The Christian Canon:  

       Contrary to common belief, there has never been universal agreement as to what documents should be included in the Bible. There is no single canon of Scripture that has ever been accepted by all of Christianity. Remember, the word canon, as it relates to the Biblical Scriptures, is basically defined as a group of documents accepted as authoritative by some individual or group of individuals. As already mentioned, some see the word canon to mean a measuring rod whereby documents are included or excluded based on established standards. It is commonly assumed that our present canon of 39 OT documents and 27 NT documents is what the Christian Church has always used as the source for its theological system.  This simply is not the case. 

       To this very day there is disagreement as to what documents should make up the Bible. For example, early versions of the Greek Orthodox Bible did not include the Revelation although more recent versions do. The earliest extant versions of the Syrian NT, called the Peshitta, dating to the 5th century, excluded 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Revelation and Jude.  These books have since been added to the Syrian Bible although some Syrian Bibles still exclude these documents.  The Armenian Church Bible used to include a third letter to the Corinthians taken from a document called the Acts of Paul.  This Church did not accept the Revelation into its Bible until A.D.1200.  Early versions of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, include the two epistles of Clement of Alexandria.  Early Ethiopic Bibles include documents such as the Sinodos, a collection of prayers and instructions supposedly written by Clement of Rome.

       All these groups look upon their particular canon as inspired sacred Scripture.  Establishment of what should and should not be included as sacred Scripture has been an ongoing process for thousands of years.  The first Epistle of Clement of Rome, dated around A.D. 95, is found in many ancient Bibles and was regarded as inspired Scripture.  The Didachē, a manual of Christian living which dates from the early second century, was regarded as canonical Scripture by Clement of Alexandria and Origen.  The Epistle of Barnabas, which cites many OT books by name and uses many phrases which appear in the Gospels, is felt to have been written somewhere between A.D. 70 and 130.  This letter was included in the NT canon for a long time and appears at the end of the oldest surviving complete Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, which is dated from the fourth century.

       One of the first written texts to become universally popular and an object of praise among the early Christian community was The Shepherd of Hermas.  This document contains a collection of "visions, mandates, and similitude’s" which are also the names of the three books that comprise it.  The Shepherd of Hermas was written sometime in the early 2nd century, and there are papyrus fragments from that century to prove it. Some feel it dates from the 1st century.  Both Origen and Jerome thought the author was the very Hermas known to Paul (Romans 16.14).  So popular was the Shepherd that it was widely regarded as inspired. It is included, along with the Epistle of Barnabas, as the final books in the Codex Sinaiticus.  Hermas never names or quotes exactly any NT text.  It does, however, contain many statements which resemble those in various NT documents.

       It should be noted that the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas are found at the end of Codex Sinaiticus.  This pattern of adding certain documents at the end of a canon or codex is evident in the Muratorian canon (170-180 A.D.) and the Codex Alexandrinus.  Because the Epistle of Barnabas and other letters, such as 1st and 2nd Clement, are found at the end of some canons of Scripture and are not included in the main body of the canon as are the letters of Paul and the other Apostles, some believe such documents were added as documents of interest but not considered canonical Scripture. This, however, is speculative as it is apparent that various of the church fathers viewed these documents as canonical and when these documents where read by Christians they would have been looked upon as inspired Scripture. 

       As previously mentioned, Marcion, in A.D. 144, was the first to establish a formal canon which consisted of ten of Paul’s letters and parts of Luke’s Gospel. A man named Tatian produced a Syrian canon around A.D. 160 consisting of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He wove them all together into a single document.  For a long time this document was the official Gospel text of the Syriac Church centered at Odessa. Sometime after A.D. 177, Irenaeus composed a treatise in which he quotes from almost every book in what is our present Western canon.  He thus shows that the books of our present canon were in use at this time. Irenaeus also includes the Shepherd of Hermas as sacred Scripture.

The Muratorian Fragment:

       A seventh century document known as the Muratorian Fragment (aka the Muratorian Canon) contains commentary on the NT Scriptures. This document contains fragments of a Latin manuscript dated to somewhere in the seventh century AD.  This fragment was discovered by Ludovico Antonio Muratori, a prominent Italian historian. This document was published in 1740 and was named after Muratori.

