The fact of the inspiration of the Bible as God’s special revelation to man naturally leads to the question what particular books are canonical, that is, what books are inspired and should be recognized as a part of God’s authoritative revelation? This is especially true, since many other religious books were written during both the Old and New Testament periods. Are any inspired books missing? Are any books included that should not be in our Bible? Is our Old Testament Bible the same as the Lord’s, and is our New Testament the same as the Bible of the church fathers? These are obviously vital questions for the people of God to determine.
Canon was needed because of the actions of people like Marcion and Montanus. A wealthy ship owner named Marcion sailed from his home near the Black Sea to the capital city of Rome. Marcion believed that the God of the Old Testament was different than the God of the New Testament. The former was distant and loved justice, while the latter was loving and emphasized grace.
Marcion rejected the Old Testament, along with any writings that might reinforce views other than his own. He developed a list of books he considered acceptable: portions of the Gospel of Luke, ten of Paul’s letters, plus a letter purportedly from Paul to the Alexandrians. This list is known as the Marcion Canon. The church had to respond to this. Though nothing had been officially written down, decided, or proclaimed, the church felt most Christians had a sense of what was Scripture and what wasn’t.
Between A.D. 156 and 172, another problem appeared on the scene. His name was Montanus. Montanus was accompanied by two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla. “The Three” spoke in ecstatic visions and encouraged their followers to fast and pray, calling the church to a higher standard of righteousness and zeal. If that was as far as their teaching went, they would have been an asset. But their message included what they called “new prophecy,” which pushed Christ and the apostolic message into the background. The age of Jesus was being superseded by the age of the Holy Spirit, and Montanus was its spokesman.
Was Montanus truly bringing a new prophecy with new authority? Was his prophecy more authoritative than Jesus and the apostles? This question prompted the church to respond a second time.
In A.D. 144, the church of Rome excommunicated Marcion and continued the sifting process on what was Scripture and what wasn’t. The Montanus controversy pushed the church to ask further questions of their Scriptures. Specifically, was God bringing further revelation? Could that revelation be true if it contradicted things taught by Jesus and the apostles? Could new truth change or add to the basic teachings the church had been feeding on for the past century? The answer was no. From this the church concluded that the canon of Scripture was closed.
Pushed by these dilemmas the church developed its list of canonical books. The following are guidelines for accepting a book into the New Testament:
1. Was the book written by a prophet of God?
2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?
3. Does the message tell the truth about God?
4. Did it come with the power of God?
5. Was it accepted by God’s people?
These are the marks of canonicity. “Canon” is a Greek word meaning “rule” or “measuring stick.” These five questions are used to determine which books “measure up” to being labeled divinely inspired. They exhibit “the marks of canonicity.”
Turn to a Bible’s table of contents and you’ll see that each of the books was written by either a prophet or apostle (Ephesians 2:20), or by someone with a direct relationship to one.
Miracles were the means by which God confirmed the authority of his spokesmen. In Exodus 4, Moses was given miraculous powers to confirm his call. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul teaches that the mark of an apostle is “signs, wonders and miracles.”
Truth cannot contradict itself, so agreement with the other books of Scripture was only logical. As was historical accuracy. If the facts of a book were inaccurate, it couldn’t have been from God.
The inner witness of the Spirit was equally important. A key question these early Christians asked was, "When we read this, is there an inner sense from God, that what is written is right and true?"
Initial acceptance by people to whom the work was addressed was crucial. What was the original audience’s sense? Did they accept the book as an authoritative word from God? Daniel, who lived within a few years of Jeremiah, called Jeremiah’s book “Scripture” in Daniel 9:2. Paul called the Gospel of Luke “Scripture” in 1 Timothy 5:18. Peter affirmed that Paul’s letters were “Scripture” in 2 Peter 3:16.
