In The Canon of Scripture, F. F. Bruce presents a thorough reexamination of the historical evidence for acceptance of the canon, focusing on the central issues of criteria of canonicity, the idea of a canon within a canon, and canonical criticism. Adept in both Old and New Testament studies, Bruce brings a rare comprehensive perspective to his task, as well as the wisdom of a lifetime of reflection and biblical interpretation to bear in answering the questions and clearing away the confusion surrounding the Christian canon of Scripture. Winner of two 1990 Christianity Today Awards and a 1989 ECPA Gold Medallion Award, this impressive work remains a significant landmark and touchstone for further studies.
How did the books of the Bible come to be recognized as Holy Scripture? Who decided what shape the canon should take? What criteria influenced these decisions? After nearly nineteen centuries the canon of Scripture still remains an issue of debate. Protestants, Catholics and the Orthodox all have slightly differing collections of documents in their Bibles. Martin Luther, one of the early leaders of the Reformation, questioned the inclusion of the book of James in the canon. And many Christians today, while confessing the authority of all of Scripture, tend to rely on only a few books and particular themes while ignoring the rest.
Scholars have raised many other questions as well. Research into second-century Gnostic texts has led some to argue that politics played a significant role in the formation of the Christian canon. Assessing the influence of ancient communities and a variety of disputes on the final shaping of the canon calls for ongoing study.
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This book is at once learned and readable, and takes account of the most recent discoveries and literature. It is the most comprehensive account of the canon since Bishop Westcott's The Bible in the Church.
—Roger Beckwith, Latimer House, Oxford
This work belongs in every theological library.
—Grace Theological Journal
F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) was Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester in England. During his distinguished career, he wrote many bestselling commentaries and books, including Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, A Mind for What Matters and several titles published by InterVarsity Press. He also served as general editor of The New International Commentary on the New Testament.
“Thomas Aquinas (c 1225–1274) says that ‘canonical scripture alone is the rule of faith’.” (Page 18)
“These quotations do not amount to evidence for a New Testament canon; they do show that the authority of the Lord and his apostles was reckoned to be not inferior to that of the law and the prophets. Authority precedes canonicity; had the words of the Lord and his apostles not been accorded supreme authority, the written record of their words would never have been canonized.” (Page 123)
“That ancient covenant made the divine will plain to them, but did not impart the power to carry it out; for lack of that power they broke the covenant. Under the new covenant, however, not only the desire but the power to do the will of God would be imparted to his people: his law would be put within them and written on their hearts. ‘In speaking of a new covenant’, says the writer to the Hebrews, ‘he treats the first as obsolete’ (Heb. 8:13). And he leaves his readers in no doubt that the new covenant has already been established, ratified not by the blood of sacrificed animals but by the blood of Christ, a sacrifice which effects not merely external purification from ritual defilement but the inward cleansing of the conscience from guilt.” (Page 21)
“Marcion is the first person known to us who published a fixed collection of what we should call New Testament books.” (Page 134)
“A common, and not unreasonable, account of the formation of the Old Testament canon is that it took shape in three stages, corresponding to the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. The Law was first canonized (early in the period after the return from the Babylonian exile), the Prophets next (late in the third century bc). When these two collections were closed, everything else that was recognized as holy scripture had to go into the third division, the Writings, which remained open until the end of the first century ad, when it was ‘closed’ at Jamnia.25 But it must be pointed out that, for all its attractiveness, this account is completely hypothetical: there is no evidence for it, either in the Old Testament itself or elsewhere.” (Page 36)