Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The New Testament Canon

Below are links to the articles in my series on the New Testament canon, followed by some of the points I made within the articles.

The New Testament Canon And Evangelicalism

The Twenty-Seven-Book New Testament Before Athanasius

The Significance Of Other New Testament Canons

Popes, Councils, And The New Testament Canon

Marcion And The New Testament

The Means Of Identifying A New Testament Canon

Apostolic Authority And The New Testament Canon

Canonical Implications In John's Gospel

From Apostolicity To The Twenty-Seven-Book New Testament

Irenaeus And The Gospel Canon

Why Trust The Canonical Judgments Of The Early Christians?

The Messiness Of The Canon

Hostile Corroboration Of The New Testament Canon

Why Do Evangelicals Agree With The Christian New Testament Consensus, But Disagree With The Christian Old Testament Consensus?

In the introductory post, I recommended some resources, and I cited some examples of comments made about the New Testament canon by critics of Evangelicalism. (source)

The earliest extant source to advocate the twenty-seven-book New Testament probably was Origen, around the middle of the third century. (source)

That canon seems to have also been held by other sources between Origen and Athanasius' Festal Letter 39. (source)

The evidence we have for the New Testament canons of the earliest Christians is highly fragmentary. That some Christians held the twenty-seven-book canon prior to Origen is a reasonable possibility. (source)

Some Christians before Origen's time are known to have believed in the canonicity of at least the large majority of the New Testament documents, sometimes more than twenty of the books. (source)

Twenty-two of the twenty-seven documents were widely accepted in the second century, and the other five seem to have been accepted by a majority, though a smaller majority, in the ante-Nicene era. (source)

Books like First Clement, The Shepherd Of Hermas, and The Epistle Of Barnabas weren't accepted as scripture by as many people as is sometimes suggested. They seem to have been accepted by only a minority. No document outside of the twenty-seven that make up the canon today seems to have ever been accepted as scripture by a majority. (source)

No ruling by a Roman bishop or a council in the first five centuries was widely perceived as having settled the canon. The New Testament canonical consensus that scholars often date to the timeframe of the fourth and fifth centuries was accomplished without the sort of church ruling that modern critics of Evangelicalism often appeal to. (source)

Some scholars question whether the twenty-seven-book canon was advocated by the fourth-century Roman bishop Damasus, whether that canon was advocated by a council in Rome in 382, and whether the canon is found in the council of Carthage in 397. (source)

Marcion doesn't seem to have had as much influence on the canon as some have suggested. (source)

There are multiple means by which a person can come to the conclusion that a book is scripture, and the earliest Christians appealed to more than one way of arriving at a canon of scripture. (source)

Those who criticize Evangelicals for identifying their canon without something like a ruling from a Pope or ecumenical council are also criticizing the many Jewish and Christian believers in antiquity who did the same. (source)

Modern canonical disputes tend to focus on potentially easy, demonstrable, and widely applicable means of judging what is and isn't scripture, but there is no canonical criterion that has all three of those characteristics. (source)

The criterion of apostolicity is demonstrable and widely applicable. (source)

A document should be considered apostolic if it was written by an apostle or seems to have been approved as scripture by an apostle, not just if it was written during the time of the apostles or by an associate of the apostles. (source)

Jesus' comments about His disciples in John 13-17 suggest that they would be involved in writing scripture, and John seems to have viewed his gospel as a fulfillment of what Jesus anticipated. (source)

It seems that all of the writings of the apostles should be considered scripture, not just some of them. (source)

James, the brother of Jesus, should be considered an apostle in the highest sense of that term, which means that his letter is an apostolic document. (source)

Barnabas is the best candidate for the authorship of Hebrews. (source)

Twenty-two of the twenty-seven New Testament books were written by an apostle, and the other five were approved by at least one apostle. (source)

Irenaeus' comments about the number of gospels are often misrepresented by critics of Christianity. His use of number symbolism was only a minor factor in his canonical judgments, and he cites multiple lines of evidence for numbering the gospels at four. (source)

The limitations and errors of the early Christians don't diminish their canonical judgments enough to warrant a rejection of their testimony. They showed sufficient knowledge and discernment on issues relevant to the canon. (source)

Given the context in which the early Christians made their canonical decisions, their widespread agreement about the large majority of the New Testament is impressive. The disagreements over a minority of the canon are largely understandable and typical of what we often see with extra-Biblical literature. Atheists, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other critics of Evangelicalism have to sort through similar disputes in many areas of life, and they do so without the sort of infallible guide that they often claim Evangelicals need on canonical issues. There are some difficulties involved in making judgments about the canon of scripture. But those difficulties aren't as bad or as unusual as they're often made out to be. (source)

Non-Christian sources had a significant influence on the canonical judgments of the early Christians, who were in frequent and deep interaction with the world around them. They read the writings of non-Christians and often interacted with arguments against the faith. From the earliest generations of Christianity onward, non-Christian sources possessed the New Testament documents, commented upon them, and were concerned about Christianity and interacting with Christians. (source)

Many non-Christian sources corroborate the New Testament canon. (source)

Evangelicals aren't being inconsistent by agreeing with the Christian New Testament canonical consensus while disagreeing with the widespread Christian acceptance of some Old Testament Apocryphal books. The evidence for the Apocryphal books isn't comparable to the evidence for the New Testament. (source)


  1. Thanks for your series, Jason!

  2. Thanks so much for your hard work, Jason!!

  3. Jason, this is a first rate resource and summary for anyone who's been approached with the "the Church gave us the bible" fallacy. It's also just a fantastic look at the process that God used to put the New Testament together.

  4. It isn't a fallacy - that the Church gave us the Bible. It's a historical fact. The Church compiled the Bible, led by the Holy Spirit. It just didn't put itself together by itself.