       The Muratorian Fragment appears to have originally been written in Greek somewhere between 170 and 180 AD. It is thought to have been written about this time because the author refers to Pius the 1st as having recently been the Bishop of the church at Rome. Pius was Bishop from 140 to 155 AD.

       This document lists 22 of the 27 books of our present day New Testament.  Missing from this cannon are 3rd John, Hebrews, James and 1st and 2nd Peter. Interestingly, this document excludes The Shepherd of Hermas on the grounds that it was written too far after the other NT documents. On the other hand, the Muratorian Fragment includes the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon at the end of its list. However, the Muratorian Fragment appears to question whether the Apocalypse of Peter is worthy of being read in the churches.   

        In this manuscript the author writes of Paul following the rule of his predecessor John in writing to seven churches. The writer lists the seven churches Paul wrote to which are the seven churches shown in the NT to have received letters from Paul.  All indications are that Paul died during the reign of Nero which means he wrote these letters before AD 68 which is the year Nero died. Most scholars believe Paul wrote his letters somewhere in the 50's to early 60's AD. 

       We know that John wrote to seven churches as seen in Revelation 2 and 3. If indeed Paul followed the example of John as the Muratorian Fragment suggests, this would indicate John wrote the Revelation before Paul wrote his letters.  This would place the writing of the Revelation much earlier than is commonly believed. For more discussion of this issue and the general issue of when the Revelation was written, go to "Commentary on the Revelation: Part One."

Other Perspectives as to NT Canonical Scripture:

       Around A.D. 200 we find Clement of Alexandria supporting the Tatian selection and also acknowledging the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Apocalypse of Peter, Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didachē as authentic.  The Apocalypse of Peter is said to have been written between A.D. 125 and 150 although some felt Peter himself wrote it.  It remained in various church lists as a canonical text for centuries.  The Gospel of the Hebrews was used as an authority in Syria as late as the fourth century.

       In A.D. 230, Origen established a seminary at Caesarea.  Origen declared the Gospel of Peter and the Book of James as trustworthy and approved by the church.  He considered the Shepard of Hermas Scripture. He also considered the Didachē and the Epistle of Barnabas as Scripture. On the other hand, Origen doubted the authenticity of 2 and 3 John and 2 Peter.  Origen also appears to have accepted much of the NT as it appears in its present form.  Bishop Cyprian, writing in the middle 200's, rejected Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and Jude as divinely inspired.

       In A.D. 367, after many additional years of numerous declarations of what the Scriptures were supposed to be, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, declared what he thought should be the NT canon which reflects the text we currently have.  However, there continued to be much controversy as to what documents should be in the canon and it wasn’t until A.D. 692, at the Trullan Synod, that the Athanasian canon became generally accepted.  

       At the Council of Florence in A.D. 1443, church leadership further ruled on what documents were to be considered canonical Scripture.  This canon was made an absolute article of faith at the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546.  This pronouncement, however, only carried in the Western churches. After the Reformation, the Protestant world followed the Catholic canon with the exception of the OT apocrypha which was excluded by the Protestant reformers.  It is interesting that Martin Luther did not treat all Scripture in the NT canon as equally valid and actually listed the NT documents in order of descending credibility.

       The forgoing is but a thumbnail sketch of the dynamics involved in determining a NT canon. Much could be said about how choice of documents was often determined by the doctrinal perspectives of those making the choices and how church officials would change their choices as they changed their theology.  Much could be said as to how choices were made based on personal preference rather than objective investigation.  For a complete overview of the development of the NT canon, I highly recommend Bruce Metzger’s The Canon of the New Testament: It’s Origin, Development and Significance.

Canonization of the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures: 

       The canonization of the OT was an historical process which took place over many centuries.  This process involved three separate collections of documents which came to form the Law, Prophets and Writings. The first collection to be canonized consisted of the first five books of the Bible and was variously called the Law (Hebrew Torah) or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT). This collection was canonized about 400 B.C. The second collection was that of the prophetic Scriptures which was canonized about 200 B.C.  The Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) were canonized about A.D.90. This last canonization was actually a ratification of a completed collection of writings in common use since the second century B.C.  The prophetic book of Daniel was accepted in this final collection, having been earlier rejected for inclusion among the prophetic books. 

