Eusebius on the New Testament Books

This is a subsidiary post of Ancient Lists of New Testament Books.

Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1-7

Book 3



  1. Since we are dealing with this subject it is proper to sum up the writings of the New Testament which have been already mentioned. First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles.
  1. After this must be reckoned the epistles of Paul; next in order the extant former epistle of John, and likewise the epistle of Peter, must be maintained. After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings.
  1. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many , are extant the so -called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.
  1. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides , as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books.
  1. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews , with which those of the Hebrews that have accepted Christ are especially delighted . And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books.
  1. But we have nevertheless felt compelled to give a catalogue of these also, distinguishing those works which according to ecclesiastical tradition are true and genuine and commonly accepted, from those others which, although not canonical but disputed, are yet at the same time known to most ecclesiastical writers— we have felt compelled to give this catalogue in order that we might be able to know both these works and those that are cited by the heretics under the name of the apostles, including, for instance, such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles, which no one belonging to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has deemed worthy of mention in his writings.
  1. And further, the character of the style is at variance with apostolic usage, and both the thoughts and the purpose of the things that are related in them are so completely out of accord with true orthodoxy that they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious. Let us now proceed with our history.

The Church Fathers (2014-06-12). The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection: 3 Series, 37 Volumes, 65 Authors, 1,000 Books, 18,000 Chapters, 16 Million Words (Kindle Locations 446185-446188). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.


Allert, Craig D.  A High View of Scripture: The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon.  Baker Academic, 2007.  See p. 132-139 for section “The Church History of Eusebius of Caesaria.”

Dungan, David L.  Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament.  Fortress Press, 2007.  Dungan leans on Eusebius throughout his book, but see especially “Chapter Five – Against Pagans and Heretics: Eusebius’ Strategy in Defense of the Catholic Scriptures.”  Dungan’s analysis of EH 3.25.1-7 in this chapter is the most valuable of all the sources listed in this post because 1) he analyzes the passage in the light of EH‘s overall purpose, 2) he brings a career-long focus on Eusebius and EH to the analysis, 2) he spends 40 pages on the analysis without adding fluff.

Farmer, William R.  “A Study of the Development of the New Testament Canon” in The Formation of the New Testament Canon: An Ecumenical Approach by Farmer and Farkasfalvy.  Paulist Press, 1983, 89 pages.  See pages 10-17.

Kalin, Everett R.  “The New Testament Canon of Eusebius” in The Canon Debate, ed. by McDonald and Sanders.  Baker Academic, 2002.  Kalin interacts extensively with Robbins (see below).

Kruger, Michael J.  Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of New Testament Books.  Crossway, 2012.  See Kindle location 8069, including the footnotes, for discussion of EH 3.25.1-7.  See especially footnote 34 which gives other sources for discussions on this passage from Eusebius.

Liftin, Bryan M.  After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles.  Moody, 2015, 199 pages.  See p. 22-23.

[T]he Church History of Eusebius is one of our most precious historical sources about Christianity in the ancient period.

Metzger, Bruce M.  The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance.  Oxford University Press, 1987.  See p. 201-207 for “II. Eusebius’ Classification of New Testament Books.”

Robbins, Gregory Allen.  “Eusebius’ Lexicon of ‘Canonicity’” Studia Patristica, vol. 25, edited by E. A. Livingstone, 134-141.  Peeters, 1993.  Robbins’ views are engaged by Kalin (see above).

Can read most of the article in this Google Books preview  (this additional link may have one, or more, of the missing pages)

 …[I]n distinguishing between various Christian writings, Eusebius’ vocabulary betrays a concern with genuine authorship.  Central to his determination of whether or not certain writings in this list are to be ‘encovenanted’ is (endiathekos) is the issue of authentic authorship.  Apostolic pedigree, orthodox content, public acceptance and recognition are not enough to guarantee a text unquestioned, authoritative status.  Any writing – however valuable, regardless of the reputation it enjoys – whose authorship is open to question, which might have been written under the guise of an apostolic pseudonym or which is anonymous and lacks apostolic approbation, is suspect.  Unless its authorship is uncontested, it cannot function as a charter for the Church.

I have also maintained that once it is recognized that Eusebius’ concern in 3/25/1-7 is forgery, one has the key for understanding the list as a whole.

Robbins labels his conclusion this way:

Conclusion: ‘Catalogue’ not ‘Canon’, ‘Covenantal’ not ‘Canonical’


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