Canon & Books of the Bible

What's happening BibleDudes? I've traveled here from the 1970's to solve your mystery of what on earth Frank Cannon, tough-guy Private Detective, has to do with the Bible.

I'm not exactly sure why I'm here either.

Woooo! I'm afraid there's like been some sort of a misunderstanding, cannon dudes. We're not talking about cannons with three n's, but rather, canon with two. It comes from a Greek word meaning "cane" or "measuring rod."

[Measuring Rod]

As a measuring rod I figuratively assess things like literature, standardizing what's inside a canon and separating out what doesn't make the cut. Thus, today people speak of Shakespeare's Hamlet as being in the canon of western literature. However, because the Bible is considered by many to be sacred literature, my job in relation to the Bible is to determine which writings are divinely inspired or revealed and then include these scriptures in the Bible. Thus, in this context, canon refers to what's inside a person's Bible.

If you ask me, you need to get your measurements readjusted, because I know for a fact that some Bibles are bigger than others.

[Mr. Hebrew Bible]

It all depends on a person's faith and heritage. For Jews, the Bible consists of 39 books organized into three sections: The law (Hebrew: torah), the prophets (Hebrew: neviim), and the writings (Hebrew: ketuvim).

This collection goes by several names. Jews refer to it as the Tanak, an acronym for the three parts (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim). Christians usually refer to it as the Old Testament, as it comes chronologically before the New Testament, or sometimes they call it the Jewish Bible.

In academic circles, we use the more neutral term Hebrew Bible, because most of the text is written in Hebrew, all except for a little Aramaic found in Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26, and Daniel 2:4-7:28.

You can see all the books of the Hebrew Bible, as well as their scholarly abbreviations, on the chart below.

Books of the Hebrew Bible

Law (Torah) Prophets (Neviim) Writings (Ketuvim)
Genesis (Gen)
Exodus (Exod)
Leviticus (Lev)
Numbers (Num)
Deuteronomy (Deut)
Former Prophets
Joshua (Josh)
Judges (Judg)
1 Samuel (1 Sam)
2 Samuel (2 Sam)
1 Kings (1 Kgs)
2 Kings (2 Kgs)
Latter Prophets
Isaiah (Isa)
Jeremiah (Jer)
Ezekiel (Ezek)
Hosea (Hos)
Joel (Joel)
Amos (Amos)
Obadiah (Obad)
Jonah (Jonah)
Micah (Mic)
Nahum (Nah)
Habakkuk (Hab)
Zephaniah (Zeph)
Haggai (Hag)
Zechariah (Zech)
Malachi (Mal)
Psalms (Ps singular, Pss plural)
Job (Job)
Proverbs (Prov)
Ruth (Ruth)
Song of Songs or Canticles (Song or Cant)
Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth (Eccl or Qoh)
Lamentations (Lam)
Esther (Esth)
Daniel (Dan)
Ezra (Ezra)
Nehemiah (Neh)
1 Chronicles (1 Chr)
2 Chronicles (2 Chr)

Not to be too rude, Mr. Bible darling, but suddenly it seems you've put on some weight.

[Mr. Protestant Bible]

That's because I get a bit thicker when we speak of the Bible used by Protestant Christians.

In addition to the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible, Protestant Christians also include the 27 books of the New Testament in their Bibles. And, just like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament owns many names, including the Christian Bible as well as the Greek Bible, because all of the documents are written in Greek. But for now, let's just call them the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, Okie Dokie?

The 27 books of the New Testament, along with their scholarly abbreviations, are as follows:

Books of the New Testament

Gospels Church History Epistles
Matthew (Matt)
Mark (Mark)
Luke (Luke)
John (John)
Acts (Acts) Attributed to Paul
Romans (Rom)
1 Corinthians (1 Cor)
2 Corinthians (2 Cor)
Galatians (Gal)
Ephesians (Eph)
Philippians (Phil)
Colossians (Col)
1 Thessalonians (1 Thess)
2 Thessalonians (2 Thess)
1 Timothy (1 Tim)
2 Timothy (2 Tim)
Titus (Titus)
Philemon (Phlm)
Other Letters
Hebrews (Heb)
James (Jas)
1 Peter (1 Pet)
2 Peter (2 Pet)
1 John (1 John)
2 John (2 John)
3 John (3 John)
Jude (Jude)
Revelation (Rev)

[Frank Cannon]

Woah, Mr. Bible, quit growing! I'm no beanpole myself, but Mr. Bible, come on, from one horizontally challenged individual to another, you are really tipping the scales!