       History shows that, as is true with the NT canonization process, there were a number of documents that were variously accepted or rejected at different periods of OT canonical development.   Around 250 B.C., the Torah was translated from the Hebrew into the Greek language and called the Septuagint or LXX.  Septuagint means seventy.  It is believed this translation was completed in seventy days by a group of 72 Palestinian Jews.  The rest of the OT was translated into Greek during the next 100 years and came to include the Apocrypha, a collection of writings not found in the Hebrew Scriptures but nevertheless included in the Septuagint.  A number of these writings are included in the Catholic Bible but have been rejected by the Protestant community.  It is interesting to note that when writers of the NT quote OT Scripture; such quotes are generally seen to be from the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Therefore, when NT authors quote the OT, they are generally quoting from the Greek translation of the OT. It is instructive that the NT authors never quote from the Apocrypha writings even though these writings are included in the Septuagint. Was this because they did not believe the Apocrypha had the level of authority/validity as the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures?  More on this later. 

         To this very day there is not a unified canon that all branches of Christianity accept.  While canonical history does show that the documents in our present canon were, by and large, recognized from early on, this history also shows that many other documents were also recognized.  Christians lived for centuries using a great variety of documents to formulate their particular theological perspectives.  The question that must be asked is whether the documents which were part of past canons but are not in our present canon are any more or any less sacred or inspired than our present canon of Scripture.  Secondly, are we missing information that is vital to our Christian faith by not having the documents that earlier Christians had access too?  What are we to conclude about the role of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the many documents that have been and are presently being used by the Christianity community?   We will address these issues as we proceed in this series.

Preliminary Summary:

       Let’s sum up what we have determined so far in this series. The Old Testament Scripture is essentially a historical document.  It is a collection of writings that reflect the development of the nation of Israel and its covenant relationship with God.  Much OT narrative deals with the interaction of Israel with the nations around them.  Much emphasis is placed on Israel’s religious and ethical system and how adherence or non-adherence to that system affected its survival. While the writers of these documents may have used a significant amount of figurative language and hyperbole in predicting and recording events, there is every reason to believe that the events recorded by these writers did take place in some fashion and are not fictional fabrications.

       There is corroborating testimony from a variety of canonical writers, secular historians and archaeological research, that gives evidence to the essential elements of what is recorded in the OT Scriptural narrative being reliable information.  While these records are ancient when compared to such recent history as the American Civil War, there is every reason to believe that the events recorded by the writers of OT Scripture are real events.

       Some argue that there is little known of Israel outside of the OT documents. One interesting extra-Biblical record Is an inscription discovered in 1868 known as the Moabite Stone and found to date back to around 840 BC.  This artifact shows king Mesha of the Moab kingdom telling how Chemosh, the god of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be subjugated to Israel.  He goes on to say that Chemosh later helped Mesha and the Moabites throw off the yoke of Israel.

       We do not doubt the basic validity of historical documents reciting the history of ancient Egypt, Babylon or other ancient civilizations.  While we may not believe that all details of such histories are correct, we still accept them as reasonable reflections of history. I see no reason to treat the OT Scriptural record any differently. There’s little question that authors of history, including Biblical history, are influenced in their writings by the political, cultural, social and religious climate in which they work and live. This does not, however, negate the basic facts of their histories.   

       As to the NT, it appears the NT documents were written within less than 40 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus and passed along through the centuries in a reasonably faithful manner.  It should be recognized that when it comes to the NT, there are copies of segments of the NT commencing within a couple of generations from the writings of the original texts.  There are 5,664 Greek manuscripts or parts of manuscripts that have been identified, with the earliest being a fragment of the gospel of John believed to go back as far as the beginning of the second century.  There are a number of Papyri dating from the second and third centuries that contain sizable sections of various parts of the NT Scriptures as we see in our present canon.  There is no other body of ancient literature in the world that enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as that of the NT.  While these manuscripts do vary from each other in a variety of ways, most of these variations do not appreciably alter what we see in our current renderings of the material contained in these manuscripts. 

       It is instructive that surviving copies of manuscripts from the second and third centuries determined to be apocryphal are much less numerous. From the second and third centuries, we have less than twenty copies of writings such as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Peter and other such documents. While there are some exceptions, there is a huge discrepancy between the number of second and third century copies of texts included in our present canon and texts that were excluded.  This gives evidence to there being a greater circulation of the canonical texts and, therefore, a greater recognition by early Christians of these texts being foundational to the church. 

