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Meme spin on how the list of books in the Bible was arrived at

Continued from Futility inherent in do-it-yourself religion, what's the point

Someone else responded with a meme on “How You Got Your Bible”, with four sections to it:

  1. Constantine and his bishops VOTED a bunch of books AS THE WORD OF GOD (325 AD) (Don't just believe me. Go look it up“)
  2. They pick and chose what they want in the bible. Then burn all other pre-christian document that proved the religion was fictitious. (391 AD) (Black Ankhwakening)
  3. In order to make the religion popular they kill everyone who dont agree with the new religion and made laws prohibiting any public talk about religion. It was illegal to disagree with the church. (380 AD)
  4. But today christians running around with the bible don't know that what they are believing in was purposefully planned out for them to believe by men.

How I responded initially

That wasn't quite how the process of deciding on canonicity was described in Bruce Metzger's college textbook on canonicity. So I looked into a few things…..

This was my initial response:

  • OK, that is one way to view what happened at the Council of Nicea. (It is interesting the meme doesnt mention the commonly accepted name of that council.) “And his bishops” is rather slanted, at that time Constantine was still in the process of learning and being a candidate for baptism, there was already a pope who was the actual leader of those bishops, not Constantine.
  • Those are some rather serious issues just in the first paragraph of this meme. Gives me a very cautious view of the rest of the assertions.
  • Dr. Bruce Metzger in his textbooks on canonicity also point out that the council had to deal with an incredible number of clearly counterfeit documents that were vieing for popularity.The council had to throw out documents with clearly questionable pedigree. Interestingly, they also didnt agree very well with well accepted documents of early Christianity, or the Old Testament. The odd pedigree documents clearly seemed to be the fake news of their day. What was left, ended up in the Bible.
  • Some of the 'fake news' of the day does survive to the present day. (So it wasn't actually all burned up, another strike against the meme's claims). Gospel of Thomas being an example. Such present a picture of Jesus that is rather out of line with what is presented in the accepted books of the Bible. Are they a true alternative clear narrative that is just an alternate eye witness telling, or are they cleverly invented frauds?
  • If there was an abundance of frauds, it seems God needed to have just a council to weed things out, made of men to work through, just like God worked through men to write the books. It seems reasonable that God would do such, it makes no sense to give the inspiration, then allow the inspired writings to drown in a sea of counterfeits.
  • The meme might be true, but given the problems I noted in first paragraph, it has the feeling of a conspiracy theory spin. The truth might not be at the extremes, but possibly somewhere in the middle.

It turns out that was not even entirely correct. The meme had other serious errors. And those errors led me into a response that had some errors.

That is the problem in responding to a meme. However, it did trigger me to do some more research, and I learned more about the process from reputable sources. What follows is the results of that research.

Bruce Metzger's Book on New Testament Canonicity

Who was Bruce Metzger?

Here is how one author describes Bruce Metzger and his book on New Testament canonicity:

  • Bruce Metzger was professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a board member of the American Bible Society. He was chief editor of the Reader's Digest Condensed Bible, and according to its preface approved each section. He was the general editor of the New Revised Standard, and one of the editors of the United Bible Society's standard Greek New Testament.
  • Without doubt he is a scholar of considerable breadth of learning and erudition. His 1987 work „The Canon of the New Testament‟ is often cited by evangelicals as a valuable reference work. Metzger‟s view of the New Testament is plain from his first sentence. „The recognition of the canonical status of the several books of the New Testament was the result of a long and gradual process, in the course of which certain writings, regarded as authoritative were separated from much larger body of early Christian literature‟1

Some questions asked by this author:

  • Does the data warrant such radical conclusions?
  • Does Metzger‟s work provide a sound and credible description of the genesis of Scripture, or has the work fallen prey to influences quite apart from the evidence?
  • How soundly founded are Metzger's basic judgements and how secure his conclusions?


The Full Text of Bruce Metzger's Book "The Canon of the New Testament"

A link to the full text of his book is here:

Some more scholarly discussion of canonicity, and reference to Bruce Metzger's work:

