Biblical canon

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The Biblical canon is the set of all books which are considered inspired by God and therefore part of the Bible. There is disagreement between Christian churches on which books are to be included.

While all Jews accepted the Torah, there was division about what other books might or might not be inspired by God. The first attempts at standardizing Jewish scripture may date to 400 BC. The Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Old Testament into Greek provided a standard text for the non-Hebrew speaking world. This version was probably written in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. However, even here, there was discussion about what books were inspired. Some editions of the Septuagint include, for instance I-IV Maccabees or the 151st Psalm, while others do not include them.

After the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jewish community set down their canon of scripture at the council of Jaffa. (Some modern scholars believe this council was a later Rabbinical invention.) They decided to include only those books written in Hebrew and written up to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. (Later scholarship indicates that this division was not perfectly done, that is, some of the books accepted by the Jews were actually written after the deadline.) This Canon continues to be used by Jews to this day.

The Christians, on the other hand, tended to use the Septuagint, a Greek language version of the Jewish scriptures, and had more books in circulation. Listings of the canon date as early as AD 180; although, the definitive declaration was not until the Council of Carthage in AD 397. The inclusion of some books in the New Testament was debated: Hebrews, James, 2 John, 3 John, 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Revelation, mostly because of the uncertain authorship of these books. In the Old Testament, the "doubtful" books included are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, I-II Maccabees, and Sirach, as well as parts of Esther and Daniel written originally in Greek.

When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, producing the Vulgate bible, he argued for the "Veritas Hebraica", or the acceptance of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament. At the insistence of the Pope, however, he added translations for the doubtful books. Over the years, the feeling in favor of this group of "doubtful" books grew, until at the Council of Florence (1451), this list was defined as canonical. The Council of Florence, however, was not binding on the whole Church. The Catholic Church finally settled the question of the Canon in the Council of Trent, which reaffirmed the Canon of the Council of Florence. The Old Testament books that had been in doubt were termed "deuterocanonical", not indicating a lesser degree of inspiration, but a later time of final approval.

The Protestant churches however rejected these books (though how strongly they are rejected various from one Protestant group to another). At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther eliminated the "doubtful" books from his Old Testament, terming them "Apocrypha". He also argued unsuccessfully for the elimination of certain New Testament books, notably the Letter of James. As a result Catholics and Protestants continue to use different canons, which differ in respect to the Old Testament: the Protestant Old Testament is identical to the Jewish canon, while the Catholic Old Testament contains in addition 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, additions to Daniel and Esther, Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), and the Wisdom of Solomon.

Furthermore, there are many books similar in style to the books of the Bible and dating from the same period, which are accepted by neither Protestant nor Catholics. Catholics call these books Apocrypha, while Protestants call them Pseudepigrapha, reserving the term Apocrypha for the Catholic Deuterocanon. These books include 3 and 4 Maccabees, and 1 and 2 Esdras. A few Oriental Orthodox churches use some of these books: e.g. the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's canon includes Jubilees, 1 Enoch, the Sheperd of Hermas, 1 Clement and the Acts of Paul.

See Books of the Bible for a listing.

Books not included in canon

  • Old Testament Pseudipigrapha
    • Books quoted or aluded to in New Testament but not included themselves
      • Enoch
      • Jannes and Jambres
      • Martyrdom of Isaiah
      • Assumption Of Moses
  • Apocryphal Gospels
    • Books considered Gnostic
      • Gospel of Thomas
      • The Infancy gospel of Thomas
      • Gospel of Truth
      • Gospel of Philip
      • Gospel of Mary
    • Books considered heretical or fraudulent
      • Gospel of Peter
      • Gospel of Mathias
  • Apocryphal Acts
    • Acts of Andrew
    • Acts of John
  • Other books -- some of these books, while often quoted by orthodox authors, were nonetheless not considered canonical.
    • 1 and 2 Clement
    • Infancy Gospel of Thomas
    • Shepard (or Pastor) of Hermas
    • Acts of Paul
    • Didache
    • Epistle of Barnabas
    • Apocalpse of Peter
  • Modern or Mediaeval 'Pseudipigrapha'

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