I remember sitting down with the man discipling me near the window at Starbucks. Every month I would bring him questions and we would talk through them together. This month I was curious about the Bible. The question I asked him was, “How did the Bible come to be put together?” I think I jokingly said, “Was there an explosion in a paper factory, and the Bible got put together in that explosion? How did it happen?” I did not realize it, but I was asking about what I now know is the Canon.
With that story, let’s take a look at the methodical and God-directed way that the Bible was compiled. The process I am broadly describing is called “canonization” or “the canon of Scripture.” What does the word “canon” mean? The word has Hebrew and Greek backgrounds. In Hebrew the word is קָנֶה (canew) which literally means “rod” for measuring (that “rod” used for measuring came from a reed-type plant). The rod was used as a rule or standard against which things were measured. Two examples of this use are in Ezekiel:
“As he brought me nearer, I saw a man whose face shone like bronze standing beside a gateway entrance. He was holding in his hand a linen measuring cord and a measuring rod.” (Ezekiel 40:3, NLT, emphasis added)
“He measured the east side with his measuring rod, and it was 875 feet long. Then he measured the north side, and it was also 875 feet. The south side was also 875 feet, and the west side was also 875 feet.” (Ezekiel 42:16–19, NLT, emphasis added)
In the New Testament the word is κανων (canon). Two examples of this use are in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Philippians:
“And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16, ESV, emphasis added)
“however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” (Philippians 3:16, NASB95, emphasis added)
First, I want to show you when the New and Old Testaments were completed. Then, we will look at when those Testaments were recognized as Scripture. Next, I want you to know the exact criteria that were used when recognizing what made New Testament Scripture. Lastly, we will take a brief look at the books that made it into the Bible.
The Canon of Scripture
I. SCRIPTURE COMPLETION DATE
A. Old Testament (435 B.C.)
The last books of the Old Testament to be written were likely Nehemiah and Malachi. Most scholars say Malachi was written somewhere between 433-420 B.C. near the reign of the Persian King Artaxerxes II (Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 94; Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament: Prophetic Books, 407-408).