Have you ever wondered why certain books are in the Bible and others aren’t? Why is the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, while The Shepherd of Hermas is not in the Bible? What makes one book more important than another?
If you read books like The Da Vinci Code, you might be led to think that the Bible was put together by power-hungry men who were out to create a book that would further their agenda for religious domination. Those writings that furthered their agenda made it into the Bible, while the writings that were counter to their agenda were banished. Or some sort of nonsense like that.
In his helpful book, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine, Gregg Allison explains how the church fathers determined which books were canonical (scripture) and which were not:
Two key criteria emerged to determine which writings to include in the canon: (1) apostolicity: Does this writing have an apostle for its author (e.g., Paul’s letters, the gospels of Matthew and John)? If not, is an apostle associated with this writing (e.g., Mark’s gospel records the account of the apostle Peter)? (2) antiquity: Has the church historically recognized the voice of God speaking to his people in this writing? Although equipped with these criteria, the church did not set out to determine the canon of Scripture as much as to recognize and affirm those authoritative, inspired writings that God intended for inclusion in his Word.
I find that really helpful. The early church fathers weren’t seeking to determine what got into the Bible and what didn’t, like editors putting together an edition of a magazine. Rather, they were simply seeking to recognize and affirm those writings that were clearly the word of God.