Canon Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Canon

When spelled canon and not cannon, this word refers not to an instrument of war but to an agreed-upon body of writing or a church-related regulation. Canon refers to a measure or a standard by which something is assessed. Outside of church circles one may occasionally hear about "the canon of English Literature" or "the canon of Charles Dickens's works" referring to works that meet a certain set of criteria and so are accepted as authoritative. More commonly, however, canon refers to the Bible and to those sixty-six books (thirty-nine Old Testament and twenty-seven New Testament) the early church agreed were authoritative. When determining which books would be canonical and which would be considered apocryphal, the church had an array of standards by which to make this judgment. Among the marks of canonicity for the New Testament were consistency with other already established canonical books, apostolic authorship or clear apostolic influence on / approval of a given book, and evidence that the Spirit had already been helping the early church bear fruit through a given book. There were some strong contenders that did not make the cut and a few (e.g., Jude) that made it into authorized Scripture but were disputed by some early leaders. Although the canon derived from a very human process, the church has long confessed the Spirit's guidance in these matters. The Spirit who inspired these works made sure to preserve them for the church. The canon has long been considered closed and complete, and few if any anticipate any books being added or deleted in the future.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.