The Muratorian Fragment: Even before Marcion and Montanus, the church was aware of these important criteria. In A.D. 96, Clement of Rome wrote “The apostles were made evangelists to us by the Lord Christ; Jesus Christ was sent by God. Thus Christ is from God and the apostles from Christ. . . . The Church is built on them as a foundation” (1 Clement 42).
After Marcion and Montanus, lists of New Testament books begin to appear. One of the first was The Muratorian Fragment. It was discovered among the Vatican’s sacred documents by historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori in 1740 and dates to about A.D. 190. The fragment is damaged. The portion we possess begins with “the third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke.” We assume the first and second Gospels to be Matthew and Mark. The fragment lists John, Acts, all of Paul’s letters, James, 1-2 John, Jude and the Revelation of John. It also includes the Revelation of Peter, the Wisdom of Solomon and (“to be used in private, but not public worship”) the Shepherd of Hermas.
Eusebius: By the early third century only a handful of books that we now call our New Testament were in question. In western regions of the empire, the book of Hebrews faced opposition, and in the east Revelation was unpopular. Eusebius, a church historian of the fourth century, records that James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John and Jude were the only books “spoken against” (though recognized by others).
Athanasius: In 367, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, wrote an Easter letter that contained all twenty seven books of our present New Testament. In 393 the Synod of Hippo affirmed our current New Testament, and in 397 the Council of Carthage published the same list.
That God would provide and preserve a Canon of Scripture without addition or deletion is not only necessary, but it is logically credible. If we believe that God exists as an almighty God, then revelation and inspiration are clearly possible. If we believe in such a God, it is also probable that He would, out of love and for His own purposes and designs, reveal Himself to men. Because of man’s obvious condition in sin, and his obvious inability to meet his spiritual needs (regardless of all his learning and technological advances), special revelation revealed in a God breathed book is not only possible, logical, and probable, but a necessity.
The evidence shows that the Bible is unique and that God is its author. The evidence declares that “all Scripture is God breathed and profitable …” (2 Tim. 3:16) and that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). In view of this, the logical question is: “Would it not be unreasonable for God to fail to providentially care for these inspired documents, to preserve them from destruction, and so guide in their collection and arrangement, so that they would all be present with none missing, and none added that were not inspired?”
There are a number of important considerations that must be kept in mind when considering the issue of canonicity (or how the books of the Bible came to be recognized and held to be a part of the Bible).
A summary of these issues:
1. Self authentication: It is essential to remember that the Bible is self authenticating since its books were breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). In other words, the books were canonical the moment they were written. It was not necessary to wait until various councils could examine the books to determine if they were acceptable or not. Their canonicity was inherent within them, since they came from God. People and councils only recognized and acknowledged what is true because of the intrinsic inspiration of the books as they were written. No Bible book became canonical by action of some church council.
2. Decisions of men: Nevertheless, men and councils did have to consider which books should be recognized as part of the canon, for there were some candidates that were not inspired. Some decisions and choices had to be made, and God guided groups of people to make correct choices (not without guidelines) and to collect the various writings into the canons of the Old and New Testaments.
3. Debates over canonicity: In the process of deciding and collecting, it would not be unexpected that some disputes would arise about some of the books. This was in fact, the case. However, these debates in no way weaken the authenticity of the truly canonical books, nor do they give status to those which were not inspired by God.
4. Completion of canon: Since A.D. 397 the Christian church has considered the canon of the Bible to be complete; if it is complete, then it must be closed. Therefore, we cannot expect any more books to be discovered or written that would open the canon again and add to its sixty six books. Even if a letter of Paul were discovered, it would not be canonical. After all, Paul must have written many letters during his lifetime in addition to the ones that are in the New Testament; yet the church did not include them in the canon. Not everything an apostle wrote was inspired, for it was not the writer who was inspired but his writings, and not necessarily all of them.
The more recent books of the cults which are placed alongside the Bible are not inspired and have no claim to be part of the canon of Scripture.
The term “canon” is used to describe the books that are divinely inspired and therefore belong in the Bible. The difficulty in determining the biblical canon is that the Bible does not give us a list of the books that belong in the Bible.
Determining the canon was a process conducted first by Jewish rabbis and scholars, and later by early Christians. Ultimately, it was God who decided what books belonged in the biblical canon. A book of Scripture belonged in the canon from the moment God inspired its writing.
The Hebrew Bible of today is substantially the same as the original writings, with only physical changes like the addition of vowel pointings, reading aids in the margins, and a change to a more open form of the letters, etc. In Romans 3:2 we are told that the “oracles of God,” the Old Testament Scripture, had been entrusted to the Jews; they were to be the custodians of the Old Testament. This precisely fits what we know about the Jews and the Old Testament. They have always been a people of one book who have guarded it with extreme care and precision. From the time of Ezra and even before, there were priests (Deut. 31:24-26) and later scribes called "sopherim" who were given the responsibility to copy and meticulously care for the sacred text so they could hand down the correct reading.
To ensure this accuracy, later scribes known as the Masoretes developed a number of strict measures to ensure that every fresh copy was an exact reproduction of the original. They established tedious procedures to protect the text against being changed. For instance, (a) when obvious errors were noted in the text, perhaps because a tired scribe fell asleep, the text was still not changed. Instead, a correction was placed in the margin called "qere," ( meaning "to be read") and that which was written in the text was called, "kethibh," (meaning "to be written"); (b) When a word was considered textually, grammatically, or exegetically questionable, dots were placed above that word; (c) Minute statistics were also kept as a further means of guarding against errors: in the Hebrew Bible at Leviticus 8:8, the margin has a reference that this verse is the middle verse of the Torah. According to the note at Leviticus 10:16 the word "darash" is the middle word in the Torah. At the end of each book are statistics as: the total number of verses in Deuteronomy is 955, the total in the entire Torah is 5,845; the total number of words is 97,856, and the total number of letters is 400,945.
In this we see the painstaking procedures the Jews went through to assure the accurate transmission of the text. Our English Bible is a translation of this Hebrew text which has been handed down to us. God made the Jews the custodians of the Old Testament record. Though their eyes may be blind to its truth (Isa. 6:10; John 12:40; Rom. 10:1-3; 11:7), they have guarded its transmission with great accuracy.
The original copies of the Old Testament were written on leather or papyrus from the time of Moses (c. 1450 B.C.) to the time of Malachi (400 B.C.). Until the sensational discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 we did not possess copies of the Old Testament earlier than A.D. 895. The reason for this is simply that the Jews had an almost superstitious veneration for the text which impelled them to bury copies that had become too old for use. Indeed, the "Masoretes" (traditionalists) who between A.D 600 and 950 added accents and vowel points, and in general standardized the Hebrew text, devised complicated safeguards for the making of copies (as described above). When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, they gave us a Hebrew text from the second to first century B.C. of all but one of the books (Esther) of the Old Testament. This was of the greatest importance, for it provided a much earlier check on the accuracy of the Masoretic text, which has now proved to be extremely accurate.
The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament contains twenty four books, beginning with Genesis and ending with 2 Chronicles. Though this arrangement of the Old Testament is in only twenty four books, the subject matter is identical with the thirty nine book division of our Protestant English Bible. The difference is in the "order" and "division" of the arrangement of the books. The reason for this is that the Protestant canon of the Old Testament has been influenced by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX) made about 250-160 B.C.
Other early checks on the Hebrew text include the Septuagint translation (middle of third century B.C.), the Aramaic Targums (paraphrases and quotes of the Old Testament), quotations in early Christian writers, and the Latin translation of Jerome (A.D. 400) which was made directly from the Hebrew text of his day. All of these give us the data for being assured of having an accurate text of the Old Testament.
The Three Fold Division of Jewish Scripture:
Tanakh = Hebrew Bible
Torah = The Law/The Way
Nevi'im = Prophets (Former & Latter Prophets)
Ketuvium = Writings
1) (Torah) The Law/The Way or The Pentateuch (5 books)—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
(2) (Nevi'im) The Prophets (originally 8 books, then 21)
The Former Prophets (originally 4 books, then 6)—Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 & 2), Kings (1 & 2)
The Latter Prophets (originally 4 books, then 15) Major: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel (3 books) Minor: The 12 (originally 1 book, then 12)
(3) (Ketuvium) The Writings (originally 11 books, then 13)
Poetical (3 books) —Psalms, Proverbs, Job
The Rolls (5 books) —Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther
Historical (originally 3 books, then 5) —Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah (2), Chronicles (1 & 2)
By the time of the New Testament this threefold division was recognized (Luke 24:44). Other designations such as “The Scripture” (John 10:35) and “The Sacred Writings” (2 Tim. 3:15) suggest a generally accepted Old Testament canon. This threefold division was also attested to by Josephus (A.D. 37-95), Bishop Melito of Sardis (ca. A.D. 170), Tertullian (A.D. 160-250), and others. The Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90 is generally considered the occasion whereby the Old Testament canon was publicly recognized, while debating the canonicity of several books.
Evidence for the canonicity of the Old Testament in the New Testament.
(1) Old Testament quotations in the New. There are some 250 quotes from Old Testament books in the New Testament. None are from the Apocrypha. All Old Testament books are quoted except Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.
(2) Old Testament quotations by Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:17-18, the Lord declared that the Law and the Prophets, a reference that includes all of the Old Testament, then summarized as “the Law” in verse 18, would be fulfilled. This declared it was therefore God’s authoritative Word.
Compared to the New Testament, there was much less controversy over the canon of the Old Testament. Hebrew believers recognized God’s messengers and accepted their writings as inspired of God. While there was undeniably some debate in regards to the Old Testament canon, by A.D. 250 there was nearly universal agreement on the canon of Hebrew Scripture.
The only issue that remained was the Apocrypha, with some debate and discussion continuing today. The vast majority of Hebrew scholars considered the Apocrypha to be good historical and religious documents, but not on the same level as the Hebrew Scriptures. For the New Testament, the process of the recognition and collection began in the first centuries of the Christian church. Very early on, some of the New Testament books were being recognized.
Paul considered Luke’s writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Some of the books of the New Testament were being circulated among the churches (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27).
Clement of Rome mentioned at least eight New Testament books (A.D. 95). Ignatius of Antioch acknowledged about seven books (A.D. 115). Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, acknowledged 15 books (A.D. 108). Later, Irenaeus mentioned 21 books (A.D. 185). Hippolytus recognized 22 books (A.D. 170-235).
The New Testament books receiving the most controversy were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
The first “canon” was the Muratorian Canon, which was compiled in AD 170. The Muratorian Canon included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. In AD 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament (along with one book of the Apocrypha) and 26 books of the New Testament (everything but Revelation) were canonical and to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (AD 393) and the Council of Carthage (AD 397) also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative.
The councils followed something similar to the following principles to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit: 1) Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle? 2) Is the book being accepted by the body of Christ at large? 3) Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching? 4) Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit?
Again, it is crucial to remember that the church did not determine the canon. No early church council decided on the canon. It is important to note that religious councils at no time had any power to cause books to be inspired, rather they simply recognized that which God had inspired at the exact moment the books were written.
It was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible. It was simply a matter of God’s imparting to His followers what He had already decided. The human process of collecting the books of the Bible was flawed, but God, in His sovereignty, and despite our ignorance and stubbornness, brought the early church to the recognition of the books He had inspired.
If Scripture is to be our sole authority, on what authority do we know which books belong in the Bible, since the Bible does not state which books should be in the Bible? This is a very important question, because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In the chain of communication from God to humanity, is there a weak link? If so, then the whole chain fails, and the communication ultimately cannot be trusted.
Consider the various "links" comprising God's communication to us:
1) First came God's desire to communicate. This was rooted in His love, for the most loving thing a good God can do is reveal Himself to His creation.
2) Next came the actual transmission of God's Word through human writers. This involved a process the Bible calls "inspiration," in which God breathed the words that the human agents recorded (2 Timothy 3:16).
3) After that came dissemination, as the Word was delivered to its audience through preaching or other means.
4) Then came recognition, as God's people distinguished Holy Scripture from other religious writings.
5) Then, preservation, through which God's Word has survived to the present day, despite many attempts to destroy it.
6) Finally, illumination, as the Holy Spirit opens the believer's understanding to receive the Word.
7) That's the "chain," the demonstration of God's love in the inspiration, dissemination, recognition, preservation, and illumination of His Word. We believe that God was involved in each step of the process, for why would God go to such lengths to inspire His Word, and then not preserve it? Why would He speak to us, and then fail to guide us in recognizing His speech?
This recognition of God's Word is usually called "canonization." We are careful to say that God determined the canon, and the church discovered the canon. The canon of Scripture was not created by the church; rather, the church discovered or recognized it. In other words, God's Word was inspired and authoritative from its inception and it "stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89) and the church simply recognized that fact and accepted it.
The criteria the church used for recognizing and collecting the Word of God are as follows: 1) Was the book written by a prophet of God? 2) Was the writer authenticated by miracles to confirm his message? 3) Does the book tell the truth about God, with no falsehood or contradiction? 4) Does the book evidence a divine capacity to transform lives? 5) Was the book accepted as God's Word by the people to whom it was first delivered?
Of these criteria, the one of most importance was the first one: was the book written by a prophet? If so, the next question would be, "Did the book receive apostolic approval?" This was the chief test of canonicity in the early church. This criterion is a logical result of knowing what an "apostle" was. The apostles were gifted by God to be the founders and leaders of the church, so it is reasonable to accept that through them, came the Word governing the church.
The apostles were promised the Spirit of truth who would bring to their remembrance what Christ had said (John 14:26) and guide them into "all truth" (John 16:13). After the ascension of Christ, the apostles received supernatural gifts to enable their work and confirm their message (Acts 2:4). God's household is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20). Given the apostles' special commission, it only makes sense that the church made apostolicity the number one test of canonicity. Thus, the Gospel of Matthew was considered canonical (it was written by an apostle); and the Gospel of Mark, with its close association with the Apostle Peter (Mark in church tradition a companion and interpreter of the apostle Peter), was also accepted.
When the New Testament was being written, the individual books and letters were immediately accepted as God's Word and circulated for the benefits of others. The church of Thessalonica received Paul's word as the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul's epistles were circulating among the churches even during apostolic times (Colossians 4:16). Peter recognized Paul's writings as inspired by God and equated them with "the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul quoted the Gospel of Luke and called it "Scripture" (1 Timothy 5:18). This widespread acceptance stands in stark contrast to the few debated books, eventually rejected as non canonical, that enjoyed a limited inclusion for a time.
Later, as heresy increased, and some within the church began asking for the acceptance of false religious writings, the church wisely held a council to officially confirm their acceptance of the 27 New Testament books. The criteria they used allowed them to objectively distinguish what God had given them from that of human origin. They concluded that they would stay with the books that were universally accepted. In so doing, they determined to continue in "the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42).
The Antilegomena and Homologumena: The "antilegomena" is a collection of Bible texts that were subject to a high level of skepticism while the canon of Scripture was being established. The word “antilegomena” literally means “spoken against” and was applied to those writings that were accepted by the majority of the early church but had more detractors than other books. The books classified as antilegomena were questioned in different ways and for different reasons than those that were rejected as non canonical. Writings that were clearly seen as "non inspired" or "heretical" were branded as such by the early church.
Another group of writings, known as the "homologumena," was recognized as inspired and enjoyed universal acceptance in the early church.
As the early church grew, it became important to distinguish between God’s Word, and writings that were not God’s Word. The twenty seven books of the modern New Testament quickly became accepted as the canon of Scripture.
