In defence of the Authority of the Canon of Scripture

In Defence of the Canon of Scripture[1]

1.      All Christians are called to be read to give a defence of the gospel – 1 Peter 3:15[2], in the same way Paul did[3].

2.      The Canon:
Kanon is Greek for rod, rule or standard, where our word cane comes from. It is a measure, with beginning and end, marked off. This word is used in the context of a message because it is more encompassing then the term "bible". The term "canon" also has the connotation of authority.

3.      The Canon has two testaments: - from the Greek testamentum, a kind of settlement or agreement, between a superior and inferior – ie in the case between God and man.

4.      The Canon as viewed by Scripture as a complete entity.

5.      The Canon is closed – nothing more needs to be added to it and nothing needs to be taken away. It is made up of 66 books, 27 in the new and 39 in the old. Note that the Hebrew Old Testament has 24 books because many of the books are split into two in the modern day Bible, eg Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra & Nehemiah, and the 12 Minor Prophets.

6.      The Canon speaks for it self – no external reference is needed, noting for understanding, the Holy Spirit is required.

7.      In defence of the Canon we are asking ourselves whether we can believe that the Bible we have today is the same as what the authors penned, and hence is a trustworthy book. In the end the question is whether we have an authentic representation of God’s Word and whether we can believe the Canon is the Word of God.

8.      The question of whether a book is the Word of God can only be answered by the Bible itself. In this discussion we cannot over estimated the power of the Holy Spirit. At every point in the history of the bible the Holy Spirit has had his hand on its production and preservation, including the most difficult task of translating concepts, words and grammar from one language to another.

9.      The defence of the Canon can be made with evidence from both inside and outside the canon. It is clear to even the unlearned scholar that the physical evidence is over whelming in favour of the Bible, as being the authentic divinely inspired word of God.

10.  Even a cursory glance at the history of the bible declares its uniqueness.

  • Written over 1300-1500 years
  • Written by 40 authors
  • Written in 3 languages on 3 continents
  • Written in different times – war, peace, drought etc
  • Written in different places – brook, palace, prison, in exile etc
  • Written in different modes – joy, sorrow, confusion etc
  • Written in different styles – poetry, song, law, prophecy, narrative etc
  • Unique in circulation – covering the entire plant, nations and languages
  • Unique in translation – 2200 languages
  • Unique in survival – "time, persecution, criticism, "chopped, knifed, sifted, scrutinised, vilified" (Bernard Ramm[4])
  • Unique in teaching – prophecy, history and character, i.e. sin, of man
  • Unique in influence in literature and civilisation.
  • Unique in power on the sinful soul (sharper than the two edged sword).

11.  Many have tried to add to the 66 books of the Canon. The collection called the Apocrypha such as "The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians" or the "Macabess I & II" etc are not canonical but were included in the early versions of the King James Version. The Vatican has accepted many, but there are few thoughtful Christian scholars who would consider these as authentic divine revelations of God. (This aspect is not covered in the lecture due to time). The failure of these and other texts be consistent with the Canon is a basic tenant of authenticity.

12.  It is evident that if we had an original copy of each manuscript we would be half way to proving the authenticity of the Scripture. What we actually have is a large number of manuscripts (MSS) which are copies written near to the time of the original. For the New Testament many are only within tens of years or for the entire testament with 250 years of the original. For the New Testament there is over whelming MSS evidence.

13.  Compared with our most venerated secular books such as those Plato, the New Testament has more MSS closer to the original than most secular books assumed to be truthful representations of the original. For instance 1300 years elapsed between Plato and the oldest known MSS. Furthermore there are only 7 copies (extant), and yet no one questions its authenticity. (In fact it appears that only Christians question the authenticity of the New Testament).

14.  By AD 325 the New Testament was as we know it today. The Pauline letters were bound (with Hebrews) much earlier than this, along with other books.

15.  We are assured of the evidence internally – the writers of the New Testament were eye witnesses to the events and wrote about them Luke 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1:3, Acts 2:22. External evidence arises from people quoting the New Testament – either from the text itself, or from the text as orally spoken – ie Polycarp actually heard John speak. Secular writings including Jewish writing support the authenticity of the 27 books of the New Testament. Historical documents support the detailed nature of Luke’s record of history, in particular.

16.  The Old Testament has less in the way of documentary evidence but that method of the transcribing and transliteration (especially with names) was much more robust than probably the New Testament.
The Jews had an equivalent to a checksum method (each letter in Hebrew represents a number) and the checking process was vigilant.
Other internal evidence comes from matching the historical narrative with what the secular writers hold to be true. If names of the kings were just made up and inserted into some fictional account of the history the probability that the order would match the known order is very small indeed.

17.  There are MSS available of the Old Testament the most recent being the Dead Sea Scrolls of which the entire book of Isaiah has been found. This particular book matches most modern versions with only very minor differences.

18.  The Old Testament was given its present form by the Maroretics (AD 500-950) who took particular care in its form. Jesus quotes from the Septuagint (Greek form of the Old Testament) even though most accept that parts of it are not well translated. (Jesus authenticates the use of a translated version of the Canon)

19.  There are other writings of the Jews which quote and dissect the Old Testament; these all point to the authenticity of the Bible. For instance the Mishnah (AD200) is a digest of the oral laws of Moses in intricate detail. The Midrash (100 BC – AD 300) is a textual interpretation of the Law. Each quotes the first five books and the Prophets and hence can be cross reference with our modern translations.

20.  The Prophecies attest to the authenticity of the Canon as it does God himself along with the fact Jesus quotes the Old Testament as do the other writers of the New Testament.

21.  Archaeological evidence is also a strong indicator of the authenticity of the stories in the Scripture. The Old Testament repeats itself in some places – some written many hundreds of years later, from a different view point (Samuel vs Chronicles, the latter being the last book written in the Old Testament).

22.  We must, due the over whelming evidence, support the hypothesis that the Canon of Scripture is true and authentic and there is the Word of God.


[1] This sermon was more like a lecture being part of a series on basic apologitics, that included a PowerPoint presentation – not yet published on the web. This lecture did not cover how we got the bible but dealt with the fact we can trust the book that is called the Bible.

[2] 1 Peter 3:15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (KJV).

[3] Philippians 3:16,17 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel (KJV)

[4] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences, Chicago: Moody Press, 1957, pp. 232-233.

David Simon
Feb 2004 (CCC), eEdited 17 July 2010
\Apologetics\The Authority of the Canon of Scripture - Defence.doc