uninspired, extra-biblical documents that are accepted as “semi-inspired”).

What are some principles for validating the canonicity of Scripture?

1. Christ’s affirmation of the Old Testament (e.g. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10, etc.).

2. Continuity of the Old Testament in the New Testament.

Not only there are various quotations of the OT in the NT, but also affirmation of its authorship like the Mosaic authorship. For example, Christ himself affirmed the Mosaic authorship in John 5:46.

3. Authorship from a credible prophet or apostle.

Was the human author a spokesman of God? Was he a prophet or did he have the prophetic gift?

4. Consistency in when comparing Scripture to Scripture.

What is written in the document and its teachings could not disagree or contradict to other biblical documents. In other words, there is consistency in its meanings textually and/or theologically. “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly – cf. 2 Pet. 1:20, 21” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9).

5. Was the document written in the first century?

Due to the credibility of eye witness accounts. Hence, the older (document) is better than the newer.

6. Affirmation from the early church council.

Some helpful links:


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