Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Canon of Scripture – Video, Audio, and Outline

I recently presented a lecture on the canon of Scripture at our phase one CAPS training in Kermit, West Virginia. The video is from it (677 MB). The audio file (8 MB) is from the September 2007 version of the lecture I gave in Happy, Kentucky.

Right-click here to download audio (.mp3 format).


.doc of this outline (viewable below in part in this post; helpful chart in the download)

.pdf of Mark Dever preaching rotation

.pdf of Mark Dever preaching schedule





I. How can we know what books are the Word of God?

II. What books should be read in public worship?

III. What books are worth dying for?

IV. Why do Protestants not count the Apocrypha as Scripture?

V. Who decides what books belong in the Bible?

VI. What should we think about writings like the Book of Mormon and the Gospel of Judas?

VII. Are there books in the Bible that should not be there?

VIII. Are there books that should be added? What if we found another writing of Paul?


I. Background of the word:

a. Hebrew – qaneh – reed or stalk

b. Greek – kanon – rod or reed

c. English – cane

II. Usage of the word

a. Outside Scripture

i. “common word for anything that was the measure by which others were to be judged” (B. Edwards)

ii. the “absolute standard for pure language” for ancient Greeks (Westcott)

b. In Scripture

i. 1 Kings 14:15 – “a reed” and Job 40:21 – “the reed

ii. 2 Corinthians 10:13, 15-16 – “the rule which God hath distributed to us”

iii. Galatians 6:16 – “walk according to this rule

iv. Philippians 3:16 – “walk by the same rule

c. In the church after the apostles

i. Clement of Alexandria may have used it to refer to the Old Testament

ii. Athanasius used it to refer to the entire Bible (OT & New Testament)

III. Meaning of the word: “a collection of books that are fixed in their number, divine in their origin and universal in their authority” (B. Edwards); not “an authoritative collection of books” but “a collection of authoritative books” (B. Metzger) received (not determined) by the church; “the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem)


For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine…no one has been so bold as to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them.

Josephus (A.D. 37-100)

I. These books date from around 1400 B.C. to around 435 B.C., and are prophetic, consistent with previous revelation, and were recognized/accepted by God’s people.

II. Concept of canon in the OT

a. Ten Commandments - Written on stone; Archived in the ark of the covenant

b. More writings added by Moses (Deut. 31:24-26), Joshua (Josh. 24:26), and others (1 Sam. 10:25, 1 Chron. 29:29, 2 Chron. 20:34, 26:22, 32:32, Prov. 25:1, Isa. 30:8, Jer. 30:2, Dan. 9:2)

III. A Theological Basis for the OT Canon

a. Deut. 18:15-22 - ongoing prophetic office – these words needed to be preserved for future generations

b. 1 Kings 22:8-13 – Josiah and the book of the law

c. Neh. 8:8 – the book of the law preached

d. Malachi 3:1-4; 4:1-6

IV. Concept of OT canon in NT

a. Luke 24:44 – 3 fold division

b. Luke 11:49-51 – Abel to Zachariah would correspond to Genesis to 2 Chronicles (Hebrew order)

c. 2 Corinthians 3:6-11 – reading of the old covenant, Moses

d. No arguments about canonicity of OT in NT; seems to be commonly understood

e. No other literature is quoted in NT as authoritative (except for some apostolic writings); many quotations prefaced with: “It is written,” never referring to books outside the Jewish or Christian canons

V. Other evidence

a. Apocrypha - Prologue to Ecclesiasticus – threefold division

- 1 Maccabees 4:45-46, 9:27 – no more prophets

- 2 Esdras 14:44-48 – 24 books distinguished from others

b. Septuagint (LXX) – translated around 250 B.C.; a body of books was obviously recognized

c. Dead Sea Scrolls – includes all books except Esther as well as additional books; commentaries were written only on books that are in the Jewish canon

d. Other writings: Josephus, Philo, Babylonian Talmud, other Rabbinic literature

VI. What about the Council of Jamnia?

a. Some scholars taught that the canon was not closed until A.D. 90 at Jamnia.

b. However, the council at Jamnia did not determine the canon, but discussed legitimacy/interpretation of controversial canonical books: Esther, Proverbs (particularly 26:4-5), Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Ezekiel

VII. What about the Apocrypha?

a. Numerous quotes from OT in NT, but none of the Apocrypha

b. Josephus: “From Artaxerxes to our own times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets.” (Against Apion)

c. Problems: not accepted by Jews; no Hebrew original; Came to be used through inclusion in LXX; doctrinal and historical inconsistencies/contradictions

d. Denied by many early church leaders, including Melito of Sardis (A.D. 170) and Athanasius (A.D. 367). Jerome included it in the Latin Vulgate because of Augustine (and even he did not give them the same status as the OT).

e. First official declaration calling them canonical was in 1546 at the Council of Trent of the Roman Catholic Church (deuterocanonical, because added later)


There must be no hesitation to state again the [books] of the New Testament; for they are these: Four Gospels: according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, and according to John. Further, after these, also [The] Acts of [the] Apostles, and the seven so-called Catholic Epistles of the Apostles, as follows: One of James, but two of Peter, then, three of John, and after these, one of Jude. In addition to these there are fourteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul put down in the following order: The first to the Romans, then two to the Corinthians, and after these, [the Epistles] to the Galatians, and then to the Ephesians; further, [the Epistles] to the Philippians and to the Colossians and two to the Thessalonians, and the [Epistle] to the Hebrews. And next two [letters] to Timothy, but one to Titus, and the last [being] the one to Philemon. Moreover, also the Apocalypse of John. . . . – Athanasius (ca. A. D. 296-373)

I. A.D. Mid-40s/early 50s to A.D. 95. They were written by apostles or associates of the apostles, are consistent with previous revelation and were recognized/accepted by God’s people.

