What is Canon, Canonization, Apocryphal ? Reasons and Criteria for Canonization

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A canon is generally a list of books or a single book which are seen and deemed as authoritative in any society. These books govern the lives, behaviour or thinking of the people. A canon can further be any book which carries authority within it after which, no extra considerations are looked for when deciding something. A canon per Bruce Metzger is: “any list of authoritative books which binds a group of people together”. Per B.A Sizemore Jnr.:” a canon is a list of authoritative books which are believed by religious people and societies to be the basis of regulations for their religious lives and their religious institutions”. Writings accepted as authoritative for faith and teaching are said to be canonical, and when gathered together constitute a canon. The term “canon,” the Anglicized form of the Greek word kanon designating a rod used for measuring, is related to a Semitic root appearing in Hebrew as kaneh, meaning a “reed.” Used metaphorically in reference to religious matters, it signifies the measure or guide or standard for principles of belief and practice.

Other scholastic definitions have also been given concerning the definitions of a Canon but what is common through all definitions is the fact that they all point to the same fact:” A canon is an authoritative book which commands the intuitions of people on certain issues” It is therefore important to note that the Bible itself is a Canon.


Canonization can be said to be as the acceptability and recognition of some certain books to  be the governing principle which guides Christians in their religious practices, this books however must conform with the church teachings and could be use for liturgical reasons else, it falls under Apocryphal book ( books that their authorship are questionable).

it is to be noted that 39 books of the old testament have been canonized and 27 in the new testament. however do note that mainline churches like Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican and so on adopt this canonized form. This is unlike the mother Church in the world (Catholic) that canonized 7 more to the 39 books of the old testament to make it 46 books, this include Wisdom, Tobit and so on. 

What is Apocryphal ?

Apocryphal are books that has a questionable authorship, it is mostly characterized by its contradiction to the normal teaching of the church. there are however 15 Apocryphal books and this include :

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. Wisdom
  4. Baruch 
  5. The Prayer of Manasseh
  6. 1st Esdras
  7. 2nd Esdras
  8. Sirach (The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira)
  9. The letter of Jeremiah 
  10. The Prayer of Azarias
  11. Susanna 
  12. Bel and Dragon ( Bel and Snake)
  13. First Maccabees
  14. Second Maccabees
  15. 4 Maccabees


Criteria for Canonization

There are certain criteria which must be achieved by a book or a group of books before it can be canonized into being an authoritative document from religious perspective. Some of these requirements are stated below:

  1. The Book must have been written by a Servant of God or someone associated with a Servant of God.
  2. The book must be of ecclesiastical usage i.e., it must be usable within the Church.
  3. The provisions in such book must conform with the customs of the people.
  4. It must be written with inspiration gotten from the Holy Spirit
  5. Such a book must have been previously canonized or generally recognized as authoritative by the people.
  6. It must be consistent and contradiction free.
  7. It must agree with the accepted approved teachings of the church or congregation.

Reasons for Canonization

  1. With the death of Custodians who were officials saddled with the responsibility of keeping the biblical messages in their oral form, there was the need to have a standardized written version of these messages for storage and safekeeping.
  2. Also, many of the Israelite brethren who were taken on exile to other countries were also in dire need of these biblical messages and since these could not be passes to them, in oral form, there was the need for it to be put in writing in languages these brethren could understand. For example, this was why the Septuagint was created.
  3. Furthermore, there was just the particular dire need for a standardized written document which the people could easily gain access to in the process of trying to get these biblical messages.
  4. The process of canonization concerning these oral messages was necessary in order to preserve the customs and traditions of the Israelites.

Development of the Canon

Writings accepted as authoritative for faith and teaching are said to be canonical, and when gathered together constitute a canon. The term “canon,” the Anglicized form of the Greek word kanon designating a rod used for measuring, is related to a Semitic root appearing in Hebrew as kaneh, meaning a “reed.” Used metaphorically in reference to religious matters, it signifies the measure or guide or standard for principles of belief and practice.

