By - coreywindom
This post is in essence a theological question rather than an academic one and so I have locked it so as to avoid off-topic discussion.
Posts of this sort are usually removed, but I am leaving it on the sub as a resource since queries of this sort are not unusual (even if they are inappropriate for this forum).
Well, r/AcademicBiblical is not a confessional subreddit, so it's not the place to discuss which religious traditions & canons are right or wrong, or any theological/confessional/God-related questions (see rules 1 and 2 for details).
But don't hesitate to use the open discussion threads to discuss from a more personal and confessional perspective (without denigrating religious traditions other than your own).
[EDIT: Could you remove the second part of your post —beginning at "I sometimes question"— in order to remain within the confines of the subreddit, and prevent off-topic contributions in the thread?]
The first council of Nicaea was not concerned with canonisation of the now-biblical texts, but focused on issues of doctrine & Christology —most notably the "Arian controversy"– ([quick reference](https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20120112144310940)).
Concerning the formation of biblical canons:
* [lecture of W. Propp on the Jewish (rabbinic) canon](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNH8kPh3V5Y&t=901s)
* discussions between H. Attridge and J.J. Collins on the [Old Testament](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsU-RkF5c24) and the [New Testament](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnvfaRmRUSU) canons
* [relatively informal but nice interview of Ian Mills](https://youtu.be/DxZtkz5UMPg?list=PLAp5qvJ1xGSz--csS91iDP6fMp2x9HiZi&t=266) ([this fellow](https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=mf9HdJ4AAAAJ)) on the formation of the New Testament canon.
The discussion [here](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEB9kL80sGA) is more specific but also relevant to the topic, so I'll add it as a bonus.
The "Collections, Canons and Communities" chapter of *The Cambridge Companion to the Hebrew Bible/OT* provides a serviceable introduction for the Hebrew Bible / Deuterocanons (preview [here](https://www.reddit.com/r/AcademicBiblical/comments/vjg2g9/who_decided_what_is_in_the_bible/). You can [see on Worldcat](https://www.worldcat.org/title/cambridge-companion-to-the-hebrew-bibleold-testament/oclc/1225071455&referer=brief_results) if it's available in libraries near your location.
*The New Oxford Annotated Bible* has a series of articles in the essays section (subsection "the canons of the Bible"). Most of it is available in preview [here](https://books.google.fr/books?id=TnpVDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false) —just use [the menu](https://ibb.co/kG5wct0) to navigate in the essays section and scroll down to access it. Pages 2238 and 2240 are missing, so I'll copy them below:
>[...] versus expansive types, as with the text of Jeremiah; see
the Introduction to Jeremiah, p. 1069), and may contain
blocks of material not found in the MT (e.g., the Greek
versions of Esther and Daniel). The types of rabbinic
exposition that paid a great deal of attention to the exact
spelling of the individual word would eventually
bring about textual stability, though here too this was a
gradual process, and the means by which it was accomplished—
through which “alternative” versions were suppressed—
are largely unknown.
>Canonization is fundamentally a process of selection,
but we cannot reconstruct why particular texts were canonized
while others were not. The Hebrew Bible itself mentions
more than twenty books that are no longer extant,
such as The Book of the Wars of the Lord and the Book of
Jashar; many others, not mentioned in the Bible, certainly
existed as well. Perhaps some excluded texts were seen
as too heterodox, while others were seen as too recently
composed. Many more texts were excluded than included;
some of the former were translated in the Septuagint and
were therefore canonized in the Christian community (see
“Canons of the Bible,” on the Greek Bible, p. 1840); others
were lost, or survived as pseudepigrapha (writings falsely
attributed to major biblical figures), or were preserved (typically
in fragmentary form) in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
>Whether a book or group of books is canonized is
often discussed in terms of the community’s views on
their centrality, authority, sacredness, and inspiration.
These terms are not identical, and each is murky. Sometimes
these characteristics became connected. The
Song of Solomon, for instance, was originally an erotic
love poem; by the early rabbinic period, it came to be
interpreted allegorically as a love poem between God
and Israel. It was also seen as the inspired composition
of Solomon himself. Was it canonized before it was seen
as a holy, allegorical text? In that case, its canonization
might reflect a central role that it held in culture or ritual.
