Why These 66 Books?

The money quote:

The doctrine of canonicity ultimately comes back to the lordship of Jesus Christ. If we believe in Him and submit to His authority, then we will simultaneously believe in and submit to His Word. Because He affirmed the Old Testament canon, we also affirm it. Because He authorized His apostles to write the New Testament, we likewise embrace it as well.

(6 min read; 1,570 words)

Source: The Master’s Seminary Why These 66 Books?

The Reliability of the Oral Tradition That Preceded the New Testament

This 14:49 video discusses the oral tradition about Jesus which preceded, and was the basis for, the written texts we have in the New Testament.

Excerpt (14:14 through 14:35):

Scholars estimate the reliability of an oral tradition can last for over a century before we could expect corruption to seep in.  Gilbert Garraghan says it cannot go past 150 years (A Guide to Historial Method, p. 259-262).  Marelene Ciklamini sets the limit at 200 years (Old Norse Epic and Historical Tradition, p. 21).  This is well within the time frame of when the New Testament was written down even if we take the latest dates for when the books were written.

The Reliability of the New Testament (Oral Tradition) – YouTube. (Source:  Inspiring Philosophy)

Belief Map – Did Jesus rise from the dead?

This resource (from beliefmap.org) provides the evidence and logic behind a resonable faith in Jesus Christ.

Belief Map – Did Jesus rise from the dead?.

The Ancient Church Did Not Decide to Create the New Testament

It is also a subsidiary post of Obstacles in the Study of New Testament Formation.

The ancient did not begin the process of forming the New Testament with the end in mind. There are no instructions in the New Testament writings which direct a process of forming a New Testament. Thus the New Testament was created through the church of the first through the fifth centuries, but it was not a process directed by that church.  This is the reason that ancient scholars left such a scant account of how they formed the New Testament.

Gamble, Harry Y.  “The New Testament Canon: Recent Research and the Status Quaestionis” in The Canon Debate, 2002, edited by McDonald and Sanders (bibliography).  At Kindle location 5855, Gamble writes:

This conception, which had in a measure been anticipated by B. F. Westcott, carried for [Theodor] Zahn an important corollary, namely that the New Testament was not self-consciously created by the church, either as a response to external stimuli or as a means to some end, but arose naturally and spontaneously from the inner life of early Christianity, above all in the contexts of worship and instruction.

And at Kindle location 5949, he writes:

Moreover, just as [Adolph von] Harnack once imagined the various sorts of “New Testaments” that could conceivably have arisen, [Franz] Stuhlhofer has helpfully pointed out the hazard of teleological presuppositions in the study of the canon, noting that the history of the canon is usually viewed too much in the light of its known outcome, and hence on the presumptions of purpose and linear progress through stages to a preconceived result. His is an important reminder that this is an unhistorical approach which too readily forecloses the vagaries and contingencies of an open-ended process.



The Difficulty of Studying New Testament Canon Formation

This is a subsidiary post of The Formation of the New Testament…from Beginning to End.

The difficulty of studying the history of the New Testament’s formation is acknowledged by those who have studied it.  This difficulty is best navigated by seeking to identify the obstacles in its way.

Abraham, William J. (1947-).  Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism.  Oxford University Press, 1998, 520 pages.  At Kindle location 205, Abraham writes:

As we shall see, the story of canonization of the Bible is very complex, for the reasons behind the process of canonization are multiple.

And as to the paucity of reporting on the process as it took place, he writes (at Kindle location 5810):

The very category, Old Testament, is a Christian invention, required by the way in which the New Testament is construed.  One would dearly love to know how this quiet conceptual revolution took place.

Balla, Peter (1962-).  “Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)” in The Canon Debate, edited by Lee M. McDonald and James A. Sanders, 2002 (bibliography).  In the very first words of this essay (Kindle location 8323), Balla writes:

Due to the scarcity of evidence, one cannot firmly conclude when exactly and as a result of what development the early church came to possess a twenty-seven-book collection called the New Testament and a two-part collection that comprises our Bible of Old and New Testaments.

Gamble, Harry Y.  “The New Testament Canon: Recent Research and the Status Quaestionis” in The Canon Debate, 2002, edited by McDonald and Sanders (bibliography).  Here’s how he begins his report on modern academia’s “state of investigation” of NT canon formation (Kindle location 5840):

Hans Lietzmann once remarked that the history of the canon is “one of the most complicated aspects of the study of church history.”  Few who have broached this subject would disagree.

And here’s how he ends it (Kindle location 6430):

The history of the New Testament canon will not be adequately grasped until all of its dimensions have been comprehended. I have sought to suggest that these dimensions are far more numerous than is customarily thought. They include the social history of the early church, the history of theology and doctrine, the liturgical life of early Christian communities, the history of interpretation, the bibliographical practices of the church, and the textual history of particular documents and collections of documents. It is a daunting task.

