The Canon of Scripture

By Frederick P. Pogorzelski

The Bible came out of the Catholic (Universal) Church

After the death of Christ on the cross, and in the centuries before 419 A.D., there were many, perhaps hundreds of writings, and some forgeries that had to be sorted out and decided upon as to if they were canonical (canon = rule or official list) or not. The early Catholic Church was scattered out in communities over a wide geographic area. Many people in these communities liked the Shepherd of Hermas and it was very popular and read as if it were scripture. On The Shepherd of Hermas; in the document The Muratorian Fragment, approx. 170-180 A. D., it is written: "was written quite recently in our own time by Hermas, while his brother, Pius, was filling the chair of the Church of the city of Rome". ( Pope Saint Pious I apparently occupied the chair of Peter approx. 140 - 155 A. D. ). Origen ( 185-232 A.D. ) believed the author of The Shepherd of Hermas to be the same Hermas referred to by Saint Paul in Romans 16:14. The Epistle of Barnabus was accepted as Scripture by Clement and Origen but not by Saint Jerome. While both of the books; the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabus, were read and accepted by many Early Church communities they are not found in today's Bibles

The Gospel of Thomas was also in circulation and accepted by some followers of Mani ( Manicheans ). Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Cathechesis V ( approx. 348 A.D. ), states: "Let none read the gospel of Thomas, for it is the work, not of one of the twelve apostles, but one of Mani's three wicked disciples." Manichaeanism is a heretical idea that has echoed down the centuries and has persisted even unto today. Likewise, Gnosticism ( Gnostics were Docetists = Greek "to appear" ) teaches that salvation is liberation from the body because the material world is evil. These heretical teachings and writings were rejected as false by ecclestical authority. The important thing to remember about heretical ideas is that they will continue to re-emerge, in more virulent form ( variants ), and under different name, throughout the centuries.

Some communities did not accept the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) as Scripture, so it was not so popularly read and it was a disputed book. The Council of Laodicea about 360 A.D. did not include Revelation in the Canon of Scripture. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, also rejected it and forbade it's reading in public or private as well. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexanderia, accepted it as Scripture as it is shown in his festal letter of 367 A.D. [1] Disputes over the canonicity of the Book of Revelation contributed to divisions in the Eastern Church communities, and some Greek Churches of today do not accept it as Sacred Scripture. [2] [3]

The Bible did not come complete with an index, telling us which books, and how many, are inspired writings and canonical or not. It was the bishops of the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that sorted out and decided the canon of Sacred Scripture. The bishops were preserved from falling into error, as our Lord promised, on this important matter concerning the Holy Catholic Church. (Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20) (John 14,15, and 16) (1 Tim. 3:14-15) (Acts 15:28) They included Tobit, Baruch, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. Roman Catholics call these books deuterocanonical. Protestants call them Apocrypha. There are some additional passages in Daniel and Esther not found in Protestant Bibles.

Relatively recent archeological findings and analysis of the Dead Sea scrolls (Qumran) of 1947 revealed that several deuterocanonical books were originally composed in Hebrew (Sirach, Judith, 1 Maccabees,) or Aramaic (Tobit). The Protestant reformers of the 16th century were not aware of the Hebrew and Aramic Versions of the deuterocanonical books in the Alexandrian canon. These are significant and noteworthy because it proves that some of these books were in circulation in Palestine and were accepted by Jewish groups there. Many of the Christian evangelists and apologists used the Alexandrian canon ( Septuagint LXX ) preserved (not composed or originally written) in Greek. Hellenists Jews from outside Palestine had their own synagogue where the Bible was read in Greek.
The Hebrews were native Palestinian Jews with their own synagogue. Their language was Aramaic and their Bible was read in Hebrew. There were complaints and disputations amongst these two Jewish groups ( Hellenists and Hebrews ), who used different languages, as is noted in ( Acts 6:1-2 ).

