Canon of Scripture (Book Reviews)

The Centre for Early Christian Studies recommends the following three titles concerning how the canon of scripture emerged and the process required to select the sacred texts. Westcott provides a thorough treatment on the subject but is archaic in places. Bruce offers a modern and popular edition, while Metzger is often heralded as supplying the finest text on the topic.

Brooke Foss Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament

WestcottThe first edition of this work (1855) was revised in 1875 and several times since. The author was one of the founders of modern textual criticism, B. F. Westcott (1825-1901), who co-edited The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881. He was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, was bishop of Durham after J. B. Lightfoot, and was admired eminently for this scholarship. While the language is archaic in places the content is brilliant and innovative for its age. The author divides the New Testament canon into various eras of church history, from the first through the fourth centuries and beyond. Westcott separates authentic from heretical documents and traces the origin of each text while drawing mainly from early patristic literature. In this regard he was the first to rely on primary sources and church councils with regard to the canon.

  • Publisher: Baker Books
  • Date: 1980 edition
  • Pages: 593
  • ISBN-10: 0801096405

Free online edition:

F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture

BruceIn this popular edition, F. F. Bruce addresses the principal issues regarding the canon, such as how the collection was assembled, who recognized such works as scripture, what criteria influenced their selection, when did such a concept emerge, and the like. He covers two thousand years of biblical history as argued among diverse religious and academic groups, as well as the influence of the Gnostics and other sects on the fringe of the movement. The book is divided naturally into Old and New Testaments as developed in the early church, both in the East and in the West, with the aid of patristic literature through the fifth century, and then the Middle Ages and the Reformation. He also focuses on the use of scripture in the primitive church and the various editions and languages in which it initially circulated.

  • Publisher: Intervarsity Academic
  • Date: 1988
  • Pages: 349
  • ISBN-10: 083081258X

Bruce Manning Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance

MetzgerThe first edition of this work (1987) was revised in 1997; the author was the renowned biblical scholar and textual critic Bruce M. Metzger, longtime professor at Princeton Theological Seminary (1938-1984), who served on the boards of the American Bible Society and the United Bible Societies. This is the finest twentieth-century volume on the canon of scripture, and like Westcott a century before, he takes an historical approach. Metzger describes the process as long and gradual and relies on patristic evidence for usage and authority of the text. He also compares various editions of the New Testament in languages other than the original Greek. The author deals with manuscripts and addresses topics like sequence of books, the canon in both the East and the West, and what constitutes scripture.

  • Publisher: Clarendon Press
  • Date: 1997 edition
  • Pages: 336
  • ISBN-10: 0198269544

For a complete treatment of Metzger’s scholarship on this topic consult his scholarly trilogy: The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (1964; second edition, 1968; third enlarged edition, 1992); The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations (1977); The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (1987).