Okay, friends, I am about to geek out on some manuscript issues about the canon of the bible. That is, about the choices made concerning which books are included in our sacred scriptures. 

Ever since the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 70 years ago (as well as the Nag Hammandi Coptic scrolls a few years later) there has been a renewed cultural interest in the canon of the New Testament. Scholars have discovered the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and hundreds of others that were not included in the New Testament. The Dan Brown thriller, the Da Vinci Code, is based around an assumption that these texts were excluded from the New Testament due to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church. While that theory may be the basis for a popular pulp novel and movie, it has little basis in history. In fact, all of these so-called ‘Gnostic Gospels’ were written far later than the canonical gospels and had a far smaller readership and importance. Though the New Testament canon was not finalized until the end of the 3rd Century, very few of the books were actually disputed (most arguments had to do with James (which made it) and the letters of Barnabas and Clement (which did not but are still seen as important). Most disputes about New Testament texts are fabricated for ideological purposes. 

In the 16th century, the New Testament was assumed, it was the Old Testament canon that was controversial. The dispute came out of the humanist resurgence in the 15th century when scholars began diving back into languages like Hebrew and Greek in large numbers. The Hebrew texts of the Old Testament had fewer books than the Greek texts (called the Septuagint), though the Greek manuscripts were actually far older. 

Martin Luther, himself, was a Hebrew scholar and so he argued forcefully for a limited set of Old Testament texts that matched the Hebrew rather than the Greek. The Latin Vulgate bible had, in large part, followed the Greek set of texts. The Church of England followed suit with Article 5 and John Wesley included this article in the text he sent across the pond after the American Revolution.

The biggest difference between Catholics and Protestants is not the sacraments or the priesthood or marriage and divorce, but the books we call Holy Scripture. The absence of the Wisdom of Solomon and Tobit and Sirach shape how we do theology and how we see God.

But more than any of this, it is important to know that historical critical scholars have not yet disputed the authority and authenticity of the Bible as we know it (even though they have tried). It will not ruin your faith to learn more about the development of the canon of Scripture. In fact, it may strengthen it. The bible was not written in King James English, nor was it handed down from on high fully formed. Instead it is the cooperative work of God and the apostles. The texts have been passed down from generation to generation. They have been prayed over. They have been worshipped with because God is here. 

May we continue to affirm the authority of the Bible and to remember that God is present here. Martin Luther called the Scriptures the swaddling clothes wherein we find Jesus. They are not Jesus but they hold Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Article V - Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.