       The puny amount of surviving apocryphal texts from the second and third centuries compared to the canonized texts appears to discredit the Bauer/Ehrman thesis that there was great diversity of documents being used in the early church and therefore we can't know which documents should be canonical. It is apparent that what we have in the present NT canon is what the majority of early Christendom was using and that use of apocryphal writings was the exception and not the rule.  

       This being said, it must be noted that we do not have any complete codices of the NT as we know it today until the fourth century. Prior to this time the various apostolic gospels and letters were either seen as small collections of documents into a single codex or were being used as single documents. It is instructive that among the early collections of several letters or several Gospels, you do not find mixed in with such collections any of the documents that became known as apocrypha. This would indicate that apocryphal material was not considered on par with the canonical material.  While many of the extant second and third century copies of the canonized NT documents are fragmentary, meaning we only have bits and pieces of these documents, these bits and pieces, nevertheless, give witness to the existence from early on of there being an early selection of material that was considered authoritative and foundational to the church and thus functioned as canonical Scripture.

Canonization criteria:

        As already discussed, both the OT and NT canonization process occurred over a period of many hundreds of years and involved numerous inclusions and exclusions of documents. How do we know the present canon of documents best represents what God wants us to know and use to establish doctrine?   How did we end up with the present set of documents we have that make up the canon?  While the criteria used to determine what documents were to be included in the OT is not entirely clear, we do have a methodology extant for determining the makeup of the NT.

        As the canonization process continued, determination of what should be included and excluded from the NT canon came to rest on three basic criteria accepted as foundational to this process. 

       #1: All documents had to reflect what was called “the rule of faith.”  The contents of a document had to conform to what was believed to be the earliest of Christian doctrinal tradition. There needed to be doctrinal harmony between the documents established as canonical and also harmony with OT Scripture.

       #2: Documents written by those in close association with Christ or close associates of such individuals were given much higher consideration than documents written by authors further removed from the Christ event. Documents believed to be written by those designated Apostles were considered to be primary to the establishment of the NT canon.

       #3:  A document had to be recognized and accepted by a majority of Christendom over a reasonable period of time. Thus the canon was in part established on the basis of response from the Christian community.

        These three criteria for determining what documents should be regarded as authoritative for the Church became normative during the course of the second century and continued normative throughout the canonization process.  On the other hand, there was considerable variation as to how these criteria were applied.  There were different ideas as to which criteria should carry the most weight.  This resulted in different decisions as to the inclusion or exclusion of various documents for many hundreds of years.

           Those who exclusively apply the "Historical/Critical" method to the establishment of the NT canon see #3 (community acceptance) as the only valid reason for the canon's existence. Those who embrace the "Historical/Critical" method believed the canon's creation is solely generated by the church and devoid of divine involvement. Therefore, it is authoritative only because the church has determined it to be authoritative. The Scripture is not seen to have intrinsic authority.  Under this perspective, the Church is more authoritative than the canon because it determines what the canon should be.

       However, as already discussed, the greater part of what is found in our present NT narrative was largely agreed upon as being authoritative during the first two centuries of the church.  These documents, while not formalized as canon in the first two centuries, nevertheless functioned as canon because of the early recognition of them as authoritative writings. Later, this functional canon became formalized by Church leaders as the NT canon. The Church recognizing and accepting these writings did not make them canonical.  The church recognized and accepted these writings because they already were canonical. We are not looking at a canon that was first created in the fourth century after years of controversy over its content.  We are looking at a canon that existed in principle in the first century and provided structure for the formation of the Christian Church. 

       Furthermore, while one could argue that without the Church there would be no canon, it may be more plausible to argue that without the canon there would be no church. The Church exists because of the canon. It was the writing and arranging of first century documents into codices that served to provide the foundational theological and doctrinal framework that established the Church. In this respect, the canon preceded the Church. The Church developed because of the canon. The writings of the apostles and others in the first century served to produce a virtual operating manual for the Church and thus facilitated and give direction to the Church's development.

       This is not dissimilar from what we see in the OT where the rules and regulations governing the Old Covenant were put in writing and became the operating manual for the nation of Israel which is referred to in the Greek Scriptures as "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38 KJV).  In the Greek Scriptures we find the New Covenant introduced and, as was true with the Old Covenant "church in the wilderness," we have written documents that define how the New Covenant church is to function.  In both cases, written documents (a canon if you will) preceded the establishment of the church or were being prepared simultaneously with the church's development.  

