Our Bible is composed of 66 books which we consider canon. This means that these 66 books are what God intended to be included in his complete, sufficient word to his people. Among these are the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In the 4th century, the church officially codified the canon. Of course, the books were already typically thought of as being scripture. Being led by the Holy Spirit, the job of the church was to distinguish between what God truly intended to be in his word and what should not be included.
The gospels were some of the most widely accepted canonical books. All four of them were accepted very early by the church, and they were accepted by a large majority of churches. Though other gospels were written, they were not as widely accepted as those which we have in our Bibles now.
In one sense, all of the books included in the canon had to pass the same standards as one another. To state it more simply than it deserves, all books of the Bible must have been apostolic, veracious, powerful, and broadly accepted.
To be apostolic means that the text was written by or attested to by an apostle. Apostles are a rough equivalence to the Prophets of the Old Testament. They were tasked with being the messengers of God. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the church was built on their foundation.
To be veracious means that it communicates the truth about God. We already had an established Old Testament canon which we know communicates truth. The books in our Bibles must have complemented what was already written rather than contradict it.
The be powerful means that the book is attested to by the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that God’s word is powerful because the Spirit uses it to renew hearts and minds. A book that lacked evidence of the Spirit’s work would not be accepted as the word of God.
Lastly, the books of the Bible must have been broadly accepted. At the point when they were officially codified, the church had already been established for over 300 years. Most of these works were already passed around and copied so that they could be studied by many churches. They were not presented out of nowhere, but they were books that were historical and already in use.
The last point was especially true of the gospels. As early as 250, we see codexes such as P45 containing all four gospels.
For the modern church, there are at least a few implications of this. The first implication is the unity we have with the early church in understanding the life of Jesus. They had the same accounts of Jesus’ birth, teaching, life, death, and resurrection that we do. The earliest church fathers write about all four gospels in their works, giving us even more ability to study and understand their historical context.
Second, we can have the utmost confidence in the gospel accounts. While we should have unwavering confidence in the entire canon, the gospels specifically pass every qualification with flying colors.
While all of these criteria still apply today, there is no need to add to a closed canon. Certainly, every book is still apostolic, true, powerful, and widely accepted. What we know now is that God’s complete word is sufficient to inform and equip us for a life of godliness.
One of the most important points here is that God is faithful. This is the canon which the church has functioned with for 2 millennia. A faithful God who promised us his word would certainly not allow the church to live without a complete canon, especially for that amount of time. We have confidence in the canon because we have confidence in the faithfulness of God. This is an important point to make for any naysayers who question the legitimacy of the closed canon of the 27 New Testament books.