The Canonical Books Are the “Fountains of Salvation”

Athanasius is a Father of the Church and the Doctor of Orthodoxy, or right belief. For much of his career, it must have seemed like the whole world was against him as he was exiled at least 5 times for upholding orthodoxy. Praise God that he did not waver in his faith but stood strong and helped maintain orthodox belief in the Church. He is truly a champion of the faith, and we are ever grateful for this servant and saint of God, who is celebrated on January 18.

Perhaps you already know this, but Athanasius was actually the first person to list all 66 book of the Bible as the Christian canon of literature. Below is what he wrote on the topic some 1,700 years ago:

I fear lest…some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtlety of certain men, and should henceforth read other books—those called apocryphal—led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books; I beseech you to bear patiently, if I also write, by way of remembrance, of matters with which you are acquainted, influenced by the need and advantage of the Church.

…There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second 1 being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth 2 as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second 3 are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the Twelve [minor prophets] being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations and the Epistle, one book; afterwards Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

Again, it is not tedious to speak of the books of the New Testament. These are: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. After these, The Acts of the Apostles, and the seven epistles called Catholic: of James, one; of Peter, two, of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, written in this order: the first, to the Romans; then, two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians, then, to the Philippians; then, to the Colossians; after these, two of the Thessalonians; and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.

These are the fountains of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed. Let no one add to these; let nothing be taken away from them. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures. And he reproved the Jews, saying, Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of me.

But for the sake of greater exactness I add this also, writing under obligation, as it were. There are other books besides these, indeed not received as canonical but having been appointed by our fathers to be read to those just approaching and wishing to be instructed in the word of godliness: Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being merely read; nor is there any place a mention of secret writings. But such are the invention of heretics, who indeed write them whenever they wish, bestowing upon them their approval, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as if they were ancient writings, they find a means by which to lead astray the simple-minded.

[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]

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2 Responses to “The Canonical Books Are the “Fountains of Salvation””

  1. Sam January 18, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Where are you getting these quotes from?

    From what i remember Athanasius is credited with having the “Canonized” the NT. The old testament he used was the LXX, which had the apocryphal books.

  2. Michael Fletcher January 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    The first time I read this excerpt was out of Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark Knoll(IVP, 1997), p.37. But the original source comes from Athanasius’ 39th Festal Epistle written in 367 A.D. The Greek and English translations are found here.(Taken from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2 Volume 4.)

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