Archive for June 20th, 2012

The Canon of the New Testament[1]

 Lesson 1:  I have titled Lesson 1, The Term Canon.  This section will discuss details of the Greek word κανών; how the word κανών has been used in a variety of contexts; the English usage of the the word canon; the history behind the usage of the word canon; and the correct view of the word canon.  Understanding these valuable aspects and how they relate to κανών produces a valuable tool for apologetics.  Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the student is immersed with these aspects so that the believer maybe able to defend the New Testament from sinful critics that devalue the word of God.

1)  Comes from the Greek word κανών.

The Greek word is κανών is signified as a reed.  The reed is used as a tool of measurement or alignment.  As a result, κανών is used as a metaphor which acquires the basic sense of a “straight rod.”  The purpose of this word was to test straightness.[2]

2)  Moreover, this word κανών has been used in a variety of contexts.

It has been used in art, music, literature, ethics, law, and philosophy as a tool of measurement when testing accuracy.  In Galatians 6:16 Paul uses κανών.  For example, Paul says, “And those who will walk by this κανών (rule), peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  Clearly Paul uses this term to signify the Gospel message as the standard and authentic way to live for the glory of God.[3]

3)  The English usage of the canon.

According to Dr. Robert Thomas, the English usage of canon carried two possible connotations:[4]


(a) Canons may speak of principles, rules, standards, or norms by which a book is measured before being accepted as a part of Scripture. (b) “Canon may speak of an authoritive list of books accepted as Holy Scripture, i.e., the collection of books which measures up to the body of principles referred to in definition.”  Also there is history behind the use of the word canon.”




4)  History behind the usage of the word canon.

The word did not begin to be applied to Christian writings until the mid-fourth century.  The earliest known use of this term can be traced back to Athanasius who was the bishop of Alexandria.  It can be seen used in his Decrees of the Council of Nicea, which was written soon after 350 A.D.  For example, he used this term when he was describing the document known as The Shepherd of Hermas.  In his Easter Letter, he describes some writings as canonical in the 39th “Festal Letter,” which is also called his Easter Letter of 367.[5]  During that same time the Council of Loadicea (ca. 360) used terms such as “uncanonical” (akanonista) and the “canonical” (kanonika) books of the old and new covenants.  As a result, it became common to use the term canon when dealing with a collection of books that are authoritive.[6]

5)  The correct view of the canon.

There are two major ways in which the canon has been viewed:[7]

(a)  “The canon is an authoritive collection of writings.  This is the traditional view of Roman Catholicism.  Note that the authority of the canon is hereby vested in the collection or, in other words, the collecting agency or the church rather than in the writhing themselves.” (b)  “The canon is a collection of authoritive writings.  According to this view, the authority is vested in the writings themselves.  The church merely recognizes the authority that is latent in the writings themselves.  The authority rests upon the fact of inspiration, not upon the agency of collection.  This is the proper view of the canon as will become evident in the discussion which follows below.”

[1]Robert Thomas, “Canon of the New Testament” (unpublished syllabus, 2009).

[2] Merrill Tenney, The New Testament, A Survey, p. 417; Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), p. 15.

[3] Ibid, 15.

[4] Robert Thomas, “Canon of the New Testament” (unpublished syllabus, 2009), 1.

[5]Ibid, 1.

[6] Merrill Tenney, The New Testament, A Survey, p. 417; Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon, 17.

[7] Robert Thomas, “Canon of the New Testament” (unpublished syllabus, 2009), 1-2.

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