Canon = the 66 books of the bible - an established consensus of which books are truly part of the inspired authoritative Word of God based on inerrancy, total consistency, lack of contradiction and perfect fulfillment of prophecy as well as their survival through hundreds of years of scrutiny by millions of believers without a question as to their authenticity as the words of God's Word remaining to be answered. This could not be said of any of the other books. Although many have historical and spiritual value they must always be compared to the 66 books to have each point authenticated and are not to be totally trusted as the 66 books are due to inconsistencies, errors, etc. Thus the phrase 'canon of Scripture' is used to describe the 66 books and none other. A number of early church leaders wrote letters establishing the 66 books as having been tested over the ages and thereby authenticated but this is not to be viewed as an authoritative statement, only a reflection of what has survived the scrutiny of millions of believers and what has not.


"The 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius (367 CE) It was an ancient custom for the bishop of Alexandria to write, if possible, every year soon after Epiphany a so-called Festal Epistle to the Egyptian churches and monasteries under his authority, in which he informed them of the date of Easter and the beginning of the Lenten fast. By fixing the date of Easter, this yearly epistle fixed also the dates of all Christian festivals of the year. In view of the reputation of Alexandrian scholars who were devoted to astronomical calculations, it is not surprising that other parts of Christendom should eventually come to rely on the Egyptian Church for information concerning the date of Easter, made available to the Western Church through the bishop of Rome, and to the Syrian Church through the bishop of Antioch.

From Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter in the year 367:

'Since, however, we have spoken of the heretics as dead but of ourselves as possessors of the divine writings unto salvation, and since I am afraid that -- as Paul has written to the Corinthians [2 Cor. 11:3] -- some guileless persons may be led astray from their purity and holiness by the craftiness of certain men and begin thereafter to pay attention to other books, the so-called apocryphal writings, being deceived by their possession of the same names as the genuine books, I therefore exhort you to patience when, out of regard to the Church's need and benefit, I mention in my letter matters with which you are acquainted. It being my intention to mention these matters, I shall, for the commendation of my venture, follow the example of the evangelist Luke and say [cf. Luke 1:1-4]: Since some have taken in hand to set in order for themselves the so-called apocrypha and to mingle them with the God-inspired scripture, concerning which we have attained to a sure persuasion, according to what the original eye-witness and ministers of the word have delivered unto our fathers, I also, having been urged by true brethren and having investigated the matter from the beginning, have decided to set forth in order the writings that have been put in the canon, that have been handed down and confirmed as divine, in order that every one who has been led astray may condemn his seducers, and that every one who has remained stainless may rejoice, being again reminded of that. Athanasius now in the first place enumerates the scriptures of the Old Testament.'

He then proceeds:

'Continuing, I must without hesitation mention the scriptures of the New Testament; they are the following: the four Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after them the Acts of the Apostles and the seven so-called catholic epistles of the apostles -- namely, one of James, two of Peter, then three of John and after these one of Jude. In addition there are fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul written in the following order: the first to the Romans, then two to the Corinthians and then after these the one to the Galatians, following it the one to the Ephesians, thereafter the one to the Philippians and the one to the Colossians and two to the Thessalonians and the epistle to the Hebrews and then immediately two to Timothy , one to Titus and lastly the one to Philemon. Yet further the Revelation of John These are the springs of salvation, in order that he who is thirsty may fully refresh himself with the words contained in them. In them alone is the doctrine of piety proclaimed. Let no one add anything to them or take anything away from them... But for the sake of greater accuracy I add, being constrained to write, that there are also other books besides these, which have not indeed been put in the canon, but have been appointed by the Fathers as reading-matter for those who have just come forward and which to be instructed in the doctrine of piety: the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobias, the so-called Teaching [Didache] of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. And although, beloved, the former are in the canon and the latter serve as reading matter, yet mention is nowhere made of the apocrypha; rather they are a fabrication of the heretics, who write them down when it pleases them and generously assign to them an early date of composition in order that they may be able to draw upon them as supposedly ancient writings and have in them occasion to deceive the guileless' "


Below is a definition from from Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary:

