Canon, Biblical

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1. Introduction

Understanding of the canon of Sacred Scripture in general requires clarification of the terminology used in this matter, the relationship between inspiration and canonicity, the criterion of the canon for the Catholic Church, and the criteria used in other Christian Churches.

Terminology. The Greek word κανών, from which the English word canon is a direct borrowing, signifies (1) a cane, a straight rod; (2) a measuring rod; and (3) a norm, a law. In the last sense the term is used for a law, or canon, of canon law. In regard to the Bible the term was first used to designate the idea of the Sacred Scripture as the norm of true religion, but it was soon employed also in the sense of norm or list defining what books constitute the Sacred Scriptures. It is in the last sense that the term is used throughout this article. The Catholic canon of the Bible is the list of books that the Catholic Church officially declares to be inspired by God and presents as such to the faithful.

Disagreement on which books are inspired already existed among the early Jews; the Palestinian Jews accepted a shorter list than did the Alexandrian Jews. In the first Christian centuries those books that were recognized by all were called μολογόυμενοι, the books "agreed upon"; those not accepted by all were called ντιλεγόμενοι, "contradicted" or μφιβαλλόμενοι, "doubtful." Since the 16th century the terms introduced by sixtus of siena have superseded the old terms, so that the óμολογόυμενοι are now called protocanonical, and the ντιλεγόμενοι are called deuterocanonical. Catholics today accept both protocanonical and deuterocanonical books as inspired and part of the canon. Protestants generally reject the deuterocanonical books and call them apocryphal. Catholics reserve the term apocryphal for books other than the deuterocanonical books, e.g., the Gospel of James. This latter category of books, which Catholics call apocryphal, are called pseudepigraphical ("falsely titled") by Protestants.

Inspiration and Canonicity. All the books in the canon are inspired, but it is debated whether or not there is or could be any inspired book that, because of its loss, is not in the canon. The Church has not settled the question. The more general opinion is that some inspired books probably have been lost. In 1 Cor 5.9, St. Paul refers to a previous letter of his, and in 2 Cor 2.39; 7.812 he refers to an earlier letter different from 1 Corinthians. However, not all agree on these conclusions. In Col 4.16 Paul speaks of a letter that he wrote to the Laodiceans, which as such is not extant, although it may possibly be our Ephesians. The OT, too, mentions lost books, which may have been inspired (1 Chr 29.29; 2 Chr 9.29; 12.15).

Catholic Criterion of Canonicity. The problem of the criterion of the canon remains only partially solved. Catholics hold that the proximate and ultimate criterion is the infallible decision of the Church in listing its sacred and canonical books. St. Augustine says (C. epist. fund. 5.5; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 25:197): "I would not believe the Gospel, if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me."

But the question remains: By what means did the Church determine the matter? The testimony of Christ and the Apostles, who cite the OT as a sacred work, is indicative of the inspiration of the books they cite. Their testimony may suffice for the entire OT, inasmuch as they often quote from the Septuagint (LXX), which contained both protocanonical and deuterocanonical books. Once the inspiration of 2 Peter is established, the fact that 2 Pt3.16 refers to certain Pauline Epistles in conjunction with other Scriptures (i.e., the OT) suffices to show the inspiration of genuinely Pauline writings. Some hold that the Church in determining the canon preserves a revelation left by the Apostles on this matter. It is difficult to suppose, however, that the Apostles left behind an explicit tradition about the canon. The history of the canon shows too many doubts and fluctuations for this theory to be plausible.

M. J. Lagrange and S. Zarb hold that apostolic authorship suffices to establish inspiration for the NT, and prophetic authorship for the OT. In this case, although Mark and Luke were not Apostles, they wrote down the gospel as preached respectively by Peter and Paul, who thus became the ultimate authors of the second and third Gospels. Christ gave the Apostles a special understanding of the kingdom (Mk 4.11) and promised special guidance (Jn 14.16; 16.13) so that their word was received as the word of God (Lk 10.16; 1 Thes 2.13). Thus, although apostolicity and inspiration are not the same, yet, when the Apostles wrote, they were inspired. Tradition supports this theory. The muratorian canon excludes the Shepherd of hermas as not apostolic. St. Justin (Apol. 1.67; Patrologia Graeca 6.429) says the Gospels are "memoirs" of the Apostles. Origen (Peri archon 1.4; Patrologia Graeca 11:118) says: "It is manifestly preached in the churches that that Spirit inspired each of the holy prophets and Apostles." St. Irenaeus (Adv. haer. 3.1.1; Patrologia Graeca 7:844) says of the Apostles: "They then preached it, but afterwards, by the will of God, handed it down to us in the Scriptures." Tertullian (Adv. Marc. 4.2.1; Corpus Christianorum. Series latina 1:547) says: "The evangelical instrument has the Apostles as authors, on whom this duty of promulgating the gospel was imposed by God Himself." St. Augustine (C. adv. leg. 1.20.39; Patrologia Latina 42:626) says that if the apocrypha attributed to Andrew and John "were really theirs, they would have been accepted by the Church."

Opponents of this view note that not all books of the OT are by prophets and say the patristic texts merely

show that these books were traditionally accepted, but they do not make apostolicity a criterion. K. Rahner suggests that the NT is willed by God as a constituent element of the Church and is inspired in that sense and that the Church is able to recognize its own constituent elements. Although Y. M. J. Congar accepts this view in general, he objects that it minimizes the role of Apostles and prophets. He admits that inspiration was a grace of the primitive Church, but he holds that it was primarily a personal grace of the Apostles.

Protestant Criteria of Canonicity. Early Protestant attempts to solve the problem made the criteria subjective: Luther made the criterion consist in the intensity with which Christ is preached according to the principle of justification by faith alone, and therefore he excluded James from the canon. Others, especially Calvin, appealed to the interior testimony of God given to each reader, or to the edifying nature of the matter, or to its sublimity and simplicity.

More recent Protestant attempts have sought a more objective criterion. T. Zahn tried to explain the origin of the canon by saying that the early Christians used the present canonical books in public worship and eventually came to revere them as sacred. The liturgical reading of the words and acts of Jesus strengthened the religious life

of the Assembly. To this one may object: why was canonical acceptance not given to works like the Shepherd of Hermas, or to the first Epistle of Clement (which also was read at public worship)? A. von Harnack suggested that all the men of the first generation had charisms, and so all that they wrote was considered inspired. The Roman Church, to defend itself against Montanists and other dissidents, in a.d. 180 drew up a closed list of inspired works. Against von Harnack's view is the objection that the Church never put charismatic utterances on the same plane as apostolic teaching. R. H. Grützmacher tries to find a middle way between the historical and authoritative approach. According to him, historical criticism chooses a number of books, as early as possible in origin, from which each Christian by an inner light chooses those on which to found his faith. The Church aids this choice, having worked on the canon for centuries and having settled on those books that experience shows useful for salvation. Another Protestant, G. B. Smith, concludes that only when one admits a divine authority in the Church can there be an infallible canon. Liberal Protestants, because of a loose concept of inspiration, show little concern with the problem of the criterion of the canon.

