The New Testament Continued
Unfortunately, a number of other people got into the book writing business too, churning out all sorts of “Gospels” and “Epistles,” among them the Gospels of Thomas and Peter, and the so-called “Gospel of Judas.” Satan was clearly hard at work. The question for the early church, of course, was how to know which ones were actually God’s Word and which were fakes?
To decide that, early church councils applied certain tests. (1) The first was to determine the authority of the writer. A book had to have been either written by or backed by an apostle to be recognized. (2) recognized as being spiritual in character; (3) recognized as agreeing with the Old Testament; (4) recognized as having more or less universal reception by the Christian church; (5) recognized as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Inspiration was the ultimate test, of course. It either was God’s Word or it wasn’t. Today, the “Gospels” of Thomas, Judas and others are often called the “Lost Books of the Bible.” The truth is, they weren’t lost. Those were books that did not pass the tests. They were never in the Bible to begin with.
At the Council of Carthage, in 397 A.D., the canon of Scripture, was officially completed and certified. The word “canon” means “the established list,” or “the rule of faith.” In other words, the canon is that collection of books which are regarded as genuine and inspired Holy Scriptures. The canon of scripture, then, is the standard for judging all religious bodies, beliefs and controversies. The claims of cults and false religions are not to be judged by their own writings, but by the truths of the canon of God’s Word, the Bible.
Strictly speaking, the Bible was formed by God, not man. All the Council really did was put their official stamp on what God had already established. The sixty-six books in our modern Bibles—and only these books—are God's complete revelation for man. 1500 years in the making; 40 different authors; inspired, without error, and without contradictions.
An early 3rd century New Testament manuscript used in discerning the canon of Scripture