Dana Burkinshaw: The Canon of Scripture

September 1, 2017

Dana Burkinshaw is an M.Div. graduate of Central Seminary in Plymouth Minnesota and occasionally teaches adult Sunday School at Gospel of Grace Fellowship in the Twin Cities. He recently taught a lesson on Canonicity, and joins Echo Zoe Radio this month to share with listeners the history and qualifications of the Canon of Scripture.


An Outline of the Discussion

(*Much of the content of these notes was copied & pasted directly from Dana's Adult Sunday School lesson materials)

  • ‘Canon' refers to a standard of measure. It comes from the Hebrew ‘Kaneh,' meaning ‘rod' or the Greek ‘Kanon,' meaning a ‘reed.'
  • The differences between the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox canons raises confusion. The Roman Catholic canon includes the Apocrypha, and the Eastern Orthodox canon includes an extra Psalm, as well as more Apocryphal books than the Roman canon.
  • It is not true that the Old Testament Canon wasn't settled until the Council of Jamnia, ca. 100AD. The purpose of the council was to examine the books that had already been accepted long before.
  • Jesus broke the Old Testament down to three sections:
    • The Law: The Books of Moses
    • The Prophets (Nevi’im): Joshua/Judges, Samuel/Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, “The Twelve” (The minor prophets, which were collectively considered one book)
    • The Writings (Ketuvim): Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, Chronicles
  • For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only 22 books, which contain the record of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine.– Josephus
  • The Titles, book order, chapter divisions, and verse demarkations are not inspired. They were all developed much later than the underlying text.
  • …so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” – Matthew 23:35 / Abel marked the beginning of the Hebrew Canon (Genesis 4:8), and Zechariah marked the end (2 Chronicles 24:20-21); Jesus used this illustration to effectively say “all of Scripture.”
  • At the baptism of Jesus, “… a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'” – Mark 1:11. This was a composite reference to the three divisions of the Old Testament:
    • “you are my son” is from Psalm 2:7
    • “whom I love” is from Genesis 22:2
    • “with you I am well pleased” is from Isaiah 42:1
  • At the transfiguration – “A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One: listen to him!‘” – Luke 9:35.
    • this is my Son” is from Psalm 2:7
    • my Chosen One” is from Isaiah 42:1
    • listen to him” is from Deuteronomy 18:15
  • On the road to Emmaus, after the Resurrection: “Now he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.‘” (Luke 24:44)
  • The attributes of canon are: divine qualities: apostolic origin, and corporate reception. The entire process is carried along by the Holy Spirit, and all three qualities are equally important.
    • Apostolic Origins
      …men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:21
    • Divine Qualities
      All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. – 2 Timothy 3:16
    • Corporate Reception
      My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. – John 10:27
  • The Apocrypha (hidden writings): 14 books written between the Old and New Testaments (400 BC – 1st Century AD)
  • The Apocrypha was added to the Roman Catholic canon at the Council of Trent, after the Reformation began in Europe.
  • The Apocrypha itself testifies to not being inspired.
    • So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.” – 1 Maccabees 4:45b-46
    • Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.” – 1 Maccabees 9:27
    • And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise” – 1 Maccabees 14:41
  • The Apcrypha:
    • Was never considered by the Jews as Scripture.
    • Was never quoted by first century Jewish historian Josephus as Scripture.
    • Was never quoted by Jesus or the Apostles as Scripture.
  • Early writings were categorized four ways:
    • Recognized Books: little to no controversy.
    • Disputed Books: Considered scripture by some, but not universally.
    • Rejected Books: Books that were regarded honorably, but not considered Scripture (The Shepherd of Hermes, The Gospel of Barnabas, The Didache.)
    • Heretical Books: Books rejected outright and completely as false. (Forgeries, Gnostic writings, etc.)
  • The Muratorian Canon: Dated around AD 150; contained: The 4 Gospels, Acts, 13 letters of Paul, Jude, 2 (3?) letters of John, Revelation. Missing: 1 & 2 Peter, James, Hebrews
  • Irenaeus of Lyons: a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Wrote “Against Heresies.”
  • The churches, having received this piety and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserve it…
    For the churches that have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those of Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world Nor will any one of the rulers in the churches, however gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these. – Irenaeus of Lyons

  • In addition to the 4 Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and 13 letters of Paul were all accepted without question from the earliest records known today.
  • Apart from James, Jude, 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews and Revelation, all other NT books had been universally accepted by AD 180. Only a few churches hesitated over these 7.
  • Timeline of Canonization History:
    • AD 150 Muratorian Canon – 24 of 27
    • AD 180 Irenaeus of Lyons – 23 of 27
    • AD 240 Origen of Alexandria – 27
    • AD 325 Eusebius of Caesarea – 22 + 5
    • AD 367 Athanasius of Alexandria – 27
    • AD 397 Council of Carthage
  • Athanasius set out the books of the New Testament in the 4th century just as we know them today
  • “These are the fountains of salvation, that whoever thirsts may be satisfied by the eloquence which is in them. Let no one add to them nor take anything from them.” – Athanasius

  • Examples of the Pseudepigrapha (false writings):
    • The Preaching of Peter, The Acts of Peter, The Apocalypse of Peter
    • The Infancy Gospel of James, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans
    • Letters by Herod, Pilate, Joseph of Arimathaea, the woman healed of an issue of blood, Jesus, between Paul & the Roman philosopher Seneca
  • Reasons the Pseudopigraphal books were rejected:
    • They are all so different from the apostolic letters.
    • Not one of them appears among the books used as Scripture by the early churches.
    • All were written far too late to have come from the hand of an apostle.
    • Many of the details in them are hopelessly inaccurate.
  • What Made a Book “Scripture”?
    • Apostolic – does it come from an apostle?
    • Authoritative – does it have the ring of truth?
    • Ancient – has it been used from the earliest times?
    • Accepted – were most of the churches using it?
    • Accurate – does it conform to the orthodox teaching of the churches?
Scriptures* Referenced
  • Matthew 23:35
  • Genesis 4:8
  • 2 Chronicles 24:20-21
  • Mark 1:11
  • Psalm 2:7
  • Isaiah 42:1
  • Luke 9:35
  • Psalm 2:7
  • Isaiah 42:1
  • Deuteronomy 18:15
  • Luke 24:44
  • 2 Peter 1:21
  • 2 Timothy 3:16
  • John 10:27
  • Romans 3:1-2
  • John 10:22
  • [1 Maccabees 4:45b-46]*
  • [1 Maccabees 9:27]*
  • [1 Maccabees 14:41]*
  • Colossians 4:16

*Includes Apocryphal references; not to imply that we hold them as Scripture.

Additional Resources
Related Episodes

Posted at 12:00 pm in: Echo Zoe Radio

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.