       It should be noted at this point that there is another methodology extant for determining the canon and Church doctrine. The Catholic Church uses a combination of  Scriptural authority, Church tradition and the teaching authority of the church leadership called the Magisterium. The Magisterium is seen as the primary authority. It is argued that there must be an infallible authority that can determine the beliefs of the Church. While Christ is recognized as the supreme authority over the Church as an agent of the Father, the Pope is seen as Vicar of Christ and as such is able to make infallible decisions on matters of Church doctrine, theology, and what documents make up the Biblical canon.  The Pope's authority is based on the belief that he is the successor to Apostle Peter upon whom it is believed the church was built and who it is believed had the final say in doctrinal/theological issues facing the early Church.

       This Catholic position, however, is problematical.  While Peter is certainly seen as a leader in the developing Christian Church, he was one of several. It is instructive that it was Apostle James who made the decision at the Jerusalem conference as to what would be required of Gentile converts. Paul is certainly seen as the leading Apostle in bringing Gentiles into the Church and developing the Gentile Christian community. He made numerous decisions regarding doctrine/theology as seen in his letters to the Churches. 

       Scripture reveals that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ being the corner stone (Ephesians 2:20). The idea that the Church was built upon the Apostleship of Peter is derived from a particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus referred to Peter as a petros which in Greek means a small stone or pebble. Christ then said He would build His Church on a large boulder like rock, a petra. The Greek used for rock here is petra which means a large boulder, cliff or massive rock. Catholic doctrine teaches Peter is the petra upon which Christ said He would build His Church.

       Matthew 16:18: And I tell you that you are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.     

       Overall Scriptural discussion of how it was that the church was built indicates Jesus was referring to Himself and not to Peter when speaking of the rock upon which the church would be built. In Romans 6:33 and 1 Peter 2:8 Jesus is described as a rock (petra) of offense. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Jesus is seen as a spiritual rock (petra).  In Acts 4:11 Peter speaks of Christ being the capstone. Peter speaks of Christ being the cornerstone in 1 Peter 2:6.

       In John 1:42 we see Jesus giving Simon the name Cephas which is the Aramaic word for rock (Qéphâ).   John transliterates this word into the Greek petros which is rendered "Peter" in English. Qéphâ (Caphas) can refer to a large rock or a small rock. 

       John 1:42: And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter {petros} ).

       Some believe petra refers to Simon in Matthew 16:18 because petra is in the masculine gender and better matches Cephas which is in the masculine gender. However, John transliterates the masculine gendered Cephas into the feminine gendered petros in John 1:42. This indicates John sees Simon being named Cephas as being named a small stone. Jesus plainly calls Simon a petros (small stone) in Matthew 16:18. It seems unlikely the write of Mathew 16:18 would used the word petra (which means boulder or massive rock) to describe Simon when He has just been described as a petros (small stone.)

       Since Jesus calls Simon a petros (small stone) in Matthew 16:18, it would indicate when Jesus names Simon Qéphâ (Cephas) in John 1:42, it is the small rock variety of Qéphâ that is intended. To believe the Church was built on Apostle Peter does not square with how the Scriptures describe how the Church was built.

Is the Canon self-authenticated?

       Some believe we must look for validation of the canon only in the canon itself.  The canon must be self authenticating. For those who believe the canon is the ultimate authority for the Christian belief system, it is felt it cannot be validated by an authority outside itself because then it would not be the ultimate authority. For example, church leaders can't validate the canon by establishing criteria for such validation outside the canon. The church doesn't create the canon but the canon creates the church.

       Those who ascribe to the self authentication method for establishing the canon believe the church developed in response to apostolic teaching that became written documents.  These documents were recognized by the first century Christians as authoritative and foundational to the church's development.  Because these documents were foundational to the church's development, they were considered canonical Scripture from the beginning. They were the "measuring rod" that provided the operating criteria for how the church was to function and what its doctrines were to be. Therefore, we see the self authenticating approach to canonicity embracing the first two of the criteria discussed above.

