The word “canon” comes from the Greek word meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”. A biblical canon is a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture. Because the Bible is considered by most believers to be the ultimate authority on questions of Christian doctrine and practice, I think that it is very important to understand its development over the centuries following the life and death of Jesus. This will be the main focus of my study and blog posts for a while.
Along with the study of the documents, it will be important to consider the people who were most instrumental in bringing us our modern day scriptures. I was just reading about Irenaeus, who was a church leader in the second century. He was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France. He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of the original apostles. His writings, with those of Clement and Ignatius, are taken as among the earliest signs of the developing doctrine of the primacy of the Roman-centric church hierarchy.
Irenaeus is the earliest church leader known to recognize the canonical character of all four gospels. This is important, because prior to that time many Christian groups recognized only one or two of the gospels as authoritative. Many did not accept the Gospel of John as authentic until it was declared so by Irenaeus. It is also important to understand which writings were rejected by Irenaeus, such as the Gospel of Thomas. Many of the rejected writings were ordered to be destroyed, so it is often difficult to recover the history of any Christian thought for that era that was outside of the mainstream church doctrine.
The amount of information on the development of the Bible is staggering, but I will do my best to sort through it and share my findings as I go.
Here is a link to a useful summary timeline of the development of the scriptures:
I found two other links that will get us started. There are many, many others.
I have two books that I will use to begin my studies. One is Early Christian Writings, published by Penguin Classics. The other is The Journey from Texts to Translations, The Origin and Development of the Bible, by Paul D. Wenger.
You can always check the Bibliography and Related Web Sites pages on this blog for additional resources.