Bibliography: h. oppel, kann: Zur Bedeutungsgeschichte des Wortes und seiner lateinischen Entsprechungen (regulanorma ) (Leipzig 1937). l. wenger, "Canon in den römischen Rechtsquellen und in den Papyri: Eine Wortstudie," Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 220.2 (1942). h. hÖpfl, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, (Paris) 1:102245. s. zarb, De historia canonis utriusque testamenti (2nd ed. Rome 1934). k. rahner, Inspiration in the Bible, tr. c. h. henkey (New York 1961). y. m. j. congar, "Inspiration des écritures canoniques et apostolicité de l'Eglise," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 45 (1961) 3242. g. b. smith, "Can the Distinction between Canonical and Non-canonical Writings be Maintained?" Biblical World, NS 37 (1911) 1929. j. van dodewaard, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 308314. t. von zahn, Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons, 2 v. (Erlangen 188892) 1:83; Einige Bemerkungen zu A. Harnacks Prüfung der Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons (Leipzig 1889). a. von harnack, Die Entstehung des Neuen Testaments und die wichtigsten Folgen der neuen Schöpfung (Beiträge zur Einleitung in das N.T. 6; Leipzig 1914). r. h. grÜtzmacher, Die Haltbarkeit des Kanonbegriffes: Theologische Studien Th. Zahn dargebracht (Leipzig 1900).

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2. History of Old Testament Canon

The broad phases of this topic can best be treated by a consideration of the history of the development of the OT canon among the Jews and then treating of the history of this canon in the Christian Church. The particular treatment of each of these is noted below.


In the development of the OT canon among the Jews, note should be taken of the early stages in the formation of the three parts of the Hebrew canon, of the motives for the canonization of the sacred books, of the formal closing of the canon, and of the collections of the sacred books among the Jews of the Diaspora and among the Jewish sectaries at Qumran.

Early Formation. The formation of the OT books themselves is a matter distinct from the formation of the OT canon. The former was the material growth of the OT, book by book; the latter was the origin and development of the special attitudes toward these books that saw in them works inspired by God. These two aspects of the story of the OT are so closely akin that they tend to fuse with one another in any discussion of the development of the OT. There is, nevertheless, a true distinction between them, and it is useful to take note of it at the very outset.

The first clear harbinger of Jewish convictions toward the canon of Scripture is met with in Josephus (Contra

Apion 1.3842). He held the hallmarks of the canonical books to be: that their number is fixed, that they are sacred and as such are to be distinguished from all other books, that they are of divine origin and therefore enjoy supreme authority, and that they were written in the span of time between Moses and Artaxerxes I. On this last point Josephus was obviously mistaken, because several of the OT books were demonstrably written after the time of Artaxerxes I (d. 423 b.c.).

The Hebrew collection of sacred books evolved over several centuries. Of this historical process there is not very much definite information at hand. Some have supposed that the threefold division of the Hebrew canon into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings really marks three stages in the development of the collection. According to this view, the first canon was the Law, the second the Prophets, and the third the Writings. There is another point of view favored by Hölscher that sees the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings growing more or less concurrently, with no fixation of the three sections being effected separately at different times. The determination would have been made for the tripartite whole at one time.

The Law. In 2 Kgs 22.8 it is reported that the high priest Helcia (c. 621 b.c.) discovered the book of the Law in the Temple. This was probably the nucleus of Deuteronomy as it is now known (Dt ch. 1226). It was recognized as divinely authoritative, for it was taken as the foundation of a fresh dedication of the people to God (2 Kgs 23.114). The growth of the Torah entered upon a new stage with the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem c. 397 b.c. He promulgated a book of law that is identified by some with the Priestly Code. It agrees with the latter in requiring that the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) be celebrated for eight days, rather than seven as prescribed by Deuteronomy (Dt 16.13).

Frequently the Samaritan schism is introduced as a help in fixing the dates of the Pentateuch. The argument runs thus: The samaritans have a Pentateuch that agrees in substance with that of the Hebrews. The Pentateuch must have achieved its final form and have been acknowledged as inspired at some time before the Samaritan break with the Jews, since it is unlikely that the Samaritans would have taken anything from the Jewish community after they separated from it. The difficulty comes, however, in ascertaining the dates of the Samaritan breach from the available data. The probable conclusion is that the Pentateuch was a complete collection received as inspired at least by the middle of the 4th century b.c., when it is estimated the Samaritan schism took place.

The Prophets. Around the Law as center there soon began to cluster other books that were held in veneration by the people. The Former Prophets, as the Hebrews referred to the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, are known to have been grouped together with the five books of the Law from as early as the mid-4th century b.c. The fact that they were associated in this fashion with the Torah seems to indicate that in the minds of the people these books too were sacred.

As to the Latter Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Minor Prophets), these books were being produced since the 8th century b.c. Eventually they were brought together in a collection. A letter reproduced in 2 Mc 1.102.18 speaks of the formation of a library containing, among others, prophetical books (2 Mc 2.13). Nehemiah (c. 425 b.c.; Neh 13.67) is credited with founding this library. Some understand its establishment as marking an early stage in the collection of prophetical books that were accepted as inspired. Even if all credit is denied to this letter, it is justifiable to conclude that, at the time when 2 Maccabees was written, the Prophets were known as a collection of sacred books. In Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) Ben Sirach (c. 180 b.c.) alludes to the books of the Twelve Prophets besides the three great Prophets (Sir 48.22; 49.710). He appears to know the Prophets as a collection. Daniel (167164 b.c.) makes mention of "the books" and then cites from Jeremiah (Dn 9.2). This can be taken as an oblique testimony to the author's acceptance of Jeremiah's work as inspired. It seems, therefore, safe to conclude that, at least by the beginning of the 2nd century b.c., the Prophets were received as an inspired collection.

The Writings. In the preface, which is usually not considered canonical, to the Greek translation of Sirach there are allusions that imply the existence of the Writings as a collection. These references date from the time when Sirach was translated into Greek (c. 132 b.c.). The translator speaks of "the Law and the Prophets and the later authors," and of "the Law itself, the Prophets and the rest of the books." It appears from this that the third division of the canon was only falling into place at the time, since it had not yet been named. From these words in the preface to Sirach it is obviously not possible to establish the precise number of books or which ones were contained in the collection.

By the beginning of the Christian Era the third group was definitely recognized as inspired, since certain passages in the NT presuppose the Writings as part of the OT by that time. In Lk 24.44, for example, Christ speaks of what is written in "the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" as having to come true. The sacred character of these books is obviously assumed. Though some are dubious about understanding the term in this way, it is very probable that the whole collection of the Writings is referred to under the name of the first book in it, the Psalms.

Josephus, writing at the end of the 1st Christian century, alludes to an OT canon that included the Writings (Contra Apion 1.3842). Philo too is familiar with the tripartite division of Scripture (De Vita Contempl. 25). There is an explicit reference to the Writings in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b15a). Though this would have been written down only after a.d. 200, it probably stems from an earlier tradition.

The Writings do not seem to have been accepted as readily as the Law or the Prophets. Perhaps this is to be explained in terms of the liturgical usage noted below. Though gradually both the Prophets and the Writings found a place in the Hebrew canon, neither of these two was considered to enjoy the same importance as the Law.

