There are Multiple Canons of Scripture in Use Today: Claims of Communal Divine Inspiration; Some Resources that Discuss the Different Canons of Scripture


The position of is that the Scriptures are a collection of divinely inspired writings.  The “Scriptures” refer to those writings that are the word of God.

From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:15-17 WEB)

“Every Scripture is God-breathed” refers to the inspiration from God given to the writers of these holy texts. Furthermore, as the above verse says, Scripture enables the individual believer to be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Jesus himself referred to the Scriptures as the word of God.

He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, that is to say, given to God”;’ then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this.” (Mar 7:9-13 WEB)

Jesus is clearly differentiating here between the tradition of the Jews as contained in the Talmud and the word of God as given in the law, the prophets, and the writings.  He told these Pharisees and scribes that their traditions made “void the word of God”.

The apostles wrote that what they received by revelation and preached either verbally or in their letters was the word of God.

For this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of the message of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you who believe. (1Th 2:13 WEB)

As believers, we are charged to properly handle this word of truth.

Give diligence to present yourself approved by God, a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, properly handling the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15 WEB)

The word of God is our sword of the Spirit:

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; (Eph 6:17 WEB)

The word of God that we have been given is incredibly powerful.

so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do. (Isa 55:11 WEB)

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12 WEB)

The word of God is our spiritual food.

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” (Mat 4:4 WEB)

It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (Joh 6:63 WEB)

Our faith and our salvation come from hearing the word of God.

So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:17 WEB)

The discussions about the canons of Scripture and on the handling and interpretations of different texts on this website in no way state or imply that God didn’t send his word. There is no position here taken that the word of God is unavailable, lacks power, or is so full of contradictions that it’s indecipherable. The word of God is real, the word of God is powerful and provides the power of salvation.

For I am not ashamed of the Good News of Christ, because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. (Rom 1:16 WEB)

But, there is a fly in the ointment. And that fly is that there are multiple Bibles, being derived from multiple lists or canons of Scriptures. And, as we shall see even the Protestant canon that most Protestant churches accept in their traditions was never accepted without question.  It’s our task, and our charge to handle the word of God properly. I believe Jesus’s promise that the comforter can lead us to all truth, part of which is to be able to recognize in all of these canons of Scripture and even with all of the textual variations and insertions and so forth the word of God.

Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2:14 WEB)

The natural man can’t receive the things of the spirit of God.  Oh, he can say the words, he can try to apply analysis to figure things out. He can make a priori assumptions and use inductive logic to twist meanings out of scriptures that sound very reasonable.  But he doesn’t get it because he doesn’t have the spirit to guide him.  On the other hand, the spiritual man, whose mind is renewed with the word of God, and whose spirit is energized can know the truth that is available from the scriptures. It is available for that believer to see past the deceptions and cunning craftiness of the adversary with all of the adversary’s attempts to promote doctrines of devils and man-made traditions and philosophies over the word of God and to be “strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth” (Eph 3:18).

We must be wary not to be swayed by the traditions of men that have crept into different churches.

Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)

Canons of Scripture follow different church traditions. Different church traditions mean that there are differences in what people believe in these churches. If there was a single canon of Scripture that everyone was uniformly proclaimed without dispute, I would probably be inclined just to accept it. But the elephant in the room is that there is not. All of these different canons can’t be guided by the same spirit as the list of “all scriptures”.  And even the Protestant one was never proclaimed as perfect without reservation by the people that formed it.

This, then, is a topic that needs more study.  In this article, we are just going to look at some of the main different canons in Christendom and list some of the resources.

Different Canons

The need for a a list of what is scripture happened basically because there were a lot of books written that claimed to be accurate gospel accounts.  This is discussed in:

The following are facts about official canons of Scripture. You can find in the table of contents references to numerous preliminary “canons of Scripture”, really just lists of what were considered lists of acceptable books that could be called scripture starting with Jesus’ Word of God.  These articles include:

The above articles discuss which books of the bible had the status of being considered “scripture”  in the times preceding the first official and unofficial canons discussed below.

