There are questions that are often posed to me throughout my Christian life and those questions are: “Why are the books in the Bible there and who made the decision to put them there? Why are some books that have been found left out of the Bible?” These questions can often be difficult for new Christians who have not yet begun their research into this subject. Why are there books left out of the Bible? Why are some books included and others not included and who made the choice to leave those books out?
First is to explore the definition of the Biblical canon, or canonicity. According to Bible.org, the word originated from “the Greek kanwn and most likely from the Hebrew qaneh and Akkadian, qanu. Literally, it means (a) a straight rod or bar; (b) a measuring rule as a ruler by masons and carpenters; then (c) a rule or standard for testing straightness.”1 Some may look at this and ask what this has to do with the Bible. The originators of the Bible canon used this description to align the books of the Bible. They needed a “measuring rule” to judge which book made it into the Bible and which books didn't fit what the Bible is trying to say. They had to have certain requirements to measure how each book added up and how they fit into the flow of the Bible. These requirements as given by Thiessen are “apostolicity, contents, universality, and inspiration”2. The Apostolicity of the book being considered made sure that the book was written by an apostle, and if it was not, was it written by someone that held a close relationship with an apostle. Another requirement was the contents of the book. If the contents of the book were not spiritual in nature, than the book didn't belong in the New Testament. The third requirement was the universality of the book, which means was the book universally accepted by those in the church. This is where a lot of debate comes in that we will get to. The fourth requirement for the canon for the New Testament is inspiration. This tests if the book was divinely given by God to the writer or if the writer wrote it for personal means and personal gain. This was another hot spot for debate in many books that are not published in the canon. So, there are these requirements to meet for a book to get into the New Testament, but who made these decisions for entry.
According to Thiessen, “There was no early counciliar action that determined which books should be recognized and which not; the selection and acceptance of the books was a spontaneous process that went on throughout the Church.”3 So according to this, from an early point there was no conclusive point to which books belonged in the New Testament and which ones did not belong. The church started using the four points given above to decide which books to believe and which books they didn't believe. There were many heresies that started coming out to try and add in other books such as Gnosticism. Without going into too much detail, Gnosticism tried to add in books such as the Book of Thomas or The Book of the Lord. These books were not accepted by members of the early church as books that needed to be included, so they were never added in by New Testament and eventually deemed as heresy. Hooper makes an interesting point when he states “Indeed, how did we get our New Testament anyway, and just what attitude must a man manifest toward it who cannot accept it unquestioningly, merely because it has been accepted for many centuries by the great Christian body?4 The mystery of where the New Testament started remains a mystery. We can't begin to try and explain it except that it was divinely given by the Lord as the books that He wants us to read and those that He knows we need to hear. But there is a group of people who helped organize the New Testament into what it is today.
Again, the canon was never formally put together for some time. They people of the New Testament had the laws and the works of the Old Testament for some time before the New Testament was put together; which was the Septuagint. This book was used by the majority of the Jewish people throughout the first century. But the New Testament is different. There have been many books that have been excluded from today's canon that were in the canon throughout history and until recent ages have been changed. Some of these books include Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, 1 and 2 Clement and others. Why these books are no longer in the canon is God's judgment. Personally I believe that the given word of God is what God wants us to hear and God wants us to hide in our hearts. These books until recent days have been included in the canon. The reason they may have been taken out is that they no longer applied to the current church, was outdated material, or evidence has been found on the inaccuracy of the book. Many books such as the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Judas have not been included in the Bible because they were found to be written in later dates, and did not match the criteria listed above. Also, it has been said that a lot of writing that has come out has been found to be written by someone other than the supposed author of the book, so that someone can make money off of the Christian religion.
The last thing that I wanted to point out was the Council of Laodecia. This council of bishops and religious people of authority came together in about 364 A.D. This council was put together to, among other things, put together the structure of the canon. The books that they thought were divinely given by the Lord for the people to read were discussed and voted on by the attendees. In this time there were many books that were given that are not current in today's Bible, but there is one that we have now that was not originally in the canon, and that is the book of Revelation. This council has been debated among theologians as to the accuracy of their gatherings and how exactly affairs were handled.
The one thing that I always come back to when reading my Bible is what is building my relationship with the Lord. Is what I am reading helping my relationship with the Lord or is it hurting my relationship with the Lord? I am not concerned with motives of people from 2000 years ago, or what happened at certain council meetings. I have read the Book of Thomas and the Book of Judas, as well as many others, and found that they did not fulfill any further relationship with my Lord and Savior. It was not the plan for the Lord for me to read these books. I do know that my Bible today is my most treasured possession, because it is my map to God's mind, it is my love note from my Father. I learn how to be a better man, a better father and a better Christian from reading our current books of the Bible. Whether there are other books out there, probably, but what does the Lord have for me to read today? This is my main concern.
Ferris, George Hooper. The Formation of the New Testament. (Philadelphia: Griffith & Rowland Press). 1917. 17.
Keathley, J. Hampton. The Bible: The Holy Canon of Scripture. Bible.org. Copyright 1995-2013. http://bible.org/seriespage/bible-holy-canon-scripture. Last accessed April 8, 2013.
Thiessen, Henry Clarence. The Canon of the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. (Grand Rapids, 1971).