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Why Are There Only 66 Books in the Bible?
by Dr. Thomas Woodward
Tom Woodward, Ph.D., has been a professor at Trinity College (Florida) since 1988. He is founder and director of the C.S. Lewis Society. See further at: apologetics.org
Dr. Woodward currently lives with his wife in Tampa Bay, FL. His recent work, Doubts About Darwin, just won the Christianity & Culture book award. Tom was designated an AIIA Resource Associate for Bible & Theology in July of 2002.
The following is an original article.
The canon* of Scripture was formed from the first through the fourth centuries. This was not just a matter of men stumbling upon new religious books that were historically connected with Christianity and then adding them to the list. No, the careful decision to include books in the canon was made by the Church at large, under God’s guidance, using several key guidelines.
First, there had to be some traditional use of these books- that is, an early and pervasive use for teaching, worship, and witness. And the books had to be well-established among all Christian communities.
Second, there was a rule of apostolicity, which meant that the book should be written by, or closely linked to, one of the apostles. Thus, all of the New Testament books were written during the first century, with the last ones probably being two by John (Revelation and the Gospel of John), in the nineties.
Third, a principle of catholicity was recognized, which means universality of use and appreciation.
Fourth, there were the vital principles of orthodoxy and spiritual fruitfulness, by which books in widespread use were found to conform smoothly to the prior revelation of Scripture, and were seen manifesting the divine power to change lives.
Even more powerful is the way that Jesus Christ regarded the Old Testament, citing it repeatedly as the very Word of God. In His teaching, He regarded the Tenakh as authoritative and reliable for faith and practice (see John 10:35). His affirmation of the Old Testament is a persuasive argument.
Three things are clear:
a) Even the Roman Catholic Church only recognized these books (with a few exceptions) as part of Scripture since the 1546 Council of Trent.
b) The Jews never recognized them as canonical, even though they relate to the end of the Old Testament and come from the Jewish community.
c) The early Christian church, long before Catholic-Eastern-Protestant divisions, never regarded the books of the Apocrypha as canonical.
In a nutshell, we can trust that God worked through the Spirit-led wisdom and reflection of His people to confirm the content of His Word. He is sovereign, and has faithfully revealed it from age to age.
QUESTION What about Paul’s missing letter to Corinth (1 Cor. 5:9, 11)? If found, would it be added to the Bible?
* The word canon, which originally meant a “reed” or “measuring stick,” came to mean “rule” and, ultimately, an “official list” of scriptural books.