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How the Bible Came to Us. Canonization of the NT. Introductory Comments. Keep in the mind that the early church from its inception had the completed OT; it was their Bible as NT revelation continued to be given.

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How the bible came to us

How the Bible Came to Us

Canonization of the NT

Introductory comments
Introductory Comments

  • Keep in the mind that the early church from its inception had the completed OT; it was their Bible as NT revelation continued to be given.

  • The same Christ who authenticated the OT scriptures during His earthly ministry was also the authority behind the NT scriptures as they were given through the apostles and their associates.

Early history of the nt books
Early History of the NT Books

  • The authority for the early church in faith and practice was not a common creed, nor an unbroken line of bishops, but constant attention to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42), first orally and later in writing.

    • The first Gospel was written 25-30 years after the events which it describes.

    • The need for written, authoritative instruction arose as eyewitnesses began to pass off the scene and the church expanded to different parts of the world.

  • Christians initially worshipped in the Temple and synagogues using the OT as their scriptures.

  • But as Jewish leaders began to persecute Christians, they were forced to meet separately.

  • The public reading of the Christian scriptures, both old and new, became a central part of the early church’s worship (1 Thess 5:27; 1 Tim 4:13; Col 4:16; Rev 1:3).

The order in which nt books came
The Order in which NT Books Came

  • The Epistles – these came first, addressing doctrinal issues that arose in various churches.

    • These were also accepted first among the NT books as inspired and authoritative, as they were read alongside the OT in public worship.

  • The Gospels – Matthew’s gospel (not Mark’s!) was written first in 55-60 A.D., the others followed after.

  • Acts – written about 63 A.D., it provided a bridge between the Epistles and the Gospels and a history of the earliest church.

  • The Apocalypse – written in 94-95 A.D.; appropriately closes the canon.

Formation of the nt canon
Formation of the NT Canon

  • Several factors contributed to the formation of the NT canon:

    • The OT canon as a pattern that the church followed for its sacred writings.

    • The authoritative character of the writings; these words came from Jesus and His apostles.

    • The use of Christian writings in public services of the church.

    • Appeal to these writings in doctrinal controversies.

    • The Canon of Marcion; a canon of only 11 NT books published in 140 A.D., it forced Christians to draw up their own list of authoritative works.

    • Persecution by the Roman Empire, causing Christians to give a close look at what was inspired.

Recognition of the nt canon by the church
Recognition of the NT Canon by the Church

  • May be divided into three periods:

    • A.D. 70-170 – A period of circulation and gradual collection. In the beginning, books were still circulating individually; by the end, the principle of a fixed canon was established and included the four gospels and the epistles of Paul.

    • A.D. 170-303 – a period of separation of the canonical books from the mass of other ecclesiastical literature. By the end of this period the apocryphal books had all but disappeared from the canon.

    • A.D. 303-397 – a period of formal ratification of current beliefs about the canon by early councils of the church.

      • In A.D. 367 Athanasius of Alexandria published a list of 27 books which are the same ones we have today.

An important witness the muratorian fragment
An Important Witness: The Muratorian Fragment

  • Named after L. A. Muratori, who discovered the list and published it in the 18th century.

  • The fragment dates from the late 2nd century.

  • In its list it mentions:

    • Gospel of Luke as 3rd gospel, implying Matthew and Mark were first.

    • Gospel of John

    • Acts

    • 13 letters of Paul

    • Jude

    • 2 letters of John

    • Revelation

  • Not mentioned:

    • Hebrews

    • James

    • 1 and 2 Peter

    • 3 John (maybe)

Differences between eastern and western canons

Western Church – generally accepted at least 21 books. Questioned:


2 Peter

2 and 3 John



Eastern Church – generally accepted at least 22 books. Questioned:

2 Peter

2 and 3 John




Eastern church also included works that were helpful to read, but not canonical.

Differences between Eastern and Western Canons

East and West helped each other on Hebrews and Revelation.

Criteria for canonicity
Criteria for Canonicity Questioned:

  • These come not from explicit statements, but by gleaning principles from the writings of the church fathers.

    • Was the book written by an apostle or a close associate?

    • Did it agree with the canon of truth, an accepted body of teaching that was already established?

    • Did it enjoy universal acceptance in the church?

    • Does it have a self-authenticating divine nature, witnessed to by the Holy Spirit?

Is the nt canon closed
Is the NT Canon Closed? Questioned:

  • Once the apostles ceased to be, revelation ceased to be.

  • So the canon was closed by the end of the first century, when all the apostles had died, though recognition of that canon took several more centuries.

  • The Book of Revelation takes us all the way to the eternal state, and provides a stern warning for those who would add anything to it (Rev 22:18-19).

Next time

Next Time: Questioned:

Transmission of the OT