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Development of the New Testament canon


Development of the New Testament canon

The canon of the New Testament is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and constituting the New Testament of the Christian Bible. For most, it is an agreed-upon list of twenty-seven books that includes the Canonical Gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation. The books of the canon of the New Testament were written mostly in the first century and finished by the year 150 AD. For the Orthodox, the recognition of these writings as authoritative was formalized in the Second Council of Trullan of 692, although it was nearly universally accepted in the mid 300s.[1] The Biblical canon was the result of debate and research, reaching its final term for Catholics at the dogmatic definition of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century, when the Old Testament Canon was finalized in the Catholic Church as well.[2]

Writings attributed to the Apostles circulated among the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating, perhaps in collected forms, by the end of the 1st century AD.[1] Justin Martyr, in the mid 2nd century, mentions "memoirs of the apostles" as being read on "the day called that of the sun" (Sunday) alongside the "writings of the prophets." [3] A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus, c. 180, who refers to it directly.[4][5]

By the early 200s, Origen may have been using the same twenty-seven books as in the Catholic New Testament canon, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of the Letter to the Hebrews, James, II Peter, II John, III John, Jude and Revelation,[6] known as the Antilegomena. Likewise, the Muratorian fragment is evidence that, perhaps as early as 200, there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to the twenty-seven-book NT canon, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them.[7] Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings are claimed to have been accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 3rd century.[8]

In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of the books that would become the twenty-seven-book NT canon,[9] and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them.[10] The first council that accepted the present canon of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.[11] These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.[12][13][14] Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above,[9] or, if not, the list is at least a 6th-century compilation.[15] Likewise, Damasus' commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West.[16] In c. 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. Christian scholars assert that, when these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church."[12][17][18]

Thus, some claim that, from the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon,[19] and that, by the 5th century, the Eastern Church, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon.[2][20] Nonetheless, full dogmatic articulations of the canon were not made until the Canon of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism,[2] the Gallic Confession of Faith of 1559 for Calvinism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox.

McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix B lists the following most important

  • The Development of the Canon of the New Testament  – includes very detailed charts and direct links to ancient witnesses.

External links

  • Ackroyd, PR; Evans, CF, eds. (1970), The Cambridge History of the Bible 1, Cambridge University Press .
  • Augustine, Aurelius, De Civitate Dei [On the city of God] (in Latin) 
  • Bauckham, Richard (2006), Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Cambridge: Eerdmans .
  • Brakke, David (1994), "Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria's Thirty Ninth Festal Letter", Harvard Theological Review 87: 395–419 .
  • Bruce, FF (1988), The Canon of Scripture, Intervarsity Press .
  • Ferguson, Everett (2002), "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon", in McDonald, LM; Sanders, JA, The Canon Debate, Hendrickson .
  • Lindberg, Carter (2006), A Brief History of Christianity, Blackwell,  .
  • McDonald, LM; Sanders, JA, eds. (2002), The Canon Debate, Hendrickson .
  • Metzger, Bruce (1987), The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origins, Development, and Significance, Oxford: Clarendon .
  • ——— (March 13, 1997) [1987], The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, Oxford University Press,  .
  • Noll, Mark A (1997), Turning Points, Baker Academic .
  • de Jonge, HJ (2003), "The New Testament Canon", in de Jonge; Auwers, JM, The Biblical Canons, Leuven University Press 
  • Pamphili, Eusebius (c. 330), Schaff, Philip, ed., Ecclesiastical History, The Christian classics ethereal library  .
  • Price, Robert, The Evolution of the Pauline Canon .


