Debunking the Canonization Preservation Myth

Debunking the Canonization Preservation Myth May 8, 2018


In just a few days, I’ll be co-hosting a conference in Seattle, WA with a few friends called “Jesus, the Bible and the Holy Spirit”. This event will explore the differing perspectives on the Inerrancy and Infallibility of Scripture, as well as how often Christians substitute the Bible for Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.

As we discuss the Bible, one thing that always comes up is the myth of scriptural preservation. Basically, this is the view espoused by Biblicists that God made sure to preserve and protect the Scriptures throughout history so that we could have a Bible that contained His infallible and inerrant Word.

What’s usually claimed is that the early Christians curated the Biblical Canon [especially the Gospels and the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John], and later Church Councils [like the Councils of Nicea and Trent in the 4th Century] identified the true scriptures that were “God-breathed” and eliminated the fakes and forgeries [often called “pseudepigrapha” because they were not actually written by the person whose name was attached to the document].

In this fantasy version of the Biblical Canon, there was complete agreement on which books were “Canon” and which were heretical or non-Canon. But that’s not reality.

Almost every early Church Father had their own version of what they considered Canon. Granted, there were many [most] who accepted the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and most of the letters of Paul. But some did not recognize John’s Revelation, or 1 and 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, or Jude, or even James, as belonging to the Christian scriptures.

Some early Christians included books that most of us have never heard of, and that most Christians would outright reject like The Shepherd of Hermas, The Wisdom of Solomon, The Didache, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Epistle of Barnabus, First Clement, and Second Clement.

For the record, many New Testament scholars today readily admit that Paul most certainly did not write the “Pastoral Epistles” attributed to him, [perhaps not even Ephesians or Colossians], nor did Peter write either 1 Peter or 2 Peter. This means that the Holy Scriptures we hold today contain pseudepigrapha, whether we like it or not.

So, as much as some Protestant Christians today want us to believe that God’s hand was guiding the Canonization process and that the Holy Spirit was inspiring and leading these godly men to identify what was – and what wasn’t – scripture to preserve the Word of God and oversee the assembly and printing of the Holy Bible is ludicrous.

The main question would be: Which of these processes did God lovingly and miraculously guide?

Was God overseeing the selection of the 78 Eastern Orthodox books, or was He guiding the selection of the 66 Protestant books?

Was God carefully speaking to those who selected the 81 books of the Ethiopian Church, or was God’s Spirit whispering to the Catholic Church when they chose their 73 books?

Was  God actually inspiring those dear and wise Brothers who chose the 68 books of the Syrian Orthodox Canon, but ignoring the prayers of the other Christians who assembled the other lists of “approved” books?

Of course, it’s easy for us to claim that God was obviously intimately involved in the selection of the Canon of Scripture that is common to our particular faith tradition. But to do so is to assume that our Canon – and only our Canon – was Divinely inspired.

The truth is this: The Canon of Scripture was written by men. It was preserved by men. It was translated by men. It was selected by men. It was published by men. It is – even today – taught and defended by men.

Some of these men were divinely inspired by God. Others may not have been.

Our job is to use our minds and engage our brains to determine what is, and what is not, of God.

Personally, I believe that Jesus is our yardstick. Jesus is our lens and filter and light. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen what the Father is really like. Everything, I believe, should be measured by Jesus.

Your mileage may vary.


Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming “Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God”, available July 7th, 2018. He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

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Please, join me at one of these upcoming events:

*Organic Church Conference with Neil Cole, Ross Rohde, Dan Notti and Keith Giles on Saturday, May 12 in Long Beach, CA. Register here>

*Jesus, the Bible and the Holy Spirit Conference with Jon Zens, Tom Atkinson, and Keith Giles, on May 18-20 in Seattle, WA. Register here>

*The Nonviolent Love of Christ: How Loving Our Enemies Saves The World, with Joshua Lawson and Keith Giles on Saturday, June 16 in Portsmouth Ohio. Register here>

*Crucifying Our Politics with Keith Giles on June 24 in Cleveland, OH. Register here>

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Connie Beane

    You should really start with a question and not a conclusion. You should first ask: “Were these men divinely inspired?” instead of starting with the conclusion: “some of them were.”

  • semprfide

    Intriguing. The natural impulse would be to reject any claim such as this, but it seems it would be more prudent to investigate. The goal is truth. Every religion, every denomination (or lack-there-of) holds that theirs is the one that got it right. I will most certainly dig deeper into this. Thank you for the article!

  • Doubting Thomas

    Some of these men were divinely inspired by God. Others may not have been.

    Our job is to use our minds and engage our brains to determine what is, and what is not, of God.

    Why don’t you just ask god which ones are divinely inspired?

  • Triggerman1976

    If “Jesus is the yardstick”, how does one know anything about him? Oh, right…the Bible.

    Scholars argue that certain epistles are pseudopigraphic. That’s nice, because there’s other scholars argue that they’re not.

    It’s clear that Keith has never read anything meaningful on what “canon” means, or what “inspiration” means or how they relate.

  • John Smith

    Why would you talk to yourself? There is no way to “talk to God” in a way that’s just you opening up to bias because we have seen time and time again that Christians will disagree about many things, which is why Christians can’t all agree on the biblical canon.