Motive for Canonization. The formation of the OT as sketched above marks the stages along the way to final canonization. Canonization in the strict sense came later and involved not only the acceptance of some books but also the exclusion of others. There is no general agreement among scholars about the motives that impelled the Jewish community to accept the OT books as canonical. Some have supposed that certain books were received as canonical because of their legal character; they contain "the canons," the Law. Others maintain that it is an inspired quality of this literature that led to its canonization. These books were regarded as sacred because they contained the Word of God. Östborn's theory proposes that a book was held to be canonical if it had a specific motif, i.e., if in some way it celebrated or at least reported Yahweh's activity. This underlying idea endowed the book with a cultic value, so that it could be employed in the Jewish liturgy of the synagogue. A book in which Yahweh's activity was memorialized was held to be canonical, i.e., religiously right and suitable for worship. Östborn's hypothesis has not convinced many, because his endeavor to discover a fundamental theme throughout the whole OT is forced and open to question at several points.

Closing of Old Testament Canon. From the earliest times the people of Israel held certain writings in the highest regard as having originated from God. In Dt 31.26, for example, the Levites are enjoined to reserve the book of the Law beside the ark of the covenant. Although there are frequent references to the early collecting of books [Dt 31.913, 2426; Jos 24.26; 1 Sm 10.25; 2 Chr 29.30; Ps 71(72).20; Prv 25.1], there is no explicit evidence of an official closing of the OT canon in pre-Christian times. The absence of such information has encouraged speculation. It was believed for a time that the collection of OT books was fixed conclusively by Ezra. The proponents of this theory relied largely on the apocryphal 4 Ezra 14.1948, written c. a.d. 90, about 500 years after Ezra lived. But when carefully examined this passage does little more than ascribe to Ezra some role in the preservation of the OT texts. It does not unequivocally affirm that he was the final arbiter of the OT canon.

At another time it was believed that the OT canon was determined by Ezra together with his associates, "the men of the Great Synagogue." Elias Levita first suggested this in Massoreth ha-Massoreth (1538). The view was approved by Johannes Buxtorf the Elder in Tiberias sive Commentarius Masorethicus (Basel 1620). Buxtorf's endorsement helped the theory gain wide acceptance for a time. Brian Walton also wrote concerning the men of the Great Synagogue: "Their work of establishing the Canon possessed truly divine authority " (Polyglott. Proleg. 4.2, London 1657).

The very existence of the Great Synagogue, to say nothing of its alleged canonizing function, is open to question. One grave objection to its existence is the complete silence about it in the OT itself, as well as in Josephus, Philo, and the Apocrypha. The earliest reference to such a group is in the Mishnaic treatise, Pirke Avoth (c.1), which dates only from the 2nd or 3rd Christian century.

The canon of the OT was not formally and authoritatively defined during the pre-Christian era. It was the threat of the Christian "heresy" with its wide diffusion of Christian writings that led Judaism to make certain decisions about its sacred canon. The books of the Law and the Prophets were exactly known, having been established as sacred by fairly long liturgical use. At least by the beginning of the Christian Era, lessons from the Law and the Prophets were read in the synagogue (Lk4.1619; Acts 13.15, 27). The Writings were credited also with a sacred quality. They were not, however, in general use in the synagogue, except for the Psalms. Thus the people could not have accepted from liturgical practice the books that were in the third part of the canon.

Other factors in the final settlement of the Jewish canon may have been the developing rivalry between Greek and Jewish culture and the rise and spread of apocalyptic literature. The influence both of Greek philosophy and of the proliferating Jewish apocalypses was viewed with alarm by Jewish religious leaders. They moved to neutralize this threat to the faith by establishing a collection of books that Jews could accept as authoritative. The decision taken at Jamnia (Jabneel) c. a.d. 100 by a Jewish synod was the issue of a longstanding discussion about which books, particularly among the Writings, belonged to the canon. Though the action of the synod was given as final and decisive, the canonicity of Esther, the Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes continued to be doubted after Jamnia.

Alexandrian Canon. It is problematical whether one may speak of a LXX canon in the sense of a formally authorized list of books. There appears to be little warrant, direct or implied, for concluding that in the Jewish diaspora any authorized group ever independently took a stand on the canon. All too commonly it is assumed that great differences of opinion divided Palestinian Jews from those of the Dispersion and that the differences sprang from divergent theories of inspiration prevalent in Alexandria and Jerusalem. This is a purely gratuitous inference [see Peter Katz, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der äteren Kirche 47 (1956) 209]. The Hellenistic Jews before the fall of the theocracy in Palestine looked reverently toward Jerusalem and favored religious currents coming from it. Doubts were referred there for solution (Josephus, Contra Apion 1.3036). They turned to Jerusalem for their Scriptures (2 Mc 2.1315) and for its translation [Est 11.1 (Vulg); 10.31 (LXX)]. If they used the deuterocanonical books in the Diaspora, it was because they had received them from Palestine. Moreover, it is not patent that these books gained anything in transit, as though they came to enjoy a canonical status in Alexandria that they had never possessed in Palestine. Canonicity could not have been a problem at that time, for a rigid concept of it had not yet emerged. Palestine, then, was the source of the esteem for the deuterocanonical works. The OT, as it is found in the LXX, reflects, therefore, a tradition older than the present Hebrew Bible in regard to its list of sacred books.

Canon of the Qumran Community. The bearing of the writings of the qumran community upon the question of the OT canon remains a matter for discussion. Although fragments of some of the deuterocanonical books (Tobit and Sirach) have been found among the dead sea scrolls, not everyone thinks that this is sufficient evidence to establish their acceptance as canonical by the Qumran community. The Qumran scribes apparently adhered to a particular script and format in copying unquestioned canonical works; the deuterocanonical books did not receive this special treatment. This treatment of Biblical texts, however, was not invariable; and therefore hard and fast conclusions cannot be drawn from it.

One must keep in mind that the notion of a strict canon was not fully developed at this time. That the deuterocanonical books were copied at all at Qumran would indicate that the sectarians saw them as works of some special religious value. That they were not copied in the precise way as were the Law and the Prophets may merely point to the lesser degree of veneration in which they were held. The Qumran collection, then, was similar to the Greek collection. Neither was absolutely fixed, and both displayed considerable variation regarding their number and arrangement. Both reflected a tradition antedating the Masoretic canon and one less restrictive in recognizing books as sacred.


In the history of the OT canon among Christians, note should be taken of the use of the OT in the NT, of the attitude of the Fathers and writers in the Western Church until the Council of Trent, of the OT canon in the Eastern Churches, and of the divergences between the Catholic and the Protestant canons of the OT.

In the New Testament. An examination of the NT use of the OT shows that the NT writers had the same broad view of the sacred books as the Hellenist and Qumran Jews had of them. The NT writers knew and used a fuller collection that included the so-called deuterocanonical books. The OT of the early Church was not the Masoretic Text (MT), but the Septuagint (LXX), which contained the deuterocanonical as well as the protocanonical books. In the LXX the former were not, as in some later versions, relegated to a limbo of doubt by being grouped together in a place apart. Rather, they were interspersed throughout the whole OT and assigned to places where they seemed best to fit. For example, historical books such as 1 Esdras, Tobit, and Judith found their place following Chronicles and Nehemiah. Books of a poetical character such as Wisdom and Sirach followed Job, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. This led to the acceptance of these books as an integral part of the OT used by the early Church in the West.

Canon of the Western Church. The consensus of the Church through the 2nd and 3rd centuries was favorable to the full OT catalogue. It is supported by Pope St. clement i, St. polycarp, the Shepherd of hermas, St. irenaeus, and tertullian, all of whom employ the deuterocanonical writings as Scripture.