  1. ^ Pelikan, Jaroslav (2005). Whose Bible Is It?. New York,  
  2. ^ a b c d  
  3. ^ a b Martyr, Justin,  .
  4. ^ a b c Ferguson 2002, p. 301.
  5. ^ Irenaeus,  .
  6. ^ a b Noll 1997, pp. 36–37.
  7. ^ a b de Jonge 2003, p. 315.
  8. ^ Ackroyd & Evans 1970, p. 308.
  9. ^ a b c d Lindberg 2006, p. 15.
  10. ^ Brakke 1994.
  11. ^ a b McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix D-2, note 19: ‘Revelation was added later in 419 at the subsequent synod of Carthage.’
  12. ^ a b c d Ferguson 2002, p. 320.
  13. ^ a b Bruce 1988, p. 230.
  14. ^ a b Augustine, 22.8.
  15. ^ Bruce 1988, p. 234.
  16. ^ a b Bruce 1988, p. 225.
  17. ^ a b Metzger 1987, pp. 237–38.
  18. ^ a b Bruce 1988, p. 97.
  19. ^ a b Bruce 1988, p. 215.
  20. ^ a b Ackroyd & Evans 1970, p. 305.
  21. ^ Peter, II Letter (NIV ed.), Bible Gateway 
  22. ^ Chester, A; Martin, RP (1994), The Theology of the letters of James, Peter & Jude, CUP, p. 144 .
  23. ^ Marcion, Early Christian writings .
  24. ^ Ignatius, NT Canon .
  25. ^ von Harnack, Adolf (1914). Origin of the New Testament. 
  26. ^ Marcion, On truth .
  27. ^ Marcion, Christian origins .
  28. ^ Wace, Henry (1911). "Early Christian Writings". 
  29. ^ A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations, p. 316 .
  30. ^ Price.
  31. ^ Ferguson 2002, pp. 302–3.
  32. ^ Justin Martyr, First Apology 67.3.
  33. ^ Ferguson 2002, pp. 302–3 note 32.
  34. ^ (BRILL 2002 ISBN 978-9-00412619-0), p. 178Revelation, Truth, Canon, and InterpretationCraig D. Allert,
  35. ^ Dialogue, 88:3 .
  36. ^ a b Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.11.8.
  37. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, p. 277.
  38. ^ a b McDonald & Sanders 2002, pp. 280, 310, summarizing 3.11.7: the Ebionites use Matthew's Gospel, Marcion mutilates Luke's, the Docetists use Mark's, the Valentinians use John's.
  39. ^ Streeter, Tom. The Church and Western Culture. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. p. 115.  
  40. ^ Wallace, J. Warner (2013). "How the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers Preserved the Eyewitness Gospel Accounts". Cold Case Christianity. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  41. ^ Dillon, John J. (1991). St. Irenaeus of Lyons Against the Heresies. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press. p. 9.  
  42. ^ "The Holy Pre-existent Spirit. Which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that he desired. This flesh, therefore, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, was subject unto the Spirit, walking honorably in holiness and purity, without in any way defiling the Spirit. When then it had lived honorably in chastity, and had labored with the Spirit, and had cooperated with it in everything, behaving itself boldly and bravely, he chose it as a partner with the Holy Spirit; for the career of this flesh pleased [the Lord], seeing that, as possessing the Holy Spirit, it was not defiled upon the earth. He therefore took the son as adviser and the glorious angels also, that this flesh too, having served the Spirit unblamably, might have some place of sojourn, and might not seem to have lost the reward for its service; for all flesh, which is found undefiled and unspotted, wherein the Holy Spirit dwelt, shall receive a reward." [1]
  43. ^ "Hermas never mentions Jesus Christ, or the Word, but only the Son of God, who is the highest angel. As holy spirit the Son dwells in the flesh; this human nature is God's adopted son" in, Patrick W. Carey, Joseph T. Lienhard (editors), Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, page 241 (Greenwood Press, 2008). ISBN 0-313-29649-9
  44. ^ a b  
  45. ^ Metzger 1997, p. 98: "The question whether the Church's canon preceded or followed Marcion's canon continues to be debated. ...Harnack... John Knox..."
  46. ^ The Muratorian Canon, Early Christian writings, retrieved April 10, 2007 
  47. ^ Bauckham 2006, pp. 425–26.
  48. ^ Ferguson, E (1982), "Canon Muratori: Date and Provenance", Studia Patristica 17: 677–83 .
  49. ^ Ferguson, E (1993), "The Muragorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon", Journal of Theological Studies 44: 696 .
  50. ^ Bruce, FF (1983), "Some Thoughts on the Beginning of the New Testament Canon", Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 65: 56–57 .
  51. ^ Metzger 1987, pp. 193–94.
  52. ^ Henne, P (1993), "La datation du Canon de Muratori" [The dating of the Muratorian canon], Revue Biblique (in French) 100: 54–75 .
  53. ^ Horbury, W (1994), "The Wisdom of Solomon in the Muratorian Fragment", Journal of Theological Studies 45: 146–59 .
  54. ^ Hill, CE (1995), "The Debate over the Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon",  .
  55. ^ Bauckham 2006, p. 426.
  56. ^ Hahneman, GM (1992), The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon, Oxford: Oxford University Press .
  57. ^ Anchor Bible Dictionary .
  58. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, p. 595, note 17: "The Muratorian Fragment. While many scholars contend that this was a late second-century C.E. fragment originating in or around Rome, a growing number hold that it was produced around the middle of the fourth century (ca. 350–375) and that it originated somewhere in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, possibly in Syria."
  59. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, p. 288, claims Acts was first "clearly and extensively" used by Irenaeus, though it seems to have been known by Justin (1 Apol. 50.12, cf. 2 Apol. 10.6).
  60. ^ Irinæus, Adversus Hæreses.
  61. ^   "Then we lose sight of James till St. Paul, three years after his conversion (A.D. 37), went up to Jerusalem. ... On the same occasion, the "pillars" of the Church, James, Peter, and John "gave to me (Paul) and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision" (Galatians 2:9)."
  62. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, chapter 32, page 577, James D. G. Dunn: "For Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man (pontifex maximus!) who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity. James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked. John might have served as such a figure of the center holding together the extremes, but if the writings linked with his name are at all indicative of his own stance he was too much of an individualist to provide such a rallying point. Others could link the developing new religion more firmly to its founding events and to Jesus himself. But none of them, including the rest of the twelve, seem to have played any role of continuing significance for the whole sweep of Christianity—though James the brother of John might have proved an exception had he been spared." [Italics original]
  63. ^ Lieuwen, Daniel F, NT canon emergence, Orthodox info .
  64. ^ Metzger 1987, p. 150.
  65. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. p. 45. 
  66. ^   Montanism in the West: "The old notion that the Alogi were an Asiatic sect (see ALOGI) is no longer tenable; they were the Roman Gaius and his followers, if he had any."
  67. ^ Pamphili c. 330, Book 3, chapter XXV: The Divine Scriptures that are accepted and those that are not.
  68. ^ Kalin, Everett R (2002), "23. The New Testament Canon of Eusebius", in McDonald; Sanders, pp. 403–4, Eusebius divides the writings he has been discussing into three categories, the homologoumena (the universally acknowledged writings), the antilegomena (the writings that have been spoken against and are thus disputed—or, in a certain sense, rejected, even though in wide use) and the heretical writings. Only the twenty-one or twenty-two books in the first category are in the church's New Testament (are canonical). It is the ancient church's tradition of what the apostles wrote and handed down that is the criterion for evaluating these writings from the apostolic era, and only these twenty-one or twenty-two pass the test. In important recent contributions on this passage both Robbins and Baum agree that for Eusebius the church's canon consists of these twenty-one or twenty-two books. ... Given what we see in Eusebius in the early fourth century it is virtually impossible to imagine that the church had settled upon a twenty-seven book collection, or even one that approximated that, in the late second century. Moreover, whatever the merits of David Trobisch's intriguing and important proposal that a twenty-seven book edition of the New Testament was produced in the second century, that notion seems hard to reconcile with what we have found in Eusebius regarding the church's acceptance of apostolic writings in earlier centuries. 
  69. ^ Kalin, ER (1990), "Re-examining New Testament Canon History: 1. The Canon of Origen", Currents in Theology and Mission 17: 274–82 .
  70. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, p. 395.
  71. ^ Codex Claromontanus, Bible Researcher .
  72. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, pp. 584.
  73. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, pp. 414–15.
  74. ^   Canonicity: "...the Synod of Nicaea is said to have accounted it as Sacred Scripture" (Praef. in Lib.). It is true that no such declaration is to be found in the Canons of Nicaea, and it is uncertain whether St. Jerome is referring to the use made of the book in the discussions of the council, or whether he was misled by some spurious canons attributed to that council"
  75. ^  .
  76. ^ Brakke, David (1994), "Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria's Thirty Ninth Festal Letter", Harvard Theological Review 87: 395–419 .
  77. ^ "The Cheltenham List". Bible Research. Retrieved 2007-07-08. 
  78. ^ "The Cheltenham Canon". NT canon. Retrieved 2007-07-08. ; (also known as Mommsen’s)
  79. ^ From Cheltenham, Bible researcher  which references Metzger: 1. Genesis, 2. Exodus, 3. Numbers, 4. Leviticus, 5. Deuteronomy, 6. Joshua, 7. Judges, 8. Ruth, 9. I Kingdoms, 10. II Kingdoms, 11. III Kingdoms, 12. IV Kingdoms, 13. Chronicles I, 14. Chronicles II, 15. Maccabees I, 16. Maccabees II, 17. Job, 18. Tobit, 19. Esther, 20. Judith, 21. Psalms, 22. Solomon (probably to include the Wisdom of Solomon), 23. Major prophets, 24. Twelve Prophets
  80. ^ Schaff (ed.), Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers XIV, The Christian classics ethereal library .
  81. ^ McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix D-2.
  82. ^ Apostolic Canons, NT canon .
  83. ^ "The Canon of Gregory of Nazianus (329–389 CE)". NT canon. 
  84. ^ "The Canon of Amphilochius of Iconium (after 394 CE)". 
  85. ^ The Canon Debate, page 400, note 78, translation attributed to Metzger's Canon of the NT page 314 ["/" indicates newline]: "And again the Revelation of John,/ Some approve, but the most/ Say it is spurious." and "Paul ... [wrote]/ Twice seven epistles:... But some say the one to the Hebrews is spurious, not saying well, for the grace is genuine." and on the Catholic Epistles: "Some say we must receive seven, but others say/ Only three [James, 1 Peter, 1 John] should be received..."
  86. ^ Augustine, Aurelius, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Georgetown .
  87. ^ Decretum Gelasianum, Tertulian .
  88. ^ Bruce 1988, p. 234.
  89. ^  .
  90. ^ a b Text and translation of the list
  91. ^ (CUA Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-81322156-4), p. 67Dark Passages of the BibleMatthew J. Ramage,
  92. ^ (Hendrickson Publishers 2012 ISBN 978-1-59856838-7), p. 149Formation of the BibleLee Martin McDonald,
  93. ^ (Simon and Schuster 1995 ISBN 978-0-68481913-6), p. 119The Dictionary of the BibleJohn L. Mckenzie,
  94. ^ Pogorzelski, Frederick (2006). "Protestantism: A Historical and Spiritual Wrong Way Turn". Bible Dates. Catholic Evangelism. p. 1. Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  95. ^ Metzger 1987.
  96. ^ by Andrew of Caesarea (CUA Press 2011 ISBN 978-0-81320123-8), p. 3Commentary on the ApocalypseEugenia Scarvelis Constantinou (editor)
  97. ^ The Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church
  98. ^ Prophetologion
  99. ^ Bishop Demetri Khoury Releases Prophetologion E-Book
  100. ^ Diatessaron, Early Christian Writings .
  101. ^ a b "Peshitta". The Development of the Canon of the New Testament. NT canon. 
  102. ^ a b "Reliability". Theological Perspectives. 
  103. ^ Ethiopian Canon, Islamic Awareness.
  104. ^ "Fathers". Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL). 
  105. ^ "Martin Luther". WELS. 
  106. ^ "Luther's Treatment of the 'Disputed Books' of the New Testament". 
  107. ^ "Gedruckte Ausgaben der Lutherbibel von 1545".  note order: ...Hebräer, Jakobus, Judas, Offenbarung
  108. ^ "German Bible Versions". Bible researcher. 
  109. ^ Fallows, Samuel, ed. (1901, 1910). The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia and Scriptural Dictionary, Fully Defining and Explaining All Religious Terms, Including Biographical, Geographical, Historical, Archæological and Doctrinal Themes. et al., eds. The Howard-Severance co. p. 521. 
  110. ^ "Martin Luther", Topical Q&A,  .
  111. ^ "Fathers". New Advent. 
  112. ^ Metzger 1997, p. 246: "Finally on 8 April 1546, by a vote of 24 to 15, with 16 abstensions, the Council issued a decree (De Canonicis Scripturis) in which, for the first time in the history of the Church, the question of the contents of the Bible was made an absolute article of faith and confirmed by an anathema."
  113. ^ "2", Session 3, Daily Catholic, Item 6, The complete books of the old and the new Testament with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the said council and as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition, are to be received as sacred and canonical.  In the context, the "decree of the said Council" is the decree of the Council of Trent defining the canon of the Scriptures.
  114. ^ Schaff, Philip, Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes, I. The History of Creeds, The Christian classics ethereal library .


