Not every accurate text written during the time of Christ was included in the Christian canon. Often times, the reason for this was that these texts were written by those who were not followers of Jesus. But what about books written by non-apostolic contemporaries who were? To answer this question, we turn to the final test in our series on how Christians determine what they accept as Scripture: The Test of Value.
Anyone who has read Christian writings beyond those included within the Scriptures will likely understand why such a test is necessary, even though it may at times appear to be a bit subjective. Christian book stores abound with volumes written by educated men: preachers, theologians, and philosophers. On occasion, these books meet the other standards set for Scriptural writings in that they are accurate, internally consistent with both themselves and other revelation, and even helpful to believers in general. To include such works within the Christian canon, however, would make for more reading than most of us could do in a lifetime.
Such products are not limited to our modern age and Christians in the early Church found themselves in a position of needing to refine what would or wouldn’t be selected for inclusion in their Sacred Text. The easiest way to make the decision was to select only those texts containing authentic and new apostolic doctrine.
You can think of it a bit like making a decision whether or not to include the writings of C. S. Lewis as part of the New Testament. Provided that Lewis was an authentic apostle (he wasn’t) and that his writings were always consistent with previous revelation (not always the case) and that what he had to say would be useful to the Church worldwide (it is), they might make a good addition to the Holy Writ. So why not include them? The answer is that Lewis’ writings are an exercise in the application of Biblical principles, not a presentation of new principles upon which believers should act. It is for this reason that some otherwise good candidates for inclusion in the Bible, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles are unknown to many of today’s churchgoing believers.
By limiting the Sacred Text in this way, Christians erred on the side of caution and also kept their writings compact enough that every believer would have the ability to read, understand, and master the core doctrines of the faith. (That’s not to say that this always happens or even that it happens frequently – just that it is a conceivable possibility!)
So there you have it: the tests which have been traditionally used to determine what does or doesn’t belong in the Christian canon. They have influenced the Church for millennia and will likely continue to do so well into the future!
What happens if you aren’t sure about all of the selections made by the Church in the past? Next week, we’ll conclude our series with a look at the finalization of the Canon and what it does or doesn’t mean for believers today. Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on this test and why (or why not) you accept its validity in the comment box below!