Metzger, Bruce M.  The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance.  Oxford University Press, 1987.  On p. 1, Metzger says:

The recognition of the canonical status of the several books of the New Testament was the result of a long and gradual process, in the course of which certain writings, regarded as authoritative, were separated from a much larger body of early Christian literature. Although this was one of the most important developments in the thought and practice of the early Church, history is virtually silent as to how, when, and by whom it was brought about. Nothing is more amazing in the annals of the Christian Church than the absence of detailed accounts of so significant a process. In view of the lack of specific information, it is not surprising that many questions and problems confront the investigation of the canonization of the New Testament.


The Ancient Church Saw the New Testament as the Apostolic Writings

This is a subsidiary post of Apostolicity and the New Testament.

This post is designed to accumulate the evidence that the ancient church, in producing the New Testament, was distinguishing genuine apostolic writings from all other Christian writings.  Though many modern scholars also believe that the New Testament is the apostolic testimony, I am not trying to document that here.  In this post I want to focus exclusively on what the ancient church thought.

I include both liberal and conservative scholars in this list to demonstrate that the ancient church’s view about the apostolicity of the New Testament is acknowledge from one end of the academic spectrum to the other.  Interestingly, liberal scholars demonstrate even more willingness to admit that the ancient church considered the New Testament to be the extant apostolic corpus than conservative scholars do.  This is, of course, because liberal scholars are quite comfortable criticizing the ancient church’s views on authorship while conservative scholars are not.

Ehrman, Bart D.  Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.  HarperCollins, 2011.  Read again the second half of Ehrman’s sub-title to this book.  Who does Ehrman think we think the authors of the Bible are?  Obviously, those whom the Bible ascribes them to be.  In some cases, the authors are named in the text itself (as in Romans 1:1 or 1 Corinthians 1:1), and in other cases they are named only in the title assigned to the book (as in Matthew or Mark).  In all cases, the authors Ehrman wants us to reject are those claimed by the ancient church to be the authors.  Speaking of the ancient church’s interest in making sure it had genuine apostolic teaching, he writes (at Kindle location 133):

One could know what the apostles taught through the writings they left behind. These authoritative authors produced authoritative teachings. So the authoritative truth could be found in the apostolic writings.

And again (at Kindle location 164), he writes:

The crucial question is this: Is it possible that any of the early Christian forgeries made it into the New Testament? That some of the books of the New Testament were not written by the apostles whose names are attached to them?

Funk, Robert W.  “The Once and Future New Testament” in The Canon Debate, 2002, edited by McDonald and Sanders, bibliography.  In this statement (Kindle location 12229), Funk is, of course, siding with modern liberal scholars who think that the ancients were wrong about the sources for the New Testament writings, but in doing so he makes clear for us that he knows where the ancients stood.

The early fathers of the church argued that the canonical writings were produced by the ‘apostles,’ who were presumed to be either among the first followers of the historical Jesus or amanuenses (secretaries) to those followers.  We now know that most if not all of those claims are inaccurate.”

Gamble, Harry Y.  The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning, Augsburg Fortress Publishing, 1985.  Gamble is here (p. 83) making the point that the ancient church was wrong in ascribing apostolicity to the New Testament canon; but, in so doing, he affirms that apostolicity was the ancient church’s central criterion for inclusion in that collection.

[H]istorical criticism has shown that the ancient church was most often mistaken in its claim that the canonical writings were written by apostles.

__________.  “Canonical Formation of the New Testament” in The Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, p. 183-195.  InterVarsity, 2000.  On p. 193, Gamble writes:

From an early time Christians considered their Scriptures to be apostolic.

And on p. 194, he writes:

The ancient church assumed that whatever was apostolic, even in the broadest sense, was also catholic and orthodox.

McDonald, Lee M.  The Origin of the Bible: A Guide for the Perplexed.  T & T Clark, 2011.  At Kindle location 1561:

Christians added the literature that they believed stemmed from the apostolic communities and at roughly the same time that the Jewish community added their codified oral traditions (the Mishnah) to their sacred written collections.”

McDonald, Lee M. and James A. Sanders.  The Canon Debate.  Baker Academic, 2002.  From the Introduction, Kindle location 228:

There is little doubt among canon scholars that authorship by an apostle was the most important factor considered by the church leaders of the fourth and following centuries. If it was believed that an apostle produced a particular writing, that writing was accepted and treated as scripture. This also helps to explain the large collection of literature pseudonymously attributed to the apostles, the so-called apocryphal New Testament writings. There is no doubt that several books of the New Testament were placed in the canon of scripture because the majority of the church fathers believed that they were written by members of the apostolic community if not by apostles themselves.


A Sub-Bibliography of Nineteenth-Century and Prior Works

This is a subsidiary post of Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.

Because my bibliography on text and canon (“apostolic apologetics”) is so long, and because older works have particular advantages and disadvantages, I thought it might be helpful to list here those works in the bibliography that come from prior to the 20th Century.

To be clear, this bibliography is a subset of the Annotated Bibliography on New Testament and Canon.  There is no work you will find below that is not already included in that much longer list.  However, to keep this list concise I have not included the annotations with the entries.

