The Canon of Scripture:



When we speak of the canon of scripture, the word ‘canon’ has a simple meaning. It means the list of books contained in scripture, the list of books recognized as worthy to be included in the sacred writings of a worshipping community. In a Christian context, we might define the word as `the list of the writings acknowledged by the Church as documents of the divine revelation.” In this sense the word appears to have been first used by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in a letter circulated in AD 367.’

The word ‘canon’ has come into our language (through Latin) from the Greek word kanon.’ In Greek it meant a rod, especially a straight rod used as a rule; from this usage comes the other meaning which the word commonly bears in English-‘rule’ or ‘standard’. We speak, for example, of the ‘canons’ or rules of the Church of England. But a straight rod used as a rule might be marked in units of length (like a modern ruler marked in inches or centimetres); from this practice the Greek word kanon came to be used of the series of such marks, and hence to be used in the general sense of ‘series’ or ‘list’. It is this last usage that underlies the term ‘the canon of scripture’.

Before the word `canon’ came to be used in the sense of ‘list’, it was used in another sense by the church-in the phrase `the rule of faith’ or ‘the rule of truth’.’ In the earlier Christian centuries this was a summary of Christian teaching, believed to reproduce what the apostles themselves taught, by which any system of doctrine offered for Christian acceptance, or any interpretation of biblical writings, was to be assessed. But when once the limits of holy scripture came to be generally agreed upon, holy scripture itself came to be regarded as the rule of faith.

For example, Thomas Aquinas (c 1225 -1274) says that canonical scripture alone is the rule of faith’. From another theological perspective the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), after listing the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, adds: `All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. ‘s These words affirm the status of holy scripture as the ‘canon’ or `standard’ by which Christian teaching and action must be regulated. While the `canon’ of scripture means the list of books accepted as holy scripture, the other sense of ‘canon’-rule or standard- has rubbed off on this one, so that the ‘canon’ of scripture is understood to be the list of books which are acknowledged to be, in a unique sense, the rule of belief and practice.

F. F. Bruce. The Canon of Scripture (Kindle Locations 58-73). Kindle Edition.


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