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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Ca´non. This word was frequently employed to denote a rule or standard, by a reference to which the rectitude of opinions or actions may be determined; and as the great standard in all matters of faith and duty was the revealed will of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the term came insensibly to be applied to the collective body of those writings which were designated the Canon or Rule.

The Canon then may be defined to be 'The Authoritative Standard of Religion and Morals, composed of those writings which have been given for this purpose by God to men.'

According to this definition, in order to establish the Canon of Scripture, it is necessary to show that all the books of which it is composed are of divine authority; that they are entire and incorrupt; that, having them, it is complete without any addition from any other source; and that it comprises the whole of those books for which divine authority can be proved. It is obvious that, if any of these four particulars be not true, Scripture cannot be the sole and supreme standard of religious truth and duty.

Respecting the evidence by which the Canon is thus to be established, there exists considerable difference of opinion amongst Christians. Some contend, with the Catholics, that the authoritative decision of the Church is alone competent to determine the Canon; others appeal to the concurrent testimony of the Jewish and early Christian writers: and others rest their strongest reliance on the internal evidence furnished by the books of Scripture themselves. We cannot say that we are satisfied with any of these sources of evidence exclusively. As Michaelis remarks, the first is one to which no consistent Protestant can appeal, for the matter to be determined is of such a kind, that, unless we grant the Church to be infallible, it is quite possible that she may at any given period of her existence determine erroneously; and one sees not why the question may not be as successfully investigated by a private individual as by the Church. The concurrent testimony of the ancient witnesses is invaluable so far as it goes; but it may be doubted if it be sufficient of itself to settle this question, for the question is not entirely one of facts, and testimony is good proof only for facts. As for the internal evidence, one needs only look at the havoc which Semler and his school have made of the Canon, to be satisfied that where doctrinal considerations are allowed to determine exclusively such questions, each man will extend or extruncate the Canon so as to adjust it to the Procrustean couch of his own preconceived notions. As the question is one partly of fact and partly of opinion, the appropriate grounds of decision will be best secured by a combination of authentic testimony with the evidence supplied by the books themselves. We want to know that these books were really written by the persons whose names they bear; we want to be satisfied that these persons were commonly reputed and held by their contemporaries to be assisted by the divine spirit in what they wrote; and we want to be sure that care was taken by those to whom their writings were first addressed, that these should be preserved entire and uncorrupt. For all this we must appeal to the testimony of competent witnesses, as the only suitable evidence for such matters. But after we have ascertained these points affirmatively, we still require to be satisfied that the books themselves contain nothing obviously incompatible with the ascription to their authors of the divine assistance, but, on the contrary, are in all respects favorable to this supposition. We want to see that they are in harmony with each other; that the statements they contain are credible; that the doctrines they teach are not foolish, immoral, or self-contradictory; that their authors really assumed to be under the divine direction in what they wrote, and afforded competent proofs of this to those around them: and that all the circumstances of the case, such as the style of the writers, the allusions made by them to places and events, etc., are in keeping with the conclusion to which the external evidence has already led. In this way we advance to a complete moral proof of the divine authority and canonical claims of the sacred writings.

The books specified as canonical in the 6th Article of the Church of England, and the 1st of the Confession of the Church of Scotland, are received as such by the majority of Protestants. To these the Church of Rome adds, as part of the Old Testament, ten other books, or parts of books, which Protestants reject as Apocryphal [APOCRYPHA]. For the evidence in support of the genuineness and divine authority of those books universally regarded by Christians as canonical, taken individually, we may refer to the articles we find them in use almost on all in this work under the titles of these books respectively.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Canon'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​c/canon.html.