The Bible is made up of 66 books, comprised of what we know as the Old Testament and New Testament. At the time the Church was determining the contents of the New Testament, the Old Testament was well settled. What we know as the Old Testament is the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Tanakh—accepted as God-inspired and canonical for many years. But the Early Church had to go through a process of determining what books to include in the New Testament. There were plenty of candidates, for sure, as many Christian sects and groups were beginning to record stories and teachings. Determining what books to include in the New Testament was a arduous and thoughtful process. The question falls under the category of canonicity, a fancy word that derives from the Greek word, kanon, which means measuring rod. The early church literally measured the candidates for canonicity against three things:
1. Apostolic origin
In order to be given serious consideration, a document would have to be either written by an Apostle or at the direction of an Apostle. Matthew and John were both Apostles, so there was no dispute over their writings. Luke was closely associated with and traveled with Paul, so his books, Luke and Acts, weren’t disputed.
2. Reception and circulation in the early church
Another thing the early church used to measure the canonicity of a document was its acceptance and circulation in the early church. There is internal evidence in early church documents that helped make this determination. One example is Peter’s mention of Paul’s letters as authoritative Scripture in one of his second epistles (2 Peter 3:16). Paul also quoted the Gospel of Luke and called it Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18).
3. The document was in accord with previous revelation
There needed to be a consistency in the message. This criteria was a bit more difficult than the others. The Book of Hebrews underwent intense scrutiny because of its language and approach to salvation in chapter 6. But the early church ultimately concluded that the document was aligned with and consistent with the rest of the New Testament writings. Coming up with these measuring rods for canonicity helped the church confront heresies that were cropping up in the second century. Specifically, a Christian leader named Marcion attempted to come up with a canon of Scripture that excluded heavy portions of the Gospels and Paul’s letters because of references to an Old Testament God he felt didn’t align with the teachings of Christ.
The Bible we hold today was providentially compiled by early believers who seriously considered many books for inclusion in the canon of Scripture. King James had nothing to do with this process. It goes much further back to a people who believed the words of 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is breathed out by God. They worked diligently to protect the church from early heresies and we hold the Word of God today because of their faithfulness to the task.