       In addition to seeing apostolic authorship and corporate acceptance creating a de-facto canon, the self authenticating method also requires there be  "divine qualities" such as beauty, efficacy and harmony present in documents deemed canonical. It is believed the apostolic writings have these qualities whereas writings that came later do not. It is believed these "divine qualities" can only be recognized through the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is believed the Holy Spirit must bear witness to  these "divine qualities" existing in canonical documents. It is believed the Holy Spirit has borne witness to the "divine qualities" of the documents in our present canon while not bearing witness to those documents that have been excluded.

       The problem with this third requirement of the self authenticating method is that it is highly subjective.  It assumes certain attributes of canonical documents are "divine qualities" and that such qualities have been witnessed to by the Holy Spirit. However, early church leaders who accepted documents such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas and other such works into early canons of the NT, apparently believed these documents had "divine qualities" and that they were led by the Holy Spirit in accepting these documents as canonical. Yet these documents were later rejected.  Did the Holy Spirit make a mistake?

       Anytime someone claims the Holy Spirit has led them to the truth of a matter it should raise a red flag.  Thousands of church leaders and others have claimed the Holy Spirit has led them to certain conclusions. More often than not, such conclusions turn out to be false or contradict conclusions reached by others who claim to have been led to their conclusions by the Holy Spirit.

      It may be best to leave subjective criteria out of the mix and simply go with objective data. It is apparent that a core group of documents were used from early on to provide governance and doctrinal/theological direction for the Church.  These are the documents that met the three-fold criteria for canonicity discussed above and are the documents that represent the oldest known written material connected with the Church.  Other documents such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas were ultimately excluded from the canon because it was determined they did not adequately meet the threefold criterion discussed above.  Many other documents that appeared in various Church canons in past centuries also failed to pass some or all of the established criterion. 

       While some may argue that the three-fold criterion are arbitrary standards for establishing the canon, the reality is that the very existence of apostolic writing combined with church acceptance and usage of such writing to develop a rule of faith provides self authentication to the validity of these criteria. In reality, these three criterions were not arbitrarily developed in later centuries by church leaders but simply recognized as already present in the developing first century church. While there was some diversity of teaching and writing as the church developed, all evidence points to there being a core group of documents that were widely accepted based on their being written by apostles or close associates of the apostles.      

The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans:

       A good example of how the three-fold criterion has been applied to arrive at our present canon is the exclusion of The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, which was for a time included in various Biblical manuscripts and survived such inclusion in some cases for over one thousand years. The epistle is some twenty verses long and consists of a patchwork of phrases and sentences found in other Pauline letters, particularly the letter to the Philippians.  This epistle purports to be written from prison and expresses joy over the faith and virtue of the Laodiceans and exhorts them to remain faithful. 

       Even though this document contains phrases and sentences found in Pauline writings from the first century and is purported to have been written by Paul, the evidence points to it having been written no earlier than the third century which means it wasn’t written by Paul who obviously would have been dead for many years.  Having been written several hundred years after the Christ event, it obviously fails the second criterion established for the inclusion of documents into the canon.  While this document does contain material that is found in the canonized letters of Paul, it is apparent someone simply copied what Paul wrote.

Epistle of Barnabas:

       The epistle of Barnabas was considered Scripture by many early Christians.  It is found in the oldest complete Greek manuscript of the NT, the Codex Sinaiticus.  This Codex also contains the Shepherd of Hermas which was the most popular of all ancient Christian documents that did not make it into our present NT canon.  Why is it that neither Barnabas nor the Shepherd of Hermas is in our present NT canon?

       The Barnabas known to the canonized NT was a companion of Apostle Paul and is mentioned 29 times in the book of Acts and 5 times in Paul’s letters.  The epistle of Barnabas is nowhere mentioned in the canonized NT and the actual epistle itself does not identify itself as written by a Barnabas or anyone else who is named.  It is anonymous.  We don’t know who the author is.  Furthermore, there is reasonable evidence to suggest this document was written around the year 130 or 135 A.D. which would be long after the Barnabas associated with Paul would have died.  For example, in the text of Barnabas is a reference to the temple lying in ruins and an expectation that it would be rebuilt.  It was rebuilt in part around A.D.130 by the Romans as a temple to Roman gods. The Epistle of  Barnabas is extremely anti Jewish in its text.  While some have characterized Apostle Paul as being anti Jewish because of his constant battle with the Jews over theological issues, Barnabas goes way beyond what Paul said in virtually distorting Old Covenant teaching.

