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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Seek Unity

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the Evil One.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.
Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”-John 17:11b-19

Today’s Gospel reading from the mass is very interesting.  This is what is known as the high priestly prayer of Christ, and it happens before he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prays that the disciples may be unified as Christ was in unity with the rest of the Trinity.  However Christianity is anything but united today.  The Protestant reformation ripped the church apart, and the division has not stopped since.  So what are we to do?

Christ consecrated the disciples, and steadfastness to the truth is what we are called to.  Speak, listen , and inform.  There are a lot of misunderstandings about the Catholic church, and we have the obligation to speak the truth.  In a loving manner lets address the concerns of our Protestant brethren, and in turn lets listen to what they have to say.  It will be frustrating at times, but they love Christ as well and we need to remember that.  We are not of this world and we don’t write off people because they believe differently than we do.  Christ wants unity, and that was one of his last prayers.  How are we bridging the divide?  Let’s address the questions of our Protestant brethren.  Not all of us are comfortable speaking, but if they are sincere about learning the truth they should be ok with getting a link or book.  Remain steadfast in the truth of the faith.

Quote

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup for the unity of his blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the elders and deacons [lit. servants], my fellow-servants.-St. Ignatius of Antioch

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