  1. ^ Three forms are postulated, from Gamble, Harry Y, "18", The Canon Debate, p. 300, note 21, (1) Marcion's collection that begins with Galatians and ends with Philemon; (2) Papyrus 46, dated about 200, that follows the order that became established except for reversing Ephesians and Galatians; and (3) the letters to seven churches, treating those to the same church as one letter and basing the order on length, so that Corinthians is first and Colossians (perhaps including Philemon) is last. 
  2. ^ From the perspectives of Tertullian and Epiphanius (when the four gospels had largely canonical status, perhaps in reaction to the challenge created by Marcion), it appeared that Marcion rejected the non-Lukan gospels, however, in Marcion's time, it may be that the only gospel he was familiar with from Pontus was the gospel that would later be called Luke. It is also possible that Marcion's gospel was actually modified by his critics to became the gospel we know today as Luke, rather than the story from his critics that he changed a canonical gospel to get his version. For example, compare Luke 5:39 to Luke 5:36–38, did Marcion delete 5:39 from his Gospel or was it added later to counteract a Marcionist interpretation of 5:36–38? One must keep in mind that we only know of Marcion through his critics and they considered him a major threat to the form of Christianity that they knew. Knox, John, Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon,   (the modern writer, not to be confused with John Knox the Protestant Reformer) was the first to propose that Marcion's Gospel may have preceded Luke's Gospel and Acts,[26] although still maintaining that Marcion edited the sources available to him.[27]
  3. ^ * Matthew (Book 3, Chapter 16):
    • Mark (Book 3, Chapter 10)
    • Luke (Book 3, Chapter 14)
    • John (Book 3, Chapter 11)
    • Acts of the Apostles (Book 3, Chapter 14)
    • Romans (Book 3, Chapter 16)
    • 1 Corinthians (Book 1, Chapter 3)
    • 2 Corinthians (Book 3, Chapter 7)
    • Galatians (Book 3, Chapter 22)
    • Ephesians (Book 5, Chapter 2)
    • Philippians (Book 4, Chapter 18)
    • Colossians (Book 1, Chapter 3)
    • 1 Thessalonians (Book 5, Chapter 6)
    • 2 Thessalonians (Book 5, Chapter 25)
    • 1 Timothy (Book 1, Preface)
    • 2 Timothy (Book 3, Chapter 14)
    • Titus (Book 3, Chapter 3)
    • 1 Peter (Book 4, Chapter 9)
    • 1 John(Book 3, Chapter 16)
    • 2 John (Book 1, Chapter 16)
    • Revelation to John (Book 4, Chapter 20)


The Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 decreed the Greek Orthodox Canon which is the same as the one decided by the Council of Trent for the New Testament but different for the Old Testament.[114]

Synod of Jerusalem

Orthodox developments (from c. 1672)

Pope Pius XII on 3 September 1943 decreed the Divino Afflante Spiritu which allowed translations based on other versions than just the Latin Vulgate, notably in English the New American Bible.

Pope Pius XI on June 2, 1927 decreed the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute.

Vatican I on April 24, 1870 approved the additions to Mark (v. 16:9–20), Luke (22:19b–20, 43–44), and John (7:53–8:11), which are not present in early manuscripts but are contained in the Vulgate edition.[113]

Later developments

In support of the inclusion of the 12 Deuterocanonical books in the canon, the Council of Trent pointed to the two regional councils which met under Augustine's leadership in Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 and 419 AD). The bishops of Trent claimed these councils formally defined the canon as including these books.

The Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, by vote (24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain)[112] approved the present Roman Catholic Bible Canon including the Deuterocanonical Books. This is said to be the same list as produced at the Council of Florence in 1451, this list was defined as canonical in the profession of faith proposed for the Syriac Orthodox Church. Because of its placement, the list was not considered binding for the Catholic Church, and in light of Martin Luther's behest, the Catholic Church examined the question of the Canon again at the Council of Trent, which reaffirmed the Canon of the Council of Florence. The Old Testament books that had been in doubt were termed deuterocanonical, not indicating a lesser degree of inspiration, but a later time of final approval. Beyond these books, some editions of the Latin Vulgate include Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras (called 3 Esdras), 2 Esdras (called 4 Esdras), and the Epistle to the Laodiceans in an appendix, styled "Apogryphi", (see also Biblical Apocrypha#Clementine Vulgate).

Council of Trent

Catholic developments (from c. 1546)

It is sometimes difficult to apply these criteria to all books in the accepted canon, however, and some point to books that Protestants hold as apocryphal which would fulfill these requirements. In practice, Protestants hold to the Jewish canon for the Old Testament and the Catholic canon for the New Testament.

The basic factor for recognizing a book's canonicity for the New Testament was divine inspiration, and the chief test for this was apostolicity. The term apostolic as used for the test of canonicity does not necessarily mean apostolic authorship or derivation, but rather apostolic authority. Apostolic authority is never detached from the authority of the Lord. See Apostolic succession.

  1. Apostolic Origin — attributed to and based on the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their close companions).
  2. Universal Acceptance — acknowledged by all major Christian communities in the ancient world (by the end of the 4th century).
  3. Liturgical Use — read publicly when early Christian communities gathered for the Lord's Supper (their weekly worship services).
  4. Consistent Message — containing a theological outlook similar or complementary to other accepted Christian writings.

Many modern Protestants point to four "Criteria for Canonicity" to justify the books that have been included in the Old and New Testament, which are judged to have satisfied the following:

Melito's account does not include the Book of Esther and does not determine that the specific documentary tradition used by the Jews necessarily was that which was eventually assembled into the Masoretic Text.

Accordingly when I went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to thee as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books; of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.

Evangelicals tend not to accept the Septuagint as the inspired Hebrew Bible, though many of them recognize its wide use by Greek-speaking Jews in the 1st century. They note that early Christians knew the Hebrew Bible at least since around 170, when Melito of Sardis listed almost all the books of the Old Testament that those in the Evangelical faiths now use. Melito's canon is found in Eusebius EH4.26.13–14:[111]

These groups believe that the New Testament supports that Paul (2 Timothy 4:11–13), Peter (2 Peter 3:15–16), and ultimately John (Revelation 22:18–19) finalized the canon of the New Testament. Some note that Peter, John, and Paul wrote 20 (or 21) of the 27-books of the NT and personally knew all the other NT writers. (Books not attributed to these three are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, James, and Jude. The authorship of Hebrews has long been disputed.)

Many Evangelical Christian groups (which have their origin in c. 1730 England) do not accept the theory that the Christian Bible was not known until various local and Ecumenical Councils, which they deem to be "Roman-dominated", made their official declarations.

Evangelical canons

Among confessions of faith drawn up by Protestants, several identify by name the 27-books of the New Testament canon, including the French Confession of Faith (1559), the Belgic Confession (1561), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) during the English Civil War. The Thirty-Nine Articles, issued by the Church of England in 1563, names the books of the Old Testament, but not the New Testament. None of the Confessional statements issued by any Lutheran church includes an explicit list of canonical books.

Protestant confessions

Luther did remove the deuterocanonical books from the Old Testament of his translation of the Bible, placing them in the "Apocrypha, that are books which are not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read".[109] Luther also struggled with the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, so did the rabbis at various times. To this writing he applied the test: "Does it urge Christ? Yes, because it tells the story of the survival of the people from whom Christ came."[110]

Martin Luther was troubled by four books, the Antilegomena: Jude, James, Hebrews, and Revelation; and though he placed them in a secondary position relative to the rest, he did not exclude them. He did propose removing them from the canon,[105][106] echoing the consensus of several Catholics, also labeled Christian Humanists — such as Cardinal Ximenez, Cardinal Cajetan, and Erasmus — and partially because they were perceived to go against certain Protestant doctrines such as sola gratia and sola fide, but this was not generally accepted among his followers. However, these books are ordered last in the German-language Luther Bible to this day.[107][108]

Martin Luther

It was not until the Protestant Reformers began to insist upon the supreme authority of Scripture alone (the doctrine of sola scriptura) that it became necessary to establish a definitive canon which would include a decision on the 'disputed books'.

Until the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had never officially drawn the boundaries of the biblical canon. Doing so had not been considered necessary because the authority of the Scriptures was not considered to be much higher than that of Sacred Tradition, papal bulls, and ecumenical councils. Rejecting these, Luther and other reformers focused on the Protestant doctrine of the Five solas.

Protestant developments (from c. 1517)

The "broader" Ethiopian New Testament canon includes four books of "Sinodos" (church practices), two "Books of Covenant", "Ethiopic Clement", and "Ethiopic Didascalia" (Apostolic Church-Ordinances). However, these books have never been printed or widely studied. This "broader" canon is also sometimes said to include, with the Old Testament, an eight-part history of the Jews based on the writings of Flavius Josephus, and known as "Pseudo-Josephus" or "Joseph ben Gurion" (Yosēf walda Koryon).[103][104]

The New Testament of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, includes the two Epistles of Clement.[102] The canon of the Tewahedo Churches is somewhat looser than for other traditional Christian groups, and the order, naming, and chapter/verse division of some of the books is also slightly different.

The Coptic Bible (adopted by the Egyptian Church) includes the two Epistles of Clement, and the Ethiopic Bible includes books nowhere else found: the Sinodos (a collection of prayers and instructions supposedly written by Clement of Rome), the Octateuch (a book supposedly written by Peter to Clement of Rome), the Book of the Covenant (in two parts, the first details rules of church order, the second relates instructions from Jesus to the disciples given between the resurrection and the ascension), and the Didascalia (with more rules of church order, similar to the Apostolic Constitutions).

East African canons

The Armenian Apostolic church at times has included the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in its Old Testament and the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, but does not always list it with the other 27 canonical New Testament books.

The Armenian Bible introduces one addition: a third letter to the Corinthians, also found in the Acts of Paul, which became canonized in the Armenian Church, but is not part of the Armenian Bible today. Revelation, however, was not accepted into the Armenian Bible until c. 1200 AD. when Archbishop Nerses arranged an Armenian Synod at Constantinople to introduce the text.[102] Still, there were unsuccessful attempts even as late as 1290 AD. to include in the Armenian canon several apocryphal books: Advice of the Mother of God to the Apostles, the Books of Criapos, and the ever-popular Epistle of Barnabas.

Armenian canon

The Syriac Peshitta, used by all the various Syrian Churches, originally did not include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation (and this canon of 22-books is the one cited by John Chrysostom (~347–407) and Theodoret (393–466) from the School of Antioch). It also includes Psalm 151 and Psalm 152–155 and 2 Baruch. Western Syrians have added the remaining 5 books to their NT canons in modern times (such as the Lee Peshitta of 1823). Today, the official lectionaries followed by the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, with headquarters at Kottayam (India), and the Chaldean Syrian Church, also known as the Church of the East (Nestorian), with headquarters at Trichur (India), still present lessons from only the 22-books of the original Peshitta.[101]

Gospels (4): Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Gal, Rom, Heb, Col, Eph, Phil, 1–2 Thess, 1–2 Tim, Titus, Phlm.

