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The Christian biblical canons are the books Christians regard as divinely inspired and which constitute a Christian Bible. Which books constituted the Christian biblical canons of both the Old and New Testament was generally established by the 5th century, despite some scholarly disagreements, for the ancient undivided Church (the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, before the East–West Schism).
In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic canon was reaffirmed by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1546), which provided "the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon" by the Roman Catholic Church. The canons of the Church of England and English Presbyterians were decided definitively by the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), respectively. The Synod of Jerusalem (1672) established additional canons that are widely accepted throughout the Orthodox Church.
The Old and New Testament canons did not develop independently of each other and most primary sources for the canon specify both Old and New Testament books. For the biblical scripture for both Testaments, canonically accepted in major traditions of Christendom, see Biblical canon § Canons of various Christian traditions.
Development of the Old Testament canon
The Old Testament includes the books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) or protocanon, and in various Christian denominations also includes deuterocanonical books. Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants use different canons, which differ with respect to the texts that are included in the Old Testament.
Martin Luther, holding to Jewish and other ancient precedent, excluded the deuterocanonical books from the Old Testament of his translation of the Bible, placing them in a section he labeled "Apocrypha" ("hidden"). To counter Luther's "heresy", the fourth session of the Catholic Council of Trent in 1546 confirmed that the deuterocanonical books were equally authoritative as the protocanonical in the Canon of Trent in the year Luther died, reconfirming the inclusion of the deuterocanonical books made almost a century earlier at the Council of Florence. Following Jerome's Veritas Hebraica (truth of the Hebrew) principle, the Protestant Old Testament consists of the same books as the Hebrew Bible, but the order and division of the books are different. Protestants number the Old Testament books at 39, while the Hebrew Bible numbers the same books as 24. The Hebrew Bible counts Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as one book each, and the 12 minor prophets are one book, and also Ezra and Nehemiah form a single book.
The differences between the Hebrew Bible and other versions of the Old Testament such as the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, the Greek Septuagint, the Ethiopian Bible and other canons, are more substantial. Many of these canons include books and sections of books that the others do not. For a more comprehensive discussion of these differences, see Books of the Bible.
Table of books
|The Pentateuch or Torah|
|Common to Judaism and Christianity but excluded by Samaritans|
|Included by Catholics, Orthodox, but excluded by Jews and most Protestants|
|Included by Orthodox (Synod of Jerusalem):|
|Included by Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox:|
|Included by Ethiopian Orthodox:|
|Included by Syriac Peshitta Bible:|
Development of the New Testament canon
Irenaeus (died c. 202) quotes and cites 21 books that would end up as part of the New Testament, but does not use Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude. By the early 3rd century Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books as in the modern New Testament, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation (see also Antilegomena). Likewise by 200 the Muratorian fragment shows that there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the New Testament, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them. Thus, while there was plenty of discussion in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the "major" writings were accepted by almost all Christian authorities by the middle of the second century.
The next two hundred years followed a similar process of continual discussion throughout the entire Church, and localized refinements of acceptance. This process was not yet complete at the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325, though substantial progress had been made by then. Though a list was clearly necessary to fulfill Constantine's commission in 331 of fifty copies of the Bible for the Church at Constantinople, no concrete evidence exists to indicate that it was considered to be a formal canon. In the absence of a canonical list, the resolution of questions would normally have been directed through the see of Constantinople, in consultation with Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (who was given the commission), and perhaps other bishops who were available locally.
In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books that would formally become the New Testament canon, and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regard to them. The first council that accepted the present Catholic canon (the Canon of Trent) was the Council of Rome, held by Pope Damasus I (382). A second council was held at the Council of Hippo (393) reaffirming the previous council list. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Council of Carthage (397) and the Council of Carthage (419). These councils took place under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed. Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above, or if not the list is at least a 6th-century compilation claiming a 4th-century imprimatur. Likewise, Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West. In 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the church." Thus, from the 5th century onward, the Western Church was unanimous concerning the New Testament canon.
The last book to be accepted universally was the Book of Revelation, though with time all the Eastern Church also agreed. Thus, by the 5th century, both the Western and Eastern churches had come into agreement on the matter of the New Testament canon. The Council of Trent of 1546 reaffirmed that finalization for Catholicism in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England and the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for English presbyterians established the official finalizations for those new branches of Christianity in light of the Reformed faith. The Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 made no changes to the New Testament canon for any Orthodox, but resolved some questions about some of the minor Old Testament books for the Greek Orthodox and most other Orthodox jurisdictions (who chose to accept it).
Table of books
- Reid, George J. (1908). "Canon". In Herbermann, Charles George (ed.). The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. pp. 272, 273. ISBN 978-1174601828. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- Reid, George (1908). Canon of the Old Testament. Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- Reig, George. "Canon of the Old Testament." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908).
- Crawford Howell Toy; Israel Lévi (1906). "Sirach, The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of". Jewish Encyclopedia.
- Samuel Fallows et al., eds. (1910) . The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia and Scriptural Dictionary, Fully Defining and Explaining All Religious Terms, Including Biographical, Geographical, Historical, Archæological and Doctrinal Themes. The Howard-Severance company. p. 521.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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- These are one book in the Jewish Bible, called "Trei Asar" or "Twelve".
- Bruce, F. F. The Books and the Parchments. (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963) p. 109.
- Both points taken from Mark A. Noll's Turning Points, (Baker Academic, 1997) pp. 36–37.
- H. J. De Jonge, "The New Testament Canon", in The Biblical Canons. eds. de Jonge & J. M. Auwers (Leuven University Press, 2003) p. 315.
- The Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1) eds. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 308.
- Lindberg, Carter (2006). A Brief History of Christianity. Blackwell Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 1-4051-1078-3.
- Brakke, David (October 1994). "Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth-Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria's Thirty-Ninth 'Festal Letter'". The Harvard Theological Review. 87 (4): 395–419. JSTOR 1509966.
- McDonald & Sanders' The Canon Debate, Appendix D-2, note 19: "Revelation was added later in 419 at the subsequent synod of Carthage."
- Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon", in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) p. 320; F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 230; cf. Augustine, De Civitate Dei 22.8
- F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 234
- Burkitt, F. C. (1913). "The Decretum Gelasianum". Journal of Theological Studies. 14: 469–471. Retrieved 2015-08-12.
- F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 225
- Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon", in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) p. 320, which cites: Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origins, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) pp. 237–238, and F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 97
- F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 215
- The Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1) eds. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 305; cf. the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Canon of the New Testament"
- Catholic Encyclopedia, "Canon of the New Testament"
- Armstrong, Karen (2007) The Bible: A Biography. Books that Changed the World Series. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-969-3
- WELS Topical Q&A: Canon - 66 Books in the Bible, by Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (Confessional Lutheran perspective)