Doubts began to develop in the East in the 4th century. These doubts seem to have emerged as an aftermath of the Christian polemic with the Jews. Since the Jews from the time of the Synod of Jamnia no longer recognized the deuterocanonical literature, it would have been futile for Christian apologists to make use of them. justin martyr says this expressly (Dial. Tryphon ). These hesitations gradually evolved into misgivings about the canonicity itself of the books. Attitudes toward the canon through the next several centuries were marked by a curious discrepancy between statement and practice. Several writers express themselves in favor of the restricted Hebrew canon; yet, in practice, they freely employ the deuterocanonical books as Scripture. The people who lapsed into this ambiguity, again, did not have a clearly thought out concept of canonicity and consequently did not express themselves with precision. Though they seem to imply that the deuterocanonical works were of lesser authority than the protocanonical books, they nonetheless admit that they were received by the Church, and thus they implicitly attest to their authoritative status.

St. jerome (a.d. 340420) distinguished between "canonical books" and "ecclesiastical books." The latter, he judged, were circulated by the Church as good "spiritual reading," but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. St. augustine, however, did not recognize this distinction. He accepted all the books in the LXX as of equal value, noting that those designated as apocryphal by Jerome were of either unknown or obscure origin. Augustine's point of view prevailed and the deuterocanonical books remained in the Vulgate, the Latin version that received official standing at the Council of Trent.

The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries, although the tendency to accept the disputed books was becoming all the time more general. In spite of this trend some, e.g., John Damascene, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicholas of Lyra and Tostado, continued to doubt the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books. St. thomas aquinas has for a long time been listed as a dissenter because of his supposed doubts about Wisdom and Sirach, but P. Synave has argued convincingly to clear him of this imputation [Revue biblique 21 (1924) 522533]. The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the OT Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent.

Canon of the Oriental Church. The Syrian Church employed only the Hebrew canon in the Peshitta translation. Subsequently, under the influence of the LXX, it used a canon substantially the same as the LXX. The Nestorians, however, refrained from this adjustment.

M. Jugie has shown conclusively that from the earliest times through the Middle Ages there was general agreement in the Byzantine Church that the disputed books were canonical. The disputations between Latins and Greeks in the years following the breach show no disagreement centering on the OT canon. In presenting to the Greeks theological arguments that they should find relevant and decisive, the Council of Florence did not hesitate to make free use of texts from the deuterocanonical books to bolster the doctrines on purgatory and the filioque.

Only in the 17th century, because of Protestant influence, was the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books first seriously questioned in the Oriental Churches. Zachary Gerganos (1627), a Greek who had studied at Wittenberg, was the first to dissent from the traditional Byzantine teaching. Such views, aired by others in the East, drew the fire of significant persons both in the Slavic and Greek churches. In Russia, throughout the 18th century, opinion was fluid regarding the deuterocanonical works. Finally, in the 19th century Russian Orthodox theologians universally excluded them from the canon.

The misgivings about the traditional Greek canon in Russian Orthodoxy gradually filtered into the Greek Church, and traditional canonicity became an open question.

Divergences between Catholic and Protestant Canon. Differences between Catholic and Protestant views on the OT canon are the result of differing attitudes toward the deuterocanonical books. The Wyclif Bible (1382), under Jerome's influence, reproduced only the books found in the Hebrew canon. The Coverdale Bible (1535) included the deuterocanonical works. Luther's translation (1534) grouped them together at the end of the OT under the caption: "Apocrypha: these are books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading." The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563) of the Church of England asserted that they were to be read "for example of life and instruction of manners," though they ought not to be employed "to establish any doctrine." The King James Bible of 1611 printed the books between the OT and the NT. John Lightfoot (1643) spoke out against this arrangement because he feared that "the wretched Apocrypha," so placed between the OT and NT, might give the mistaken impression that they form a link between the two Testaments. The Westminster Confession (1647) decreed that the books, "not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God; nor to be in any otherwise approved, or made use of than other human writings." The British and Foreign Bible Society decided (1827) to omit the controverted books in future publications, except for some pulpit Bibles, with this statement: "The Principles of the Society exclude the circulation of those Books or parts of Books which are usually termed Apocryphal." On the Continent the Protestant position does not seem to have changed essentially from what it was shortly after the Reformation.

Edmond Jacob expressed a current of thought in modern Protestantism when he describes the Apocrypha as a "bridge" between the OT and NT and a "link" in the chain of the unity of revelation. He adds that, though their witness is secondary, they should be inserted at the end of the OT as was done at the time of the Reformation[E. Jacob, "Considerations sur l'Autorité canonique de l'Ancien Testament," Le Problème Biblique dans le Protestantisme, ed. J. Boisset (Paris 1955) 8182].

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 308313. e. mangenot, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 2.2:156982. h. hÖpfl, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris) 1:102245. j. hastings and j. a. selbia, eds., Dictionary of the Bible, rev. in 1 v., ed. f. c. grant and h. h. rowley (New York 1963) 121123. w. r. smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (London 1902). m. jugie, Histoire du canon de l'Ancien Testament dans l'église grecque et l'église russe (Paris 1909). m. l. margolis, The Hebrew Scriptures in the Making (Philadelphia 1922). s. zeitlin, An Historical Study of the Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (Philadelphia 1933). g. Östborn, Cult and Canon: A Study of the Canonization of the OT (Uppsala 1950). h. h. rowley, The Growth of the Old Testament (New York 1950). f. v. filson, Which Books Belong in the Bible? A Study of the Canon (Philadelphia 1957). w. barclay, The Making of the Bible (New York 1961). b. j. roberts, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament Scriptures," The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 36 (1953) 7596. a. c. sundberg, "The Old Testament of the Early Church," Harvard Theologial Review 51 (1958) 205226. p. katz, "The Old Testament Canon in Palestine and Alexandria," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der äteren Kirche 47 (1956) 191217.

[j. c. turro]

3. History of New Testament Canon

The complete list of NT books was recognized as sacred and canonical only after a protracted history. The nature of this history and its theological implications will be discussed first. Then consideration will be given to the actual formation of the collection of NT books, the final fixation of the canon, and the criteria of NT canonicity.


The development of the NT canon is an example of the development of dogma. Its history was locally vague and varied and not definitively completed until the Council of Trent.

Historical Summary. Before the middle of the 2nd century the question had never been raised as to what books were sacred or how many sacred books there were. The canon, already implicitly present in the apostolic age, gradually became explicit through a concatenation of providential factors forming and fixing it. God works slowly through men's minds and historical events to produce His ultimate purpose.

The Church in the early postapostolic age was aware of but three authorities: the OT, the spoken word of Christ, and the oral testimony of the Apostles. Only gradually and obscurely did the words of Christ as recorded by His disciples assume the authority of Scripture. Then, as people's memory of the Apostles dimmed, their writings along with the letters of St. Paul, came into prominence as sacred.

To give a summary glance, the 27 NT books may be divided into two categories. (1) The protocanonical books, or books of the "first list": the four Gospels, the 13 Pauline Epistles (excluding Hebrews), 1 John, and 1 Peter. These books were universally accepted from the middle of the 2nd century with practically no doubts or hesitations. (2) The deuterocanonical books, or books of the "second list": Hebrews, Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, James, and Jude. These suffered awkward moments, both locally and universally. The last five had an obscure and fluctuating history of acceptance, especially among the Latins and the Syrians. The Latins doubted the Pauline authorship of Hebrews and therefore also its canonicity. The Greeks and the Syrians, after the 2nd century, doubted the Johannine authorship of Revelation and thus also its canonicity. Besides the protocanonical and deuterocanonical books, there were many rival books for which canonicity was claimed, particularly among the Greeks.

