On the Eastern Orthodox Biblical Canon

It is an historical oddity that the biblical canon, the list of books and parts thereof to be considered the “official” Bible, has never been conclusively determined in the context of an ecumenical council, which contenxt would make such a determination canonically binding in the Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) churches. While it is true that no clear determination on the biblical canon has been made, a number of differing lists of biblical books have actually been determined canonical, being included in various councils and writings stated to be canonical in Canon 2 of the Council in Trullo (“Trullo 2” hereafter), also known as the Penthektē (“Fifth-Sixth”) Synod, held in the imperial palace in Constantinople in 692 to provide canons considered lacking from the Fifth (Constantinople, 553) and Sixth (Constantinople, 680-681) Ecumenical Councils. Trullo 2 comprises a lengthy list of earlier local and ecumenical councils and personages, the canons of all of which are rendered ecumenically authoritative: the 85 Apostolic Canons (mid-fourth century, but attributed to the first century Clement of Rome), Nicea (325, the first ecumenical council), Ancyra (314), Neocaesarea (315), Gangra (340), Antioch (probably that of 340), Laodicea (363-364), Constantinople (381, the second ecumenical council), Ephesus (431, the third ecumenical council), Chalcedon (451, the fourth ecumenical council), Serdica (343), Carthage (most likely that of 397), Constantinople (394), Dionysius archbishop of Alexandria (†264), Peter archbishop of Alexandria (†311), Gregory the Wonderworker archbishop of Neocaesarea (†c.270), Athanasius archbishop of Alexandria (†373), Basil archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (†379), Gregory bishop of Nyssa (†c.395), Gregory the Theologian bishop of Nazianzus (†390), Amphilochius archbishop of Iconium (†c.400), Timothy archbishop of Alexandria (†394), Theophilus archbishop of Alexandria (†412), Cyril archbishop of Alexandria (†444), Gennadius archbishop of Constantinople (†471), Cyprian bishop of Carthage (†258), council of Carthage (256). Within this list, it is clear that the mention of the various councils intends to include their determinations and canons within the body of ecumenical canon law. However, what of the individuals mentioned? Are all of their writings hereby pronounced canonical? Such is not the case. All writings of ecumenical authority are included in the monumental work in six volumes, Syntagma tōn theiōn kai hierōn kanonōn, Collection of the Divine and Holy Canons, published G. A. Rallēs and M. Potlē, 1852 to 1859. Out of the list mentioned above in Trullo 2, several canons and other writings deal with the biblical canon. These are: Apostolic Canon 85, Laodicea Canon 60, Carthage Canon 27, Athanasius Festal Letter 39, Gregory the Theologian On the Genuine Books of Divinely-Inspired Scripture, and Amphilochius of Iconium Iambics to Seleucus. Interestingly, none of the lists of biblical books to be considered canonical is identical; they vary slightly. I present the lists in a table below for easy comparison.

Another local council has also long been considered to be of de facto ecumenical status in Eastern Orthodox canon law, that of Jerusalem in 1672 presided over by Patriarch Dositheus of Jerusalem. The council was held in order to respond to the 1629 Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith purportedly written by Cyril Lucaris, quondam archbishop of Alexandria (1601-1620) and of Constantinople (4 November 1620 to 12 April 1623, 22 September 1623 to 4 October 1633, 11 October 1633 to 25 February 1634, April 1634 to March 1635, March 1637 to 20 June 1638; †27 June 1638). (The attribution of the Confession to Cyril Lucaris is still debated today.) The council in Jerusalem revisited the anathema pronounced on Cyril Lucaris by a council in Constantinople held in 1638, with the possibly correct conclusion that, in comparing authentic documents written by Cyril Lucaris, the Confession was not his work. More importantly, Patriarch Dositheus composed a response, now termed The Confession of Dositheus, which replies in detail to the (pseudepigraphical?) Confession of Cyril Lucaris. Included in The Confession of Dositheus is a section on the biblical canon and the value of the so-called apocrypha for the education of the faithful. I have added the information on the biblical canon from The Confession of Dositheus to the table below.

For a comparison chart of modern biblical canons of various traditions, click here.

The order of the list of Old Testament books is taken from Albert Pietersma and Benjamin Wright, eds. A New English Translation of the Septuagint (Oxford University Press, 2007), v-vi.
A blank box indicates no mention of the book in the source.
X : Indicates its explicit mention.
O : Indicates implicit mention (as in the case of Carthage 27 [32] for “The Epistles of Paul, 14”).
R : Indicates books recommended for reading.
( ) : Indicates equivocal evidence due to manuscript differences.

It should be noted that Jeremiah was generally understood in the Patristic period to include Baruch, Lamentations, and the Letter of Jeremiah; Daniel to include Susanna, The Song(s) of the Three Youths, and Bel and the Dragon; and Esther to include all the additions to that book as found in the Septuagint. In Carthage 27 (32), the “Five Books of Solomon” connotes the inclusion of not only Proverbs, Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth, and Song of Songs, but also Wisdom of Salomon and Wisdom of Sirach, which was not uncommon practice even into the modern period. (The table scrolls horizontally.)

Biblical Book Apostolic Constitutions 85 Laodicea 60 Carthage 27 Athanasius Gregory Amphilocius Dositheus
Genesis X X X X X X X
Exodus X X X X X X X
Leviticus X X X X X X X
Numbers X X X X X X X
Deuteronomy X X X X X X X
Joshua X X X X X X X
Judges X X X X X X X
Ruth X X X X X X X
1-4 Kingdoms (1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings) X X X X X X X
1-2 Chronicles X X X X X X X
1-2 Esdras (Ezra, Nehemiah) X X X X X X X
Esther X X X R   some accept X
Judith (X)   X R     X
Tobit     X R     X
1 Maccabees X   X       O
2 Maccabees X   X       O
3 Maccabees X           O
Psalms X X X X X X X
Proverbs X X O X X X X
Ecclesiastes X X O X X X X
Song of Songs X X O X X X X
Job X X X X X X X
Wisdom of Solomon     O R     X
Sirach     O R     X
The Twelve X X X X X X X
Isaiah X X X X X X X
Jeremiah X X X X X X X
Baruch   X   X     X
Lamentations   X   X     X
Letter of Jeremiah   X   X     X
Ezekiel X X X X X X X
Daniel X X X X X X X with Sousanna and Bel and the Dragon
Matthew X X O X X X X
Mark X X O X X X X
Luke X X O X X X X
John X X O X X X X
Acts of the Apostles X X X X X X X
Romans O X O X O X X
1-2 Corinthians O X O X O X X
Galatians O X O X O X X
Ephesians O X O X O X X
Philippians O X O X O X X
Colossians O X O X O X X
1-2 Thessalonians O X O X O X X
1-2 Timothy O X O X O X X
Titus O X O X O X X
Philemon O X O X O X X
Hebrews O X O X O X X
James X X X X X O X
1 Peter X X X X X X X
2 Peter X X X X X X X
1 John X X X X X O X
2 John X X X X X O X
3 John X X X X X O X
Jude X X X X X X X
Revelation     X X   most reject  
1-2 Clement X            
Didache       R      
Shepherd of Hermas       R