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New Testament Survey

The Canon


The list of books included in the Bible are referred to as the “canon.” This is a transliteration of a Greek word which means rule, rod, or straight line. In other words, the books of the Bible are the straight line of God. Other works which might claim some divine origin are not part of this straight line. Being crooked they do not represent God’s truth.

In general, the test for inclusion in the New Testament rests on three principles.

First, is the work “apostolic” in origin? This does not mean that an Apostle actually wrote the book, but that it may be connected to an apostle in some fashion. For example, Mark’s Gospel is based mostly upon Peter’s experiences.

Second, is the book consistent with the Old Testament and the other New Testament teachings? God never contradicts Himself, so if the Old Testament is accepted as God’s Word, the books of the New Testament will never contradict the Old Testament. Nor will it contradict any of the other New Testament books. The Roman Catholic Church in 1546 accepted certain books (the apocrypha) as being part of the Bible. Protestants do not accept these books as part of the Canon. Among the major reasons for not accepting these books is that they frequently contradict parts of the Old Testament. Further, there are other “gospels” and letters written after Christ. They claim to contain other knowledge about Jesus. They, too, are not part of the Canon, for they have no apostolic origin, nor are they consistent with the other books of Scripture, Old or New.

The books of the apocrypha are as follows:

The third test of the Canon is that the works were widely circulated by the early church. This test is not as simple as it may seem. Remember, there were no photocopy machines in those days. Most of the New Testament was originally written as a letter to one or more local churches. The intent of the writers was that the church would pass either the original or a copy of the letter onto other churches. The test is whether or not a particular book of the Bible was truly circulated in this fashion. This test produced early controversy in the church since some of the books were less widely circulated than others or some churches failed to agree upon the theology or purpose a given manuscript.

Still and all . . .

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
2 Peter 1:20-21


16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Holy Spirit guided the hand of the church in selecting the books to be included in the Bible. Early controversies during the second century show the existence of a Canon which is virtually the same as today’s. And in A.D. 397 the Council of Carthage “approved” the Canon as it now exists. Man had finally gotten to the point of accepting what God wanted them to read!

The Bible, then, both Old and New Testament, must be viewed as follows:

  ✞The Bible is a supernatural book, God’s written revelation given to prepared and selected spokespersons by inspiration.

  ✞It is authoritative and true.

  ✞It manifests unparalleled spiritual worth and a capacity to change lives.

  ✞Its divine authorship conveys to the Bible an inherent unity.

  ✞It is understandable – there are no “hidden” codes or meanings which only scholars or those with special knowledge may discern.

  ✞The 66 books of the Bible are the “canon” or proper books which God inspired. There are no others.

  ✞The views of 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 are true, that only through the Holy Spirit may man truly understand the meanings and purposes of the Bible.

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:12-16




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