Why Are There 27 Books In The New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.

One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.

Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.

Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.

The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.

Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.

Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).

 

References

Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

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Different Canons

In Judaism and Christianity it may surprise a new believer that there are different Bibles out there.  Though they may have seen multiple translations they may not have seen different canons.  These canons are the Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Bibles.  While there is much content overlapping there are some difference which are still a matter of contention among Christians.

The Jewish Bible is known as the Tanakh.  It contains the writings of the Old Testament, but they are listed as twenty four books.  They are arranged as books of the Law, books of the prophets, and books of writings.  Though many other writings are used by our Jewish Brethren, such as Talmud, these are the ones considered canonical.  Unlike its Orthodox and Catholic counterpart it was written in only Hebrew. It does not include the New Testament.

The Orthodox Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.  It contains the same books as the Hebrew Bible but includes the deuterocanonical books, Psalms 151, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 and 2 Esdras, and 3 and 4 Maccabees.  It also includes the New Testament among which Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all include in their canon.

The Catholic Bible was also written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  It also includes the deuterocanonical books, or Apocrypha, but does not include Psalms 151, 1 and 2 Esdras, and 3 and 4 Maccabees.  As stated above it also includes the New Testament.  The Old Testament is composed of forty six books.

The Protestant Bible was written in Hebrew and its Old Testament matches that of the Jewish Bible.  It also includes the New Testament as do Catholics, and Orthodox.  However Protestants do not recognize the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books and call the Apocrypha.

There are many similarities among the groups.  Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants all have the Jewish Bible in their canon.  The major difference between the three is that Orthodox and Catholics include the deuterocanonical books.  Our Orthodox brethren also include other books which Catholics do not recognize.  Among the three groups the same books of the New Testament are recognized.

Why 27 Books of the New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.
One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.
Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.
Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.
The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.
Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.
Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).
References
Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Meaning of "Canon"

 

The term canon comes from the Greek word kanon which means rule [1].  Some may say that it is a measuring stick because by the canon is how we get our doctrine.  It is through the canon that we not only get our doctrine, but the rules and norms on how Christians should conduct their lives [2].  The canon that we have today consists of the 66 books of the Bible and is the supreme authority of our faith and was written over a period of over 1,500 years.  Through the canon God chose almost every mode of communication to get his message across [3].  The books included in the canon are authoritative and inspired by God and are profitable for the study of the faith [4].

The books of the New Testament were still being written during the rapid expansion of the early church.  From AD 49-95, the New Testament scriptures were being produced and copies were most likely not keeping up with the new conversions [5].  By AD 100 the four Gospels had gained universal acceptance, as did Acts, the epistles of Paul, but others such as Revelation, Hebrews, and 2 and 3 John, were only partially accepted as they were written later in the century.  The early church needed to establish an authoritative canon to combat the other heretical writing that were out there confusing Christians.  The gnostics were prolific writers who were using the names of the Apostles to con people into reading their material.  Marcion also published his “canon” which contained very little of the New Testament we see today.  The early church saw the need for the canon, and had to act to protect the flock. To determine the canonicity of a book the early church used the following three principles:  apostlicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity (universal) [6].  All of the writings of the New Testament had an apostolic connection.  They may not have been written by the Apostles themselves, but they had a close connection with them.  The books themselves lined up with the shared theology, or orthodoxy, or the rest of the Christian world [7].  Thirdly the books had been very useful for the churches since the earliest Christians.

In my opinion the most important criteria of canonicity is the apostolic connection.  Using this element we connect ourselves with the first followers of Christ, and those whom He gave the Great Commission to.  They saw Jesus, lived with him, or had personal encounters with him that they could write down.  These earliest Christians allow us to read about the faith from its infancy without development of traditions.  If it does not have an apostolic connection there is a possibility that it is not orthodox, and it most likely will not be accepted by the worldwide church.  That lack of acceptance would make it fail the catholicity test.  The least important element in my opinion is that of catholicity.  In the beginning some books of the New Testament were not accepted universally.  Revelation and Hebrews are good examples of this.  They were accepted in some parts of the world and rejected in others.  Yet they are still believed to have an Apostolic affiliation, with the exception of Hebrews, and came to be accepted.  I believe this third criteria is dependent on the other two and thus the least important.

What should we say to someone who thinks the canon is open?  In a loving way the three principles of canonicty and what the early church did would have to be discussed.  The three criteria for something to be included in the canon has no way of being met.  The work will not have an apostolic connection for the simple reason that the apostles died long ago.  If they do not have that apostolic connection then they would not meet the orthodoxy requirement.  Thirdly the new revelation would not be accepted by the universal church, and because of that it would fail the catholicity test.

This post is not intended to be an exhaustive summary of the meaning of the canon (After all it isn’t even 1,000 words), but a brief summary.  This is becoming a very important theological topic as many groups are now calling the canon into question.  May we be diligent in doing our research and growing in our understanding of the Christian faith.

Footnotes

1.  William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 114.

2.  J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 446.

3.  Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 22.

4.  Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 446.

5.  Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 448.

6.  Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 115.

7.  Ibid, 116.

Bibliography

1.  Duvall, Scott J. and Hays, J. Daniels, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

2,  Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

3.  Klein, William W., Blomberg, Craig L., Hubbard Jr. ,  Robert L., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004

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