The Canon of Scripture

The Bible is arranged into two testaments referring to the old and new covenant. The Old Testament, all 39 books, begins with creation, the flood, the patriarchs, and end with the last words spoken by the prophets to Israel. The New Testament begins after 400 years of God’s silence toward Israel with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, and ends with the prophetic revelation of Jesus by John in the end times. These books are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit breathed the words and ideas in these books meant for all time for the saints.

Old Testament Canon


The Old Testament is also known as the Hebrew Scriptures. It covers the time from the very beginning of all creation up to the Intertestamental period. This was the time of God’s silence until the time of the New Testament, covering about 400 years. The Old Testament is full of all kinds of genres of literature. Containing 39 books, almost all of it was written in the language of Hebrew. From the Exilic period, Aramaic is also used. The rich narrative and poetic language of Hebrew flows through each page. The Hebrew Scriptures were canonized by the Israelites and there are almost no questions as to their authentic nature and inspiration. It’s narratives, poetry, historical accounts and prophetic oracles span most of Israel’s history and provide the backbone for understanding the New Testament.

Canon Arrangement

The Christian Old Testament canon is arranged differently than the Hebrew canon. The Hebrew Scriptures are arranged in three sets. The first set is called the Torah and contains the first five books written by Moses. The second set is called the Canticum or the Writings including the historical books, wisdom literature, and poetry. The final section is called the Navi’im were the Prophets including the major and minor prophets. The last two books of the Hebrew Bible are first and second Chronicles because they were written after the exile and return to Israel.

The Christian Old Testament canon is broken up into five sections. It begins with the Pentateuch (Torah). Next comes the historical books, and then the wisdom literature. Next is the poetic literature followed by the two sections of the major and minor prophets. A book like Lamentations, stopwhich is technically a song, is arranged after Jeremiah because it is believed that Jeremiah wrote this song. First and second Chronicles are arranged along with the historical books. Although grouped a little differently than the Hebrew Scriptures and sometimes having different chapter and verse numbers, both arrangements contain the whole of the Old Testament.

New Testament Canon

The New Testament, or new covenant, contains 27 books in five categories. It begins with the Gospels, theological biographies of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, Church History in the book of Acts, 13 of Paul’s letters, 8 General Epistles written by various authors, and Prophecy in John’s Revelation.

The New Testament writings began in the mid-to-late 50s AD were completed in 95/96 AD. They have genres ranging from narratives, expositions, poetry, and prophecy. The Gospels give the core of Jesus’ life and ministry. Acts describes Jesus’ ministry through His body, the Church. The epistles expound the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And the prophecy of Revelation shows what will happen in the future.

The Church sought to codify the New Testament Canon through a series of church councils, finally defining the Canon as it stands today in its 27 books. Many modern scholars attempt to make it look like man decided on the Canon. But at each of these councils, the Church sought to come in agreement with the Holy Spirit. The last Council that codified the New Testament Canon occurred in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea. But the 27 books as the New Testament Canon can be seen in documents as early as 127 AD, the Moratorium Fragment.