Last week we continued our look at the doctrine of the Bible, especially at the doctrine of Inerrancy, showing that if scripture is inspired by God then it has to be without error, as it would be a reflection of His character, and His character is one of perfection.

There is a word that we use to describe the Bible that originally comes from Greek. This word is “canon.” In Greek the word means a measuring rod or a standard.

Thus, the canon of scripture is the standard by which we are to live. But how does something come to be part of the canon? There are some, mainly in non-protestant churches, that claim that it is the church that establishes the canon.

The problem with this is that that would mean that the church is establishing the standard, and not God. It also places the authority of the at least equal to, if not actually above, the authority of scripture.

Most Protestants claim that the church recognizes the canon but does not establish it. If this is the case, how does the church recognize the canon, the Word of God.

Firstly, let us look at the Old Testament.

In the Hebrew Bible the books that make up what Christians call the Old Testament are collected in a different order.

In the Hebrew Bible the books are collected into three sections. The first of these is the Torah, or Law. This are the books that are also sometimes called the Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. They are the first five books of both the Old Testament and the Hebrew scriptures.

The next collection of books is the Nevi’im, of the prophets. It’s important to note that in Hebrew scriptures “the prophets” refers to more than just books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the minor prophets. Rather it also includes many of what Christians commonly refer to as the “historical books:” Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, et cetera.

The third collection is the Ketuvim, or writings, and this is everything else, things like the Psalms and Proverbs. Thus all thirty-nine books of the Christian Old Testament are included in the Hebrew canon, it is organized differently.

This is the point where you may be thinking, “OK, so what?” but this is important, because when we remember that this is the order of the scripture in Hebrew, we begin to see scripture itself establishing the canon.

Early in Joshua (1:8-9) we see that the Torah, or Law, is already held as canon and as the Word of God. It is the very center of the life of God’s people. Many of the prophets also make reference to the Law, showing that it is to be authoritative and is inspired.

As we come into the New Testament, we see Jesus himself recognizing these components of scripture and affirming their divine authorship and authority. On the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, we read that Jesus reveals all that was written about Him in the Old Testament, beginning with Moses and the prophets.

In Luke 24:44 Jesus says, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” We see Jesus referencing all three sections of the Hebrew canon and establishing that they are authoritative and from God.

As we turn to the New Testament, we see that that here too there are claims made from scripture itself as to the veracity and status of at least some of the works.

We see that Paul quotes from the Gospels and refer to them as authoritative, as he does in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Later we see Peter writing that Paul’s letters are as authoritative as established scripture (2 Peter 3:16).

There came a point, however, where the early church had to create a standard by which they would judge early writings to help discern their authority. This was a three-part process.

First, the works had to be written by an apostle, meaning here not one of the 12, but by an eyewitness. Thus, some great early works that the church held up as worthy of our attention, like the Shepherd of Hermas or the Didache were not included because they were not written by and based on the apostolic witness.

Second, the book must not contradict other scripture; its theological content must be orthodox. This ruled out several works that claimed apostolic authorship, but contradicted works known for a fact to have been written by the apostles.

Finally, the church as a whole had to receive and accept the work. Through a process of prayer, and discernment, the church agreed that this was part of the standard.

There is much more to all of this, but this brief summary should help us see that there is good reason to think that the 66 books of the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, received, recognized and authoritative Word of God.

Next week we’ll talk about the clarity of scripture.

S. Carter McNeese lives in Fairmont, NC with his wife, sons, and various pets. He is pastor at Fairmont First Baptist Church. You can reach him at [email protected]