McDonald & Sanders 2002, lists the following Syrian catalogue of St. Catherine's, c.400:

The late-5th or early-6th century Peshitta of the Syrian Orthodox Church[101] includes a 22-book NT, excluding II Peter, II John, III John, Jude, and Revelation. The Lee Peshitta of 1823 follows the Protestant canon.

By the 5th century the Syrian Bible, called the Peshitta, was formalized, accepting Philemon, along with James, 1 Peter and 1 John, but excluding 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation. After the Council of Ephesus, the Church of the East became separated, and retained this canon of only 22-books (the Peshitta) up to the present day. The Syriac Orthodox Church uses this text as well (known in the West Syriac dialect as the Peshitto), but with the addition of the other books normally present in the New Testament canon.

For centuries the Diatessaron, along with Acts and the Pauline Epistles (except Philemon), comprised the only accepted books in the Syrian churches, meaning that Tatian's stricter views, resulting in the rejection in 1 Timothy, did not win out. Moreover, after the pronouncements of the 4th century on the proper content of the Bible, Tatian was declared a heretic and in the early 4th century Bishop Theodoretus of Cyrrhus and Bishop Rabbula of Edessa (both in Syria) rooted out all copies they could find of the Diatessaron and replaced them with the four canonical Gospels (M 215). As a result, no early copies of the Diatessaron survive—although a very early fragment suggests it would have been crucial evidence for the true state of the early Gospels (see IX).

Some believe that Acts was also used in Syrian churches alongside the Diatessaron,[100] however, Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 4.29.5 states: "They, indeed, use the Law and Prophets and Gospels, but interpret in their own way the utterances of the Sacred Scriptures. And they abuse Paul the apostle and reject his epistles, and do not accept even the Acts of the Apostles." In the 4th century, the Doctrine of Addai lists a 17-book NT canon using the Diatessaron and Acts and 15 Pauline epistles (including 3rd Corinthians). The Syriac Doctrine of Addai (c. 400 AD) claims to record the oldest traditions of the Syrian church, and among these is the establishment of a canon: members of the church are to read only the Gospel (meaning the Diatessaron of Tatian), the Epistles of Paul (which are said to have been sent by Peter, from Rome), and the Book of Acts (which is said to have been sent by John the son of Zebedee, from Ephesus), and nothing else.

Syriac Canon

Outside the Empire

The Eastern Churches had, in general, a weaker feeling than those in the West for the necessity of making a sharp delineation with regard to the canon. They were more conscious of the gradation of spiritual quality among the books that they accepted (e.g. the classification of Eusebius, see also Eastern Orthodox Church, whether in Byzantine or modern times. However, its canonical status is recognized,[97] and several books of the Hebrew Old Testament are also not included in the official Old Testament lectionary, the Prophetologion:[98] "Because the only exposure most Eastern Christians had to the Old Testament was from the readings during services, the Prophetologion can be called the Old Testament of the Byzantine Church."[99]

Eastern canons

McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix D-3, lists a canon for Cassiodorus of Rome, from his Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum, c. 551–62, which is notable for its omission of 2 Peter, 2–3 John, Jude and Hebrews.


By the turn of the 5th century, the Catholic Church in the West, under Pope Innocent I, recognized a biblical canon including the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which was previously established at a number of regional Synods, namely the Council of Rome (382), the Synod of Hippo (393), and two Synods of Carthage (397 and 419).[94] This canon, which corresponds to the modern Catholic canon, was used in the Vulgate, an early 5th-century translation of the Bible made by Jerome[2] under the commission of Pope Damasus I in 382.

Christian scholars assert that when these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church".[17][12][18]

This period marks the beginning of a more widely recognized canon, although the inclusion of some books was still debated: Epistle to Hebrews, James, 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation. Grounds for debate included the question of authorship of these books (note that the so-called Damasian "Council at Rome" had already rejected John the Apostle's authorship of 2 and 3 John, while retaining the books), their suitability for use (Revelation at that time was already being interpreted in a wide variety of heretical ways), and how widely they were actually being used (2 Peter being amongst the most weakly attested of all the books in the Christian canon).

Thus, from the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today),[19] and by the 5th century the East, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon, at least for the New Testament.[20]

A consensus emerges

In c. 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse,[90] identical with that of Trent,[91][92][93] except for some uncertainty in the manuscript tradition about whether the letters ascribed to Paul were 14 or only 13, in the latter case possibly implying omission of the Letter to the Hebrews.[90]

Pope Innocent I

The so-called Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis, is traditionally attributed to Gelasius, bishop of Rome 492–496 CE. However, upon the whole it is probably of South Gallic origin (6th century), but several parts can be traced back to Pope Damasus and reflect Roman tradition. The 2nd part is a canon catalogue, and the 5th part is a catalogue of the 'apocrypha' and other writings which are to be rejected. The canon catalogue gives all 27 books of the Catholic New Testament.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kings, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, Psalter of David, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Esdras, 2 books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 of him to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Jude, and the Apocalypse of John.

This list, given below, was purportedly endorsed by Pope Damasus I:

Pope Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West.[16] Pope Damasus I is often considered to be the father of the modern Catholic canon. Purporting to date from a "Council of Rome" under Pope Damasus I in 382, the so-called "Damasian list" appended to the pseudepigraphical Decretum Gelasianum[87] gives a list identical to what would be the Canon of Trent,[9] and, though the text may in fact not be Damasian, it is at least a valuable 6th century compilation.[88][89]

Pope Damasus I

The first council that accepted the present canon of the books of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. Revelation was added to the list in 419.[11] These councils were convened under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.[12][13][14]

Augustine effectively forced his opinion on the Church by commanding three synods on canonicity: the Synod of Hippo in 393, the Synod of Carthage in 397, and another in Carthage in 419 AD (M 237-8). Each of these reiterated the same Church law: "nothing shall be read in church under the name of the divine scriptures" except the Old Testament (including the Deuterocanonicals) and the 27 canonical books of the New Testament. Incidentally, these decrees also declared by fiat that Epistle to the Hebrews was written by Paul, for a time ending all debate on the subject.

Augustine of Hippo declared that one is to "prefer those that are received by all Catholic Churches to those which some of them do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority." (On Christian Doctrines 2.12, chapter 8).[86]

Augustine and the North African canons

"Lord's Four": Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Paul's Epistles (14), 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, Jude, James, Acts, Rev.

McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix D-2, lists the following New Testament canon for Jerome, (c.394), from his Epistle 53:


Bishop Amphilochius of Iconium, in his poem Iambics for Seleucus[84] written some time after 394, discusses debate over the canonical inclusion of a number of books, and almost certainly rejects the later Epistles of Peter and John, Jude, and Revelation.[85]

Amphilochius of Iconium

In the late 380s, Gregory of Nazianzus produced a canon[83] in verse which agreed with that of his contemporary Athanasius, other than placing the "Catholic Epistles" after the Pauline Epistles and omitting Revelation. This list was ratified by the Synod of Trullo of 692.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Some later Coptic and Arabic translations add Revelation.