The Protestant Reformers (not preserved from falling into error) thought that all the deuterocanonical books in the Alexandrian canon had been composed in Greek. The Protestant reformers accept 39 books found in the Hebrew Canon. They do not accept 46 books as they thought their to be seven (7) additional books to the canon of the Holy Bible only composed in Greek (LXX). Actually, many of the the books were preserved in Greek (not composed or originally written in Greek). Here, the reformers of the 16th century had taken, or been guided into, a historical and spiritual, wrong way turn. The archeological evidence available to the reformers of the 16th century led them to believe that the deuterocanonical books were later Greek language compositions and additions to the Holy Bible. Relatively recent archeological findings and analysis of the Dead Sea scrolls (Qumran) of 1947 revealed that several deuterocanonical books were originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic.
[In their own presumptuous way, and promoting individual authority, the reformers of the 16th century adopted a shorter 66 book canon of the Holy Bible. Today's Catholic Bibles usually count a 73-book canon of Scripture not 72. This is simply because they number the book of Lamentations separate from Jeremiah. However, once dogmatically defined, there can be no dispute as to the canonicity of the sacred books on the part of Catholics. The Reformers accept the 27 books of the New Testament.

(Martin Luther dishonored and nearly eliminated some of the New Testament books like James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. The insistence of his friends stopped him from eliminating some of the New Testament canon. Luther was suffering from scrupulosity.) The 16th century Protestant Reformers were wrong about the canon - as are some modern day "Bible Christians" - such as Erwin W. Lutzer. Note the contradiction(s) in historical facts as exemplified by footnote's 4 and 5 below. As always, read both books in context.]

The Bible came out of the Catholic Church around the end of the 4th century. ( No small feat! ) The Synods of Hippo, 393 A.D., and Carthage, 397 A.D.,and later, Carthage 419 A.D., ( along with the Traditional Bible or Latin Vulgate ( LV ), 406 A.D., by Saint Jerome ),gave us the canon of Sacred Scripture as Catholics know it today. Relatively recent archeological findings and analysis of the Dead Sea scrolls (Qumran) of 1947 revealed that several deuterocanonical books were originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. This is very relevant and significant because earlier Protestant reformers of the 16th century, were very suspicious of, and rejected books, only available to them in the Greek Language. In part therefore, the Protestant canon of 66 books of Sacred Scripture is deficient - short seven (7) books.

The regional or local Catholic Church Councils of Hippo, 393 A.D., and Carthage, 397 A.D., and later, Carthage 419 A.D. gave us the canon of Sacred Scripture as we know it today. Although these were just local councils, Saint Augustine did insist that the list given by these councils be sent to Rome for approval. Pope Saint Siricius (384-399 A.D.) approved the canon just as his papal predecessor Pope Damasus I had done in a Synod in 382 A.D. with a formal writing "Decretal of Gelasius", de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris. (The archeological findings and analysis pertaining to the Council of Rome 382 A.D. and some of the Popes may not be a settled fact.)

A friend of Saint Jerome, Saint Exuperius of Toulouse, a Gallican bishop, wrote to Pope Innocent I in a formal letter requesting the list of canonical books. The Pope replied - honoring Saint Exuperius - with a letter listing the canonical books:

Consulenti Tibi Dated February 405 A.D.

. This list is the same as the canonical list that Catholics have today. This includes the Protestant apocrypha or Catholic deuterocanonical books of the Holy Bible.

Around the end of the fourth century more evidence on the canon is found from the Church in Spain, in the work of the heretic Priscillian, Bishop of Avila (died 385 A.D.). Priscillianism is a variant of Gnostic-Manichaean. . In his work "Liber de Fide et Apocryphis" Priscillian defends and includes the deuteros although he does not claim that all the deuteros are inspired only some. In the Early Church their was much debate on The Canon of The Old Testament.

The Ecumenical Council of Florence again affirmed the list of inspired books in 1442 A.D., about 100 years before the Council of Trent. The "Decretum pro Jacobitis" by Pope Eugenius IV lists the inspired books, and according to the common teaching of theologians, these documents are infallible True meaning of infallible states of doctrine. Since there was no urgent challenge or compelling reason why it should, the Ecumenical Council of Florence did not dogmatically pass on the canonicity of the inspired books. It did however teach that the books were inspired.

