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Who Decided Which Books Should Be Included in the Bible?

By Kwabena Donkor

Many Christians find great value in reading the Bible because they believe that this Book was given by the inspiration of God. But who decided which books should be included in the collection that we refer to as the “Bible”? Canoniza­tion, the term given to the process by which books were included or excluded from the Bible, is a word derived from the Greek kanon, whose basic meaning is that of a “rule.” Sometimes the books included in our Bible are, therefore, called canonical books, although canonization deals with more than a mere list of books.

Consider canonization as a question of why certain books came to be regarded as sacred and authoritative in the early Christian communities. How we address this question determines whether we believe that the Bible, as we have it, came into being as a result of the guidance of the

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  1. James A. Sanders, “Canon,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:843.

  2. Josephus, Against Apion 1.8.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Steven M. Sheeley, “From ‘Scripture’ to ‘Canon’: The Development of the New Testament Canon,” Review & Expositor 95 (Fall 1998): 518.

  5. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, Significance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 210.


    This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of Ministry,® International Journal for Pastors, Used with permission of the author.

About the author

Kwabena Donkor, PhD, is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.