Formation of the New Testament Canon

The definition of the Canon of the Christian bible did not result from a deliberate process but took place over centuries as the result of debate and exchanges of collections of writings between the principal Churches of Antioch, Alexandria and Corinth. There was very little controversy in the Christian community over the Old Testament canon settled by Jewish scholars. As early as 2 Peter 3:15-16 there is a reference to Paul and John pre-supposes the existence of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke). From the earliest times (c175 AD, cf Irenus, the Muratorian Canon) there was agreement about the Gospels as we have them (although there are problems with Mark 16:9-20; Luke 22:43-44; John 7:53; 8:1-11) and the 13 Epistles of Paul.

The principle of New Testament canonicity is complex: there was an initial view that only works which were apostolic in origin should be accepted (accepting Paul as the '13th Apostle') but this led to problems with Mark and Luke/Acts and there were also works alleged to be by Apostles which were rejected as being clearly spurious; the emphasis progressively came to be placed on doctrinal authenticity as doctrine itself became crystallised. Tatian's Diatessarion (c150) bears witness to the Gospels but its rejection reflects a growing perception of their different doctrinal features.

Following acceptance of the Gospels, 13 Epistles of Paul were added (Romans, 1/2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1/2 Thessalonians, 1/2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon). The next additions, at the end of the Second Century, were Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John (2/3 John were probably attached) and Revelation. Vartious Churches individually adopted Hebrews, 2 Peter, James and Jude.

Irenus (c150) and Tertullian (c200) were aware of the body of writing as a divinely inspired corpus but it was Clement of Alexandria (c180) who coined the term "Testament".

Origen (c185-254) and Eusebius of Caesaria (c263-339) took the debate forward. In addition to the Gospels, 13 Pauline Epistles, Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation, Origen accepted as divinely inspired: Hebrews, 1 Peter, 2/3 John, James, Jude, Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Didache and The Gospel of The Hebrews. Eusebius, Origen's pupil, accepted all of what we now accept as the New Testament and rejected all that we now reject except for Revelation which, in spite of universal usage, he found to be suspect; but by the mid 4th Century it was placed at the end of the Testament (except in Antioch and Constantinople) and the whole was given the stamp of authority by Athanasius (c293-373, and authorised by Pope Damasus at a non ecumenical Synod at Rome in 382.

KC I/09

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