Canon 85. Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by all of you, both clergy and laity. [A list of books of the Old Testament ...] And our sacred books, that is, of the New Testament, are the four Gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter; three of John; one of James; one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you, the bishops, by me, Clement, in eight books, which is not appropriate to make public before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us, the Apostles.—(From the Latin version.)

In c. 380, the redactor of the Apostolic Constitutions attributed a canon to the Twelve Apostles themselves[82] as the 85th of his list of such apostolic decrees:

Apostolic Canon #85

Gospels (4), Paul's epistles (13), Acts, James, Peter, 1–3 John, Jude, Rev, Wisdom, Sirach

,[81] lists the following canon for Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 374–77), from his Panarion 76.5:


The Synod of Laodicea, c. 363, was one of the first synods that set out to judge which books were to be read aloud in churches. The decrees issued by the thirty or so clerics attending were called canons. Canon 59 decreed that only canonical books should be read, but no list was appended in the Latin and Syriac manuscripts recording the decrees. The list of canonical books, Canon 60,[80] sometimes attributed to the Synod of Laodicea is a later addition according to most scholars and has a 22-book OT and 26-book NT (excludes Revelation).

Synod of Laodicea

It has a 24-book Old Testament[79] and 24-book New Testament which provides syllable and line counts but omits Hebrews, Jude and James, and seems to question the epistles of John and Peter beyond the first.

The Cheltenham Canon,[77][78] c. 365–90, is a Latin list discovered by the German classical scholar Theodor Mommsen (published 1886) in a 10th-century manuscript (chiefly patristic) belonging to the library of Thomas Phillips at Cheltenham, England. The list probably originated in North Africa soon after the middle of the 4th century.

Cheltenham/Mommsen Canon

In his Easter letter of 367,[75] Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the 27-book NT canon,[9] and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them.[76] He also listed a 22-book OT and 7 books not in the canon but to be read: Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, Didache, and the Shepherd. This list is very similar to the modern Protestant canon (WCF); the only differences are his exclusion of Esther and his inclusion of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah as part of Jeremiah.


Gospels (4), Acts, James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, Jude?, Paul's epistles (14), and Gospel of Thomas listed as pseudepigrapha.

McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix D-2, notes the following canon of Cyril of Jerusalem (c.350) from his Catechetical Lectures 4.36:

Cyril of Jerusalem

In 331, Constantine I commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apol. Const. 4) recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constans. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus may be examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles.[73] There is no evidence among the canons of the First Council of Nicaea of any determination on the canon, however, Jerome (347–420), in his Prologue to Judith, makes the claim that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures".[74]

Constantine the Great

Zahn and Harnack were of the opinion that the list had been draw up originally in Greek at Alexandria or its neighborhood ~300 CE. According to Jülicher the list belongs to the 4th century and is probably of western origin.

The Codex Claromontanus canon,[71] c. 303–67,[72] a page found inserted into a 6th-century copy of the Epistles of Paul and Hebrews, has the Old Testament, plus Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, 1–2,4 Maccabees, and the New Testament, plus 3rd Corinthians, Acts of Paul, Apocalypse of Peter, Barnabas, and Hermas, but missing Philippians, 1–2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews.

Claromontanus Canon

The Apocalypse of John, also called Revelation, is counted as both accepted (Kirsopp. Lake translation: "Recognized") and disputed, which has caused some confusion over what exactly Eusebius meant by doing so. From other writings of the Church Fathers, we know that it was disputed with several canon lists rejecting its canonicity; see also Pamphili c. 330, 6.25.3–14, attributed to Origen[69] and Pamphili c. 330, 3.24.17–18.[70] Pamphili c. 330, 3.3.5 adds further detail on Paul: "Paul's fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the Church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul." Pamphili c. 330, 4.29.6 mentions the Diatessaron: "But their original founder, Tatian, formed a certain combination and collection of the Gospels, I know not how, to which he gave the title Diatessaron, and which is still in the hands of some. But they say that he ventured to paraphrase certain words of the apostle [Paul], in order to improve their style."

1. […] it is proper to sum up the writings of the New Testament which have been already mentioned. First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles... the epistles of Paul... the epistle of John... the epistle of Peter... After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings [Homologoumena]. 3. Among the disputed writings [Antilegomena], which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. 4. Among the rejected [Kirsopp. Lake translation: "not genuine"] writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. 5. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews... And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books... such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles ... they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious.



Period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787)

Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 6.25 says Origen (d. 253/4) accepted 22 canonical books of the Hebrews plus Maccabees plus the four Gospels but Paul "did not so much as write to all the churches that he taught; and even to those to which he wrote he sent but a few lines."[44]


There were those who rejected the Gospel of John (and possibly also Revelation and the Epistles of John) as either not apostolic or as written by the Gnostic Cerinthus or as not compatible with the Synoptic Gospels. Epiphanius of Salamis called these people the Alogi, because they rejected the Logos doctrine of John and because he claimed they were illogical. There may have also been a dispute over the doctrine of the Paraclete.[64][65] Gaius or Caius, presbyter of Rome (early 200s), was apparently associated with this movement.[66]

The Alogi

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) made use of an open canon. He seemed "practically unconcerned about canonicity. To him, inspiration is what mattered."[63] In addition to books that did not make it into the final 27-book NT but which had local canonicity (Barnabas, Didache, I Clement, Revelation of Peter, the Shepherd, the Gospel according to the Hebrews), he also used the Gospel of the Egyptians, Preaching of Peter, Traditions of Matthias, Sibylline Oracles, and the Oral Gospel. He did, however, prefer the four church gospels to all others, although he supplemented them freely with apocryphal gospels. He was the first to treat non-Pauline letters of the apostles (other than II Peter) as scripture-he accepted I Peter, I and II John, and Jude as scripture.

