The Definition of Canon and Some Criticisms
The term “canon” references those books identified and received by the church as being part of Holy Scripture.1 Luke’s Gospel was known and received to be Scripture as early as the writing of the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of the eighteenth verse in his first letter to Timothy. Early church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria recognized only the four Gospels as being divine apart from the other books, which claimed to be Gospel accounts.2 Many of the books in Scripture were received by the church as divine truth early on, but widespread agreement on the full canon of the New Testament did not come until late in the fourth century.3
Many individuals object to the canonical approach on the grounds it refuses to read the biblical texts as historically conditioned.4 The argument of canonical scholars when it comes to the Gospels is to view the Gospels as a being written under the direction of the Spirit for the catholic church all singing to the Lord Jesus.5 Canonical exegetes attempt to ground their interpretation in the historical context of the writing of Scripture. The canonical approach does not negate history. On the contrary, it vigorously seeks to understand original and historical context.6 It also recognizes the fact that because Scripture is divine truth, it is eternally relevant to the church even though it was written thousands of years ago.
Steps For Identifying The New Testament Canon
There are seven proofs by which the church knows the identity and divine nature of the canon of Scripture. Christians know the divine stamp of canonical Scriptures because of their antiquity, miraculous preservation, contents, accurate predictions, the impartiality of the writers, efficacy of the Word upon men, and finally by the confirmation of miracles.7 Thomas Watson is using these areas to prove the divine authority of Scripture, and any book which would not meet these standards must not be included in the canon. For example, when considering antiquity, there are over five thousand Greek manuscripts containing all or some of the New Testament, the earliest of which are prior to 150 A.D.8
In contrast, Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which are virtually unchallenged in regard to authenticity, have only ten manuscripts which are dated roughly around nine hundred years after Caesar’s death.9 The canon of the New Testament is clearly identified as authentic, as evidenced by its accurate antiquity. God has miraculously worked through His providence to preserve the entire text of the New Testament.10 Any book which does not bear these marks of antiquity and preservation must not be included in the canon, but all of the books in the canon possess these vital identifying marks. Paul mentions the entirety of Scripture as being inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The antiquity of the canon bears witness to its divine inspiration.
Only Twenty-Seven Valid New Testament Texts
When considering the divine identification of the canon, it is important to take the next step and ensure the correct books are actually in the canon. Should books such as the Apocrypha be included in the canon of Scripture? The apocryphal books do not hold up to the test of antiquity when compared to the rest of the New Testament canon. They are outnumbered almost four to one by canonical manuscripts, and the Gospel of John actually has more manuscripts than all of the apocryphal books combined.11 The early Christians prolifically used books, and particularly they used those which would become the canon of the New Testament. Certainly, some ancient texts have solid evidence when it comes to manuscripts. However, no ancient text compares to the overall credibility of the canon of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament.12
Another reason to consider the twenty-seven books as being the sole New Testament canon is the overall cohesiveness of the books. The early church used these writings together in codex formed and linked them together, thereby showing they viewed them as connected and belonging with one another.13 Christians of the early century only consistently treated the canonical books in this special way. Therefore, the witness of the ancient church shows these books alone stand in the canon. The testimony of the united nature of Scripture also adds to this argument. All twenty-seven books of the New Testament are cohesive and belong together. This statement can be made of no other books.
1 Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and The Gospels (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2014), 101.
2 Dictionary of Jesus, 102.
3 Dictionary of Jesus, 101.
4 Dictionary of Jesus, 106.
5 Dictionary of Jesus, 107.
6 Dictionary of Jesus, 106.
7 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015), 28-29.
8 Voddie Baucham, The Ever Loving Truth (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2004), 137.
9 The Ever Loving Truth, 138.
10 James R. White, The King James Only Controversy (Grand Rapids: Bethany House Publishers, 2009), 77.
11 Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 340.
12 The Ever Loving Truth, p. 138.
13 Canon Revisited, p. 358.