Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Canonicity--Discerned Authority

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

Life is full of gray. We all face choices that are difficult or unclear. Who gets to speak into those choices? Whose voice do you trust? We likely have family and friends who we trust to help us, but sometimes they don't know any more than we do. Whose voice is authentic and has authority to speak? Whose voice always brings wisdom?

Proverbs tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). God is that authentic and authoritative voice. But how do we know which words are God's words? Canonization is the process by which the people of God have answered that question for over two millennia.

Before the birth of the Church, the people of Israel discerned and recognized the Old Testament Canon over a span of about 1,300 years, recognizing various documents and collections as authentic and authoritative: (1) speeches and sayings, (2) individual books, and (3) collections of books. The Old Testament Canon (known as the Tanakh, which includes the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings mentioned by Jesus in Luke 24:44) was fixed around 164 BC.

The New Testament followed a similar path over a span of about 350 years. During the first century, some writings were already recognized (for example, the writings of Paul were recognized by Peter in 2 Peter 3:16). During the second through fourth centuries, lists of books appeared noting sacred writings appropriate for worship and private devotion. In AD 397, at the Council in Carthage, the New Testament Canon was fixed.

Canonicity is a quality of those sacred writings that have divine authenticity and authority. God's people discover this quality; they do not determine it. We recognize the Canon; we do not regulate it. It guides and commands life and ministry (Deuteronomy 31:24-29), and it is our task to read, meditate, and obey (Joshua 1:8-9).

A life well-lived can only happen through wisdom, and wisdom begins by respecting, honoring, and worshiping God. The 66 books of the Christian Bible are the written word of God, discovered and recognized by prayerful believers over centuries and confirmed through use and obedience over the centuries until now. So let us fear God, study his book, and live out the wisdom only he can give.

Deuteronomy 31:24-29
Joshua 1:8-9
Numbers 21:10-15
Joshua 10:12–14
1 Chronicles 29:26-30
Luke 24:44-49
2 Peter 3:14-18
J. R. McRay. Bible, Canon of. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 155–156). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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