This is a subsidiary post of The Formation of the New Testament…from Beginning to End.
Scholars who want to understand how the New Testament came to be have always looked to the writings of church fathers of the first five centuries – from Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp to Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine – to understand this history. Along with this focus, more recent scholars have added ancient manuscript evidence to their study of New Testament formation. This adds a dimension of understanding to the subject, and this dimension increases as more ancient manuscripts are discovered. For example, the manuscripts we have now clearly show that the 27 writings we call the New Testament circulated in smaller collections before they existed as the single larger collection. That is, we have codex manuscripts which held all four gospels, and we have other manuscripts which held Paul’s letters. This helps us to see, in a way that mere study of the church fathers might not, that the New Testament as formed in the fourth and fifth centuries was not so much a collection of 27 writings as it was a collection of three or four previously-circulating collections.
Hurtado, Larry W. “The New Testament in the Second Century: Text, Collections and Canon” in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies, eds. J.W. Childers & D. C. Parker. Gorgias Press, 2006. p. 3-27. Also available on Hurtado’s blog.
__________. The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Eerdmans, 2006.