Or was it canonized only after it was viewed as allegorical
and as a composition of Solomon? In that case its significance,
whether of authorship or of ideas, could have
played a more important part. It is impossible to judge
between these two paths to canonization that more
broadly reflect the problems in dealing with issues of
canonization in general.
>Despite such major uncertainties in our understanding
of the process of canonization, however, several
points seem likely. The destruction of the Second Temple
in 70 ce played an important role in Jews becoming
the people of the Book. Second, it is unlikely that canonization
represents a purely top-down process, through
which a small group of leaders (rabbis) determined the
canon; instead, the formation of the Hebrew Bible was
more likely the official recognition of the works that a
large or influential segment of the community had already
held to be central, holy, or authoritative. Finally,
the act of canonization was remarkably inclusive, creating
a body of works richly textured by a wide variety of
genres, ideologies, and theologies. This is, fundamentally,
a typical ancient Near Eastern process: Instead of creating
a small, highly consistent text, as we perhaps might
now do, those responsible for the process included many
of the viewpoints in ancient Israel, incorporating differing
and even contradictory traditions into this single, and
singular, book—the Hebrew Bible.
>*Marc Z. Brettler*
>THE GREEK BIBLE
the greek bible
When Christian writings began to circulate, during the
second half of the first century ce, the Bible that the early
Christians used for reading and quotation was a Greek
translation and expansion of the Hebrew Bible produced
in Alexandria and other Diaspora communities for the
use of Greek-speaking Jews. This Greek version is commonly
referred to as “the Septuagint” (“seventy”; LXX)
after the seventy-two translators sent to Alexandria from
Jerusalem to provide its famous library with an authentic
version of the Jewish Torah in Greek. According to legend
all seventy agreed, providing divine confirmation
of their work (Letter of Aristeas). Greek translations of
other writings in the Hebrew scriptures followed. Probably
as a result of the as yet unsettled matter of which
works were canonical for the Jewish community, the Septuagint
included further works: historical books (1 and 2
Maccabees, 1 Esdras); wisdom writings (The Wisdom of
Solomon, The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach); short works
of fiction, or novellas (Tobit, Judith); an apocalypse (2 Esdras);
historical legend (3 Maccabees); philosophical diatribe
(4 Maccabees); an addendum to Jeremiah (Baruch [...]
*see page 2239 on the preview for the rest*
(for the New Testament section, see below)
>THE NEW TESTAMENT (pp 2240-41)
>The early Christian community soon began to produce
writings dealing with its own history, beliefs, and traditions.
By the end of the first century ce and the beginning
of the second, various gospels, narratives, letters,
didactic discourses, and apocalyptic writings circulated
among regional Christian communities. The practice of
reading from these works, along with selections from
the Greek version of the Jewish scriptures, soon arose in
Christian worship. Use in this public setting initiated the
process of attributing to these Christian writings an authority
analogous to that of the Jewish scriptures. When
disputes broke out, as they inevitably would, about beliefs
or traditions, the canonical or noncanonical status
of the various Christian writings became important.
>The authority of smaller collections, the four Gospels
and a ten-letter compilation of Pauline letters, was accepted
by the second century ce. Other writings, Acts,
Hebrews, Revelation, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and 2 Peter are
not as widely attested in the early period. Still other Christian
writings also appear as authorities in the second and
third centuries. Official lists appear only in the fourth
century ce as a consequence of theological debates (see
Athanasius, Festal Letter 39; Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.3.5;
3.25.3–4). Christian canon lists remained fluid through
the sixth century with such inclusions as the Shepherd of
Hermas or the spurious Epistle to the Laodiceans among
the Pauline letters. The Muratorian canon, whose date
and provenance are disputed (second-century Rome to
fourth-century East), includes Wisdom of Solomon in
the New Testament. Other collections omit Hebrews.
