You’ll recall from last week’s article that the canon (or question of canonicity) has to do with which books are truly inspired by God and thus rightfully included in the Bible.
The 39 books of the Old Testament have been part of the canon at least since the time of Christ. The 27 books of the New Testament were officially canonized in the late 2nd/early 3rd century.
Keep in mind that the Church doesn’t DECLARE a writing to be inspired (a writing either is or isn’t); rather, we RECOGNIZE a writing as such.
The Roman Catholic Apocryphal Books
The Roman Catholic Church considers 12 additional books to be part of the Old Testament canon. These additional books are generally referred to as the “Apocrypha,” a word that means hidden or concealed.
As Protestants, we do not include the Apocrypha in the Old Testament canon for the following reasons:
1. The apocryphal books were never received by the Jews as God-given Scripture.
2. These books were never accepted as canonical by Jesus or his apostles.
3. Great portions of the books are obviously legendary and fictitious. In addition, there are numerous historical, chronological and geographical errors.
4. Opposition to the apocrypha was strong even within the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually, this opposition was silenced by the hierarchy, which decreed (at the same time) that the “holy Mother Church” alone maintained the right to give the true interpretation of Scripture.
There are other apocryphal writings, many of which are known as the New Testament Apocrypha. They are not considered part of the canon for 3 reasons:
1. They were written much later (after the apostles had died);
2. They were written under assumed names; and
3. Some of the content is quite bizarre. For example, in one of the books, as a boy, Jesus supposedly struck another boy dead for having bumped into him.
Generally speaking, a book had to pass 3 tests to be included in the New Testament canon. First, the book had to have been written by an apostle or sanctioned by an apostle. Second, the book’s teachings had to be consistent with the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Third, the document had to have widespread and continuous acceptance by the Church to be included.
Theoretically, the Church could have erred in formulating the canon, but after 2,000 years, there’s no credible evidence that it did. Bottom line: we can be confident that the 66 books included in the Holy Bible together constitute the Word of God.