The Canon Of The New Testament -- By: Roger R. Nicole

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:2 (Jun 1997)
Article: The Canon Of The New Testament
Author: Roger R. Nicole


The Canon Of The New Testament

Roger Nicole*

“Why,” the Sunday-school student asked, “did God not provide for us a Bible with an inspired table of contents, so we would not remain in a quandary as to the precise scope of Scripture?”

“There are three main answers to your question,” replied the teacher. Here is how the teacher summarized them.

First, when you raise a question beginning with “Why” or “How” you must learn the important lesson that it is not possible in every case to receive an answer so complete that it settles all difficulties. This is so because the reasons for God’s action or the methods that he used are often inscrutable from our finite, earthly, sin-blemished viewpoint. Even human parents are not obligated to give a full explanation when their children ask “Why.” How much more is this the case when the infinite, holy and sovereign God confronts our “Why”!

Secondly, the books of the Bible were not produced in a bound volume as we have them now. They were written originally on separate scrolls over a span of some 1500 years. Unless God should provide prophetically a list that included many books not yet in existence, it would appear that the list could not be given before the end of the first century AD—and by that time it was obvious that God’s people did not have an absolute need for such a list. In fact our Lord and the apostles probably did not have one and yet functioned with a clear knowledge of the canon of the OT.

Thirdly, we are not really in a quandary concerning the scope of Scripture, for God has provided his people with grounds for assurance in this area. The study of the canonics of Scripture is oriented in this direction. It may be pursued along two paths.

In the first place, the history of the canon explores the course of acceptance and rejection among God’s people historically. It takes note of the hesitations, the consensus and the occasional errors of Jews and Christians. This is an arresting study in which we are often confronted with evidences of the providential guidance of God. This study manifests that a notable consensus on the OT existed among the Jews in or before the first century of our era and that a similar consensus on the NT prevailed among Christians no later than AD 400. The present article does not deal with this aspect of canonics.

In the second place, the dogmatic study of canonics explores on what ground we may attain a conviction that the 39 books of the OT and the 27

* Roger Nicole is professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, 1015 Maitland Center Commons, Maitland, FL 32751.

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