What is canonicity?


Canonicity, in a Christian and biblical context, is how books are recognised as rightly belonging in the Bible. How this has taken place is often misrepresented in popular myth (such as Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’). It is an important consideration for anyone wanting to know about the validity and reliability of the Bible.

canonization tells how the Bible received its acceptance. It is one thing for God to give the Scriptures their authority, and quite another for men to recognize that authority. ~ Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. 1996. A general introduction to the Bible (Rev. and expanded.) (202–203). Moody Press: Chicago

The work by Geisler & Nix provides a good explanation on the difference between how a book is determined (or made) canonical and how a book was recognised as being canonical.

Canonicity is determined by God. Actually, a canonical book is valuable and true because God inspired it. That is, canonicity is determined or fixed conclusively by authority, and authority was given to the individual books by God through inspiration. The real question is not where a book received its divine authority, for that can only come from God; but how did men recognize that authority?

Canonicity is recognized by men of God. Inspiration determines canonicity. If a book was authoritative, it was so because God breathed it and made it so. How a book received authority, then, is determined by God. How men recognize that authority is another matter altogether … As J. I. Packer notes [in God Speaks to Man, p. 81], “The Church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by His work of creation, and similarly He gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up.” ~ Geisler, & Nix (211)

Contrary to Brown’s theory lapped up by many in his fictional work, the Church is not the determiner of the canon. Geisler & Nix offer this comparative list to show the proper relationship of the Church to the canon.

The Incorrect View (as touted by Brown)

  • The Church Is Determiner of Canon
  • The Church Is Mother of the Canon
  • The Church Is Magistrate of the Canon
  • The Church Is Regulator of the Canon
  • The Church Is Judge of the Canon
  • The Church Is Master of the Canon

The Correct View (as supported by scripture itself)

  • The Church Is Discoverer of Canon
  • The Church Is Child of Canon
  • The Church Is Minister of Canon
  • The Church Is Recognizer of Canon
  • The Church Is Witness of Canon
  • The Church Is Servant of Canon

[the incorrect view is] the authority of the Scriptures is based upon the authority of the church; the correct view is that the authority of the church is to be found in the authority of the Scriptures. The incorrect view places the church over the canon, whereas the proper position views the church under the canon. … It is God who regulated the canon; man merely recognized the divine authority God gave to it. God determined the canon, and man discovered it. ~ G&N (222)