[Mr. Catholic Bible]

Well detective Cannon, that's because there exists yet another canon, the largest one of all. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians include in their Bibles not only the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, but nearly all of the 15 books making up what is called the Apocrypha. They're all written in Greek, though some were originally written in Hebrew. This chart includes their names and scholarly abbreviations:

Books of the Apocrypha

1 Esdras (1 Esd)
2 Esdras (2 Esd)
Tobit (Tob)
Judith (Jdt)
Additions to Esther (Add Esth)
Wisdom of Solomon (Wis)
Sirach or Ecclesiasticus (Sir)
Baruch (Bar)
Letter (or Epistle) of Jeremiah (Ep Jer)
Additions to Daniel (Add Dan)
Prayer of Manasseh (Pr Man)
1 Maccabees (1 Macc)
2 Maccabees (2 Macc)
3 Maccabees (3 Macc)
4 Maccabees (4 Macc)
Psalm 151 (Ps 151)

Catholic Bibles include all of these additions except the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 3 and 4 Maccabees, and 1 and 2 Esdras, though the Prayer of Manasseh and 1 and 2 Esdras appear in an appendix after the New Testament. Greek Orthodox Bibles include all of these additions except 2 Esdras and 4 Maccabees, though 4 Maccabees makes it into the appendix. And Russian Orthodox Bibles (called Slavonic Bibles) include all these books except the Prayer of Manasseh and 4 Maccabees.

Canons and Bibles

Hebrew Bible New Testament Apocrypha
Jewish Canon X
Protestant Canon X X
Catholic/Orthodox Canon X X X

Fabulous, my darlings. But it seems to me deciding what makes it in or out of the Bible is about as important as any decision of which my dromedarian cerebellum can conceive. How and when were these decisions made? And, if I might ask, why?

It all has to do with this buxom donkey I once met in Aqabah back in 1670. It was a scorching hot day, and I had just licked the street clean of hummus when...


Whoa, whoa, Methuselah my bud!!!

I'm like sooooooo sorry to interrupt you, donkey dude, but like, I've heard this story a bajillion times, and while your romantic escapades snorkeling in the Red Sea are fascinating, it really has nothing to do with Cleopatra's fantabulous question.

Concerning the Hebrew Bible, the first writings were poems, such as the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), dating to about 1250-1200 BCE, even though traditions of people like Noah, Abraham and Sarah go back earlier. Other poems, as well as prose, were added over the next 800 years or so, and most all of the Hebrew Bible was completed by the time of Ezra, about 450 BCE. But it wasn't until around the year 100 CE that the official canon of the Hebrew Bible came to be the 39 books that we recognize today.

[Canonization Timeline]


So the story goes, several prominent rabbis hooked up at a tiny coastal town called Jabneh in about 90 CE, and there they decided which books were like in their Bibles and which books were like not.

Of course, many books didn't make the cut, such as the books making up the Apocrypha. Additionally, some writings, even some mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, just disappear, and no one knows why. These include the Book of the Covenant (Exod 24:7), the Book of the Wars of Yahweh (Num 21:14), and the Book of Jasher (Josh 10:13).

But we do know that the books of the Apocrypha were left out on purpose. First of all, these writings were clearly later than most of the writings in the Hebrew Bible. But also, mainstream Jewish doctrine in those days held that miracles and God's revelation to prophets stopped in the 5th century BCE, the days of that priest dude Ezra. As the Apocrypha reported thingies like miracles and divine revelation long after Ezra, the rabbis like said "sayonara Apocrypha!"



Astounding, my darlings. So now I comprehend the how's, when's and why's for the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha. And now to help explain the canonization of the New Testament, I've invited my dear old friend Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria.


Great to be here, BibleDudes. I like to think that maybe I had a little something to do with the history of the New Testament canon, even though I lived long after the completion of the New Testament writings.

You see, Jesus was born about 4 BCE and was crucified in about 30 CE, though no New Testament writings are that early. The first writings are the letters of Paul, some of which date to a little after 50 CE. The four Gospels were written quite a bit later, with most scholars dating Mark about 64-70 CE, Matthew and Luke about 80-90, and John about 90-95. Thus it is fairly safe to say that the New Testament was written between 50-100 CE. But like the Hebrew Bible's canonization, quite a bit of debate went on about what made the cut. Certain documents, such as the Letter of James, Hebrews and Revelation, were quite controversial and not recognized by various Church authorities.

Well, on Easter Sunday of 367 CE, I wrote a letter that for the first time listed the New Testament as we know it today, a book consisting of 27 documents. Debate continued, though in the end, my view won out.

Thanks Athanasius. In the next section we'll learn about the amazing history of writing, and how the Bible was divided into chapters and verses.