The decrees of the local or regional Church councils (Synods) of Hippo, 393 A.D., and Carthage, around 400 A.D., were submitted to the "transmarine Church" (Rome) and approved by the Popes and are considered official Church teachings by official Church councils. Although these councils were merely local, and they in themselves did not have universal binding authority, their decrees were submitted to various Popes and approved. [6] The Latin Vulgate (LV) version of the Bible by Saint Jerome was completed about 406 A.D. and included the deuterocanonical books. About 1000 years later, the Council of Trent, Session Four, would state: "If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema."

The canon of the Bible was solemnly defined and made dogmatic Dogma and Classes of Revealed truth by the Fourth Session of the Ecumenical Council of Trent of the Catholic Church held in northern Italy 1545-1563 A.D. by the Decree "De Canonicis Scripturis" on April 8th, 1546. Pope Pius IV formally confirmed all of its decrees in 1564 A.D. This put the canonicity of the whole Traditional Bible (LV) beyond the permissibility of doubt on the part of Catholics. The books of the canon were listed individually and agreed with the earlier listing already taught (for about 1000 years prior to the Council of Trent) by the Ordinary Magisterium of the Catholic Church.[7] [8]


[1] The Interpreters Bible The Holy Scriptures in The King James Version, Volume XII, Page 353, Abingdon Press, 1957, Nashville 2, Tennessee

[2] history of Eastern Christianity, Page 248, By Aziz S. Atiya, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, Notre Dame, Indiana

[3] Eastern Christianity, Page 191, By Nicholas Zernov, G.P. Putnam's sons, 1961, New York

Compare footnotes [4] and [5] below. FOOTNOTE [4} IS HISTORICALLY ACCURATE.
[4] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall 1990, Raymond Edward Brown, Roland Edmund Murphy, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Editors, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Page 1041, #38 states the following: "...(2) it was once thought that the extra (deuterocanonical) books in the Alexandrian canon had been composed in Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic the sacred languages known in Palestine. Actually, a good number of the deuterocanonical books were originally composed in Hebrew (Sir, Jdt, 1 Macc) or Aramaic (Tob). The Qumran discoveries prove that some of these books were in circulation in Palestine and accepted by Jewish groups there. The fact that the codices of the LXX do not isolate the deuterocanonical books as a group but mix them in with the Prophets (Bar) and the Writings (Sir, Wis) shows that there was no awareness that these books had a unique origin, as there would have been if they were thought to be later and foreign additions to an already fixed collection translated from Hebrew. (3) The thesis that the Jews in Alexandria had a different theory of inspiration from the theory shared by the Jews in Jerusalem is gratuitous."

[5] Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible By Erwin W. Lutzer, Published by Moody Press, September 1998, Chicago, Illinois 60610
Dr. Lutzer states on Page 187, item 6: "Finally and most important, we must remember that the Apocrypha was never part of the Old Testament Hebrew Canon. We have already emphasized that Christ assumed that the Hebrew canon ended with the Hebrew Scriptures. The Apocrypha was written in Greek, not Hebrew, and appeared at a later time."

[6] Henri Denzinger's Enchiridon Symbolorum Et Definition, No. 84, Page 35

[7] "Faith Facts" from Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), 827 North Forth Street, Steubenville, Ohio 43952

[8] For earlier lists, cf. Synod of Laodicea (end of IV cent.), c. 60, the genuineness of which canon however is contested (Hefele-Leclercq, Hist. des conciles, I, 1026); Synod of Rome (382) under Pope Damasus (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 84); Synod of Hippo (393), c. 36, which the III Synod of Carthage (397) made its own in c.47 (idem, no. 92); Innocent I in 405 to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse (idem, no. 96); Eugene IV in the Council of Florence (Mansi, XXXI, 1736; Hardouin, IX, 1023f.). The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures

Opinion on "ecclestical authority:" I understand creedal definition, papal definition, or conciliar definition. see: Responses To 101 Questions On The Bible by Rayomd E. Brown, published by Paulist Press, New York, pages 11 - 16 and pages 73 - 74.