II. Concept of canon in NT

a. Apostolic parallel to prophets: Eph. 2:20, 2 Pet. 3:2

b. Apostolic reception of revelation: 1 Cor. 2:9, 13, 14:37

c. Circulation of letters to other churches: Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 5:27

d. NT recognition of NT Scripture

i. 2 Pet 3:15-16 (recognizes Paul’s writings as Scripture)

ii. 1 Tim. 5:17-18 (recognizes Luke as Scripture along with Deuteronomy)

III. A Theological Basis for the NT Canon

a. Promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34; “Old covenant had a body of literature; we should expect the new to have one as well” (R. Plummer)

b. Luke 22:20

c. Deut. 18:15 – another Prophet, idea of succession

d. Heb. 1:1-3

e. John 14:26, 16:13-14 – promise of Spirit to teach and give understanding

f. Warning of Rev. 22:18-19

IV. Need for NT canon

a. Need to know what was authoritative to read in worship

b. Need to have the true teaching of the apostles and not false doctrine

c. Need to know which books to die for

V. Debate over recognition of canon

a. Classifications: homologoumena, antilegomena, and notha

b. Lists:

i. Muratorian Canon – all but 4

ii. Marcion (A.D. 144) – rejected OT and much of NT; retained Luke’s writings and 10 of Paul’s

iii. Athanasius (A.D. 367) – 27 books

iv. Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) – 27 books

v. Other lists include Origen (A.D. 240), Eusebius (A.D. 313)

VI. What about other books?

a. Apostolic fathers (many in agree with Scripture but not same quality as Scripture); recognition of NT in Epistle of Barnabas, 2 Clement, Didache

b. Gnostic Gospels (contrary to Scripture with later dates as well) – examples:

i. Gospel of Thomas (and foolishness of Jesus Seminar)

ii. Gospel of Mary Magdalene (and foolishness of Da Vinci Code)

VII. Should we expect any additions to the canon?

    • Grudem states it well, saying that it is difficult “to understand how our sovereign God could have faithfully cared for his people for over 1,900 years and still allowed them to be continually deprived of something he intended them to have as a part of his final revelation of himself in Jesus Christ.”



  1. Read and study the whole Bible for the purpose of knowing and obeying Him.

    • Use a Bible reading plan like M’Cheyne’s or a devotional book like D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (2 volumes) that will help you go through the whole Bible.
    • Use an accurate translation.
    • Memorize God’s Word!
    • Learn and practice proper hermeneutics.
    • Acquire good tools for study.
    • Obey what you learn!

  1. Preach the whole Bible.

    • Acts 20:20, 27 – Keep back nothing profitable; declare the whole counsel of God.
    • 2 Timothy 3:16 – all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable…
    • 2 Timothy 4:1-4 – Preach the Word.
    • Expositional preaching is a must.

i. The Bible is the authority, so the text, not the preacher, must dictate the message. (Mark Dever: The point of the passage is the point of the message.)

ii. Have a goal and create a plan for preaching through the Bible; rotate through different genres of Scripture (law, history, poetry, prophecy, gospels, epistles, etc.).

iii. Preach overview sermons on an entire book of the Bible (the forest) and sermons on smaller units (the trees), but always consider the context of the whole Bible when preaching the parts of the Bible.

  1. Trust the sufficiency of the whole Bible.

    • It is sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).
    • It is the rule for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) in:

i. Our prayers, privately and privately

ii. Our personal lives

iii. Our relationships with others

iv. Our church

1. in serving one another in the body

2. in corporate worship

a. include substantive public Scripture readings

b. order other elements of the service in light of the Word

3. in polity (church government)

4. in pastoral ministry, including counseling

5. in relating to unbelievers

v. Being the instrument of God’s Spirit to save people and grow them to maturity.


Books and Articles

· “Bible Formation and Canon” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003. pp. 200-202.

· Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988. (Standard Reference on this topic)

· Carson, D. A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. pp. 726-743.

· Dockery, David S. and David P. Nelson, "Special Revelation," in Daniel L. Akin, ed. A Theology for the Church. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007. pp. 164-171.

· Edwards, Brian. Why Twenty-Seven? – How Can We Be Sure That We Have the Right Books in the New Testament? New York: Evangelical Press USA, 2007. (EXCELLENT)

· Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986. pp. 203-320.

· Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. pp. 57-72.

· Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000. pp. 388-396.

· House, H. Wayne. Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. pp. 16-24 (16-17 gives NT dates written, 22 gives canon in 1st 4 centuries, 23 gives Patristic quotations).

· McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999. pp. 17-32.

· Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988. (Standard reference on this topic)

· Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology: a Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1988. pp. 105-109.

· Trueman, Carl. “The Marcions Have Landed! A Warning for Evangelicals.” Evangelicals Now, March 2003. Online: <http://www.e-n.org.uk/2105-The-Marcions-have-landed.htm>

· Walton, John H. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. p. 12 (gives chronology of books).

· Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations: the Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999. pp. 100-164. (GREAT REFERENCE)

· White, James R. Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority, and Authenticity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004. (very helpful, especially on Gnostic gospels)


Resources for conforming our lives to the canon of Scripture

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