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Historical Evidence of the Sevenfold Canon

A Complete Categorical View of the Bible

As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.

Psalm 18:30

The Canon Wheel
The Canon Wheel

THE SEVENFOLD SYMMETRIC PERFECTION of the Canon Wheel is one of the most obvious signs of the divine design of the Bible. It is, therefore, the first point of attack by most opponents. They typically start by asserting that the seven canonical divisions are arbitrary and therefore meaningless. Others assert that there are various ways to categorize the books of the Bible, so no one pattern can be considered "correct" or "better" than any other. And some folks assert that the exact pattern of the Canon Wheel rarely appears in the literature because the Epistles are almost always divided into subcategories such as "Pauline" and "General" and that this somehow invalidates the pattern of the Canon Wheel.

The complete categorical view of the Bible presented here eliminates all the confusion from this issue and yields the final refutation of any argument against the Canon Wheel. The table is simple, logical, complete, and fully documented in the literature. It begins with the the largest and most inclusive contiguous categories and introduces sudivisions until we reach terminal divisions which contain individual books.

The categories in this table are very well attested in the literature. Most of them have been in common use for more than fifteen hundred years, as documented below. They begin with the most inclusive "Level 0" category of the Bible as a whole and move down to ever more specific subcategories. At Level 1, the categorization displays the Bible as divided into the Old and New Testaments. At Level 2, those subdivisions are futher divided into the most inclusive contiguous groups possible. The Old Testament naturally divides into three simple groups of History (17 books), Wisdom/Poetry (5 books), and Prophecy (17 books). The numerical symmetry of this divsion is striking, and continues all the way down to Level 4 as discussed in The Perfect Symmetry of the Christian Old Testament. The New Testament naturally divides into two groups of History (5 books) and Epistles (22 books).

The validity of the table should be self-evident to anyone reasonably familiar with Scripture, but for the sake of completeness and to silence the opponents who will not admit the truth unless forced by absolutely explicit and incontrovertible evidence, I will cite a few of the primary ancient references to the categorical structure of the Bible. I begin with this description of the canon by Cyril of Jerusalem found in his Catechetical Lectures This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window, iv. 33-37, from around the year A.D. 350:

Of these read the two and twenty books, but have nothing to do with the apocryphal writings. Study earnestly these only which we read openly in the Church. Far wiser and more pious than thyself were the Apostles, and the bishops of old time, the presidents of the Church who handed down these books. Being therefore a child of the Church, trench thou not upon its statutes. And of the Old Testament, as we have said, study the two and twenty books, which, if thou art desirous of learning, strive to remember by name, as I recite them. For of the Law the books of Moses are the first five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. And next, Joshua the son of Nave, and the book of Judges, including Ruth, counted as seventh. And of the other historical books, the first and second books of the Kings are among the Hebrews one book; also the third and fourth one book. And in like manner, the first and second of Chronicles are with them one book; and the first and second of Esdras are counted one. Esther is the twelfth book; and these are the Historical writings. But those which are written in verses are five, Job, and the book of Psalms, and Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, which is the seventeenth book. And after these come the five Prophetic books: of the Twelve Prophets one book, of Isaiah one, of Jeremiah one, including Baruch and Lamentations and the Epistle; then Ezekiel, and the Book of Daniel, the twenty-second of the Old Testament.

Thus we have a witness to the categories of the five books of the Law (Torah) and the twelve books of History from Joshua to Esther as well as a reference to the whole set of books from Genesis to Esther as the "historical books." And we have the five Wisdom books desribed as those "written in verses" and the Minor Prophets which Cyril called the "Twelve Prophets". The Major Prophets are named but not grouped as a category. Note that the reference to "twenty-two books" refers to the Hebraic way of counting the Old Testament (see The 22 Books of the Jewish Canon) to which Cyril conformed his list. Cyril then continued in the same document to list the books of the New Testament:

Then of the New Testament there are the four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are mischievous. The Manichaeans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the last work of the disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul.

Thus we have the four Gospels and two subcategories of the Epistles listed by both name and number - the fourteen Pauline and seven Catholic (or General) Epistles - precisely as listed in the categorical table. In all, Cyril listed five categories from the Old Testament and four from the New. An essentially identical description of both Testaments is found in the the the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasias This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window (ca. A.D. 367) and in the poem by Gregory of Nazianzus called Concerning the Genuine Books of Divinely Inspired Scripture This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window(ca. A.D. 380).

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