Canon = This word is derived from a Hebrew and Greek word denoting a reed or cane. Hence it means something straight, or something to keep straight; and hence also a rule, or something ruled or measured. It came to be applied to the Scriptures, to denote that they contained the authoritative rule of faith and practice, the standard of doctrine and duty. A book is said to be of canonical authority when it has a right to take a place with the other books which contain a revelation of the Divine will. Such a right does not arise from any ecclesiastical authority, but from the evidence of the inspired authorship of the book. The canonical (i.e., the inspired) books of the Old and New Testaments, are a complete rule, and the only rule, of faith and practice. They contain the whole supernatural revelation of God to men. The New Testament Canon was formed gradually under divine guidance. The different books as they were written came into the possession of the Christian associations which began to be formed soon after the day of Pentecost; and thus slowly the canon increased till all the books were gathered together into one collection containing the whole of the twenty-seven New Testament inspired books. Historical evidence shows that from about the middle of the second century this New Testament collection was substantially such as we now possess. Each book contained in it is proved to have, on its own ground, a right to its place; and thus the whole is of divine authority. The Old Testament Canon is witnessed to by the New Testament writers. Their evidence is conclusive. The quotations in the New from the Old are very numerous, and the references are much more numerous. These quotations and references by our Lord and the apostles most clearly imply the existence at that time of a well-known and publicly acknowledged collection of Hebrew writings under the designation of "The Scriptures;" "The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms;" "Moses and the Prophets," etc. The appeals to these books, moreover, show that they were regarded as of divine authority, finally deciding all questions of which they treat; and that the whole collection so recognized consisted only of the thirty-nine books which we now posses. Thus they endorse as genuine and authentic the canon of the Jewish Scriptures. The Septuagint Version (q.v.) also contained every book we now have in the Old Testament Scriptures. As to the time at which the Old Testament canon was closed, there are many considerations which point to that of Ezra and Nehemiah, immediately after the return from Babylonian exile.


"The Canon of the Scripture The word "canon" means "a rule, a measuring line, a standard." The word has been used by Christians since the fourth century to denote an authoritative list of the books belonging to the Old and New Testaments. Thus, the 66 books that met the standard as the inspired Word of God found a place in the Canon of the Scriptures.

Our Old Testament Canon includes 39 books, and the New Testament Canon includes 27 books.


The Old Testament Canon Jewish tradition ascribes the Old Testament Canon to Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue in the fifth century B.C. This tradition is based upon Ezra's zeal for God as well as his ability.

For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10) …Ezra the priest and teacher, (was) a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord for Israel: (Ezra 7:11)

Ezra was qualified to take the Old Testament books and determine their authenticity by the overshadowing Spirit. He and the men with him probably then arranged the books in their present form.

Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, confirmed the books of the Old Testament Canon when he wrote his work Against Apion 1:8 in A.D. 90, and he wrote:

'For we (i.e., the Jews) have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing with and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have), but only twenty two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the tradition of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes, very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to those books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them or take it from them; but it becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem those books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.'

Thus, the writings of Josephus tell us the number of books in the Old Testament Canon (22) and that the Canon was "closed" at the time of Artaxerxes (same time as Ezra and Nehemiah).

Josephus' 22 Old Testament books are the same as our 39 Old Testament books. His books were as follows:

1. Genesis 1. Joshua 1. Psalms
2. Exodus 2. Judges and Ruth 2. Proverbs
3. Leviticus 3. Two Books of Samuel 3. Ecclesiastes
4. Numbers 4. Two Books of Kings 4. Song of Solomon
5. Deuteronomy 5. Two Books of Chronicles
6. Ezra and Nehemiah
7. Esther
8. Isaiah
9. Jeremiah and Lamentations
10. Ezekiel
11. Daniel
12. Books of 12 Minor Prophets
13. Job

The difference between Josephus' 22 books and our 39 books can be explained simply. He counted the Minor Prophets as one book (we count it as 12), he counted Samuel, Kings and Chronicles as one book each (we count them as two books each), he counted Ezra and Nehemiah as one book (we count them as two), he counted Ruth and Judges as one (we count them as two) and he counted Jeremiah and Lamentations as one book (we count them as two). Thus, Josephus' 22 books are exactly the same as our 39.

This separation of books happened at the time when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This translation was known as the Septuagint (from the Latin word septuaginta which means seventy) because of the seventy (some say seventy-two) Jewish scholars who were supposed to have prepared it. This translation is commonly denoted by the Roman numeral LXX.

The work was done in Alexandria, Egypt during the second and third centuries B.C. when Greek was the common language of the then known world.

At that time the original Hebrew Scriptures were divided into the following 39 books of our Old Testament:

5 Books of Moses. The Law.

12 Books of History. Joshua to Esther.

5 Books of Poetry. Job to Song of Solomon.

17 Books of Prophecy. Isaiah to Malachi.

This same Canon was confirmed by the Jewish synod of Jamnia about A.D. 90. The decision by these rabbis to close the Canon of Hebrew books resulted from:

1. the multiplication and popularity of false writings;

2. the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) created a threat to the religious tradition of the Jews;

3. the disputes with the Christians over their interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures in preaching and writing.

Four major criteria operated in their decisions:

1. the content of the books in question must be in harmony with the law;

2. the books must come within the time period between Moses and Ezra;

3. the language of the original books had to be Hebrew;

4. they had to be written within the geographical boundaries of Palestine.

The Jews called the Old Testament The Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44).

(The above is a simplification of a complex historical process. For further reading on the Old Testament Canon, please refer to a good, conservative Survey of the Old Testament, Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia.)


