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A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture by a particular religious community. The word “canon” comes from the Greek “κανών”, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick“. The term was first coined in reference to scripture by Christians, but the idea is said to be Jewish.
The textual basis of the canon can also be specified. For example, the Hebrew/Aramaic text as vocalized and pointed (cf. niqqud) in the medieval era by theMasoretes, the Masoretic text, is the canonical text for Judaism. A modern example of this closing of a textual basis, in a process analogous to the closing of the canon itself, is the King James Only movement, which takes either the actual English text of various redactions of the actual King James Bible itself, or alternately, the textual basis of the King James Version—Bomberg’s Masoretic text for the Old Testamentand the Textus Receptus in various editions, those of Erasmus, Beza, andStephanus, alongside the Complutensian polyglot, for the New Testament—as the specified, correct, and inspired textual tradition. Similarly, certain groups specify their particular self-published version or translation of the Bible as the most reliable. Among these are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who produce the New World Translation.
Most of the canons listed below are considered “closed” (i.e., books cannot be added or removed), reflecting a belief that public revelation has ended and thus the inspired texts may be gathered into a complete and authoritative canon, which scholar Bruce Metzger defines as “an authoritative collection of books.” In contrast, an “open canon”, which permits the addition of books through the process ofcontinuous revelation, Metzger defines as “a collection of authoritative books.” (A table of Biblical scripture for both Testaments, with regard to canonical acceptance inChristendom’s various major traditions, appears below.)
These canons have been developed through debate and agreement by the religious authorities of their respective faiths. Believers consider canonical books to be inspired by God or to express the authoritative history of the relationship between God and his people. Books, such as the Jewish-Christian gospels, have been excluded from the canon altogether, but many disputed books considered non-canonical or evenapocryphal by some are considered to be Biblical apocrypha or Deuterocanonical or fully canonical by others. There are differences between the Jewish Tanakh andChristian biblical canons, and between the canons of different Christian denominations. The differing criteria and processes of canonization dictate what the various communities regard as inspired scripture. In some cases where there are varying strata of scriptural inspiration, it becomes prudent even to discuss texts that only have an elevated status within a particular tradition. This becomes even more complex when considering the open canons of the various Latter Day Saint sects—which may be viewed as extensions of both Christianity and thus Judaism—and the scriptural revelations purportedly given to several leaders over the years within thatmovement.