In the East the canon was fluid and extended to many books not now recognized as canonical. Justin's εύαγγέλιον, for instance, was any proclaiming of the good news, and many writings could have fulfilled this definition. In the West the canon was more juridical and normative, tending to exclude rather than include sacred books. Only in the 5th century did the Church come to a universal stabilization of the canon, and not until the Council of Trent did the canon receive its dogmatic definition.

Church's Relationship to Canon and Inspiration. Before the history of the canon is traced from its apostolic formation to its fixation among the Latins, Greeks, and Syrians, it must be placed into proper relationship to both inspiration and the Church [see inspiration, biblical]. The history of the canon was a dramatic recognition by the Church that the living Word of God (God's activity as a revealer of divine truth) is intrinsically joined to the inspired written word of God. NT Scripture is the original self-representation in written concretization of what the early Church lived and believed. Sacred writings developed and formed as its very life processes, the distilled essence of itself. Whether Gospel, letter, or sermon, these writings were the intrinsic expression of its lifein a unique way.

God definitively and eschatologically formed the Church in a historical process, "the Christ Event." The mysteries of Christ, His life, death and Resurrection (with His Ascension and gift of the Spirit) were God's revelation of Himself to man, His Word in the Christ Event. These mysteries have been continued in the mystical body of christ, the Church. Scripture was thus a constitutive element of the early Church, and through it the living Word of God became objectivized in the written word of God wherein His saving activity is contained and expressed. Scripture, therefore, came into existence, not only on the occasion of the founding of the early Church, but also as an inner moment of its formation under God's direction. In the process of the canonization of the NT canon the Church, the prolongation of the Christ Event, rediscovered itself in the written concretization of its very essence.

Yet, it seems, the fact of the inspiration of Scripture could have become known only by a revelation given by God in the apostolic age. Otherwise it would be impossible to ensure the historical plausibility of this revelation in view of the uncertainties and doubts involved in the proclamation of the canon.

Two things must be considered: first, the original revelation contained in the inspired writings, which was initially and essentially the self-knowledge of the Church; second, the reflex knowledge and expression of this revelation wherein the Church claimed and proclaimed what had always belonged to it. The first revelation, the inspired content of the NT Scriptures, was complete with the death of the last Apostle. The reflex knowledge, however, involved a subsequent, divinely guided historical process.


Through the ages the Church connaturally recognized within its sacred writings something consonant with its nature. It recognized itself. The historical process of this recognition began with the Church of the first postapostolic age, which held three authoritative sources of revelation; the OT, Christ, and the Apostles.

Authoritative Sources in the Early Church. From its very beginning and as a part of its essence the Church possessed a canon of inspired writings: the OT. Humanly and psychologically speaking, Jesus "discovered" Himself in the OT by uniting in Himself all the OT paradoxical themes of salvation history. He found His coming, His work, and His death foretold there (see Lk4.1622; 24.2427, 4446; Jn 5.39). Further, He used the OT as the incontestably authoritative word of God to prove, for instance, the indissolubility of marriage (Gn1.27; 2.24; see Mk 10.69), the resurrection of the dead (Ex 3.6; see Mk 12.2627), the superiority of the Messiah over David [Ps 109(110). 1; see Mk 12.3537]. As eschatological fulfillment, He transformed what was temporary and changeable into the eternal and unchangeable. This is exemplified by His position on divorce (Mk 10.212) and by the so-called antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said to the ancients. But I say to you " (Mt 5.2146). He had not come to destroy, but to complete the Law and the Prophets (Mt 5.17).

The apostolic Church, following its Master, held the OT as absolute authority in demonstrating the Christ Event. This conviction stemmed fundamentally from the fact that the OT was revered as the inspired word of God (2 Pt 1.1921; 2 Tm 3.1417). NT writings are full of "proof texts" from the OT; especially Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and the Petrine sermons in Acts.

The Fathers of the postapostolic age likewise considered the OT as authoritative, but with notable variations. The letters of ignatius of antioch, for instance, contain only two explicit OT quotations, both from Proverbs (Ad Ephes. 5.2; Ad Magn. 12). The Gospels, which he significantly calls "the flesh of Christ," dominate his letters. The Prophets are important because "they foretold the gospel of Christ, hoped in Him, and awaited His coming" (Ad Philad. 5.2). The Shepherd of hermas, on the other hand, indicates no acquaintance at all with the OT. Yet 1 Clement, composed about 40 years earlier in Rome, gives more than 100 citations from the OT and only two from the Gospels. For Clement, God speaks to Christians through the OT. This Father continuously reinforces his teaching by citations from the OT, but with an unquestionably Christian interpretation. According to the Epistle of barnabas the Christians were the first to understand the OT correctly.

The very fact that a Christian interpretation was given to the OT accredits supreme authority not primarily to the OT Scriptures but to Christ whose person, in word and work, was glimpsed shining through these Scriptures. The Apostles preached not so much the OT as Christ and His work of redemption. The Gospels give witness to Him in whom alone are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. St. Paul considers Christ's word the supreme norm that decides matters without further discussion (1 Cor 7.10; 9.41; Acts 20.35).

Authorized by Jesus and endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel and establish the Christian community, the Apostles were regarded, not only as "the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Lk 1.2), but also as the final authority on the traditions in which the authentic words of Christ and their interpretation were found. To resist false teachers was the duty of the Apostles (Jude 1719; 2 Pt 3.12).

In the early postapostolic age the authority of the Apostles was further enhanced. Ignatius exhorts the Magnesians to hold fast to the teachings of the Lord and His Apostles (13.1), and Polycarp sets before the Philippians the example of "Paul and the other Apostles" (9.1;3.2; 11.24). The letter known as 2 Clement put "the Apostles" (i.e., the writings of the Apostles) on the same level as "the sacred books" of the Prophets (14.2). However, the authority of the Apostles was not equated with that of Christ, and they were quoted much less often. Yet, as early as 200, Serapion of Antioch said, "We accept Peter and the other Apostles as we accept Christ" (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.12.3).

A canon of Christian-inspired writings was inevitable. At first the remembered words of the Lord were preached. But very early they began to be committed to writing. As missionary territory expanded, the Apostles sent letters to individual churches as a substitute for preaching. These were regarded not merely as private letters but as official communications. Yet a considerable time had to elapse before these were gathered together and acknowledged as a second canon of incontestable authority along with the OT.

Development of a Canon of Christian Writings. There was a substantial continuity and development of the Christian Church from its birth until the time when its emergence into full relief in the latter part of the 2nd century was witnessed to by profane history. Although from a historical viewpoint the early moments of the Church and its inspired books are shrouded in obscurity, Luke (1.12) nevertheless indicates that there was much careful investigation and that many undertook to write of Christ. These endeavors, which produced the collection of the four Gospels and the collection of the 13 Epistles of St. Paul, formed the basis for the eventual full canon of 27 NT books.

