Notes on Early Christian Churches

Related posts:

From Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & New Testament by Philip W. Comfort (see Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon).

By the end of the second century, there was a church in almost every major city [in the Greco-Roman world].  [Kindle location 1353]

There were, of course, other churches in villages and the countryside. But these city churches totaled forty-three in the first century and another fifty-four in the second. Roughly, one hundred local churches were in existence by the year 200.  [Kindle location 1369]

From Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado, Baylor University Press, 2016, page 3.  In his footnote, Hurtado cites as his source Keith Hopkins in “Christian Number and Its Implications (Journal of Early Christian Studies, 1998) for this information.  He also cites two additional sources for this kind of information.

One recent estimate of the number of sites where there were bodies or “communities” of Christians posits a hundred or so (many of these comprising several house-based groups) by 100 AD and two hundred to four hundred sites by 200 AD.

Thomas Aquinas on Islam

According to Thomas Aquinas, Islam appealed to ignorant, brutish, carnal men and spread not by the power of its arguments or divine grace.

(a 3-minute read; 664 words)

Source: Why Thomas Aquinas Distrusted Islam – Breitbart

References to New Testament Persons Outside the Bible

(These could be called extra-biblical or extrabiblical sources.)

Wikipedia article:  List of biblical figures identified in extra-biblical sources

John the Baptist is mentioned by Josephus.



James the brother of Jesus is mentioned by Josephus.


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.

Athanasius on the New Testament Canon

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

This letter from Athanasisus, bishop of Alexandria, written in 367, is the earliest extant evidence we have of a 27-book New Testament canon identical in contents to the one we have today.  It is also the earliest extant evidence we have of the word “canon” being used to describe a list of sacred books.  I have made certain words or phrases bold and then commented on them below.


1. They have fabricated books which they call books of tables , in which they shew stars, to which they give the names of Saints. And therein of a truth they have inflicted on themselves a double reproach: those who have written such books, because they have perfected themselves in a lying and contemptible science; and as to the ignorant and simple, they have led them astray by evil thoughts concerning the right faith established in all truth and upright in the presence of God. . . .

2. But since we have made mention of heretics as dead, but of ourselves as possessing the Divine Scriptures for salvation; and since I fear lest, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians , some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity , by the subtilty of certain men, and should henceforth read other books— those called apocryphal—led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books ; I beseech you to bear patiently , if I also write, by way of remembrance, of matters with which you are acquainted, influenced by the need and advantage of the Church.

3. In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: Forasmuch as some have taken in hand ,’ to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued stedfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance.

4. There are , then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book . And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans ; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next , to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.

6. These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me .’

7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings.  But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.

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 506779-506817). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Other sources for the text of this letter:

from Christian Classics Ethereal Library

from New Advent


Note the phrase “handed down” in sections 3 and 4.  Athanasius is thus claiming nothing original or unique in his listing of books.  On the contrary, he is claiming that the books he is listing can be traced back to previous generations.

Note the phrase “delivered to the fathers” in section 3 which, of course, carries the same meaning as “handed down.”  Note also the phrase that precedes it – ”  as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” – which indicates that the origin of these books was with the apostolic generation.

Notice by the use of the phrase “delivered to the fathers” in section 3 and “appointed by the Fathers” in section 7 that Athanasius is calling “fathers” those church leaders who came after the apostles but before his own generation.  (I do not know why the translator capitalized one case and not the other; I can see no distinction between their usage.)  Note also that these “fathers” received the sacred books handed down to them, but appointed other edifying (though noncanonical) books to be used in conjunction with the books handed down (i.e., the canonical ones).  Thus Athanasius is making clear that the literature which came from the apostolic generation was unique from even the good literature that had been produced since.

Notice the phrase “the canon” which appears three times.  This list marks the earliest extant evidence we have of the word “canon” being used to describe a list of sacred books.

In using the term “apocryphal” in sections 2, 3, and 7, Athanasius is referring to the proliferation of texts since the first century falsely claiming apostolic origin (“to which they give the names of Saints” and “by the similarity of their names“).  The existence and abundance of these writings indicates the exalted status accorded to apostolic literature.  Athanasius condemns such writings on the basis of their false attribution alone; nothing else needs to be known about them to justify rejecting them.  Such books cannot be “true” (see “true” in section 2).  Section 1 is a clear denunciation of such false books.  Note also that the “fabricated books” were put forward by those who claimed false dating (“assigning to them a date” and “as ancient writings“) for the books as well as false authorship (for they knew that what was apostolic must be dated to the first Christian generation).

When Athanasius identifies the New Testament books, he does so by reference to the respective authors – all being from the apostolic generation.  The only exception to this is “The Acts of the Apostles” whose author would have been understood as Luke by anyone familiar with  Luke and Acts.  Thus Athanasius is presenting no New Testament book as being of anonymous origin.  Just because a writing does not explicitly name its author does not mean that its author is necessarily unknown.

Note that “the true books” are called “divine,” “divine Scriptures,” and “Divinely-inspired Scriptures.”  And the books handed down were those of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Term “Gospel” Applied to Writings

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

More information on sources referenced in this post can be found in Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.

The term “gospel” was originally a theological term referring to the message of salvation; later (mid-2nd Century) became a literary term with a reluctance to speak of multiple gospels. Gamble TNTC p 30, 35.

See Gamble in The Canon Debate, loc 6013

But is “gospel” in Mark 1:1 being used to describe a writing?

The Text of the Muratorian Fragment

This is a subsidiary post of The Muratorian Fragment.

The following translation is that of Bruce Metzger as provided by  Note in the text below, that the fragment does not include the beginning or the end.  In the rendering below I have stripped out all notations and left only the text itself….and then broken into paragraphs.

. . . at which nevertheless he was present, and so he placed [them in his narrative].  The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke.  Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.  The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’  In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it.  And so, though various elements may be taught in the individual books of the Gospels, nevertheless this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since by the one sovereign Spirit all things have been declared in all [the Gospels]: concerning the nativity, concerning the passion, concerning the resurrection, concerning life with his disciples, and concerning his twofold coming; the first in lowliness when he was despised, which has taken place, the second glorious in royal power, which is still in the future. What marvel is it then, if John so consistently mentions these particular points also in his Epistles, saying about himself, ‘What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things we have written to you?  For in this way he professes [himself] to be not only an eye-witness and hearer, but also a writer of all the marvelous deeds of the Lord, in their order.

Moreover, the acts of all the apostles were written in one book.  For ‘most excellent Theophilus’ Luke compiled the individual events that took place in his presence — as he plainly shows by omitting the martyrdom of Peter as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain.

As for the Epistles of Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent.  First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme).  It is necessary for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans seventh.  It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth.  For John also in the Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, nevertheless speaks to all.  [Paul also wrote] out of affection and love one to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy; and these are held sacred in the esteem of the Church catholic for the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline.

There is current also [an epistle] to the Laodiceans, [and] another to the Alexandrians, [both] forged in Paul’s name to [further] the heresy of Marcion, and several others (66) which cannot be received into the catholic Church — for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey.

Moreover, the epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church]; and [the book of] Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour.

We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church.

But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome.  And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after [their] time.

But we accept nothing whatever of Arsinous or Valentinus or Miltiades, who also composed a new book of psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides, the Asian founder of the Cataphrygians . . .