F. F. Bruce has written a classic work on the Canon of Scripture. His concern is not so much the theological question of the canon but rather the historical question. While some would argue that the theological and the historical should not be separated, Bruce still has a lot of insight and is a reliable historian nontheless (his other historical works are good too: Israel and the Nations: The History of Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple and New Testament History).

One of the interesting features of The Canon of Scripture is the chapter on criteria of canonicity. Here are the ‘criteria’ he discusses:

  1. Apostolic Authority
  2. Antiquity
  3. Orthodoxy
  4. Catholicity
  5. Traditional Use
  6. Inspiration

By “criteria” Bruce does not mean to imply that there was some kind of universally agreed upon set of rules that people used to pick which books would part of the Bible. Rather he seems to be thinking of something more dynamic, organic even. Principles that were operative in different situations at different times, in the ruff & tumble of everyday living. Bruce himself qualifies, “The earliest Christians did not trouble themselves about criteria of canonicity; they would not have understood the expression” (page 255). Instead, what he describes is the process of the Spirit of God guiding and shaping the believers’ thinking as they attempted to be faithful to what had been entrusted to them.

Although The Canon of Scripture should not be the only book you read on the canon, it should definitely be one of the first.