Jerome on the New Testament Canon

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

Epistle (Letter) 53.9-10 [emphasis added]

9. [In Migne, 8.] You see how, carried away by my love of the scriptures, I have exceeded the limits of a letter yet have not fully accomplished my object. We have heard only what it is that we ought to know and to desire, so that we too may be able to say with the psalmist:—” My soul breaketh out for the very fervent desire that it hath alway unto thy judgments.” But the saying of Socrates about himself—” this only I know that I know nothing”— is fulfilled in our case also. The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Lord’s team of four, the true cherubim or store of knowledge. With them the whole body is full of eyes , they glitter as sparks, they run and return like lightning, their feet are straight feet, and lifted up, their backs also are winged, ready to fly in all directions. They hold together each by each and are interwoven one with another: like wheels within wheels they roll along and go whithersoever the breath of the Holy Spirit wafts them. The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle— that to the Hebrews —is not generally counted in with the others). He instructs Timothy and Titus; he intercedes with Philemon for his runaway slave. Of him I think it better to say nothing than to write inadequately. The Acts of the Apostles seem to relate a mere unvarnished narrative descriptive of the infancy of the newly born church; but when once we realize that their author is Luke the physician whose praise is in the gospel, we shall see that all his words are medicine for the sick soul. The apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude, have published seven epistles at once spiritual and to the point, short and long, short that is in words but lengthy in substance so that there are few indeed who do not find themselves in the dark when they read them. The apocalypse of John has as many mysteries as words. In saying this I have said less than the book deserves. All praise of it is inadequate; manifold meanings lie hid in its every word.

10. [In Migne, 9.] I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else. Does not such a life seem to you a foretaste of heaven here on earth? Let not the simplicity of the scripture or the poorness of its vocabulary offend you; for these are due either to the faults of translators or else to deliberate purpose: for in this way it is better fitted for the instruction of an unlettered congregation as the educated person can take one meaning and the uneducated another from one and the same sentence. I am not so dull or so forward as to profess that I myself know it, or that I can pluck upon the earth the fruit which has its root in heaven, but I confess that I should like to do so. I put myself before the man who sits idle and, while I lay no claim to be a master, I readily pledge myself to be a fellow-student. “Every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”Let us learn upon earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven. 11. [In Migne, 10.] I will

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 528891-528902). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This text (as part of the complete 53rd letter) is also available at

In 53.7 (emphasis added), note that Jerome, speaking of those who err, indicates the conceptual framework of OT-NT when he writes:

Such men when they charm the popular ear by the finish of their style suppose every word they say to be a law of God. They do not deign to notice what Prophets and apostles have intended but they adapt conflicting passages to suit their own meaning, as if it were a grand way of teaching— and not rather the faultiest of all— to misrepresent a writer’s views and to force the scriptures reluctantly to do their will.


Dungan, David L.  Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament.  Fortress Press, 2007.  From p. 127:

“In 383…pope Damasus…commissioned…Jerome to bring out an accurate Latin version of the Greek Old Testament and New Testament…But Jerome seems not to have spent much effort on deciding which books to include in the New Testament, beyond translating Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History into Latin.  Otherwise he ‘was content to acquiesce to the list of those that were then in general use.’ [Metzger, TCNT, p. 236]  Jerome created the official Latin version of Holy Scripture that would be used in western Christianity for the next one thousand years.”



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