The saying, “If you love sausage, don’t ever learn how it is made,” hits home with me. I love sausage and don’t care to ruin my enjoyment of the greasy stuff by finding out how it is made. Some people take this approach to the canonization process. They embrace the Bible as the inspired Word of God (as I do and as it should be embraced, IMHO). And yet, when confronted with the rather messy (i.e., very human) way in which it came into being, these same people may become a little exercised.

For several decades the kerygma (the essential elements) of the Christian story was shared among the churches primarily through oral tradition. The Apostles, particularly Paul, wrote letters to help the churches in matters of doctrine, but, for the most part, the gospel story was transmitted orally.

As the Apostles began to die off, the need for written documentation of the gospel story became acute. This need was met with both authentic and spurious writings. The process by which the wheat was separated from the chaff is referred to as the canonization process. In a word the central issue was that of authority.

  • How could orthodoxy be solidified, defended and propagated?
  • How could heterodoxy be minimized, localized and corrected?
  • How could heresy be identified, isolated and eradicated?

The two primary criteria for entry into the Canon appear to have been: (1) apostolic origin and (2) orthodoxy; however, it is also apparent that writings were admitted into the canon without a sound and uniform application of these criteria. For example, Matthew’s gospel made it in because it was apostolic and, therefore, orthodox as a matter of definition. Mark’s gospel (not apostolic since Mark was not an Apostle) apparently made it in because it was so closely tied to Peter’s preaching. But what can be said of Luke’s writings? Luke-Acts is the product of a Gentile who had never even seen the Lord.

The whole process was surrounded by controversy, discord, and heated debate. It was not until the third council of Carthage (A.D. 397) that an agreement was reached ratifying the Canon of the New Testament as it is now universally accepted.

So if my faith is dependent upon my belief that the Bible came into being through a perfect, sterilized, miraculous process then I had better not investigate the process very deeply; however, upon examination of the process it becomes clear that God used human beings to bring the canon of Scripture into the world.  And, as with anything involving human beings, there are a few rough edges here and there.