Article 4: The Canonical Books
We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes of the Old and New Testaments. They are canonical books with which there can be no quarrel at all.
In the church of God the list is as follows: In the Old Testament, the five books of Moses-- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth; the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings; the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon; the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job; the Psalms of David; the three books of Solomon-- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song; the four major prophets-- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; and then the other twelve minor prophets-- Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
In the New Testament, the four gospels-- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen letters of Paul-- to the Romans; the two letters to the Corinthians; to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians; the two letters to the Thessalonians; the two letters to Timothy; to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews; the seven letters of the other apostles-- one of James; two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.
Having a Bible is a relatively common thing for us but historically it is an oddity. It isn't until the invention of the printing press that books became readily available and even then they were still quite expensive to own. Even earlier, books as we know them, simply didn't exist. Most writings the length of the books of the Bible would have been contained on scrolls. The idea of putting multiple books of the Bible into one book wasn't even an idea until the codex started to become the standard way of putting writings together around the second and third century.
Chances are though that you probably own multiple Bibles. Unless you have a Roman Catholic Bible, all of your Bibles contain the books that are listed in Article 4 of the Belgic Confession. A Roman Catholic Bible contains what we call the "Apocrypha". Those books were officially made a part of their scripture collection in the middle of the 16th century during the Council of Trent. While those books provide some interesting historical insight those books were never considered scripture by Jewish people or by the early church.
The books that are listed in this article of the confession have been considered scripture throughout the history of the church. The books from the Old Testament would have been the scripture of the Jewish people and of the early church up until the writing of the New Testament in the decades following the ascension of Jesus. We see in the New Testament that the writings of Paul were seen as scripture very early on in the history of the church. Most of the books in our New Testament were written prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The books with a post 70 AD date are John and 2 Peter. Some people also believe Revelation to be post 70 AD but it is not certain and Kenneth Gentry makes an excellent case for a pre-70 dating of Revelation in Before Jerusalem Fell.
Regardless of the dating of the books by the middle of the second century, there was a list of books very close to our New Testament list. It is important to understand how significant this is because these were copies of books and letters that were being distributed to churches. To have a standard list so early is impressive because these churches were not only spread out they were under significant threat of persecution. In addition, the idea of putting multiple books of the Bible together was a relatively new idea because putting them together in something called a codex was a very, very new idea. Previously the books of the Old Testament were on scrolls. They weren't stacked together like our modern Bibles because books like that simply didn't exist. It is important to know that the codex (a bound book) was adopted very early by the Christian church. Why? Because they were putting the important books together that they considered to be scripture. We have evidence of very early codices that contained the four gospels. Other codices contained the writings of Paul. These are important to help us understand the New Testament not only because of what is in these early codices but also because of what is not in them. Late pseudo gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas are not in there. If they would have been authoritative for the early church they would have likely been included in these early codices. Instead we have very few copies of these types of writings and none of them are included in early codices of the church.
One other important thing to know about the New Testament is how early it was being quoted as having scriptural authority. The Christian apologist Irenaeus quoted scripture gratuitously in his refutation of the heresy of Gnosticism in the mid to late second century. Other church fathers were quoting the New Testament as authoritative even before Irenaeus.
All of this is important because it flies in the face of the popular notion that the New Testament was authored late, put together late, and didn't have authority until the Council of Nicea in 325. The New Testament was early and it was considered authoritative in the church at a very early date also.
It is important that we understand what is scripture and what is not. We see this from Article 2 and Article 3 of the Belgic Confession. We need scripture in order to know who God is. The books in our Bible do that by not only revealing God but point us primarily to the person and work of Jesus Christ. As we continue through the Belgic Confession we will see how this is the centerpiece of the Christian faith.
If you are interested in learning more about the formation of the New Testament I highly recommend starting with this article from the blog of Michael J. Kruger. It contains links to 10 important things to know about how the New Testament was formed.