Yesterday my family and I finished reading chapter 3, “The Canon of Scripture,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time.
The previous day we’d ended our reading by observing that although early in the history of the church the writings of the New Testament began to be accepted as Scripture, it wasn’t until 367 A.D. that a list appeared containing exactly the same twenty-seven books that are in our New testament. That was Athanasius’ Thirty-ninth Pascal [Easter] Letter. It was accepted by the churches in the eastern part of the Mediterranean world. In 397 A.D. the Council of Carthage, representing the churches in the western part of the Mediterranean world, agreed on the same list. In my post here I said that today I’d consider why the inclusion of some books was disputed and what criteria was used to decide which books to include.
I opened yesterday’s reading by sharing with the family a chart from R.T. Beckwith’s article “Canon on the New Testament” in the third edition of New Bible Dictionary (Inter-Varsity Press, 1996; page 171) showing which books were accepted, disputed, and omitted in these listings of New Testament writings: Irenaeus of Lyons (flourished about 175-195 A.D.), the Muratorian Canon (about 170 A.D.), Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (early fourth century), and Athanasius’ 39th Paschal letter (367 A.D.). We then considered why some books–Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Hebrews–were listed as disputed or were omitted in some lists, concluding with my sharing the suggestions about those writings made by Gregg R. Allison in his Historical Theology (Zondervan, 2011); pages 44-45). I won’t share this material here, but if anyone posts a question about it I’ll draw from the material in replying to the question.
We then went on to discuss the following questions based on questions posed by Grudem in the second half of the section on the New Testament canon in “The Canon of Scripture” and at the end of the chapter:
– Why is it important to have all of God’s words contained in the Bible rather than their also being contained in declarations of the church and writings by Christians through church history?
– How do know we have the right books in the canon of the Bible? (This question is considered on pages 65-68.}
– Are there any books in the canon of the Bible that shouldn’t be there?
– Should we expect more writings to be added to the canon, either new writings or newly discovered older books?
Here is how we answered the questions:
– It is important to have all of God’s words contained in the Bible rather than their also being contained in declarations of the church and writings by Christians through church history because we can be surer that they are God’s words.
– They were written by prophets, apostles, or people endorsed by them; they were recognized by God’s people as containing God’s words; and their teaching is consistent with the teaching of the other books of the Bible. (Grudem considers this question on pages 63-68 of Systematic Theology, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to read the pages together.)
– No. We agreed with Grudem that God would not let His people trust as His Word for so long something that isn’t.
– No, we agreed with Grudem that God would not something be missing from the Bible for so long something that should be there.
We closed by noting the Bible verses that Grudem suggested as a memory passage for the chapter: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV).