How Important is Understanding the Canon in Biblical Interpretation?

Written by Josiah Nichols

June 7, 2022

Book, Read, Old, Literature, Books

How Important is Understanding the Canon in Biblical Interpretation?

The following is a discussion post originally done to fulfil an assignment for Liberty University’s Hermeneutics class. I attempted to answer the following questions: “Give a definition of ‘canon.’ Where does the word come from and what does it mean with relationship to the study of the Bible? Discuss the development of the New Testament and the criteria of canonicity used by the early church. Why did early Christians feel a need to establish an authoritative list of Scripture? What element in the criteria of canonicity is most important in your opinion? Which element is least important in your opinion? Be sure to give reasons why you chose these particular elements. How would you respond to a person who claimed that the canon of the Bible should still be open?”

The Greek word κανων refers to “rule, regulation, or lit. a level, ruler.”[1] When applied to the Bible, it refers to the collection of books which comprise scripture and Christians hold as authoritative.[2] The early church recognized the sixty-six books comprised today not because of any particular church counsel, but because believers recognized them to be authoritative during the time of their writing. They recognized the books of the Bible as God’s Word as a child recognizes the voice of their father. The reason they had to do so was due to the inauthentic books written in the second century by Gnostics were challenging the church to believe in inauthentic doctrine.[3] The need for determining which books were canonical also was strengthened by the heavy persecution of Christians and burning of the scriptures as Christians needed to know what books they were going to die for.[4]

To determine what books were original, the early church determined three main criteria for a book to be canon: Apostolicity, Orthodoxy, and Catholicity; with other tests being chronologically and historically consistent, noncontradictory, and agreement with the rest of scripture being factors in determining a canonical book.[5] Determining which is the most important is like picking a favorite child. They are all extremely important in determining a biblical text. Having to be from a biblical author was not enough. There are other letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, but only two are considered to be sacred writ. Yet, the mark of Apostolicity is what determines that the canon is close, because there are no more apostles or prophets today. Yet, Orthodoxy is extremely important because it means the scriptures are the Word of God. God agrees with himself, he is noncontradictory. Then the issue of Catholicity shows the church can recognize the voice of their Father in heaven. The books had to be accepted and widely used by the early church.

The main response to a person who believe the cannon should still be open is there are no more prophets and apostles today. They were the only ones authorized and could authorize their friends to write the Scriptures. The scriptures that the church has today are efficient to lead a person to salvation and complete them spiritually for every good work God has prepared for them to do (2 Timothy 3: 15 – 17).

If you want more information on studying the Bible and how to interpret it correctly, check out the store section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of resources to help you get started on your journey to interpreting the Bible better. Also invite Andrew Rappaport and Anthony Silvestro to come to your church and teach you biblical interpretation with their Biblical Interpretation Made Easy Seminar. Andrew Rappaport, Anthony Silvestro, Justin Pierce, and other guests on Apologetics live would also enjoy answering your questions on the live show on Thursdays from 7pm – 9pm CST with the link to the stream yard at strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive. Lord bless you and strive to make today and eternal day for Christ Jesus.

[1] Maurice A. Robinson and Mark A. House, Analytical Lexicon of New Testament Greek, revised and updated (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012), 190.

[2] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 165.

[3] Robert C. Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of Church History, revised and expanded (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan, 2007), 17.

[4] Randal Price, Searching for The Original Bible (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), 157.

[5] Ibid., 151 – 152.

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