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Part I Biblical Scroll links to Bible 1. Part II Electronic Bible links to Part 2.
The Bible: The Book That Bridges the Millennia

How the Biblical Canon Was Chosen

Biblical scrolls

The canon of the Bible was not chosen overnight.

Decisions about which books were "in" and which books were "out" in relation to today's Bible usually were not made by a single group of people at a single point of history.

Stages of Canonization

Canonization (selection of which books were put in the Bible) was a process that went through several stages and took many centuries. These stages were not separate but sometimes overlapped:

  • Composition (manuscripts were written either as a recording of oral stories and teachings or as original documents)
  • Community (manuscripts were read, circulated, and revised within the religious communities)
  • Criteria (certain manuscripts became accepted as authoritative scripture within the religious communities-- different groups accepted different scriptures)
  • Collection (scriptures were gathered together in single scrolls, codices, and later in books-- the physical manner of collecting scriptures also had an influence on canonical decisions)
  • Canon (a defined group of scriptures in a single collection became accepted by a certain religious community as The Bible-- different groups chose different canons)

picture of book cover
Read an excerpt "Canon Formation" from The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia to understand further the process of selection of books for the biblical canon.

Biblical Reflections

Choosing the canon that makes up the Bible was not an easy thing. Accounts in Scripture hint at the early church problems, debates, and different interpretations:

James 4:1
1 Timothy 6:3-4
2 Peter 2
2 John 2
Jude 4
Jude 8

  • What are some of the interpretations of Scripture that people still debate today?
  • What influences or affects a persons interpretation of Scripture?
  • What issues would have affected the debates, interpretations, and choosing of the canon?

Next: Whose Canon? Which Bible? Protestants tend to think there is only one Bible--ours.