I came across this image on Facebook:
It gets closer to the truth than what many people seem to think, including Dan Brown. But it is wrong about a number if points – not least of which is the generalization that all Christians think the Bible dropped down from heaven in its complete bound form. But some do seem to think that, or at least seem not to have thought about the implications of that not being the way things happened. And so the image is useful if it gets people thinking about where the table of contents of the Bible comes from.
But if it was not a matter or imperial pronouncement, neither is the whole story something as simple as a vote. The reality is rather messier, as tends to be the case. The truth is that much of the canon was accepted through a natural process of development, in which churches shared texts in their possession, so that significant numbers of them came to use many of the same texts. Then, by the time anyone discussed, debated, and voted, there was a core about which most Christians agreed.
Be that as it may, precisely because of the importance of the history of the canon, when I teach my course on the Bible, before I get students to read any Biblical text, I get them to look at the table of contents, and begin to think about where that comes from, and why the contents and/or order differ between religious communities.
The subject does not get as much attention as it deserves to from Christians. How can anyone claim to respect or cherish the Bible, and yet not give serious thought to, or take seriously what we know about, where it came from and how it came to have the contents that it does?