Have you ever wondered why there are 66 books in your Bible? Or if you grew up in the Catholic tradition (or currently are there), you might wonder why there are a few more titles in your table of contents. The number of books recognized as scripture from God, or not recognized as scripture from God, came under debate during the early years of the church, and was settled by what we now call the ‘canon of scripture’.
Very simply stated, canon means ‘rule, rod, or standard’. Like today’s yardstick. It was a term used for measuring the length of objects, and in reference to the Bible, it is the measurement of the books that are scripture, therefore excluding the books that are not scripture. So when the church canonized scripture, they were drawing a measuring line around the writings that were inspired by God to set them apart from the writings that were not.
So why did the church decide to ‘canonize’ scripture in the first place? It all started with a guy named Marcion (not a dude you want to name your first born son after).
Marcion was a false teacher in Rome who began to teach that the God of the Old Testament was inferior to the God of New Testament. He taught the God of the OT was full of wrath and justice, while the God of the NT was full of love and grace. He also began to teach some strange stuff about Jesus; like He was not born of a woman, did not really suffer on the cross, and did not rise bodily from the dead. So how did Marcion get away with teaching such things that were so clearly against scripture?
Simple. He did what people are still doing today. He edited his Bible to fit his beliefs. This means he started denying portions of scripture, books of scriptures, and eventually the whole Old Testament of scripture.
So what did Marcion’s Bible look like? After denying the whole OT and most of the NT because it frequently referenced the OT, he was left with portions of Luke and 10 letters from Paul.
In the very early days of the church, Marcion was running around denying large portions of scripture and claiming only limited writings to be scripture. So for the first time the church had to put together an official list of what was, and what was not, scripture. This list became known as The Canon.
So why are there 66 books in your Bible? Because a heretic named Marcion didn’t like what he read in certain scriptures, so he decided to edit his bible to fit his beliefs.
Now that we have looked at the backdrop that lead to a church council in the 300’s to canonize the Bible, it is important to note that that the church did not give these books authority as God’s Word through the canonization process, but instead the church simply recognized these books as having authority already, because they were God-breathed scripture.
Therefore, the 66 canonized books have authority because they are God-breathed, not because the church canonized them in 397.
So how do we know the church recognized the right books as scripture? And what about those extra books in the Catholic table of contents? We’ll leave those questions for next time.
Until then, I hope you find yourself in one of those 66 God-breathed books, otherwise called The Canon.