The Bible contains 66 books that are considered together to be the canon (i.e. standard rule). There were many other books which the church fathers did not include into the canon because they failed to fulfill the 5-fold criteria of canonicity. The 5-fold criteria was:
- Authorship: It should be authored by an apostle or a prophet or a holy man of God.
- Local Church Acceptance: It should have been accepted in the local churches of First Century Christians
- Recognition by Church Fathers: It should have been recognized as scripture by the church fathers in their writings.
- Sound Doctrine: It should convey sound doctrine and must be consistent with the revelation of God.
- Personal Edification: It should be dynamic in nature towards transformation of lives and contribute as spiritual food and light for personal edification.
The Old Testament canon was already recognized during the time of Jesus and the Apostles and referred to as the Law and the Prophets. The New Testament canon was being recognized by the Apostles, for example when Peter treats Paul’s writings as scriptures (2Pet.3:16) and when John affirms his book of prophecy as that to which nothing must be added and from which nothing must be removed. The NT canon was declared during the 3rd Council of Carthage in AD 397. The church father Athanasius listed them in his 39th Paschal letter (AD 367).
We understand the apostolic authorship of the New Testament and the prophetic authorship of the Old Testament very clearly from the writings themselves. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus being the corner stone (Eph.2:20).
One important keystone is the prophetic explanations provided in the Bible, which certainly cannot be based on any other authority than God Himself. For instance, in Judges 14 we find the account of Samson adamant to marry a philistine girl, though his parents are not in favor of this. The writer of Judges notes here: “his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD — that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” (Judges 14:4). One would ask, “How did this writer know what was in the mind of God? Was he just interpreting God’s mind on the basis of a retrospection of incidents that happened? If so, how can he make an authoritative statement like that? Can anyone know the mind of God?” Obviously, the answer is that only the Spirit of God knows the mind of God and the Scriptures were given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.2:10,11; 2Pet.1:21; 2Tim.3:16).