Recently, I had a conversation with Jonathan Petersen at Bible Gateway about the origin and meaning of the word “canon.” Here’s an excerpt from our discussion:
Jonathan: What is the definition of “canon”?
TPJ: The meaning of the word canon as we know it today can be traced back to how the Greeks used a certain reed, known as a kanon. The Greeks cut these reeds into specific lengths and used them as measuring sticks.As a result, a kanon became a tool that set standards and measured limits, and the word kanon came to imply an infallible standard. … By the fourth century A.D., the meaning of the word “canon” had expanded to describe the writings that were recognized as the infallible standard for God’s people. …
Jonathan: Why is the canon of the Bible considered closed and no more books have been added over the centuries?
TPJ: Once God’s promises were fulfilled in Jesus and the eyewitnesses of this fulfillment died, no further texts could be considered authoritative for God’s people. We see this principle at work in the second half of the second century A.D. when some Christians were apparently lobbying to include a text called “The Shepherd” among the authoritative texts that were read in the churches’ worship. When this issue came up at a gathering of pastors—quite possibly in Rome—here’s the reason that was given for rejecting this text as authoritative for God’s people: “‘The Shepherd’ was written recently, in our own time in the city of Rome. … It ought to be read, but it shouldn’t be read publicly in the church to the people. It cannot be placed among the [Old Testament] prophets, for their number is complete, nor among the writings of the apostles, for it is after their time.”
Jonathan and I also talked about a broad range of other Bible-related topics, including my favorite biblical text, the languages behind the Old and New Testaments, where chapter and verse numbers originated, and where the word “Bible” came from in the first place. You can read the rest of our discussion here.
How did this interview help you to understand better how God inspired and preserved his Word? What do you wish we had covered in the interview but didn’t? Why should every Christian know why certain books are considered “canon” but not others?