However, seven of those twenty seven books were subject to more debate than the others. Those seven were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Unlike the works that were rejected outright, these books contained no obvious disqualifiers. They did not present heresy, they were not clearly linked to a non orthodox church, and so forth. Rather, each fell short in the minds of some early Christians, according to the criteria given before.
Other categories of ancient writings, such as the "pseudepigrapha" ( books that attempt to imitate Scripture but that were written under false names) and "Apocrypha" (non inspired human writings), were viewed in a completely different light as compared to the "antilegomena" (accepted by majority, but spoken against). Even as the New Testament was being written, the church recognized the existence of false writings (2 Thessalonians 2:2). This explains the abundance of caution the church used in officially recognizing works as inspired. The antilegomena were less readily accepted, not because they were flawed but because the early church was exceedingly careful in what it endorsed as inspired text.
The book of Hebrews was considered antilegomena (accepted by majority, but spoken against) because it is technically anonymous. Other New Testament books either clearly state their author or can be traced directly to an apostle. The book of Hebrews does neither, although it matches all of the other criteria for the biblical canon.
The book of James has always been subject to controversy, mostly because of its complex discussion of the relationship between saving faith and good works. For this reason, some in the early church hesitated to accept it, and it was classified as one of the antilegomena (accepted by majority, but spoken against) .
Second Peter is easily the most heavily disputed book of the antilegomena (accepted by majority, but spoken against). More than anything else, the differences in style between 1 Peter and 2 Peter led to debates over whether or not it was legitimate. Over time, mounting evidence won over the skeptics, and 2 Peter was acknowledged to be canonical.
The letters of 2 John and 3 John do not identify their authors as clearly as other New Testament texts. In particular, they use the term "elder" rather than "apostle," which led to some doubt concerning authorship. This wording was not uncommon for the apostles, however, and the short letters of John’s were never doubted to the same extent as 2 Peter.
Jude is an interesting member of the antilegomena. Jude was questioned for making explicit references to non inspired works. Parts of the book of Jude allude to stories told in the non canonical "The Assumption of Moses" and "The Book of Enoch." However, because Jude does not endorse those writings as Scripture (Jude merely uses them as examples to support his points), this controversy was eventually settled.
Revelation has the distinction of being the most persistently questioned of the antilegomena. Though it was never questioned to the same degree as 2 Peter, critics continued to express doubts about it long after other books of the antilegomena had been widely accepted. Revelation’s biggest stumbling block was that its symbolism was open to such wide interpretation. A few early sects attempted to use the book to justify bizarre doctrines, which made Revelation guilty by association in the eyes of some early church members.
Most books of the New Testament were accepted very soon after being written: "the homologumena." The "antilegomena" (accepted by majority, but spoken against) were less readily accepted for various reasons. The extreme caution exercised by the early church led to these seven books being more heavily examined prior to their eventual acceptance into the canon of Scripture.
The pseudepigrapha: The "pseudepigrapha" are the books that attempt to imitate Scripture but that were written under false names. The term "pseudepigrapha" comes from the Greek "pseudo," meaning "false," and "epigraphein," meaning "to inscribe," thus, "to write falsely." The pseudepigraphical books were written anywhere from 200 BC to AD 300. They are spurious works written by unknown authors who attempted to gain a readership by tacking on the name of a famous biblical character. Obviously, a book called the “Testament of Abraham” has a better chance of being read than the “Fake Testament of an Unknown Author.”
While the pseudepigrapha may be of interest to students of history and ancient religious thought, they are not inspired by God and therefore not part of the canon of Scripture. Reasons to reject the pseudepigrapha are:
1) they were written under false names. Any pretense or falsehood in a book naturally negates its claim of truthfulness.
2) They contain anachronisms and historical errors. For example, in the Apocalypse of Baruch, the fall of Jerusalem occurs “in the 25th year of Jeconiah, king of Judah.” The problem is that Jeconiah was 18 years old when he began to reign, and he only reigned 3 months (2 Kings 24:8). There is no way to reconcile the “25th year” statement with the biblical account.