The Gospels. Probably each of the four canonical Gospels was primarily composed for liturgical reading. From the part of the world where each of these was originally written in the second half of the 1st century, copies were soon circulated to other parts of the Christian world, and to some extent the earlier writings seem to have affected the later ones (see synoptic gospels). The four Gospels, however, did not have the canonical authority of the OT before the middle of the 2nd century. In the writings of the apostolic fathers there are only three places where the words of Christ as found in the Gospels are introduced by the phrase that is used for the introduction of quotations from the OT, "it is written": Barnabas4.14 (quoting Mt 22.14), 2 Clement 2.4 (quoting Mt 9.13) and 14.1 (quoting Mk 11.17). Generally, the words of Christ, though known from the canonical Gospels, are introduced by the phrase, "the Lord says" or "the Lord has said." Therefore, they are cited, not so much under the authority of Scripture as under that of Our Lord. Further, in the didache 8.3 and 2 Clement 8.5 we find the expression, "the Lord directed in His gospel," where the last word refers to the "good news" as preached by Christ rather than to a written Gospel. This can be seen in the fact that the quotations are often not in the precise form as they occur in the canonical Gospels (see, e.g., 1 Clement 13.12; 46.7; Polycarp 2.3). Moreover, the Apostolic Fathers cite a few sayings of Christ that are not contained in the canonical Gospels but stem apparently from oral tradition or from apocryphal books (see, e.g., Ignatius, Ad Smyrn. 3.2; 2 Clement 4.5; 5.24; 8.5; 12.2). These citations, however, are not numerous, and although Justin Martyr uses traditions about Christ that are not in the canonical Gospels, he never introduces them with the formula, "Scripture says." Probably he had a noncanonical Gospel, possibly the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews, from which he quotes the words of Christ (see 5. Apocrypha of the NT). He also mentions the custom of reading "the Memoirs of the Apostles" or "the Prophets" in the liturgy (1 Apol. 67.35).

Although the Apostolic Fathers speak of the Gospel in the singular only, Justin almost always speaks of the Gospels in the plural, the only exception being in Dial. 100.1. This indicates that in his time written accounts of the Gospel were assuming importance. However, he still uses the formula, "the Lord says," which shows that the written Gospels were not yet given an authority in their own right as the word of God.

tatian, a disciple of Justin, composed c. 170 his di atessaron, or "harmony" of the four Gospels (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.29.6). Although he incorporated some apocryphal material, his work is based substantially on the four canonical Gospels and is thus a witness to the special authority that these had now acquired.

Pauline Epistles. Collections of the writings of St. Paul, at first of varying size, were made at a very early period, long before the four Gospels were gathered together. Probably by the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd century, the full corpus of the 13 Pauline Epistles (not including Hebrews) was known in most of the Christian communities. In 2 Pt 3.1516, reference is made to the "epistles" of Paul as already well-known to the faithful to whom 2 Peter is sent, but there is no way of knowing which of Paul's Epistles were included in this collection. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110) used 1 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians, and probably also Colossians, 1 Timothy, and 1 Thessalonians.

The letter of polycarp to the Christians of Philippi is important in determining the time in which the Epistles of St. Paul were known and recognized as having special authority. This letter, which is usually dated between 107 and 117, although ch. 1 through 12 have been recently dated as late as the 4th or 5th century, makes use of almost all the 13 Pauline Epistles, the only ones (perhaps accidentally) not referred to being 1 Thessalonians, Titus, and Philemon. Polycarp often introduces the words of Paul with the phrase, "You already know," thus indicating the acknowledged authority of Paul's letters. Justin uses Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, and also Hebrews, although he does not name Paul as the author of these writings.

Full NT Canon. melito of sardes (c. 170180) speaks of the "books of the OT," thereby implying that there were also "books of the NT" that were recognized as inspired Scripture. Justin introduces his numerous quotations from the Gospels with the technical formula for introducing Sacred Scripture, "It is written," as also does Tatian in citing Jn 1.5. When marcion broke with the orthodox Church in 140, he drew up his own list of sacred books, in which he rejected the whole OT and accepted only a mutilated version of Luke and ten of the Pauline Epistles (excluding the three Pastoral Epistles). According to D. de Bruyne and A. von Harnack, it was in reaction to Marcion that the Church established and fixed its NT canon between 160 and 180. (For the NT canon of the Roman church at this time see muratorian canon.) In 180 the Christian martyrs at Scillium in Numidia, when asked what they had in their satchel, replied: "Libri et epistolae Pauli," the libri no doubt including the Gospels, if they also had the Pauline Epistles. During this period also Revelation, 1 John, and 1 Peter reached full canonical stature.


At the beginning of the 3rd century the NT canon had passed the first major step toward fixation. Further doubts would center on other than the Gospels and the main Pauline corpus. Since the history of the NT canon at this time differed somewhat from place to place, the process of final fixation will be treated here as this took place separately among the Greeks, the Latins, and the Syrians.

Among the Greeks. The two main centers of the Greek Church at this time were at Alexandria in Egypt and at Caesarea in Palestine. Disputes about the doubtfully authoritative books took different forms at these two places.

In Egypt. Before clement of alexandria (d. after 217) the history of the NT canon in Egypt is obscure. Clement apparently knew all the 27 books of the later-defined NT canon, with the possible exception of James, 2 Peter, and 3 John. But he also attributed a high degree of authority to several other books. Some of these he considered even divinely inspired, such as the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Kerygma of Peter, and probably 1 Clement.

origen (185255) largely reflects the view of the Egyptian Church as given by Clement, but he is also aware of controversies regarding the canonical status of 2 Peter, James, Hebrews, 2 and 3 John. He likewise speaks of Jude with reservations.

The Egyptian Codex D contains a canon, known as the Canon Claramontanus, probably drawn up in the 3rd century, that lists OT and NT books. It has the complete NT canon, including all seven of the catholic epistles as well as the Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Acts of Paul, and Apocalypse of Peter. However, the last four (noncanonical) books are marked with a horizontal stroke indicating that they were not accepted as Scripture either by the copyist of the manuscript or in the practice of his community. On the other hand, the Egyptian collection of the Chester Beatty Papyri, dating from the 3rd century, does not have the seven Catholic Epistles included in its otherwise correct canon.

athanasius lists, in his well-known Paschal Epistle of 367, the present complete NT canon of 27 books, concerning which he says: "These are the sources of salvation, for the thirsty may drink deeply of the words to be found here. In these alone is the doctrine of piety recorded. Let no one add to them or take anything away from them." Egypt was thus the first province of the Church to have a fixed and definite canon of 27 NT books.

In Palestine. eusebius of caesarea (d. 340), who is important as a witness to the Palestinian canon, but even more so for his abundant information on the state of the canon in various other Christian communities, gives the following classifications. (1) Homologoumena, "agreed on," i.e., books accepted everywhere. These are the four Gospels, Acts, the 14 Pauline Epistles, 1 John, 1 Peter, and, "if it seems right," Revelation (Ecclesiastical History 3.25). In regard to the Pauline Epistles he says: "Definitely and certainly the 14 Epistles are by Paul, but it must be noted that some have opposed the Epistle to the Hebrews, appealing to the Roman Church, which does not acknowledge it as Pauline" (3.3, 5). (2) Antilegomena, "disputed," i.e., books whose canonicity is challenged. Some of these are books that are revered by a majority, but rejected by a minority: "the so-called Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Second Epistle of Peter, and the so-called Second and Third Epistles of John that were written either by the Evangelist or by another John." Therefore, Eusebius puts in this group five of the seven so-called Catholic Epistles. Of the Epistles of James and Jude he says that, even though they are not well-attested in antiquity, "they have been publicly read in most churches" (2.23, 2426). In connection with the antilegomena Eusebius lists the notha, "spurious" works: Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Hermas, Revelation of Peter, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache, and "if it seems right," the Revelation of John. Because of the influence of St. dionysius of alexandria, who judged the Revelation of John as unauthentic on literary grounds, Eusebius is personally inclined to include it with the notha. He also mentions that "the Gospel of the Hebrews" could be listed with the notha because it is held by some as sacred. (3) Heretical writings, mostly apocryphal gospels, to be completely rejected; no ecclesiastical writer of recognized authority deemed these writings worthy of the slightest notice (3.25).

