On this episode of Theology Unplugged we talk about the canon. In this context canon refers to the collection of books that make up the Bible. Did you know that Bibles used by protestants and catholics have slightly different collections of books? Jump to the end of this post to play the podcast or subscribe via iTunes.

The First 5-Min Transcript

Tim Kimberley (TK): Fellas, it’s good to be back in the studio with you guys. It’s great having you join us here on Saturdays on BOTT Radio. And we are talking about not really a problem passage in the Bible but we are zooming way out but I will start it with II Timothy…

(Christopher) Michael Patton (CMP): It is a problem passage.

TK: Well it’s more of just a problem.

CMP: It’s a problem passage that’s not in the Bible.

TK: That’s right. Okay. But let me read II Timothy 3:16 because it says, all scripture is breathed out by God. Okay, all scripture is breathed out by God. But here’s the problem. How do we know what scripture is breathed out by God? How do we know for sure that the 66 books that I have in the Bible that’s in my hands right now was breathed out by God.

CMP: Table of contents. Go to the table of contents.

TK: How do I also know that what if on the nightly news tonight some archeologist in Jerusalem just was digging in the palace of David and just found a whole new collection of writings, should we add that and maybe now there’s 67 books…

The Apostle John Writing the Canon
Editorial Credit: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

CMP: Table of contents.

TK: And then II Timothy 3:16 will apply to those things that were just discovered.

JJ Seid (JJ): Well yea, Paul’s always talking about all these other letters we don’t have. You know what if we find one of them, you know. What about the letter to the Laodiceans he mentions that right? Where’s that? What if someone finds it next week?

CMP: Table of contents. What’s the matter with that?

Sam Storms (SS): Well, I don’t know. I’m just thinking about all the things that I’ve written. I’d like to slide one of my books in after Revelation.

TK: I object. Sam, they were good books but they’re not that good.

JJ: Classics, but I don’t know if they’re timeless classics.

SS: But we can laugh about it but the question is, why or why not. What criteria, to what are we appealing when we exclude Michael’s new book, Now That I’m a Christian. Free advertising there buddy.

JJ: Let’s make this even worse. I walked over to my Roman Catholic friend’s house last week and we were looking up some verses together and he has a different table of contents than I have. Now what do I do with that? We got two different tables of contents?

TK: Well, and let me add this. What do you say, what do you mean when you say “table of contents?” Are you talking about Athanasius’ easter letter from the 365 A.D. where he says here are the books of the Bible and he doesn’t include Esther and he does include Baruch which is in the Roman Catholic table of contents but not in the Bible I have in my hands[1].

CMP: Melito’s table of contents, the table of contents from the council of Hippo.

JJ: We apologize to our listeners. This is a nerd alert.

CMP: The table of contents from the council of Carthage in 389, 393, 402. All of these ones that came together and established a table of contents.

SS: So wait a minute Michael. So are you saying that men in the early church decided what was going to be in the canon? Did the church create the canon that I have sitting on my knee right now called the English Standard Version?

CMP: English Standard Version, where does that table of contents come from? Where does the NIV table of contents come from? Where does the NAS, where does the King James table of contents come from?

JJ: Okay this is starting to sound like a comedy sketch show.

CMP: People may not know this but they are not common… I mean… the table of contents are not inspired.

JJ: Well, and you keep asking questions, we want answers. But now you’re making me even more nervous because you’re throwing out dates that are hundreds of years after Jesus ascended into heaven. What took… what took the church so long?

TK: Yea, well, and I think, I mean, one answer that I would give you of what took the church so long is the church was suffering incredible persecution. And so they were in survival mode. They were reading scripture. We know that books of the Bible were being translated. We’ve found, we own manuscript of scripture that are way before… from the 100’s A.D. And so, I can make a case to say well it took until the 300’s until Christians weren’t being murdered at such rates that they could actually reflect a little bit and say, hey it’s been a while here are the books of the Bible.

JJ: Yea. Here’s my list let me see your list. Let’s see if our lists match up, or overlap, or contradict in any way. Sam do this, because you’re going to say it better than me, but talk about that dynamic of how there were sort of differing lists of what should belong in the canon in various parts of the geographical early church and those lists didn’t necessarily contradict one another but…

MP: No, no I have a better question for Sam first.

SS: Why are you asking me? Both of you.. I think Tim should be put on the spot.

CMP: No, no, no, no, no… this is a question. We’ll get to your question, but Sam, it says in Revelation (22:18–19a)(NIV):

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life…

Isn’t that the end of the canon? Aren’t we done? I mean, revelation has been complete. You’ve written a book on prophecy, you should know this. Is this the end?

Click “Play” below or subscribe via iTunes to get the entire episode.

Related Resources: Canon

  1. Wace, Henry, and Athanasius of Alexandria. “St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters.” Ed. Philip Schaff. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Trans. Henry Burgess and Jessie S. Payne. New York: Christian Literature, 1892. 552. Print. Second Ser.  ↩

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    5 replies to "The Canon of the Bible Is 66 Books Enough?"

    • Peter

      Is God able to superintend the perfect canon? Of course! Did he? Who knows…

      I like Michael’s comment at the end and the way that he pushed back.

    • Frank

      It seems to me that the presumption that the Holy Spirit somehow guided or superintended the inclusion of these particular 66 books in what we now have as the Protestant Canon is unfounded. What evidence is there to support such a presumption? I’m not seeing it.

      Does God love and want to care for His people? Sure. Does it follow that God wouldn’t allow man to screw this up? No. The history of Christianity, and of Israel before it, virtually screams out that God allows for our fallibility. There’s no reason to think differently about the compilation of the Canon. Whatever ended up on the Fourth century cutting room floor is not there because God directed the snip, but because fallible man made his best guess. That being said, I trust that man’s best guess — men much holier and wiser than I — reached a pretty good consensus, and so I am prepared to leave the Holy Spirit out of the compilation process. Does that make me a heretic?

      • Ed Kratz

        Hi Frank… I attended a lecture a few weeks ago by Dr. David Trobisch (Director of the Green Collection, Museum of the Bible) and he noted that the canon was decided long before the fourth century. He said that although things like the Easter letter were at one time helpful (and they’re still in the textbooks) we have copies of the scriptures from well before that which include the books we now recognize as canonical. Therefore, the “canonical-ness” of books can be traced back much further than the fourth century.

    • David

      There’s the further physical evidence that the NT canonical writings were written by the Apostles on the codex, while nearly all the non-Apostolic writings were written on scrolls. Michael Kruger’s “Canon Revisited” lays out strong evidence for 1st-century canonicity.

    • Frank

      I understood that James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, and Hebrews were still disputed by some in the third and early-fourth century church, such that Eusebius placed them among the antilogomena. Is that not correct?
      What is the earliest list containing all 27 NT writings, omitting none and adding none?

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