(See the chart [p 2237] for a comparison of three New Testament
>Arguments over apostolic authorship emerge as a
consequence of second-century ce challenges to general
Christian practice. Valentinus and other Gnostics—who
taught an esoteric form of Christianity—asserted that
the Jewish God was ignorant of the highest divine realms,
and that therefore both the Jewish scriptures and Christian
writings, based on them, mislead naïve believers.
>Such teachers claimed to possess esoteric wisdom that
Jesus had given to a few disciples including Peter, Thomas,
James the brother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. In
the second and third centuries, Gnostics produced several
works said to contain that secret apostolic teaching.
Another second-century teacher, Marcion, established a
church that excluded the Old Testament claiming that its
God was not the father of Jesus. He proposed a “New Testament”
comprised of the Gospel of Luke and ten Pauline
epistles that opened with Galatians, evidence for the
difference between the Law and the gospel. Marcion’s
texts of the gospel and epistles were edited to eliminate
passages contrary to his theological perspective.
Against both Gnostics and Marcionites, Irenaeus argued
that the Spirit poured out on the Church enabled her to
write scripture (Adv. Haer. 3.21.3–4) and affirmed the unity
of the Old Testament and New Testament (Adv. Haer.
4.28.1–2). Tertullian refers to reading the “books of God”
in Christian worship with no differentiation between
Jewish and Christian writings (Apology 39.3).
>Besides disputes, in which different contents of authoritative
writings clearly reflected underlying theological
differences, the physical character of Christian
texts contributed to the emergence of canon. From the
beginning Christians used the codex (pl. codices) format—
a bound volume of pages, similar to a present-day
book—rather than the more traditional scroll for their
writings. In antiquity codices were the medium of early
drafts, assembled notes, and the like. Finished literary
works and sacred texts like the Torah were copied onto
scrolls. Scholars disagree over whether early Christian
use of codices reflects the moderate socioeconomic
status of most Christians, or makes a statement about
their contents. Perhaps the first- and second-century
Christians thought that their writings had a different authority
from that of the Torah and the prophets. Use of
the codex made possible the smaller groupings that were
combined in the larger canon of twenty-seven writings
at the end of the fourth century ce. Early collections of
Paul’s letters were initially seen as specifically directed to
individual churches. Gospel collections were viewed as
representative of the oral teaching of the apostles, not
as formal literary compositions. The codex would have
been an appropriate form for such writings. Use of readings
from the Gospels along with the prophets in Christian
worship indicates that the Gospels came to enjoy
equal authority with the Torah and the prophets by the
mid-second century (see Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67.3–5).
>Scrolls were made of papyrus or leather pieces glued
or sewn together, and lengthy ones became inconvenient
to handle: The average length is about 20–26 ft (6–8 m),
though longer scrolls are known. The codex can accommodate
much more text, so that several writings could
be bound into one volume. Codices containing the Old
Testament and later the entire Christian scripture were
produced from the fourth century ce on. There was not a
uniform number of books or a uniform order of presentation
in the earliest codices, however. Individual Christian
congregations may not have possessed copies of all
writings included in canon lists. It would have been difficult
to distinguish these official texts from other early
Christian writings also found in codices. Some Christians
turned over apocryphal writings to imperial officials
charged with destroying “sacred books” during the Diocletian persecution (303 ce). Confusion over unofficial
and authorized writings in Christian worship persisted
into the mid-fourth century ce. Canon 59 of the Synod of
Laodicea (360 ce) decreed, “Private psalms should not be
read in church, neither uncanonized books, but only the
canonical ones of the new and old covenant.”
>Origen’s advice to those privately reading scripture
presumes that the educated Christian elite had copies
of deuterocanonical writings, Gospels, epistles, psalms,
and the Torah. He proposes an order of reading designed
to overcome the difficulty of approaching biblical literature.
First, he suggests, Esther, Judith, Tobit, or Wisdom. Then, the Gospels, epistles, and Psalms. Finally, the
reader can tackle books that are difficult or seemingly
without reward, such as Leviticus or Numbers (Homilies
on Numbers 27.1). The biblical codices of the fourth and
fifth centuries ce include different selections of Jewish
apocrypha. In Codex Sinaiticus one finds Tobit, Judith,
Wisdom, Sirach, 1 and 4 Maccabees; in Codex Vaticanus,
Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, Tobit;
in Codex Alexandrinus, Psalms of Solomon, 3 and 4 Maccabees.