Before we leave the Old Testament Canon, it would be profitable to say a word about the Masoretes. The Masoretes (lit. transmitters) succeeded the old scribes as the custodians of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were active from about A.D. 500 to 1000. They were greatly concerned with the preservation of the purity of the text, and they established strict rules to be followed by all copyists of the Hebrew Scriptures. No word or letter could be written from memory. The scribe had to look attentively at each word and pronounce it before writing it down. The number of letters in a book was counted, and its middle letter was given. Similarly with the words, and again the middle word of the book was noted. They collected any peculiarities in spelling or in the forms or positions of letters. They recorded the number of times a particular word or phrase occurred. If any of these figures did not tally with the newly made copy, the work was discarded, and the task began again.

In 1948, a considerable number of very ancient manuscripts were discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea (the Dead Sea Scrolls). Scholars declared that these scrolls of Isaiah and other Old Testament writers were hundreds of years older than any yet found, dating back possibly to the second century before Christ. Many years of intensive study by the greatest Hebrew authorities have revealed only slight differences between the Masoretic text and that of the Dead Sea scrolls, a marvelous tribute to the faithfulness of the copyists, and a wonderful example of the truth of Matthew 5:18:

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.


The New Testament books were written by an apostle or a companion of an apostle.

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

All 27 books of the New Testament were placed in the Canon after they had been treasured by the churches. The churches exchanged letters and copied them, and sent them to other churches. Only letters with apostolic authority were accepted as a part of the Canon. That means the letters had to be written by an apostle or by an apostolic associate.

As far as it is known, it was a letter of Athanasius of Alexandria in A.D. 367 that first listed the 27 books of our New Testament as authoritative.

The Council of Carthage, A.D. 397, said of the already accepted New Testament Canon, "Nothing shall be read in the churches except the recognized canon." They then named the 27 books of the New Testament. They also stated, "A New Testament book must be written by an apostle or an amanuensis (companion) of an apostle." So, by the fourth and fifth centuries, all our New Testament books were generally recognized and others excluded.

(Again, the above is a simplification of a complex historical process. For further reading on the New Testament Canon, as well as on the history of the English versions of the Bible, please refer to a good, conservative Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia.)


The word "apocrypha" means "hidden" or "concealed," and the Apocrypha is the name given to a group of 14 books. These books were written between the first and third centuries B.C. after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

These books were never accepted as canonical by the Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90. However, the Greek Septuagint included these writings. Then, Jerome, in his Latin translation of the Septuagint in A.D. 382 (the Vulgate), also included these books in his bible (even though Jerome noted that these 14 books were inferior to the canonical books). For that reason, they have ended up in the Roman Catholic Bible (since the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546) providing the source for a number of Catholicism's serious theological errors.

None of these books claim divine inspiration; in fact, they include historical, geographical and chronological errors. There are also many instances in these books in which they teach doctrines that are contrary to Scripture. For instance, lying is sanctioned in some cases, magic is advocated and practiced, prayer and offerings are made for the dead, cruelty to slaves is condoned, the pre-existence of souls is taught, original sin is denied, purgatory is taught, etc. The positive value of these books is that they do fill the historical gap between the Old and New Testaments, and they give some insight into the spiritual, philosophical and theological ideas that developed between the testaments.

These books, however, are not inspired and are not to be considered part of the Word of God.


There are a number of extant works that date from the first two centuries, written by leaders and teachers in the Early Church (sometimes called the Apostolic Fathers). Some of these works are: The Epistle of Clement of Rome.

The so-called "Second Letter of Clement to the Corinthians" which is not considered to be written by Clement of Rome.

The Epistles of Ignatius.

The Epistle of Polycarp.

The (Account of the) Martyrdom of Polycarp.

The Didache (or Teaching of the Apostles).

The Epistle of Barnabas.

The Shepherd of Hermas.

The Epistle to Diognetus.

The Fragments of Papias.

Some writings from Irenaeus.

While these works are not considered to be Scripture, their primary value is that they give some insight into the life, times and doctrine of the Early Church since they were written by men who were there (for example, Polycarp was a disciple of John, the apostle).


There is a vast amount of literature called the Pseudepigrapha. Pseudo = false; epi = upon; graphi = write; in other words, "to write upon falsely." This literature found a place in neither the Canon of Scripture nor the Apocrypha. It was written between 200 B.C. and A.D. 600. It was written under names such as Prophets, Kings or Old or New Testament names. There are 18 Old Testament false writings mentioned occasionally (the exact number is not known). There are more than 200 Pseudepigrapha of the New Testament. There are many false "Gospels" such as "The Gospel of Mary, of Thomas, of Peter, of the Twelve," and others. Much of the writing was apocryphal. No Canon or council recognized these writings. Eusebius, an early church historian, said these writings were "totally absurd and impious." '''