  • The Council of Rome, 382 AD, produced what is considered the first “official” canon, a very similar list of Scriptures to what is used in the Protestant Bible today, but included Judith and Tobit as well as other deuterocanonical books.(see note below on the council of Trent)[1] This same list was circulated by Athanasius (unofficially) to the churches under his charge in 367 A.D.[14]
  • The Syriac Canon[2]
    • written in Aramaic
    • includes the Gospel according to the Hebrews
    • the Diatessaron became the gospel of Syriac Christianity
    • the Peschitta text was produced at some time in the fourth century
    • Modern Version includes deuterocanonical books [3], but the number of deuterocanonical books varies by manuscript.  The original Peshitta New Testament excluded 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.  The 1979 UBS version includes deuterocanonical books, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, 2 Baruch, Additions to Daniel, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. [15]
    • There is a very interesting site that shows the differences between the Aramaic and Greek texts[4]
  • Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon
    • largest number of books – 81[5]
    • add these books to the New Testament
      • Sinodos (4 books)
      • Book of Covenant (2 books)
      • Epistles of Clement (1 book, 3 epistles)
      • Didaskalia (1 book)
  • Eastern Orthodox
    • includes the deuterocanonical Old Testament books such as 2 Ezra, Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baroque, and the Epistle of Jeremiah
  • The Roman Catholic Bible
    • Initially, the Roman Catholic Bible was derived from the first one above, the Councils of Rome and Carthage. The Council of Trent proclaimed all of their included deuterocanonical books to be canonical.
      •  includes 46 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books [6] apocryphal books include:
        • Tobit
        • Judith
        • Baruch
        • 1 Maccabees
        • 2 Maccabees
        • Book Of Wisdom
        • Book Of Sirach
  • Modern Protestant Bible
    • Luther and the other reformers debated on which books to include. There was no unanimous agreement. For example, Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt divided the books into three ranks of authenticity. The first class was the Gospels and Acts. The second rank included the undoubted epistles of Paul along with 1st Peter and 1st John. The third rank was seven disputed books including James, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. He maintained that the authorship of James wasn’t certain, that it was another John who wrote 2nd and 3rd John, that Paul didn’t write Hebrews, and there wasn’t much reason to include Revelation.[7]
    • Martin Luther was not so radical in his thinking, but he did differentiate some books to be of lower estimate, namely, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. Luther included a section titled “which are the true and noblest books of the New Testament” indicating that he thought more highly of some books. Luther advised that the gospel of John and First John the Epistle, all of Paul’s epistles and First Peter teach “all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know.” Martin Luther had a second group that had the synoptic Gospels, the other Pauline epistles, Acts, 2nd Peter, and 2nd and 3rd John. And lastly, Luther placed books of what he considered of less estimation, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. These latter four books were written about in the preface explaining Luther’s doubts about their authenticity, i.e., “their apostolic and canonical character”[16]
    • Other reformers included statements that displayed a lesser opinion of Revelation, James, Jude, Second Peter, and the two later epistles of John[8]
    • Thus the modern Protestant Bible does include the 27 New Testament books pronounced at the Council of Rome in 382 as well as the later Council of Carthage, but expresses doubts about the books that were disputed which were only put in right before that council. There was some movement to include Revelation, James, Jude, second Peter, second and third John, as deuterocanonical in the Protestant Bible.[9]
    • Martin Luther moved seven Old Testament books from the canon pronounced at the Council of Trent, Tobit, Judith, 1–2 Maccabees, Book of Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch into his Apocrypha section. He called them “not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read”[10]

Different Canons Hold Different Numbers of Apocryphal Books

This is just an observation after looking at the different cannons.  According to the Anglican articles of religion, apocryphal books were included because they provided instruction and examples on life and manners. But readers were cautioned not to try to use them to establish any doctrine. The sixth Anglican article of religion listed this list of apocryphal books:

  • the third Book of Esdras
  • the fourth Book of Esdras
  • the Book of Tobias
  • The Book of Judith
  • the rest of the Book of Esther
  • the Book of Wisdom
  • Jesus the son of Sirach
  • Baruch the prophet
  • the Song of the Three Children
  • the Story of Susanna
  • of Bel and the Dragon
  • the Prayer of Manasses
  • first Maccabees
  • second Maccabees [11]

All canons are of human origin with claims of the holy spirit working in the hearts of people collectively;

There are no sources that claim that a prophet or apostle announced which books should be included as Scripture. Multiple sources admit that all proclamations of canons of Scriptures are communal efforts by communities of people over time.  However, different traditions proclaim that God directed their canons to be formed. Look at these quotes that refer to how different cannons were formulated.

“but the Holy Spirit worked also in the hearts of God’s people so that they came to accept these books is the word of God, and submitted to their divine authority. God’s ‘singular Providence’ extended over the origin of the separate books, as well as over their collection…This is the fundamental truth concerning the canon…”[12]

The shepherds of the Church, by a process of spiritual discernment and investigation into the liturgical traditions of the Church spread throughout the world, had to draw clear lines of distinction between books that are truly inspired by God and originated in the apostolic period, and those which only claimed to have these qualities.[13]

All of the canons of Scripture claim divine guidance in the different traditions from which they come.  They can’t all be right.  This needs further study.


(These books are listed as resources for the reader to gain information on what is written about the topic. Their presence here is not an endorsement that they are doctrinally correct.  The methodology I employ in research uses multiple sources to compare notes so to speak. I do look for scripturally sound viewpoints on my topic.  However, I include works that promote other viewpoints as well for several reasons.  One, honestly, they may have information that I hadn’t considered.  If their information is scriptural an evaluation of whether the scriptural information is rightly divided or twisted will need to be made. Second, opposing viewpoints give an understanding of the thinking of people holding those viewpoints thus enabling one to see through their eyes so to speak even if you don’t agree with their conclusions. You get to see their logic.  And it helps prepare the individual for a better engagement with those ideas should the opportunity arise.)

Some Books in Print On Canons of Scripture

Inspiration And Canonicity Of The Bible, R Laird Harris, Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1982

The Bible in the Churches, Kenneth Hagan, Editor, Marquette University Press, Milwaukee Wisconsin, 1993

The Books and the Parchments, FF Bruce, Fleming H Gravelle company, Westwood New Jersey, 1963

The Canon Of The New Testament, Bruce M Metzger, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997

The Making of the New Testament, Arthur G Patzia, University Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1995

Related Theological Books

The New Testament, Norman Perrin and Dennis C Duling, Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1982, Appendix 1 is entitled The Canon of the Bible

Reference Books

The New Bible Dictionary, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids Michigan, reprinted August 1974, p. 186- 189

Online Sources

Aramaic Peshitta, differences from the Greek texts,

Biblical Canon,

Canon of the Holy Scriptures, Catholic Answers,

Eastern Orthodox New Testament Online, Internet Archive

Peshitta, Scholarly Community Encyclopedia,

Wikipedia, Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon,



[2] New Bible Dictionary, P. 197

[3] Peshitta, Scholarly Community Encyclopedia,

[4] Aramaic Peshitta, differences from the Greek texts,

[5] Wikipedia, Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon,


[7] The Canon Of The New Testament, P. 241 – 242

[8] The Canon Of The New Testament, P. 241 – 244

[9] ibid., P. 244

[10] Biblical Canon,

[11] The Books and the Parchments, P. 163 – 164

[12] New Bible Dictionary, P. 187

[14] The New Testament, Norman Perrin and Dennis C Duling, Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1982, P. 444
[15] Religion:Peshitta
[16] Luther’s Treatment of the ‘Disputed Books’ of the New Testament

© copyright 2023 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. Last edited 10/15/2023

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