Among the Latins. Consideration of the canon among the Latins can be well divided into two periods, because there is a distinct change of attitude after the middle of the 4th century.

Before the Middle of the 4th Century. In Gaul St. irenaeus (d. 202), who was familiar with the traditions of the churches not only in Gaul but also in Italy and Asia Minor and was closely connected through his teachers with the apostolic age, explicitly names and accepts at least 21 NT books as canonical. He uses the four canonical Gospels in about 625 quotations, and he rejects the apocryphal gospels; he quotes the Acts (54 times), 12 of the Pauline Epistles (280 times), accepts Revelation as Johannine (quoted 29 times) and quotes the Catholic Epistles of 1 Peter and 1 and 2 John (15 times); but he never quotes James. References are uncertain about the others. He does not refer to Philemon and, though he knows Hebrews, he does not admit its Pauline origin. He introduces the Shepherd of Hermas with the formula "Scripture says." He does not use the name New Testament for the Christian canonical writings but describes them as the "evangelical and apostolic writings."

In Italy the canon of the Muratorian Fragment, probably composed c. 180 to 190 (possibly by Hippolytus), is our earliest ecclesiastical list of the NT canon (if we except the anti-Marcionite prologues to the Gospels). It lists 22 (or 23) NT books; for details see muratorian canon.

St. hippolytus of rome (d. 235), a disciple of Irenaeus, calls the Scriptures of the two Testaments "the two breasts of Christ," indicating the intimacy of nourishment in the inspired word. His NT includes at least 21 books. Hebrews he regards as not Pauline, and therefore, to him uncanonical. He does not use Philemon, 2 or 3 John, James, or Jude.

The Edict of Diocletian (303) that the Sacred Books should be sought out and burned must have led the various churches to determine more sharply which books constituted Sacred Scripture.

In Africa, Tertullian used all of the NT books except 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John. He ascribes Hebrews to Barnabas and excludes it from Scripture, although he admits it is widely used by the various churches. Difficulties persisted with Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles. Even St. cyprian of Carthage (d. 253) never used Hebrews; of the Catholic Epistles, he quoted only from 1 Peter and 1 John. In the North-African Monsen Canon, written around 360, Hebrews, James, and Jude were still missing.

After the Middle of the 4th Century. The middle of the 4th century is a turning point in the history of the canon for the Latin Church. Intensive exchange of ideas and closer contact with the East, caused principally by the Arian struggle, had a far-reaching effect in bringing the Western canon up to the level of the Eastern. Then, too, translating the Greek Fathers into Latin and Jerome's Vulgate (containing all 27 NT books) helped to unify and stabilize a universal canon. The so-called Decree of Gelasius, reputedly written in 382, contains a list of all 27 NT books. Its authenticity, however, is disputed. Under Augustine's influence three African synods, one at Hippo (393) and two at Carthage (397 and 419), accepted all 27 books as canonical. In the first two synods, Hebrews is not listed as Pauline, even though it is regarded as canonical, but the last of the three councils considers it to be Paul's. The letter of Pope St. innocent i to Exuperius in 405 officially lists all 27 NT books.

Among the Syrians and in Asia Minor. In the Greek-speaking part of Syria St. lucian of antioch (d.312), founder of the Antiochian School [see exegesis, bib lical, 4] rejected Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. With minor variations, this represents the attitude of the Syrian Church from theophilus of antioch (d.186), who, however, accepted Revelation, to the time of St. john chrysostom (d. 407). During the 5th century all 27 books except Revelation were accepted, but the Catholic Epistles were considered second-rank authorities. In the Syriac-speaking parts, prior to the publication of the peshitta, all the Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse are missing from the canon, but a third (apocryphal) Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians is accepted, St. ephrem even censuring those who question its canonicity. [This apocryphal Epistle is not listed in the Syrian Catalogue (c. 400) discovered by A. S. Lewis in St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai.] With the publication of the Peshitta, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John were accepted. The Syrian Jacobite canon is practically limited to the 22 books of the Peshitta; Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude are omitted. In the 2nd half of the 4th century, the Council of Laodicea in Asia Minor and St. gregory of nazianzus list the full canon except Revelation, although this is included in the canon of St. basil, St. gregory of nyssa, and Epiphanius of Constantia.

Final Stabilization. Since the 5th century, the NT canon of 27 books has been universally accepted by the Greek and the Latin Church alike. Yet during the Middle Ages, Hebrews, Revelation, and the Catholic Epistles except 1 Peter and 1 John were still the subject of some controversy. The Shepherd of Hermas and the third Epistle to the Corinthians are also found in some medieval MSS. cajetan (tommaso de vio) (d. 1534) doubted the authenticity of Hebrews, James, Jude and 2 and 3 John, and considered them less authoritative. Luther was bolder. His interpretation of Paul was the criterion for all the NT books. On this basis he formed three groups: Romans, Galatians, and John; the other NT books, including the Synoptics, he relegated to second place; he severely censured Hebrews, Jude, 2 Peter, and Revelation, while he called James "a straw epistle." Despite this, all Protestants have the same NT canon as Catholics.

In the 16th century both literary and dogmatic criticism of the traditional canon became so intense that the Council of Trent dogmatically defined the canon on April 8, 1564. This dogmatic decree, De Canonicis Scripturis, lists by name the sacred and canonical books of both Testaments: 45 for the OT, 27 for the NT. According to the minutes of the Council, it was merely repeating, after a month of heated debate, the list given at the Council of Florence (1442) in the decree for the Jacobites. The decree of Trent, repeated by Vatican I on April 24, 1870, is the infallible decision of the magisterium. In the decree, certain doubtfully authentic deuterocanonical sections are also included with the books (cum omnibus suis partibus ): Mk 16.920; Lk 22.19b20, 4344; and Jn7.538.11.


Distinction must be made between the internal criterion and external criteria.

Internal Criterion. The internal criterion lies in the mysterious nature of the Church, which recognizes in Scripture something intrinsic to its nature and canonizes it as a normative constitutive element of its existence. Inspiration, which links the personal Word of God to His written word, is a supernatural charism. It thus lies beyond human deduction. The Church, as supernatural, simply recognizes itself in Scripture. Time and history become dramatic elements in this sublime perception.

External Criteria. These helped articulate its act of recognition, especially apostolicity and liturgy. Every book of the NT was either written or guaranteed by an Apostle. This, then, was the reason why each was accepted as sacred and normative, for doctrinal apostolic authority is the foundation of the Church: "You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph2.20; see Mt 28.1820). In practice the Church also showed its reverence for the NT as holy and canonical by sanctioning its use in public worship. The liturgy made the community participate in the Mystery of Christ, proclaiming it through the word. Thus, in various regions the apostolic Church guided the faithful to acceptance of the apostolic, inspired word. In this process other nonapostolic traditions were added, which accounted for the doubts and disputes of the early years. But the Church needed only to apply the principle of apostolic approbation to solve the doubts. When called upon to do so at Trent, through its infallible, apostolic magisterium, it decisively recognized what God had given it through the Apostlesthe 27 NT books, the written embodiment of its existence.