Clement of Alexandria

This is evidence that, perhaps as early as 200, there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the 27-book NT, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them.[7] Also in the early 200s it is claimed Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) was using the same 27 books as in the Catholic NT canon, though there were still lingering disputes over Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and Revelation.[6] A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 160, who refers to it directly.[4][36] He argued that it was illogical to reject Acts of the Apostles but accept the Gospel of Luke, as both were from the same author.[59] Marcion's canon did not include Acts, so perhaps he rejected it. It is unknown when Luke-Acts was separated. In Against Heresies 3.12.12[60] Irenaeus ridiculed those who think they are wiser than the Apostles because the Apostles were still under Jewish influence. This was crucial to refuting Marcion's anti-Judaism, as Acts gives honor to James, Peter, John and Paul alike. At the time, Jewish Christians tended to honor James (a prominent Christian in Jerusalem described in the New Testament as an "apostle" and "pillar",[61] and by Eusebius and other church historians as the first Bishop of Jerusalem) but not Paul, while Pauline Christianity tended to honor Paul more than James. The Tübingen school of historians founded by F. C. Baur holds that in Early Christianity, there was conflict between Pauline Christianity and the Jerusalem Church led by James the Just, Simon Peter, and John the Apostle, the so-called "Jewish Christians" or "Pillars of the Church" although in many places Paul writes that he was an observant Jew, and that Christians should "uphold the Law" ( Romans 3:31).[62]

The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke... The fourth... is that of John... the acts of all the apostles... As for the Epistles of Paul... 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... once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians... one to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy... to the Wisdom... 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... And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church.
—pages 305–7

The Muratorian canon[46] is the earliest known example of a canon list of mostly New Testament books.[47] It survives, damaged and thus incomplete, as a bad Latin translation of an original, no longer extant, Greek text that is usually dated in the late 2nd century,[48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55] although a few scholars have preferred a 4th-century date.[56][57][58] This is an excerpt from Metzger's translation:

Muratorian canon

Marcion may have been the first to have a clearly defined New Testament canon, though this question of who came first is still debated.[45] The compilation of this canon could have been a challenge and incentive to emerging Proto-orthodoxy; if they wished to deny that Marcion's canon was the true one, it was incumbent on them to define what the true one was. The expansion phase of the New Testament canon thus could have begun in response to Marcion's proposed limited canon.

Between 140 and 220, both internal and external forces caused Proto-orthodox Christianity to begin to systematize both its doctrines and its view of revelation. Much of the systemization came about as a defense against the diverse Early Christian viewpoints that competed with emerging Proto-Orthodoxy. The early years of this period witnessed the rise of several strong movements of faith later deemed heretical by the church in Rome: Marcionism, Gnosticism and Montanism.

In the late 4th century Epiphanius of Salamis (died 402) Panarion 29 says the Nazarenes had rejected the Pauline epistles and Irenaeus Against Heresies 26.2 says the Ebionites rejected him. Acts 21:21 records a rumor that Paul aimed to subvert the Old Testament (against this rumor see Romans 3:8, 3:31). 2 Peter 3:16 says his letters have been abused by heretics who twist them around "as they do with the other scriptures." In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 6.38 says the Elchasai "made use of texts from every part of the Old Testament and the Gospels; it rejects the Apostle (Paul) entirely"; 4.29.5 says Tatian the Assyrian rejected Paul's Letters and Acts of the Apostles; 6.25 says Origen accepted 22 canonical books of the Hebrews plus Maccabees plus the four Gospels but Paul "did not so much as write to all the churches that he taught; and even to those to which he wrote he sent but a few lines."[44]

Early proto-Orthodox definition attempts

Tatian was converted to Christianity by Justin Martyr on a visit to Rome around 150 AD and, after much instruction, returned to Syria in 172 to reform the church there. At some point (it is suggested c. 160 AD) he composed a single harmonized "Gospel" by weaving the contents of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together along with events present in none of these texts. The narrative mainly follows the chronology of John. This is called the Diatessaron ("(Harmony) Through Four") and it became the official Gospel text of the Syraic church, centered in Edessa.


He does think that the letter to the Corinthians, known now as 1 Clement, was of great worth but does not seem to believe that Clement of Rome was the one author (Book 3, Chapter 3, Verse 3) and seems to have the same lower status as Polycarp's Epistle (Book 3, Chapter 3, Verse 3). He does refer to a passage in the Shepherd of Hermas as scripture (Mandate 1 or First Commandment), but this has some consistency problems on his part. Hermas taught that Jesus was not himself a divine being, but a virtuous man who was subsequently filled with the Holy Spirit and adopted as the Son[42][43] (a doctrine called adoptionism). But Irenaeus's own work, including his citing of the Gospel of John (Jn. 1:1), indicates that he himself believed that Jesus was always God.

Irenaeus apparently quotes from 21 of the New Testament books and names the author he thought wrote the text.[39] He mentions the four gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles with the exception of Hebrews and Philemon, as well as the first epistle of Peter, and the first and second epistles of John, and the book of Revelation.[3] He may refer to Hebrews (Book 2, Chapter 30) and James (Book 4, Chapter 16) and maybe even 2 Peter (Book 5, Chapter 28) but does not cite Philemon, 3 John or Jude.[40][41]

Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Rev, 1 John, 1 Peter, Hermas, Wisdom, Paul (mentioned but epistles not listed)

McDonald & Sanders 2002, Appendix D-1, lists the following canon for Irenaeus, based on Eusebius' Church History 5.8.2–8, but notes that: " is probably nothing more than Eusebius's listing of the references made by Irenaeus.":

Based on the arguments Irenaeus made in support of only four authentic gospels, some interpreters deduce that the fourfold Gospel must have still been a novelty in Irenaeus's time.[37] Against Heresies 3.11.7 acknowledges that many heterodox Christians use only one gospel while 3.11.9 acknowledges that some use more than four.[38] The success of Tatian's Diatessaron in about the same time period is "...a powerful indication that the fourfold Gospel contemporaneously sponsored by Irenaeus was not broadly, let alone universally, recognized."[38]

A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus, c. 160, who referred to it directly.[4][36] An insistence upon there being a canon of four gospels, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185. In his central work, Adversus Haereses Irenaeus denounced various early Christian groups that used only one gospel, such as Marcionism which used only Marcion's version of Luke, or the Ebionites which seem to have used an Aramaic version of Matthew, as well as groups that used more than four gospels, such as the Valentinians (A.H. 1.11). Irenaeus declared that the four he espoused were the four "Pillars of the Church": "it is not possible that there can be either more or fewer than four" he stated, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds (3.11.8). His image, taken from Ezekiel 1, or Revelation 4:6–10, of God's throne borne by four creatures with four faces—"the four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and the four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle"—equivalent to the "four-formed" gospel, is the origin of the conventional symbols of the Evangelists: bull (Mark), man (Luke), eagle (John), lion (Matthew). Irenaeus was ultimately successful in declaring that the four gospels collectively, and exclusively these four, contained the truth. By reading each gospel in light of the others, Irenaeus made of John a lens through which to read Matthew, Mark and Luke.


When Jesus went down in the water, fire was kindled in the Jordan; and when he came up from the water, the Holy Spirit came upon him. The apostles of our Christ wrote this.[35]

In addition, he refers to an account from an unnamed source of the baptism of Jesus which differs from that provided by the synoptic gospels:

In the mid-2nd century, Justin Martyr (whose writings span the period from c. 145 to 163) mentions the "memoirs of the apostles", which Christians called "gospels" and which were regarded as on par with the Old Testament.[3][31][32] Scholars are divided on whether there is any evidence that Justin included the Gospel of John among the "memoirs of the apostles", or whether, on the contrary, he based his doctrine of the Logos on it.[33][34] In Justin's works, distinct references are found to Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, and possible ones to Philippians, Titus, and 1 Timothy.

