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The Authoritative Foundation of the New Testament Canon

The canon of Scripture is the set of writings which bear unique and divine authority for the doctrine and life of the Christian Church. It has been the Spirit produced conviction of God's people for the previous two millennia that such a regula fidei exists in the inspired Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments. Respecting the latter, it is true that the Church did not reach immediate consensus on which particular books should be included in that canon, nor does the text of the New Testament itself provide an authoritative list of canonical Scriptures. For this reason, we are grateful for the monumental labors of the historians of the 19th and 20th centuries to reconstruct the history of the canon. The a priori of faith does not relieve us of the duty of investigating history nor give us the right to conclude without careful research that the canon of Christ is the canon of the church. Yet neither God's inscrutable providence in the preservation, recognition, and compilation of his Word nor the findings of various historians have shaken our faith that the twenty-seven inspired books of the New Testament are the Church's only rule of faith and practice.

Under the critical examinations of historians, sociologists, and theologians of various persuasions, this conviction has sustained continuous assault over the past two centuries. In a relatively recent article, Dugan maintained that these prolonged investigations may result in "a massive series of changes regarding the shape and content of the Bible which should rival for creativity the Reformation period..."' This remark, though often cited in the literature and usually dismissed as impetuous enthusiasm, must be taken seriously by Christ's church and apologists for the old canonical orthodoxy. Contrary to Barr's comments, there is a "direct correlation between the self-identity of a church and the precise boundaries of its canon." For men and women who take their Christian profession seriously, the content and authority of the Scriptures they possess is of fundamental concern. "For man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4).