Canon of Scripture

CANON OF SCRIPTURE

Objectives:

  1. Students should know how we got our Bible.
  2. Students should know the word “Canon” and what it means.
  3. Students should memorize the names of the 4 gospels plus the book of Acts.

Possible Lesson Plan:

  1. Open with prayer.
  2. How did we get the Bible? In the early Church, the only Scriptures known were the Old Testament. It was originally written in the language of the Jews, Hebrew, but had long since been translated into Greek as the Septuagint. It was written long before Jesus was born. The Old Testament tells about the creation of the world, God’s chosen people, God’s promises of a Savior, and the history of the Jewish people. Do you remember some of the stories from the Old Testament? Some of the books we memorized 2 years ago? Jesus Himself read from these Scriptures when He taught. This was the only Bible read by the apostles! But, there is debate even about these Scriptures. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, includes some books not included in some of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts. These books, known as the Apocrypha, are recognized by both the Church and the Jewish synagogues as inspired and are included in the Orthodox Study Bible.

In the first days after Pentecost, the apostles taught the people about Jesus. The people memorized the stories and loved hearing them. So, even while the apostles were still alive, collections of stories about Jesus began to be written down. Peter probably supervised the writing of the gospel of Mark. Luke traveled and talked to many people to learn all about Jesus to write his gospel. And, of course, Matthew and John were with Jesus from the start and wrote what they had personally seen and heard. These books are called the gospels and tell about Jesus. They are the first four books of the New Testament.

Luke also traveled with Paul and wrote a book about the history of the early Church. This is called the book of Acts. The apostles traveled to many cities, starting churches all over the world. When you travel, don’t you send letters or postcards to

those you miss at home or in other towns? So, the apostles wrote letters, or epistles, to others of their churches while they were elsewhere. Most were written in Greek. Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude all wrote letters. In fact, they wrote a lot more letters than are in the New Testament. Some letters may have been fake or lies. But, from earliest times, certain ones of their letters went from church to church, copy by copy, by foot or donkey or horse or camel. Each copy was made by hand – each hand-carried with love to the next town to share with fellow believers. Even the apostles, in their letters, talked about the letters of the other apostles they had read! These letters were especially precious in the days of persecution, when they had to be hidden carefully from the Romans. In fact, during the reign of Diocletian, the Romans sent spies all over the empire and tried to destroy all Christian writings!

            But, by the second century, many of these letters were well-known through the church. Early Christian bishops, Clement and Polycarp and Ignatius (Do you remember the story of Ignatius?), refer to them as being read in the churches. Origen, a great scholar and teacher in Alexandria, had by the year 200 made a list of writings that he considered to be really the work of the apostles. Finally, Constantine became Emperor and Christians were free to read the Scriptures in their churches openly. But, which Scriptures? Constantine gave the great historian Eusebius, who had lived through the persecution of Diocletian, a great order – to produce 50 Bibles. Eusebius carefully studied all the letters and gospels he could find and came up with a list of 27 books for the New Testament, the same 27 books we recognize today. Have you ever heard of the Epistle of Barnabas, or the Gospel of Peter, or the Shepherd of Hermas or the Gospel of Nicodemus? These are all writings rejected by Eusebius, although each was loved in a few cities. Eusebius chose carefully those writings accepted by most of the cities – writings known throughout the early Church to be the true work of an apostle or saint. The first are the gospels (Can you name them?), then the Acts, then lots of epistles (or letters), and finally the Revelation of John (Remember what it was about?). The Council of Carthage in 397 AD formally listed these 27 books as the New Testament.

            Try this quiz; students can use their Orthodox Study Bibles for reference:

                        There are ____ books in the Old Testament.

                        The Old Testament was originally written in the ________ language.

                        The Greek version of the Old Testament is called the _____________.

                        The Book of ____________ contains beautiful poetry.

                        The _____ Testament was written before Christ was born.

                        Books of the Old Testament included in the Septuagint but not in the

Hebrew are called the ______________.

                        There are _____ books in the New Testament.

                        Most of the New Testament was originally written in the ____ language.

                        The ________ tell of the life of Jesus.

                        The book of ________ tells the history of the early Church.

                        The ________ are letters.

                        Some of the writers of the Epistles are ____________________.

                        The Emperor _____________  finally allowed Christians to read the

Scripture legally.

                        The list of official books in the Bible is called the _____ of Scripture.

                        _______________ put together the original list of New Testament books.

                        The Council of __________ decreed the official canon of Scripture.

 

  1. Work on the books of the Bible – Memory work for this week is the books of the Bible. Repeat the word “canon” a few times; this is the list of books that the Church, throughout holy tradition, has accepted as the word of God. Take the students on a tour of their Bibles; can they find the Torah, the History books, the Poetry books, and the Prophets in the Old Testament and the Gospels, the History book (Acts), and the Epistles (or letters) in the New? Try playing Bible relay: Break the class into two teams. Write various Bible references on cards. Place a Bible on the table a few feet in front of each line of students. The first student in each line must find the first reference, then return and tag the next person, who finds the second reference, etc. These “time trials” help the students to learn the books, since looking them up in the Table of Contents is too time-consuming.

 

  1. Make Bible flash cards for the students to use to learn the books of the Bible at home. Have each student write each book of the Bible on an index card. (This will take awhile but will be more of a learning experience than having the cards pre-printed on the computer.) Can they put them in order? Try marking paper bags with titles: Torah, Old Testament History, Wisdom, Prophets, Gospels, Church History, Epistles, Apocrypha. Can the students place their index cards in the right bag?

 

  1. Close with prayer: Lord, may I read your Holy Bible every day of my life. Have each member of the class plan a time of day to read the Scriptures and pray.