The Corpus and the Four Gospels
by Lawrence E. Bray, M.Min., D.D.
The body of the bible (corpus) is an ancient and accurate compilation of books and letters. These writings are the product of God working through human agency to create a book that contains His very words for mankind. Although written by many different human authors (about forty) there is one stream of thought, the relationship between God and man. Within this relationship the bible also reveals the nature of God and man. The message of salvation comes to us through the bible. We learn that it is only through Jesus Christ that we can be redeemed from the kingdom of Satan and brought into the kingdom of Christ.
These books and letters that make up the bible are called the “canon”. The word “canon” means measuring rod. Originally the term applied to the measuring of different writings to determine if they belonged in the bible or not.
Since the bible has come into being the term has come to refer to the way the bible itself is used as our ultimate authority. Once the writings were measured for their eligibility to get into the bible, the bible became the rule of measure for doctrine and teaching.
The Christian canon is comprised of sixty-six books. Thirty-nine books are in the Old Testament, and twenty-seven are in the New Testament. The vast majority of Christians and Jews are in agreement in the books that should be contained in the Old Testament; while the New Testament is peculiar to the Christian faith. The Jews had their “official” list of books by circa 90AD; whereas it took the Christians until the fourth century to finalize their list. Some Christian sects have additional books in their bibles that are from the period between the two testaments. The Catholic and Orthodox churches are among those who accept the extra books as being part of their bible.
Although the Christian canon was not finalized until the fourth century, there were lists of accepted New Testament writings circulating as early as the second century. One catalyst to create an official list of holy writings was heretical teachings. As heretical teaching spread there grew a greater need for a sure foundation of God’s word. There needed to be something that we could measure someone’s teaching against, something to be the final authority in matters of faith. The need to test teachings is aptly reinforced by the apostle John in saying that we are not to believe every spirit, but test them to see whether they are from God. He tells us that there are many false prophets and teachers in the world. One clear and powerful way of testing a teaching is to measure it against the bible to see if it conforms to God’s word.
There were different things taken into consideration to determine if a text would be included in the canon. There would have to be either an apostle or an associate of an apostle as the source of the document, it would have to contain orthodox doctrine, and it would have to be accepted by the orthodox churches at large. If a document had all three attributes, it was accepted into the holy canon. This compilation of writings into the church canon was eventually accepted by mainstream Christianity.
The most important of the writings in the canon of scripture are the four gospels. These are important because they reveal the life of Jesus Christ. It is in these four books that we find the pinnacle of God’s truth - God Himself in human form coming into the world to save us by His death and resurrection. The gospels reveal most clearly how one is saved through Jesus Christ, who Jesus is, how much God loves us, and so much more.
The list of books that was used to compile the holy bible has had a lasting effect. Even today protestant churches overwhelmingly use the same sixty-six books. I would suggest that the long-term acceptance of the canon is a fingerprint of God’s hand being on the bible. This longevity shows us that He is concerned with not only creating His word, but also sustaining and preserving it.
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