This is the third of six books under the title of ‘looking at the Bible’. I had not yet read any of this series, but would recommend reading them in order — I found it frustrating being unable to look up numerous references to other books in the series!
Book 3 addresses the issue of the canon: do we have the right books in the Bible? As the evidence is thoroughly examined, readers are left in no doubt that our 66 books are indeed those which God ‘breathed out’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Only these were inspired by God. This title also covers how the canon of Scripture was compiled.
For the Old Testament canon, the evidence shows there was a general consensus among the Jews of Jesus’ day as to the 39 books which make up the Hebrew Scriptures. Edwards also demonstrates why the books of the Apocrypha were never accepted.
For the New Testament, it is clear that during the first four centuries AD church leaders acknowledged certain books to have God’s stamp of approval. The Gospels and many New Testament letters were quickly accepted as divinely inspired and therefore authoritative. By the middle of the second century, there was a growing collection of books which were accepted as given by God.
The discovery of the second century Muratorian Canon supports this fact. Early establishment of the New Testament canon is also verified by frequent quotation of the 27 New Testament books by early church leaders like Tertullian of Carthage (AD 155-200). This was often done to refute the Gnostic heresies of their time.
Edwards’ final two chapters deal with some helpful (albeit non-canonical) books that were written by the early church. The fact they were never accepted as Scripture indicates that there were clear criteria for accepting certain books as directly inspired by God, a matter discussed by the author.
The final chapter deals with the writings of the many false teachers prevalent in the early church. Such false teaching forced the early Christians to identity which books should be seen as having God’s authority. The appendix charts many church leaders and their contribution to the idea of a canon. This can also be downloaded from online.
With a superb index to help you navigate your way around the whole series, I have no hesitation in recommending this book. It is written in a clear and readable style and is ideal for people new to the topic. If the other books are of the same quality as this one, then the series will prove a treasure trove for years to come.