October 14, 2021 Eric Gawura

What's the Deal with the Number of Books in the Bible?

What's the Deal with the Number of Books in the Bible?

What’s the deal with the New Testament? I’ve heard that there should be a lot more books included in the Bible. Is that true?

Despite popular claims that you might see in certain TV programs, documentaries, or in print, the list of the Books in the Bible was not decided by the decision of a church council or a church leader. Lists of Biblical books were made by church councils, but more in the way of giving recognition to the fact that all churches recognized certain books to be God’s inspired Word.

In Christian circles the list of books that are included in the Old and New Testaments is called the canon (canon meaning “that against which all things must be measured or judged”). Secular scholars talk about the canon of the New Testament as being created by the Church. That is, some church council voted on which books should be in the New Testament and which shouldn’t. In other words, the New Testament books were decided by committee.

The Church itself has a different understanding of how the canon was created. It’s based on some assumptions. First, the church believes that God revealed himself in certain writings. Second, the church believes that those writings are inspired – that is, the have human writers but only on author – the Holy Spirit. Third, the Church believes that these books/writings are authoritative for the Church; no teaching and not practice should be in disagreement with those sacred writings.

So the Church says that it did not create the canon (list of accepted books), but that it recognized the canon. It decerned that books that were sacred through the following method:

1.   It was written by an Apostle (e.g. Matthew, John, the letters of Paul and Peter), or those in very close association with an Apostle (e.g. Mark and Luke). This was and remains the most important criteria to be met.

2.   It was catholic, that is, it was used and accepted by all Christians Churches; mere regional use and acceptance was insufficient).

3.   It was orthodox, conforming completely with the apostolic faith.

4.   And it was ancient, having been written in the first century.

From the Church’s perspective it can therefore be said that there are 66 books in the Bible because God inspired only that many and the Church hears the authoritative voice of God only in these books.

There were, of course, other books floating around the Roman Empire in the first few centuries of Christian history that claimed, in some sense, to be “Christian.” These are the usual writings that some scholars will point to with the claim, “these were excluded by the Church.”

Here’s a good summation of why these books were not ever recognized as being part of the Biblical canon:

“Books that were later deemed heretical were never widely authoritative, and thus were never part of any early Bible or the canonization process (outside of being directly noted as unaccepted). There was no conspiracy against these noncanonical and heretical works, but rather an acknowledgement of their factual inaccuracy and their teachings, which clearly disagree with historical Christianity as taught by Jesus and the apostles. Instead, the books under discussion and debate during the canonicity process were those that agreed with the tradition of the early church and of the apostles but were doubtful as to their relevance for wider church usage (mainly in worship settings) or their being from the era of the apostles and reflective of their thoughts.” -- Barry, J. D. – Klippenstein, R. – Wolcott, C. S., “Canon, Overview of the”, The Lexham Bible Dictionary.