A "canon" was originally a measuring stick. We still use the word in that sense when we talk about "canons of good taste," that is, the standards by which we determine what is and is not appropriate. The word κανών, kanón, appears just once in the New Testament in this sense (Gal 6:14-16):
14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
15 For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.
16 Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.
The adjective, "canonical," developed a secondary connotation. Those things that are "canonical" have been measured and have met the standard set by a canon.
"Canon" then became applied to the list of people or things that have met the standard or standards used to judge them. When a saint is canonized, their name is added to the Church's official list of those whose virtues are worthy of admiration and imitation. When a scripture is declared "canonical," it is added to the list ("canon") of books inspired by God.
The concept of "canon" as "an official list of the books inspired by God" developed in the patristic era in response to questions about the gospels, Paul's letters, other epistles, the letter to the Hebrews, the Book of Revelation, and various and sundry gnostic writings. Many people drew up their own lists of books of the Old and New Testaments. The list of New Testament books that the Church considers inspired by God did not reach its present form until the fifth century (382-419 AD).
It is an anachronism to retroject the Christian, patristic concept of "a list of books certified by the Church as inspired by God" into the pre-Christian history of the Jewish scriptures. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows how much variety there was in the last few centuries before Jesus and the first century afterward.
- From Latin canōn, from Ancient Greek κανών (kanón, “measuring rod, standard”), akin to κάννα (kanna, “reed”), perhaps from Semitic (compare Arabic قانون (Qānūn, “law”) Hebrew קנה (qaneh, “reed”)).
Development of the Canon
The Protestant doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" depends on tradition. No book of the Bible lists the books of the Bible. The determination of which writings to treat as inspired, Sacred Scripture and which writings to treat as not intended by God to become part of the Bible is an extra-Biblical decision. It is the Church that declared the 27 books of the New Testament to be "the Word of God."
The misuse of Scripture
- The both ages of Scripture, the time of the Old Testament and the time of the New Testament, oral tradition came first and written tradition came afterwards.
- God did not give Abraham a Bible to read but a relationship to cultivate.
- When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left a Body, not a book.
- The word "Bible" as we use it today is not in the Bible!
- The word "canon" is not in the Bible. In this context, canon means "the official list of books that are inspired by God."
- No verse in the Bible says "Every teaching of the Church must be backed up by a verse in the Bible." This is an extra-Biblical decision. It is an act of hypocrisy or ignorance. The people who set this as the standard for deciding what may and may not be taught violate the standard they set in the very act of stating it.
- The doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" is not found in the Scriptures. "Sola scriptura" is a slogan invented by Martin Luther in the 16th century. It is a human tradition, not a Biblical mandate.
This is an error that is common among many Protestants. They select some books from the canon of the OT or the NT and neglect others--especially those in the New Testament that reflect "early Catholicism" (Frühkatholizismus): the development of the offices of bishop (episkopos), priest (presbyteros), and deacon (diakonos), sacramental theology, and the excoriation and excommunication of Christian antichrists.