Athanasius’s Festal Letter 39 omits the deuterocanonical
writings from the Old Testament but accepts
them for private reading. Though Athanasius includes all
twenty-seven New Testament writings, the issue was not
settled everywhere. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389) omits
Revelation from his catalogue as do the lectionaries of
the Eastern church. Didymus of Alexandria omits 2 and 3
John but cites the apostolic fathers as authoritative. Such
evidence indicates that despite consensus on the four
Gospels and Pauline epistles, regional variations about
the rest persisted.
>By the end of the fourth century, however, there was
widespread agreement about which books had scriptural
status. Among the large number of early Christian
writings in a diversity of genres, including gospels, letters,
acts, apocalypses, and didactic treatises, a smaller
number had come to be widely accepted. The criteria
that were implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, operative
were apostolic authority—that a work was written by or
attributed to one of the first generation of Christian leaders,
especially Paul and the twelve apostles—and consistency
with their teaching, especially as determined
by ecclesiastical authorities in major centers like Rome,
Alexandria, Ephesus, and Byzantium. As a result, some of
the writings that had come to be considered noncanonical
were lost and rediscovered only in the late nineteenth
and twentieth centuries.
I hope the "disjointed" format created by the mixing of previews and copy/pasting won't be too uncomfortable to read, and that you'll find the articles useful, even if the theological issues you are concerned with fall outside the scope of a regular thread (but, again, can be discussed in the open discussion ones).
EDIT: see also this [accessible & brief overview](https://www.bibleodyssey.org/tools/bible-basics/why-does-the-bible-look-the-way-it-does) about Jewish & Christian canons.
The long version is a two hour lecture. Dr. Tim Mackie gave one such lecture a few years back. You can watch that here:
Except two hours isn't long enough. There's a fair bit he's left out.
So I'll give you a much shorter version. There was not one person or one council that decided what's in the Bible. At the time of the Council of Nicea, there were actually discussions going on about whether Second Peter, Revelation, and Jude really counted. There's still an active debate between Protestants and Catholics whether to include the deuterocanonical/apocryphal Old Testament texts.
The early church (through the first two centuries or so) were pretty loose on what they called scripture. There was a general consensus that the things that the Apostles wrote was authoritative, but it wasn't clear how far this extended. For the Old Testament, the sets of the Torah and the Prophets seem to have been set at some point in the first or second century BC, but the writings still had some books like Ruth and Esther were still ambiguous until the middle of the first or second century AD.
Athanasius seems to have been the first one with a New Testament Canon exactly like what we have now, and he wrote in the mid 300's. The Syriac church didn't embrace Revelation, Second Peter, Jude, and Second and Third John until the late 300's, though. So it's not like one guy said it and then everyone fell in line. There are a number of articles linked here that cover some of this:
The Bible was those books that kept being used over and over. It's the things that raise to the top. We see a similar thing in lots of other fields as well. For example, in the field of mathematics, Euclid's Elements has been used as a standard textbook for 3000 years.
In contrast to this, Newton's Principia was mined for what was valuable and then more-or-less discarded. Even though Newton invented calculus, we don't do it the way Newton did any longer, and had moved away from his method before even a few generations had passed.
So if the Pythagoreans were still around, and they were building their mathematical Bible by the same methods as the early church, they'd probably include Elements and not include Principia. (The Pythagoreans were an ancient Greek cult that worshipped math, if you didn't know that.)
Depending on your upbringing, this can be comforting or disturbing. As Dr. Mackie discussed in his lecture, there are some traditions that have a mystical vision of the Bible, and learning that the history is not that mystical can be a shock to the system for some people. For others, a few bad experiences with mystical experiences and it becomes rather comforting to learn that the same kind of process that discovered that math works also picked out the books of the Bible: diliberating and testing over hundreds of years by the people putting it into action. Which you are is between you and your upbringing.