  • - From the fellowship for reformation and pastoral studies, Vol 29, No. 7 by Michael A. G. Haykin
    • “Vigorous controversy over the exact limits of the canon can be found throughout the second century. This controversy has prompted some classical liberal scholars like Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) and Hans von Campenhausen to point to the Gnostic author Marcion (fl. 140), a wealthy shipowner from the seaport of Sinope in Pontus, as having set the precedent in creating a New Testament canon… This perspective … though, is mistaken.” New Testament scholar Herman N. Ridderbos has more thoroughly examined that claim.
    • Early Christans often “were Jews, for whom it would have been unthinkable to have questioned the authority of the Old Testament as divine revelation.”
    • “But why did the early Christians come to add another book of writings to the Old Testament and come to regard them as Holy Scripture and ultimately as canonical as the Old Testament? In nuce the answer may be found in one word: authority. Ultimately, they discerned in these books the authoritative voice of God and the authority of their Lord Jesus.(14) In other words, the church did not create the canon. She recognized what God had constituted.(15)”
    • “Is the canon of the New Testament open or closed?” … “in the words of Bruce Metzger, “a collection of writings that bear witness to what God has wrought through the life and work, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through the founding of the Church by his Spirit.”(38) Those events are past history, and the witness to them must be contemporaneous with the events. Moreover, the written witness to these events has been foundational for the church (see Ephesians 2:20) and the foundation cannot be relaid. “In short, the canon cannot be remade—for the simple reason that history cannot be remade.”(39)
      • (38) Metzger, Canon of the NewTestament, 271.
      • (39) Metzger, Canon of the NewTestament, 275.

Bruce Metzger's summary statement from his book

  • “Thus, side by side with the old Jewish canon, and without in any way displacing it, there had sprung up a new, Christian canon. 8 This history of its formation is the history, not of a series of sporadic events, but of a long, continuous process. It was a task, not only of collecting, but also of sifting and rejecting. Instead of being the result of a deliberate decree by an individual or a council near the beginning of the Christian era, the collection of New Testament books took place gradually over many years by the pressure of various kinds of circumstances and influences,…”

This is in direct contradiction with the meme. And the later quote from the International Bible Society does not claim that the church father Athanasius decreed the list of books, only that he was the first who provided the “complete listing of the 66 books belonging to the canon.”

Examining a meme prejudiced against how the modern list of books in the Bible was created

What was the Happening in A.D. 325 - Council of Nicaea

It was during this council that there was a beginning of creating the list of the books in the modern Bible new testament was approved. Encyclopedia Britannica does not list creating an authoritative list of the books of the Bible as one of the achievements of this council.

According to the international Bible society:

  • “It was actually not until 367 AD that the church father Athanasius first provided the complete listing of the 66 books belonging to the canon.”
    • He distinguished those from other books that were widely circulated and he noted that those 66 books were the ones, and the only ones, universally accepted.
    • “The point is that the formation of the canon did not come all at once like a thunderbolt, but was the product of centuries of reflection.”

However they go onto say:

  • “Nor is there a single date when we can say that the canon of the New Testament was decided. In the first and second centuries after Christ, many, many writings and epistles were circulating among the Christians. Some of the churches were using books and letters in their services that were definitely spurious. Gradually the need to have a definite list of the inspired Scriptures became apparent. Heretical movements were rising, each one choosing its own selected Scriptures, including such documents as the Gospel of Thomas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas.”
  • “Gradually it became clear which works were truly genuine and which mixed truth with fantasy. By the end of the fourth century the canon was definitively settled and accepted. In this process Christians recognize the providence of God in providing us with his written revelation of himself and his purpose with the universe.”


About the council of Nicaea

Alternative Title: First Council of Nicaea

Council of Nicaea, also called First Council of Nicaea, (325), the first ecumenical council of the Christian church, meeting in ancient Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey). It was called by the emperor Constantine I, an unbaptized catechumen, who presided over the opening session and took part in the discussions. He hoped a general council of the church would solve the problem created in the Eastern church by Arianism, a heresy first proposed by Arius of Alexandria that affirmed that Christ is not divine but a created being. Pope Sylvester I did not attend the council but was represented by legates.


what is a Catechumen

From the encyclopedia Britannica:

“Catechumen, a person who receives instruction in the Christian religion in order to be baptized. According to the New Testament, the apostles instructed converts after baptism (Acts 2:41–42), and Christian instruction was evidently given to all converts (Luke 1:4, Acts 18:25, Galatians 6:6). As the number of Gentiles in the church increased, instruction became more definite. In the 4th century, with the rise of heresy, detailed doctrinal teaching was given. But by this time the postponement of baptism had become general (Constantine was not baptized until he was at the point of death), and, therefore, a large proportion of Christians belonged to the catechumenate.”


CITE Contributor: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Article Title: Catechumen Website Name: Encyclopædia Britannica Publisher: Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Date Published: July 29, 2013 URL: Access Date: June 12, 2019

editorials/meme_spin_on_how_the_list_of_books_in_the_bible_was_arrived_at.txt · Last modified: 2019/06/12 12:59 (external edit)