The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon - Essay Sample

Published: 2023-12-12
The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon - Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Islam Christianity Bible
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1412 words
12 min read


The Scripture is a textual guideline for all the great religions of the world, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It is considered as a sacred book containing the decrees and divine knowledge from God (McDonald, 1995). According to Graham, Scripture is derived back from the ancient, and it not only describes God’s future plans but also indicates the destinies of humans (McDonald, 1995). The book of Revelation (20:12, 15) describes that the Scripture is a book of life stipulating the ways of the righteous and the fate of the dead (McDonald, 1995). Similarly, Surah 57.22 in Islam describes that all misfortunes that occur on individuals or earth are usually prophesied in the Qur’an (McDonald, 1995).

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The Scripture

The Scripture is also an authoritative text for both Christianity and Judaism, where the will of God is revealed. In contrast, Barr argues that in the Old Testament, God revealed himself through other people such as prophets and institutions, including temples rather than sacred written materials (McDonald, 1995). But that did not mean that there were no authoritative traditions in their life. Scriptures were first administered as laws in Israel after the reforms of Josiah but before Ezra’s reforms. In Judaism’s earliest Christian community, the belief was that the Scriptures contained will and revelation of God and that God acted authoritatively through Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection – which had been prophesied in the Judaism’s normative literature (McDonald, 1995). Jesus’ proclamation was also absorbed in the Church’s oral tradition, which was later written down and gained wide attention. It was during this time that the New Testament started functioning as sacred scripture. The NT, however, was not that authoritative as it was not considered to be a scripture since only the book of Revelation is written through inspiration. Although Paul’s writings often involved authoritative communication about Jesus, he was divinely inspired by Jesus since only Jesus alone hold the divine authority (McDonald, 1995).

Four Classifications

Based on ancient Christianity and Judaism, Scriptures were defined by four classifications; a written collection, a divine origin from God, communicating his truth and will on his covenant people, to operate as a long-lasting regulations source for the individual and corporate life of the people (McDonald, 1995). On the other hand, Bentley Layton argues that scripture is just an collection of written religious literature considered to be authoritative in belief, conduct, rhetoric, or the functioning of practical affairs (McDonald, 1995). Nonetheless, Scripture was a written document with a divine status that is authoritative in a faith community’s life.

Conversely, canon is generally described as a body of fixed normative literature that describes the identity and faith of a specific religious community. Hence, in religion, scriptures are a canon; however, a biblical canon is a group of scriptures comprising the authoritative instruction and witness for a religious body (McDonald, 1995). Canon was widely used in the ancient world, although not just in the context of religion, but every domain of human activities. According to Bayer, canon was the basic guideline through which what was true or false and worth exploration could be distinguished (McDonald, 1995). The major sphere that canon was used mainly was that of grammar. Proper grammar was of significant concern in the 25 BCE, and the canon provided the ground - laws and regulations - on which grammar could be evaluated (McDonald, 1995). The canon was first adopted in the religious body in the first century after the Clement of Rome declared the Corinthians as the glorious and venerable laws of their tradition. By mid of the fourth century, the canon had been largely adopted and was applied as the group of sacred writings in the Old Testament and the New Testament (McDonald, 1995).

The first canon of Christian Scriptures was the Eusebius, which focused on the rules of faith or traditions of the church. But there were concerns about whether canon was used a collection of sacred writings or a rule of faith, as his canon referred to a body of writings (McDonald, 1995). Canon of sacred scriptures was widely accepted in the fourth century, as there was a need for a normative to distinguish authentic Christianity since there were many heretical teachings. Therefore, the closed canon of authoritative literature was established. James Sandres outlined the aspects of the canon, including adaptability and survivability – where the literature must be implementable to the life settings and historical situations of the people, and it should be able to survive and promote life in a community (McDonald, 1995).

Christian scriptures, which were majorly OT writings, could not independently articulate the identity of the church, hence the adoption of the NT canon, which provided the earliest canon in Christianity, the story of Jesus. Accordingly, the canon enabled them to establish their identity and give life to their community (McDonald, 1995).

The Canon of the New Testament

Early Christian documents underwent a crucial scrutiny before acquiring the unique status of authority and sacredness in the church. Majorly, they were influenced by certain external factors; however, the writings were subject to an additional criterion used to assess the worthiness of specific literature to qualify in being in a specific collection – canonicity (Metzger, 1997). Besides the criteria, the theological appreciation of the literature’s content, general acceptance among the churches, and historical considerations relating to its authorship were critical (Metzger, 1997). Nonetheless, the criterion by which literature gained sacredness to be included in the canon was majorly influenced by three factors, including conformity to the rule of faith, apostolicity, and agreement among the churches.

Conformance with the rule of faith entailed having the given book corresponding with the common traditions of Christianity, which were recognized as standard by the church (Metzger, 1997). Basically, the content of the writings was the ground basis used in measurement, and which the church would either accept or decline. Besides, conforming with the standard Christian traditions, the truth of the content was also a vital, integral factor which was examined in the content. To the early Church community valued truth as a normative on which teachings and acts could be judged. Tied along with the rule of faith and truth is church canon, which requires a book to adhere to the doctrine and tradition of the church institutions (Metzger, 1997).

The apostolicity criterion was rather the simplest criteria. It typically involved grouping a book based on its recency such that it cannot fit among the prophetic books in the Old Testament (Metzger, 1997). Unlike the prophets, the individual qualification of apostolic authors is that they were prudent historians or eyewitnesses of their writings. Lastly, canonicity was assessed through is the rate of acceptance in the church. Literature that was widely accepted by many churches across a long time was easily adopted as canon (Metzger, 1997). Although the acceptability rate differed from region to region as various regions preferred conflicting writings, all of which were largely accepted and included in the canon.


Considering that the canon is a Holy book, inspiration from the holy spirit is expected not only to form the basis of the writings but also to be a major criterion in determining canonicity (Metzger, 1997). Nonetheless, since it was not used, it does not mean that the writings were not inspired. The early Church believed that all Scriptures were an inspiration from God, yet all other literature including non-scriptural documents, were also considered to be inspired, hence the wide concern as to why inspiration is not a unique aspect that could be used to classify canonical writings (Metzger, 1997). In considering what is non-inspired, Christian leaders, in reference to Scriptures do not consider non-Scriptural writings as inspired. When the difference between the inspired and non-inspired writings was evaluated, non-inspired literature was usually affiliated to false and unorthodox writings and not to any orthodox writings of the Church (Metzger, 1997).

But the recent Church theologians started appreciating the aspect of inspiration of Biblical authors as they were termed as people working under God’s special performance through the Holy Spirit, who used them as a channel to pass his message (Metzger, 1997). However, the major standing is that a Scripture cannot be canonical because the writer is inspired, but instead, the author is believed to be inspired since their writings are classified as authoritative in the Church, hence canonical (Metzger, 1997).


McDonald, L. M. (1995). The formation of the Christian biblical canon. Peabody^ eMA MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Metzger, B. M. (1997). The Canon of the New Testament: its origin, development, and significance. Clarendon Press.

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