The Cannon of the Bible
We have seen that the Bible is God’s revealed word, but how did we receive that revealed word? The Bible did not just fall out of heaven, but rather it was revealed over a period of time. Thus, God not only revealed the Bible, but He also preserved it.
All the books of the Bible have been revealed and inspired by God. These books have been distinguished from other religious writings as being a part of the “canon.” The word “canon” refers to a measuring rod, and thus to be a part of the “canon” a book must measure up to the following criteria:
1. It must be written by an apostle or prophet.
“Only those books were received by the early Church which were written by apostles, or at least – as was the case with Mark and Luke – were given to the Church under apostolic sanction.”
J. Gresham Machen
2. It must tell the truth about God, and not contradict the rest of the Bible.
“…were the contents of a given book of such a spiritual character as to entitle it to its rank?”
3. It must be accepted by the people of God.
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” 1 Thess 2:13
4. It must be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
“All Scripture is inspired by God…”
2 Timothy 3:16
Based on these standards, and ultimately God’s preservation, the Bible is made up of sixty-six books.
Once a book of the Bible was written by its original author it had to be transmitted to others. This transmission occurred when the autograph (the original copy) was carefully copied by trained scribes. Although these copies contained occasional errors (spelling, punctuation, wrong but similar word, etc.), they were remarkably accurate in transmitting the authoritative Word of God. One may wonder how trustworthy these transmitted copies could have been, however it is reassuring to know that both the apostles and Jesus used transmitted copies in their own teaching ministries.
In addition to being transmitted, the original texts of the Bible also needed to be translated into various languages. This translation is necessary for people who want to read the Bible but are not familiar with original languages that it was written in (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek).
There are various translations of the Bible that all fall into three basic categories.
1. Formal Equivalence or “Word-for-Word”
Formal equivalence, or word-for-word, translations focus on the actual words of the text and seek to translate each of those words into its equivalent in the target language.
2. Dynamic Equivalence or “Thought-for-Thought”
Dynamic equivalence, or thought-for-thought, translations attempt to reproduce the meaning of a text. In doing so words of the text may be changed in order to avoid confusion.
- NIV (the best of the Dynamic Equivalence translations)
- The Living Bible
- The Message
There are translations of the Bible that have been corrupted. These corruptions are translations that change the meaning of a text and undermine the true message of God’s Word.
- New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witness)
In choosing one of these translations one must be wise. It would be most helpful to enjoy multiple good English translations of the Bible. However, a word-for-word translation will prove to be the most reliable and useful for Bible study. Other translations can be used as secondary resources to aid in your study.