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.


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