Foundation of Orthodoxy and the Canon


Foundation of Orthodoxy and the Canon


[1]‘Much of the present confusion over the problem of canon turns on the failure to reach an agreement regarding the terminology.’

As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, canons are;[2]an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture. The act of canonizing allows the canons to be treated and referenced as holy. The current books that make up the Holy Bible (Genesis – Revelations) have been the agreed upon canons after many debates over which books should make the list. The word canon comes from the Greek word kanon, [similar to the Hebrew word qaneh], which translates, to measuring rod (a standard or rule). Over time, the meaning has changed to; a standard or rule of faith. The advent of the early Christian Church meant that the collection of books (canons) needed to be standardized in order for God’s truths to be shared with everyone. The current Protestant Bible is comprised of 66 books; however, the Catholic Bible has several additional books. These additions are typically referred to as the Apocrypha, which includes but is not limited to the Maccabees, Tobias, Wisdom, and Additions to Esther. Nevertheless, even in our modern times, there is still a difference of opinion as to the layout of a canon for the Holy Scriptures. Whether it is Christians, Jews, Mormons, Jewish-Christians, or Catholics, the debate continues.

The bible is comprised of an Old Testament and a New Testament, however; the bible was not canonized with the current 66 books (Protestant Bible) all at once. The Old Testament canons are organized in the following order:

  1. From Genesis to Deuteronomy – these first five books (also called the books of Moses) are referred to as the Pentateuch. The Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches concur with this as well. These books comprise the Torah in the Tanakh of the Hebrew bible.
  2. From Joshua to Esther are called the historical books. However, the Apocrypha (the missing books) are listed within this group and is found within the Catholic canons. Some of these include Edras, Judith, Tobias, 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees.
  3. The Wisdom books consist of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon, which corresponds to the Ketuvim (Writings) in the Tanakh. The Catholics and Eastern Orthodox canons have the Apocrypha books of Wisdom and Sirach.
  4. The Major Prophets–Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel matches the Nevi’im in the Tanakh, but has the book of Baruch in the Catholic bible.
  5. The Twelve Minor Prophets – Hosea to Malachi is the same between Protestant, Hebrew, Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox canons.

The books of the Old Testament are accepted, by their very nature, as canonized because the prophets who wrote the books of the Old Testament were deemed as having the inspired words from God and thus meantfor future use to successive generations. Since these are from God, and in turn, God’s truths, these books were not required to be proofed by anyone or anything. The Old Testament canon was completed in 70 A.D. With the ‘holy’ nature of these books, it was much easier to canonize the Old Testament than it was for the New Testament. The people of the Early Church respected the Old Testament works so highly, that they held no doubts about the authority and validity of the Old Testament books.

One of the key figures in the establishment of the canon is Marcion of Sinope. In the second century (140 AD), Marcion created his own canon of scriptures under Christianity. He used the Gospel of Luke (Gospel of Marcion) and ten Epistles written by Paul. 170 A.D. saw the creation of the Muratorian canon that was made up of the New Testament books. This canon excluded the books of John, Hebrews, and 3 John. The council of Laodiceain 363 A.D.determined that only the books of the Old Testament (with the Apocrypha) and the books of the New Testament were to be taught in the churches. Meanwhile, the Festal Epistle of Athanasius in 365 A.D.was yet another creation of a canon. His canon featured only the New Testament – written in a different order –and, in turn, became the standard list – which is still in use today. There were other creations of canons, such as theAmphilochius, archbishop of Iconium in 395 A.D., the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D., and the council of Carthage in 397 A.D. In fact, up until the fifth century, there have been several different versions of canons with multiple people and organizations each adding, removing, accepting and rejecting varying books in order to create a canon of their own. The irony here is that the very idea of a standard or a rule of faith – the canon – was the one thing that no one had. Real order was needed to solve this issue.

In an effort to achieve a practical canon of books, a simple four-step process (created by the biblical scholars)was established in order to identify which books could be included in the canon and be canonized as Holy Scripture. They were;

  1. Was it written by Apostles or disciples of the Apostles?
  2. Is it considered inspired of God?
  3. Is it accepted by the Church?
  4. Does it conform to the tradition and rule of faith by the Church?

Furthermore, books of the New Testament canon that were thought of as ‘inspired’, had to fit two categories;

  1. To determine if there were any eye witnesses accounts of the Messiah.
  2. Letters would need to have been written by key witnesses of various believers.

The latter half of the fourth century saw, despite the proliferation of varying canons, the most effort being put towards creating a proper canon. This would be accepted by both Eastern and Western Churches of the time. Additionally, each book had to undergo another round of reproof. Each book had to be: life changing and authentic, prophetic, authoritative and garnered widespread recognition as the Word of God. Despite all the efforts and thoughts that was placed into deciding which books were to be canonized, many more books did not meet the requirements. They were not regarded as inspired. One example is the Letters of Clement. A leading elder in Rome in 95 A.D., his letters put an end to disagreements between Laity and the Elders. Another is Ignatius of Antioch. He is known to have written seven letters in 115 A.D. while on his way to be thrown into the lions’ den. Quadratus’ letters told of the miracle of Jesus. Further still, the Epistles of Barnabas, which was written between 130 A.D. and 138 A.D., professes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. Since these books were not written by the Apostles, they were not considered Holy Scriptures.






[1] [1] Michael J. Kruger, “The Definition of the Term ‘canon’: Exclusive or Multi-Dimensional?,” Tyndale Bulletin 63, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 1-20, accessed July 19, 2015,


[2]“Merriam-Webster,” accessed July 19, 2015,



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