Bibliography: h. hÖpfl Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris) 1:102245. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 312313. e. mangenot, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, (Paris 190350) 2:155069, 15821605. j. michl and k. rahner, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, (Freiburg, 195766) 5:128084. e. jacquier, Le Nouveau Testament dans l'église chrétienne (Paris 1911)v.1. m. j. lagrange, Histoire ancienne du canon du Nouveau Testament, v.1 of Introduction à l'étude du N.T. (Paris 1933). g. m. perrella, Introducción general a la Sagrada Escritura (Turin 1954). a. wikenhauser, New Testament Introduction (New York 1958). a. robert and a. tricot, Guide to the Bible, tr. e. p. arbez and m. p. mcguire (TournaiNew York 195155) 1:87103. c. f. d. moule, Birth of the New Testament (New York 1962). h. riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and Its Beginning (London 1957).

[f. schroeder]

4. Canon Criticism

Traditionally, the term "canon" has designated the list of books that belong to the Bible, both OT and NT. In recent times the canon has entered into Biblical theology as a vital factor, and not merely as an official list. Two directions can be distinguished: canon as process, and canon as the (canonical) shape given to the books of the Bible.

Canon as Process. James A. Sanders has described his views explicitly as "canonical criticism." By this he means that the canon must be viewed as a process, an examination of the way in which the canon came to be formed. The formation of the Torah (Law, or the Pentateuch) within the Hebrew Scriptures provides an illustration. This Bible is called the Tanakh, after its threefold division: Torah (T, Genesis to Deuteronomy); Prophets (N, for Něbí'îm, which includes earlier [Joshua to Kings] and later [Amos to Ezekiel] prophets; finally, the Writings (K, for Kětûbîm, which includes the rest of the books, Psalms to Chronicles). These three parts of the Hebrew Bible were formed over a long period of time, and all received their present form after the exile (begun in 587 b.c. when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar).

The Torah provides the clearest example of canonical criticism. The question is: Why and how do these five books form a distinct unity? Logically and historically the storyline of the people of God extends from Abraham (Gn 12) through Deuteronomy to the book of Joshua. The promise to Abraham is fulfilled in the takeover of Palestine by Joshua. But the Torah ends with Deuteronomy, which describes the three discourses of Moses to the Israelites in the plains of Moab before entering the Promised Land. The story line has been broken by the insertion of Deuteronomy at this point. Why? Because the Jewish community that formed the canon recognized the necessity (and the pre-eminence) of Moses and the Law for their own self-understanding and preservation in the postexilic era. That was the reason they placed Deuteronomy ("the book of the law" found in the Temple under Josiah, 2 Kgs 22) in its present position, sealing off the Torah, as it were. It is canon as process and helps to explain why the Bible took the shape it did.

Many aspects of this approach remain to be worked out, especially the formation of the rest of the Bible, and what does the process have to say to the present communities of faith which are nourished by the Bible? Sanders' interpretation of the canonical process is an exciting glimpse into the way in which certain Biblical books may have functioned within the believing community as the canon was in process of formation. Two observations should be kept in mind. First, the construal remains a hypothetical inference, since there are no hard historical facts about the process. Second, the bearing of the process upon the ongoing use and interpretation of the canonical books remains secondary, in that it sets down no obligatory use or meaning for the modern community of faith. Nonetheless, it is useful in pointing up various levels of meaning that have emerged from the Biblical text.

Canonical Shape. Brevard S. Childs avoids the phrase "canonical criticism" and the "process" that this involves. Instead, he speaks of "canonical shape," emphasizing the final form of the Biblical books as they have been edited and promulgated in the Jewish tradition at the beginning of the Christian era (c. 100). While he is aware of the larger canon that prevailed in the early Church and in Roman Catholicism (Council of Trent), he limits himself to the Hebrew (and also Protestant) Bible for ecumenical purposes.

Childs begins with the results of historical critical methodology as applied to the Bible (both OT and NT, as will be seen). These results have been hypothetical and uncertain in that little unanimity has been achieved, and the concentration has been on the prehistory of the Biblical text (e.g., what was the "original" reading and meaning of Is 6:113, or 7:125 before these chapters assumed their present form?). Childs insists that the meaning of the Hebrew Bible is to be found in its present final form, as this was established by the Jewish community and inherited from them by the early Church.

Thus, for example, one is not to be preoccupied with the various traditions (JEPD) that combined to form the Pentateuch. These never existed as canonical Bible; they are the (hypothetical) sources that eventually formed the Pentateuch, but it is the "five books" in their final canonical shape that constitute the Biblical word. The same approach is applied to the rest of the OT. Childs eschews all hypothetical reconstruction in favor of the final form. By no means does he deny that the Biblical text was edited and increased by later additions. Instead, he insists on the supreme validity of the interpretation of the final shape (e.g., he grants that chapters 4066 were added to Is 139, in the post-exilic period, but he insists that it is precisely chapters 166 that must be interpreted as a whole in order to arrive at the Biblical meaning).

With remarkable expertise Childs extends his explorations to the NT canon as well. Here again he seeks the holistic meaning as opposed to the fragmented and hypothetical reconstruction of NT sources (e.g., the "original" sayings of Jesus, or the Q source of the synoptic gospels). He readily grants that LukeActs was written and conceived as one work. But in the canon these works are separated, and thus a particular canonical shape and function is given to each. The purpose of the Gospel of Luke is to enlarge its original witness to Christ (for Theophilus, Lk 1:3) by making it part of the fourfold Gospel witness. Similarly, Acts now functions as an interpretive guide for the understanding of the letters of Paul.

The views of Childs have met with a warm reception, both pro and con. One basic difficulty is the establishment of a fixed point for the canonical, and hence binding "shape." Indeed, for the Christian, the OT has itself received a new canonical shape by being joined to the NT. Moreover, one cannot simply pass over the fact that an enlarged canon, which includes the so-called apocrypha that are absent from the Hebrew/Protestant Bible, is accepted in Latin and Greek Christian tradition. Finally, the canonical interpretation should not be allowed to override other levels of meaning that appear within the text. Thus one must also read and understand Isaiah 4066 against its unmistakable background of the exilic and postexilic era. Similarly, one must evaluate carefully the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke on their own level, and not only as part of a Gospel. In other words, there are various levels of meaning in the text that need not be sacrificed for the sake of the final, canonical meaning.

The emphasis of Childs and Sanders upon canonicity and a holistic approach to the Biblical text is welcome. They have called attention to a neglected area of Biblical interpretation; the Bible is a product of tradition, editing and revision on the part of the community.

Bibliography: Canonical Criticism. j. a. sanders, Torah and Canon (Philadelphia 1972); Canon and Community (Philadelphia 1984); From Sacred Story to Sacred Text (Philadelphia 1987). Canonical Shape. b. s. childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia 1979); The New Testament as Canon (Philadelphia 1984); Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia 1985). Reactions to Canon Criticism. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 16 (1980) 176. j. barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia 1983). h. von campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (London 1972). j. blenkinsopp, Prophecy and Canon (Notre Dame 1977).

[r. e. murphy]