       This epistle does not meet the three-fold criteria for canonization.  Therefore, the epistle of Barnabas, after enjoying initial acceptance as canonical Scripture, was ultimately rejected as it did not harmonize with the theology of the first century documents and it was apparently written around 100 years after the Christ event.

The Shepherd of Hermas:

      The Shepherd of Hermas was written by a man named Hermas who narrates a number of visions which are interpreted to him by an angelic companion who appeared in the form of a shepherd and thus the title of the book, Shepherd of Hermas.  The book is basically an apocalypse like John’s Revelation document.  There were many apocalypses floating around in the first and second centuries of the church.  This book was very popular and was included in various lists of authoritative Scripture.  Origen appears to have viewed the Shepherd as "inspired" but leaves it out of his own list of canonical documents.  Both Tertullian and Eusebius considered the Shepherd apocryphal.  However, it must be noted that the Shepherd, along with the Epistle of Barnabas, is included at the end of Codex Sinaiticus. Sinaiticus is a fourth century manuscript of all 27 documents of our present NT plus the Shepherd and Barnabas. 

       Some believe the placement of the Shepherd and Barnabas at the end of this codex signifies it was not considered to be on par with the other documents in the Codex and, therefore, not considered canonical.  However, it appears rather arbitrary to draw a line that says "this is the end" of the canonical documents and the beginning of non canonical documents.  It appears more valid to simply judge the canonicity of a document based on the three-fold criteria established to determine canonicity. 

       Shepherd was ultimately rejected for canonization because it was believed to have been written around the middle of the second century and therefore to be too far removed from the time of those associated with Christ or associated with those who personally knew Christ.  As previously mentioned, the Muratorian canon rejects the Shepherd of Hermas because it was written too long after the time of the apostles. Also, some of what the Shepherd teaches does not fit well with what is written in the first century documents presently included in the NT canon.  Therefore, the Shepherd fails the threefold criterion.

The Book of Enoch:

      Some question why The Book of Enoch is not included in our present canon since Jude quotes from this document in his canonized letter. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church does include Enoch in its canon of Scripture to this very day.  Enoch actual consists of five books.  The first book of this document describes the fall of the “Watchers,” who are believed to be angels who fathered the Nephilim spoken of in Genesis 6:4. The remaining books describe Enoch's visits to heaven in the form of travels, visions, dreams and revelations.

       Western scholars currently assert that its older sections, mainly the Book of the Watchers date from about 300 BC and the latest part of the book, called the Book of Parables was probably composed at the end of the first century BC.

       The complete book of Enoch is extant only in the ancient Ethiopic language. There are some Aramaic fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few Greek and Latin fragments extant as well.  Ethiopian scholars generally hold that the Ethiopian language is the original language of this document from which Greek and Aramaic copies were made. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church considers Enoch as a document worthy of being in their canon of Scripture because they take the position that this document was written by Enoch himself and reflects ancient Ethiopic text. In their view Enoch is written in the oldest written human language.

       The book of Enoch was considered Scripture in the Epistle of Barnabas, and by many of the early church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Tertullian.   Tertullian wrote around A.D. 200 that the Book of Enoch had been rejected by the Jews because it contained prophecies pertaining to Christ.

       By the time of the fourth century the canonicity of this book was being denied. Some even considered the letter of Jude itself not worthy of being canonical because it refers to what came to be considered a pseudepigraphic work, namely the Enoch document.   By the 4th century it was mostly excluded from Christian canons except for that of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church where it remains to this day.  It should be pointed out, however, that Jude quotes Enoch as if it is the Enoch mentioned in Genesis.

       Jude 1:14:  Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones.

       From where did Jude obtain this information?  What document was Jude quoting from?  He obviously believed it was the Enoch mentioned in Genesis that prophesied. Did Jude have access to some ancient document actually authored by the Enoch of Genesis?  Was Jude quoting from some later document that had incorporated this prophecy of Enoch into its text?  Did God simply reveal this prophecy of Enoch to Jude? 

       This brings us to the most challenging and most important question of our entire discussion as to the reliability of the Biblical Scriptures.  Just how was the information recorded in Biblical Scriptures received or transmitted?  Most Christians believe the Biblical Scriptures are divinely inspired.  What does it mean to say the Scriptures are divinely inspired?  In the next chapter we address this issue.