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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The New Testament Apocrypha Books

Don Stewart :: What Is Canon Criticism?

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Question 10

What Is Canon Criticism?

Canon criticism is the name for a discipline that does not necessarily accept the present New Testament canon of Scripture. It believes that the issue of the canon was settled in the wrong way, and still needs to be discussed. Usually the argument revolves around two basic things—the early Christians based their decisions on wrong information, and the Protestant Reformers, in the sixteenth century, gave unacceptable criteria for which books needed to be included in the canon of Scripture.

There Are Two Basic Ways in Which the Present Canon Is Criticized

Those who criticize the present canon of Scripture usually argue in either one of two ways. Some contend there should be a canon within the present canon—not all of the books presently considered Scripture should be in the New Testament canon. It is also argued that other books should be considered as canonical that are not part of the New Testament. We can make the following observations:

  1. The Charge Is That the Early Church Was Acting on Wrong Information When Putting Together the Canon

    It is contended that the early Christians made their decisions, with respect to the canon, based upon either incomplete or inaccurate information. For example, many modern critics reject Second Peter as having been written by Peter.

    In addition, they reject the claim that the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus were written by Paul. They believe these four writings are forgeries. Paul’s authorship of Ephesians is also questioned as whether it actually came from him. Consequently, it is argued, that these books should be excluded from the New Testament canon.

  2. It Is Also Alleged That Unacceptable Criteria Were Used to Determine the Canonical Books

    The criteria that the Protestant reformers used to determine which books belonged in the New Testament was also flawed. Martin Luther argued that the book must “teach Christ.” John Calvin said the testimony of the Holy Spirit would bear witness to each individual Christian in every age as to what was God’s Word and what was not.

    These criteria are too subjective and cannot be used as a basis to determine which book does, or does not, belong in Holy Scripture. Therefore, the canon should be revised to fit the latest and most up-to-date scholarship. To many, this includes taking out certain books such as 1,2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter.

Response: This Charge Has No Basis in Fact

First, it is arrogant to contend that people twenty centuries removed from the events can make a better judgment than those living at the time. The initial people who accepted the books of the New Testament as Holy Scripture had direct links to Jesus and His apostles. Indeed, the apostles themselves were likely to have confirmed the authority of all of the New Testament books. These writings were copied, recopied, and circulated because their authority lay behind them.

The Reformers did indeed give inadequate reasons for accepting the New Testament canon. However, we have the promise of Jesus as well as the historical evidence that the church did make the right decision with respect to the biblical books. We do not rely solely upon the criteria set down by the Protestant reformers.

As each of the New Testament books is carefully examined, we find that there are sufficient reasons for accepting their divine inspiration and authority. The canon is closed and the right books are in it!

Summary - Question 10
What Is Canon Criticism?

Canon criticism believes the question of the New Testament canon has not been closed; the issue is still very much open. Consequently, some books can be either added or subtracted from the New Testament.

It is also contended that the early church relied on either inaccurate or incomplete information when they made their comments about the canon. In addition, the Protestant reformers made their decisions on criteria which were “too subjective.”

Thanks to the efforts of these “better-informed” people, we can now subtract certain books from the New Testament. Among the candidates often cited are 1,2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter and possibly Ephesians.

Thankfully, the great masses of believers have never taken these people seriously. Each book which is in the New Testament has the right to be there. The New Testament contains twenty-seven separate documents which the church recognizes as divinely authoritative. End of discussion.

Were Certain Books Left Out of the New Testament Canon? ← Prior Section
Is It Possible That Someone Other than the Stated Author Wrote One or More of the Biblical Books? (Pseudonymous Writing) Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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