Below is the conclusion to a fascinating account of the formation of the canon of the Bible. It is a must read!
To read the full article, click on this link: The Secular Web
Strangely, this is essentially where the story ends. It is most curious that there was never any pronouncement by any central authority such as the Pope in all of Christian history as to which books belonged in the Bible, until 1443 A.D. at the conclusion of the Council of Florence–yet this only carried weight in the West. This pronouncement excluded Laodiceans and included Hebrews, thus effectively ratifying the 27 books that had been the staple of orthodox opinion since the 4th century A.D. (M 240). This no doubt arose because for the first time in almost a thousand years scholars were once again starting to question the authenticity of certain books in the canon, for example the authorship of Hebrews. A telling case is that of Erasmus, who, after being chastised by the Church, renounced his rational doubts about this and various Biblical books, on the ground that “the opinion formulated by the Church has more value in my eyes than human reasons, whatever they may be” (Response to the Censure of the Theology Faculty at Paris, 9.864; M 241). No freethinker he. No one can trust the opinions of such a man. Nevertheless, the canon of Florence was still not enforced by threat of excommunication until the canon was made an absolute article of faith at the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D. Almost all the Protestant churches followed suit within the next century with essentially identical conclusions (M 246-7), dissenting only by excluding the OT apocrypha held as canonical by the Catholics.
But it is worth adding an interesting irony: for with the Reformation the history of canonization came almost full circle. Luther wrote prefaces on the books of his Bible, and ordered the books consciously in descending degrees of credit (M 242-3), and his entire scheme reveals a pervasive criterion: everything that agrees with Paul and preaches Christ is a priori true and to be held in highest esteem, while everything else is to be doubted. And he repeats the argument from fatigue: though he explains why certain books like Hebrews and Jude are to be doubted–namely, they contradict the teachings of Paul–he goes on to declare that he does not want to remove them from so venerable a collection. Thus, not only dogmatic presupposition, but mere tradition wins the canon–not objective scholarship. The irony is that Luther is almost a twin of the heretic Marcion, who was, if you recall, the first man in Christian history to propose a canon. For Marcion believed that only Paul’s doctrine was true–although he was in a better position to be more consistent about this by rejecting all books that contradicted Paul. And it is well known that Luther was rabidly anti-Jewish–as was Marcion. Though the two men differed on many key points, in a small sense the Reformation effectively re-launched the old Marcionite heresy, at the very end of the process of canonization that Marcion had begun.