What is the Canon?

Having established the reliability of the Bible by referring to the oldest existing copies to verify what we have in our hands today, let us continue to examine another question: why are these sixty-six books special? In other words, what is the canon?

The canon is defined as the accepted list of books with authority. Contrary to what you read in The Da Vinci Code, the Bible is not a book written by humans, formed by the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. A committee did not pick the books of the Bible from a vast catalogue or library of sources. The books were added through time as a prophet was recognized as God’s messenger, and his message from God was written down, collected, and used by people. The Bible starts by God speaking through Moses. He wrote the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. As these were saved, they were read according to the command in Deuteronomy 31:10-11. “Then Moses commanded them: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing.’” The Emperor Constantine didn’t pick the books of the Bible in 325 AD; Moses was writing about 1400 BC, and the Scriptures continued to be added as prophets received messages from God.

Daniel 9:2 gives us another example of this process of the Bible’s “growth”. “In the first year of (Darius’) reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” In the book of Daniel, Daniel states that he was reading the book of Jeremiah, since it was a message that God had revealed to Jeremiah. (Specifically, the prophecy was that God’s people would be in captivity in Babylon for seventy years, and then could return to Jerusalem.) Notice that God had spoken a message to Jeremiah; it was written down, collected, and used later by Daniel. Daniel says that this was during Darius’ first year in power in Babylon, which was 537 BC. There’s no way the Council of Nicea in 325 AD picked the books of the Bible—the Bible had grown through time! Or, to quote Josh McDowell, “the church did not create the canon; it did not determine which books would be called Scripture, the inspired Word of God. Instead, the church recognized, or discovered, which books had been inspired from their inception.”

When you read the thirty-nine Old Testament books from Genesis to Malachi, that’s all that God had revealed through the prophets. From the fourth century BC onward, the Jews were convinced that “the voice of God had ceased to speak directly. In other words, the prophetic voices had been stilled. No word from God meant no new Word of God. Without prophets, there can be no scriptural revelation.” Later, in the first century AD, Philo, a Jewish philosopher, and Josephus, a Jewish historian, testified about the Hebrew Scriptures that we know today as the Old Testament.

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