Quest. 14: What is meant by the “canonicity” of Scripture?
Ans: The “canonicity” of Scripture has reference to the various books that together make up the Bible [the scriptural canon] and the process by which they alone are recognized as Scripture [canonization].
2 Pet. 3:15–16. 15And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
See also: 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:20–21.
All of the Holy Scriptures together form a book—the Bible. But the Bible is itself comprised of sixty–six books. It is a Divine library of various books—thirty–nine in the Old Testament [Genesis—Malachi in our English Bible] and twenty–seven in the New Testament [Matthew—Revelation in our English Bible]—that together form the canon of Scripture.
The word canon is derived from the Greek canōn, and originally signified a measuring staff or straight rod. It was probably a derivative of the Hebrew kaneh, or reed, an Old Testament term for a measuring rod [a reed used as a measuring instrument]. By the time of Athanasius (c. 350), the term “canon” was applied to the Bible, both as the rule of faith and practice, and as the body of inspired and authoritative truth.
The existence and validity of a scriptural canon [a certain number of books or writings that are truly from God and are unique in that sense] necessarily presupposes Christian Theism [the belief in the triune, self–disclosing God of Christianity as revealed in the Scriptures]. Only if it is presupposed that the triune, self–revealing God of Scripture has spoken, and that this revelation has been inscripturated [written down] under Divine superintendence [inspiration], can the issues of canonicity [which books are truly God–given] be settled in a positive manner. See Question 9.
Early Christianity did not canonize the Scriptures by its own [the church’s] authority, i.e., select which writings were to be included, but rather recognized those writings that were and are canonical. The differences between the canonical and non–canonical writings were and are immediately discernable. How did the early Christians recognize certain books as Scripture and reject others? The answer lies in the application of various principles gathered from early Christian writings which detail the process used by the early Christians and churches: first, is the book authoritative? Does it possess Divine authority? Second, is the book authentic, i.e., was it written by one of the Apostles or the stated author? Third, does it agree with the rest of Divine revelation and with the rule or “analogy of faith?” [This refers to the inclusive, non–contradictory or coherent nature of the Scripture as the very Word of God inscripturated. This also refers to the self–consistent teaching of Scripture as it touches on any given point]. Fourth, is the book dynamic, i.e., does it possess the power of God to evangelize and edify? This refers to the witness of the Spirit in the power of his Word. Fifth, is the book recognized by the early Church Fathers? Sixth, Is the book received by the people of God? Thus, the Scriptures formed the churches, and not the reverse. Scripture stands upon Divine authority, not upon any ecclesiastical authority. The Scriptures, then, are self–attesting or self–authenticating. The Holy Spirit witnesses to the veracity of Scripture to the believer. See Question 10.
Some deny the finalization of the canon of Scripture, holding to a continuing inspiration, i.e., that God still speaks directly to and through men through visions, “tongues” [ecstatic utterances] or inspired “prophesying.” Such leaves the Word of God in an incomplete and ultimately, in a non–authoritative state. See Question 84. Do we revere the Scriptures and love their Author as we ought?
By Dr. W.R. Downing