The number of books constituting the canon of Old Testament Scripture varies among different religious groups. The Jewish Bible contains twenty-four books;2 the Protestant Bible, thirty-nine books; the Eastern Orthodox Bible, forty-three books; and the Roman Catholic Bible, forty-six books. The difference between the Jewish and Protestant versions is easily explained: one book in the Jewish

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Bible entitled “The Twelve” (Dodecapropheton), actually contains twelve prophetic writings which, in Christian versions, are counted individually, and four other writings which are treated as individual units in Jewish Bibles are each sub-divided into two books by Christians (I-II Samuel, I-II Kings, I-II Chronicles,

Ezra-Nehemiah) . The additional books in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bibles include writings not accepted as canonical by Jews and Protestants, who place them in a collection known as “The Apocrypha.” The term “Apocrypha” as applied to writings is first known to us through the work of Clement of Alexandria ( Stromata iii, 5), a Christian theologian-philosopher living in Egypt at the close of the second and beginning of the third centuries A.D. In the preface to his translation of Samuel and Kings (Prologus Galeatus) in the fourth century, Jerome, the great Christian scholar who made the Latin translation of the Bible known as the “Vulgate” (see Part Ten), applied the term to books found in the Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures but excluded from the Jewish canon.

Etymologically, “apocrypha” is derived from a Greek word meaning “hidden” or “concealed.” The explanation as to why certain books were hidden may give to the word “apocrypha” either a complimentary or derogatory significance. In one sense, the books were hidden because they contained esoteric knowledge to be revealed only to members of a particular group. In another sense ‘ they were concealed because they were heretical writings not acceptable in the canon of scriptures. How parts of the Apocrypha came to be accepted by some and rejected by others is part of the story of the development of the canon. (See Part Ten.)

It is estimated that close to 1,000,000 Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the third century B.C. Having been separated from Palestinian Judaism for many generations, the Alexandrian Jews spoke only Greek and could not understand the Hebrew scriptures. According to a legend preserved in “The Letter of Aristeas,”3 in response to a request that the Jewish scriptures be translated into Greek, seventy Jewish scholars (another tradition says seventy-two) went to Egypt and translated the first five books of the Bible (the Law or Torah). These books, believed to be the work of Moses, had achieved a relatively fixed form and canonical status during the fifth century B.C.


Subsequently other Jewish writings were translated: first the prophetic writings (the

Prophets or Nebhiim), which had almost achieved canonical standing, and finally the Writings or Kethubhim, which incorporated all other authoritative religious documents. The tradition of the translation by the seventy was extended to include the entire Greek version which came to be known as “The Seventy” or in the Latin form as Septuaginta, now Anglicized to “Septuagint” and given a numerical abbreviation LXX. The Septuagint

The Septuagint is a Greek version of the Hebrew bible created or translated by either 70 or 72 Jewish Scholars in Alexandria, Egypt during the 3rd – 2nd century B.C. Due to the situation which involved the location of some Israelites being in places where the Greek culture was predominant and so, had been incorporated into the Greek culture and language, it was nonetheless, the desire of these Israelites abroad or in Diaspora to get access to the biblical messages enjoyed by the Israelites at home and so, as a result of this, 70 Jewish Scholars came together to create a Greek Version of the Hebrew Bible which was then called the Septuagint. Also, at a particular time, the Israelites for centuries were under the control of the Greek government which thus made Greek the lingua franca of the Israelite people which thus necessitated the translation. The Septuagint was the first trial at translating the Hebrew bible into another language and as such, it came with many difficulties especially with trying to translate Hebrew words which had no interpretation in Greek.

The Masoretic Texts

This is a term used to refer to the Hebrew textual tradition of the Israelite people. This is a term used to represent the set of first hand writings which serve as the origin of the different writings which then became collated into what we have as the Bible today. These First hand writings can also be called Manuscripts. The officials in charge of handling the Masoretic texts are called the Masoretes, the most prominent of them all being Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali. It is the duty of the Masoretes to ensure that the textual tradition of the Israelite people do not get tampered with flexibly.

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