Alexander, Archibald (1772-1851).  The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained; or, The Bible, Complete, without the Apocrypha and Unwritten Traditions.  Presbyterian Board of Education, 1851.

Athanasius (296-373).  Festal Letter 39.  This is the earliest statement about New Testament contents that matches our own.  See Athanasius on the New Testament Canon.

Augustine (354-430).  On Christian Doctrine.  He lists the canonical books in 2.8.12-13.  See Augustine on the New Testament Canon.

__________.  Against Faustus (Contra Faustum).  In 33:6 Augustine explains how we can know, even from a purely human standpoint, whether literary works are authentic or false, using Hippocrates as an example.

Charteris, A. H.  Canonicity:  A Collection of Early Testimonies to the Canonical Books of the New Testament.  William Blackwood and Sons, 1880.

Davidson, Samuel.  The Canon of the Bible: Its Formation, History, and Fluctuations, Third Revised and Enlarged Edition.  C. Kegan Paul, 1880.

Eusebius (263-339).  The History of the Church.  Translated by G. A. Williamson.  Penguin, 1965, 432 pages.  (Also translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert.  Archeron Press, 2012, Kindle edition.)

Hodge, A. A. (1823-1886). “Popular lectures on theological themes” in Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1887, p. 68-93.

Jerome (347-420).  Letter 53.  At 53:9, he addresses the canon.  See Jerome on the New Testament Canon.

Josephus (37-100).  Josephus: The Complete Works.  Translated by William Whiston.  Thomas Nelson, 1998, 1159 pages.

Moore, Dunlop.  “The Beginning and Growth of the Canon of the New Testament” inThe Presbyterian and Reformed Review, Vol. 7, No. 25, January 1896, 33 pages.

Reuss, Edward (1804-1891).  History of the Canon of the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Church.  Translated by David Hunter.  Gemmell, 1884, 430 pages.

Schaff, Philip (1819-1893). Editor.  The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection.  Catholic Way Publishing, 2014 (originally published 1886-1900).

Tregelles, Samuel P. (1813-1875).   A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament.  Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852.

Westcott, Brooke Foss.  A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, 4th edition.  Macmillan, 1875.

Zahn, Theodor.  Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons.  Deichert, 1888-1892.

The Term “Bible” Applied to the Scriptures

This is a subsidiary post of The Study of Canon and the Etymology of Certain Terms.

This is a placeholder post.  Material to be added.

The Term “Canon” Applied to Writings

This is a subsidiary post of The Study of Canon and the Etymology of Certain Terms.

The term “canon” can be found in the Bible, but it is never used to describe a set of writings.  That meaning would arise subsequent to the biblical era.

More to follow.


Dempster, Stephen G.  “Canons on the Right and Canons on the Left: Finding a Resolution in the Canon Debate” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society  52/1 (March 2009) 47-77.  See p. 50-51 and 77 where Dempster discusses several proposals for clarifying the meaning of “canon.”

The late Gerald Sheppard makes a helpful distinction here describing canon as a final closed list as “Canon 2” and canon as a norm, an open-ended word of God as it were, “Canon 1.”  A similar point is made by theologian William A. Graham, who has been followed by many others.20 Graham calls Sheppard’s Canon 1 “Scripture” and Canon 2 “Canon.” Recently, Eugene Ulrich has pleaded for clarification arguing that the word “canon” should only be used for canons in the sense of Canon 2 and not Canon 1. Canon only exists when there is a closed list.21 Thus Ulrich argues that this will clarify matters and scholars will not use the word anachronistically, speaking of canonical books when there are no such things at all until a much later period of time. Thus, for Ulrich, the idea of an “open canon” is by definition an oxymoron.

Kruger, Michael J.  The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate.  IVP Academic, 2013.  Kruger devotes the first chapter of this book (p. 27-46) to saying that one definition of canon causes too much confusion; instead, he suggests three:  “exclusive,” “functional,” and “ontological.”

McDonald, Lee M.  The Origin of the Bible: A Guide for the Perplexed.  T & T Clark, 2011.  At Kindle location 20-212, McDonald writes of “canon 1” as referring to a “flexible” or “fluid” and “canon 2” as referring to a “final fixed stage.”

Winzig, Tim L.  New Testament Canon and the Creeds: Why Was the Authority of Scripture Left Out of the Christian Creeds?.  Amazon Digital Services, 2012, 24 pages.  The author reports that David R. Nienhuis proposes a distinction between “a conceptual canon” and “the formal canon of Scripture” (Kindle loc 446).

The Terms “Prophets” and “Apostles” as Applied to Writings

This is a subsidiary post of The Study of Canon and the Etymology of Certain Terms.

In the New Testament, we can see the term “prophets” used as a reference to their writings – that is, the Old Testament (e.g., Luke 24:25 and Acts 26:27).  Subsequent to the apostolic age, the term “apostles” came to be used in the same way for the New Testament writings.

See The “Prophets and Apostles” as a Synonym for Bible.