3) They contain outright heresy. In the pseudepigraphal Acts of John, for example, Jesus is presented as a spirit or phantasm who left no footprints when He walked, who could not be touched, and who did not really die on the cross.
The apostle Paul had to deal with pseudepigrapha written in his own day. Addressing the Thessalonian church, Paul says not to be alarmed by a “letter supposed to have come from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Obviously, someone had tried to mislead the believers with a forged letter imitating Paul’s style. Paul was forced to take precautions: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17; see also 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; and Colossians 4:18).
There are many books that fall under the category of pseudepigrapha, including the Testament of Hezekiah, the Vision of Isaiah, the Books of Enoch, the Secrets of Enoch, the Book of Noah, the Apocalypse of Baruch (Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe according to Jeremiah 36:4), the Rest of the Words of Baruch, the Psalter of Solomon, the Odes of Solomon, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Adam, the Testament of Abraham, the Testament of Job, the Apocalypse of Ezra, the Prayer of Joseph, Elijah the Prophet, Zechariah the Prophet, Zechariah: Father of John, the Itinerary of Paul, the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Itinerary of Peter, the Itinerary of Thomas, the Gospel According to Thomas, the History of James, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistles of Barnabas.
The Catholic Bible: The Catholic Bible is different from the Bible used by Protestants. While all 66 books found in Protestant Bibles are also found in the Catholic Bible, the Catholic Bible also contains other books, and additions to books. The Catholic Bible contains a total of 73 books, 46 in the Old Testament (Protestant Bibles have 39) and 27 in the New Testament (the same as Protestant Bibles).
The additional books in the Catholic Bible are known as the deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha. They are Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch. The Catholic Bible also includes additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. There was significant debate in the early Christian church, with a majority of the early church fathers rejecting the idea that the Apocrypha belonged in the Bible.
Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate, under tremendous pressure from Rome, included the Apocrypha, despite Jerome’s insistence that the Apocrypha did not belong in the Bible. The Latin Vulgate became the dominant and officially sanctioned Catholic Bible, and remained that way for around 1200 years. This is how the Apocrypha became a part of the Catholic Bible.
The Apocrypha was not officially made a part of the Catholic Bible until the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation. The early Protestant Reformers, in agreement with Judaism, determined that the Apocrypha did not belong in the Bible, and therefore removed the Apocrypha from Protestant Bibles.
The most popular English translations of the Catholic Bible today are the New American Bible, the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, and the New Jerusalem Bible. Besides the inclusion of the Apocrypha (in books and chapter additions), each of these Bible translations is reasonably good and accurate in how it renders the biblical text into English.
In summary, the Catholic Bible is the version of the Bible promoted by the Roman Catholic Church and used by the majority of the world’s Catholics. Aside from the inclusion of the Apocrypha, the Catholic Bible is identical to Protestant Bibles in terms of the canon (the books belonging in the Bible).
The Reliability of New Testament documents:
There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions (MSS) and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament. This means that no other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the "Iliad" by Homer is second with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Homer dates from the 13th century.
This contrast is startling and tremendously significant.
Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar’s Gallic "War" (composed between 58 and 50 B.C) there are several extant MSS (manuscripts), but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day. Of the 142 books of the Roman history of Livy (59 B.C-A.D 17), only 35 survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books III-VI, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of "Histories" of Tacitus (c. A.D. 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his "Annals," ten survive in full, and two in part. The text of these extant portions of his two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. "The History of Thucydides" (c. 460-400 B.C.) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the "History of Herodotus" (c. 480-425 B.C.). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of "Herodotus" or "Thucydides" is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use are over 1,300 years later than the originals.
The fact of the many documents, plus the fact that many of the New Testament documents are very early (hundreds of parchment copies from the 4th and 5th centuries with some seventy-five papyri fragments dating from A.D. 135 to the 8th century), assures us we have a very accurate and reliable text in the New Testament.