Justin Martyr

But the first collector of the Pauline Epistles had been Marcion. No one else we know of would be a good candidate, certainly not the essentially fictive Luke, Timothy, and Onesimus. And Marcion, as Burkitt and Bauer show, fills the bill perfectly.[30]

Robert M. Price argues that the evidence that the early church fathers, such as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp ("much too blithely taken for genuine early second-century writings"), knew of the Pauline epistles is unclear, and concludes that Marcion was the first person to collect Paul's writings to various churches and to treat ten Pauline letters, some of them Marcion's own compositions, together with an earlier version of Luke (not the Gospel of Luke as now known), as a canon:

Other scholars propose that it was Melito of Sardis who originally coined the phrase Old Testament,[29] which is associated with Supersessionism.

[Wolfram] Kinzig suggests that it was Marcion who usually called his Bible testamentum [Latin for testament].

Note 61 of page 308 adds:

Since Marcion separated the New Testament from the Old, he is necessarily subsequent to that which he separated, inasmuch as it was only in his power to separate what was previously united. Having been united previous to its separation, the fact of its subsequent separation proves the subsequence also of the man who effected the separation.

Ferguson 2002 quotes Tertullian's De praescriptione haereticorum 30:

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 characterized Marcion as "perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known."

A modern divine... could not refuse to discuss the question raised by Marcion, whether there is such opposition between different parts of what he regards as the word of God, that all cannot come from the same author.[28]

Marcion's canon and theology were rejected as heretical by the early church; however, he forced other Christians to consider which texts were canonical and why. He spread his beliefs widely; they became known as Marcionism. In the introduction to his book "Early Christian Writings", Henry Wace stated:

In addition to his Gospel and Apostolikon, he wrote a text called the Antithesis which contrasted the New Testament view of God and morality with the Old Testament view of God and morality, see also Expounding of the Law#Antithesis of the Law.

Marcion termed his collection of Pauline epistles the Apostolikon. These also differed from the versions accepted by later Christian Orthodoxy.

Marcion's gospel, called simply the Gospel of the Lord, differed from the Gospel of Luke by lacking any passages that connected Jesus with the Old Testament. He believed that the god of Israel, who gave the Torah to the Israelites, was an entirely different god from the Supreme God who sent Jesus and inspired the New Testament.

Marcion created a canon, a definite group of books which he regarded as fully authoritative, displacing all others. These comprised ten of the Pauline epistles (without the Pastorals) and Luke's Gospel. It is uncertain whether he edited these books, purging them of what did not accord with his views, or that his versions represented a separate textual tradition.[2]

Marcion rejected the theology of the Old Testament entirely and regarded the God depicted there as an inferior Being. He claimed that the theology of the Old Testament was incompatible with the teaching of Jesus regarding God and morality. Marcion believed that Jesus had come to liberate mankind from the authority of the God of the Old Testament and to reveal the superior God of goodness and mercy whom he called the Father. Paul and Luke were the only Christian authors to find favour with Marcion, though his versions of these differed from those later accepted by mainstream Christianity.

Marcion of Sinope, a bishop of Asia Minor who went to Rome and was later excommunicated for his views, was the first of record to propose a definitive, exclusive, unique canon of Christian scriptures, compiled sometime between 130–40 CE.[23] (Though Ignatius did address Christian scripture,[24] before Marcion, against the perceived heresies of the Judaizers and Docetists, he did not publish a canon.) In his book Origin of the New Testament[25] Adolf von Harnack argued that Marcion viewed the church at this time as largely an Old Testament church (one that "follows the Testament of the Creator-God") without a firmly established New Testament canon, and that the church gradually formulated its New Testament canon in response to the challenge posed by Marcion.

Marcion of Sinope

The reference to, presumably the Septuagint, as the "other" Scripture denotes that the author of 2 Peter regarded, at least, the works of Paul that had been written by his time as Scripture. This becomes our earliest reference to the Pauline Epistles as Scripture. Chester and Martin date 2 Peter to c. 100–150 AD.[22]

He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.[21]

Within the New Testament itself, there is reference to at least some of the works of Paul as Scripture. 2 Peter 3:16 says:

2 Peter

Clement... makes occasional reference to certain words of Jesus; though they are authoritative for him, he does not appear to enquire how their authenticity is ensured. In two of the three instances that he speaks of remembering 'the words' of Christ or of the Lord Jesus, it seems that he has a written record in mind, but he does not call it a 'gospel'. He knows several of Paul's epistles, and values them highly for their content; the same can be said of the Epistle to the Hebrews, with which he is well acquainted. Although these writings obviously possess for Clement considerable significance, he never refers to them as authoritative 'Scripture'.
—page 43

By the end of the 1st century, some letters of Paul were known to Clement of Rome (fl. 96), together with some form of the "words of Jesus"; but while Clement valued these highly, he did not regard them as "Scripture" ("graphe"), a term he reserved for the Septuagint. Metzger 1987 draws the following conclusion about Clement:

Clement of Rome

In the one-hundred-year period extending roughly from AD 50 to 150 a number of documents began to circulate among the churches, including epistles, gospels, memoirs, apocalypses, homilies, and collections of teachings. While some of these documents were apostolic in origin, others drew upon the tradition the apostles and ministers of the word had utilized in their individual missions. Still others represented a summation of the teaching entrusted to a particular church center. Several of these writings sought to extend, interpret, and apply apostolic teaching to meet the needs of Christians in a given locality.

Early Christianity (c. 30–325)


  • Early Christianity (c. 30–325) 1
    • Clement of Rome 1.1
    • 2 Peter 1.2
    • Marcion of Sinope 1.3
    • Justin Martyr 1.4
    • Irenaeus 1.5
    • Tatian 1.6
    • Early proto-Orthodox definition attempts 1.7
    • Muratorian canon 1.8
    • Clement of Alexandria 1.9
    • The Alogi 1.10
    • Origen 1.11
  • Period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787) 2
    • Eusebius 2.1
    • Claromontanus Canon 2.2
    • Constantine the Great 2.3
    • Cyril of Jerusalem 2.4
    • Athanasius 2.5
    • Cheltenham/Mommsen Canon 2.6
    • Synod of Laodicea 2.7
    • Epiphanius 2.8
    • Apostolic Canon #85 2.9
    • Gregory of Nazianzus 2.10
    • Amphilochius of Iconium 2.11
    • Jerome 2.12
    • Augustine and the North African canons 2.13
    • Pope Damasus I 2.14
    • Pope Innocent I 2.15
    • A consensus emerges 2.16
    • Cassiodorus 2.17
    • Eastern canons 2.18
  • Outside the Empire 3
    • Syriac Canon 3.1
    • Armenian canon 3.2
    • East African canons 3.3
  • Protestant developments (from c. 1517) 4
    • Martin Luther 4.1
    • Protestant confessions 4.2
    • Evangelical canons 4.3
  • Catholic developments (from c. 1546) 5
    • Council of Trent 5.1
    • Later developments 5.2
  • Orthodox developments (from c. 1672) 6
    • Synod of Jerusalem 6.1
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10


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