Who Decided Which Books Made It into the Bible?

Article excerpt

The Bible is considered the inspired word of God by the faithful. So you have to wonder: where did it come from? With all the writings floating around the ancient world, who decided which of them rated as sacred enough to be scripture?

This question is technically one of canonicity. "Canon" means norm or standard. The term was first applied by St. Athanasius to a collection of Jewish and Christian writings around the year 350. A fourth-century bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, Athanasius was a powerhouse.

He would later be named "Doctor of Orthodoxy" for his strong defense against heresies of his time. Athanasius attended the all-important Council of Nicaea, from which we get our Nicene Creed. He was a zealous advocate for the divinity of Jesus in an age before the nature of Jesus was uniformly accepted. For all of these reasons, Athanasius was invested in settling the canon of scripture: which books might be counted as the "Word of God"--and which, at best, were just good words.

It would have been helpful to him if the apostles had sat down one dull night in the first century and decided this themselves: "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are in. Gospels of Thomas and Judas--out!" It would also have been impossible, since many New Testament texts weren't written until after that first generation of church leaders had died. Also, strange as it may seem, even the Hebrew scriptures we call the Old Testament had yet to be defined by the Jewish community. …