When I was a child, I remember going to the grocery store with my parents. While in the checkout line, my grandmother always grabbed the latest copy of the National Enquirer. Though she claimed to not believe everything printed within it's leaves, she never missed an issue.
One time, I remember seeing the headlines where they announced the discovery of Missing Books of the Bible. Well, I had been raised in Sunday School, and the idea of finding more books to the Bible only excited me. Yet, for some unknown reason, both my parents were not as enthused as I was. That night, my father explained to me that these books were not really missing, but were not accepted as "canonical."
Canonical? What was that? Keep in mind, I was only a little boy at the time, and when you mentioned anything related to canons, I got excited… but for completely different reasons.
When I attended college, I studied a little bit on the issues of canonization. Why were some books accepted and why were some rejected? After doing some research on the issue, allow me to explain.
During the time when the books of the Bible were first composed and disseminated among the believers, other cult groups stepped up and began writing their own epistles. Cult groups like the Gnostics began distributing epistles emphasizing their particular heresies, and twisting the words of Christ and His disciples. Paul the Apostle warns of these heresies in some of his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. John also fought against them in his epistles, Gospel, and Apocalypse.
By the time the last of the apostles had passed away, the true books of the Bible were all but lost in a sea of apocryphal (writings that are questionable in authority), and pseudopigraphical (writings falsely attributed to someone) books.
As the first century came to a close, it became popular for the Roman empire to start persecuting Christians. The early believers held to Christ as their king, and would refuse to bow the knee to Caesar. This became such a heated issue, everyone who was brought before a magistrate, whether guilty or not, were required to burn incense to Caesar and swear allegiance to him. If anyone refused to do so, would be arrested for treason. Also, anyone who was suspected of being a believer, would have his house searched. If a Christian book was found, their guilt was secured, and their fate sealed. So when a Christian obtained a copy of a book, the immediate question arose, "Is this book worth dying for?" If the believer was convinced it was a legitimate book, they would keep it, but many times a book would be given to them that was questionable. It contained stories that didn't quite fit into the nature of Christ or one of the apostles. It had statements or quotes that contradicted reliable sources. These books often times were not kept, and were discarded. So, God used the fires of persecution to purify and bring out His correctly ordained books.
When the early church councils began to convene after the great persecutions*, one of the issues brought up was the canonicity of the Bible. It wasn't man who was determining which book to accept or not, but rather identifying which book God had personally ordained. True Christians believe that these books are God's Word, so canonicity is very important. When the council was convened, they determined canonicity by the accuracy of the writings, the acceptance of the believers, and the harmony with known and reliable teachings. In the end, the true books of the Bible rose to the surface, and the true churches rejected the apocryphal writings.
Now, you might be wondering what type of junk is found in these books? Is it so hard to distinguish which book is true and which are false? If you are a true Christian, you have God's Holy Spirit inside you, and the truth is not hard to see at all. Below are two videos I had found on the Internet. Take a look at what in contained in a few works, and see for yourself.
Then, ask yourself the question, "Is this the Jesus you follow?"
*Addendum – Thanks to Paul Pavao of christian-history.org, an error was found in this article and corrected for accuracy. In several sources over the past years, I recall reading how one of the objectives of the Nicean Council was to answer the dilemma of which books are canonical and which ones were not. Paul Pavao, having more experience in this specific field of theology pointed out that this was incorrect, and challenged me to look into the matter. I did investigate the accuracy of my statement and could not find anything directly stating that the canon was discussed during the Council. Therefore, I corrected my article, and thanked Mr. Pavao for his input. No one, no matter who they are, or how much education they have should claim what is only attributed to our God: omniscience.