Globally, Christians refer to the canon of the New Testament as a set of books that constitute the New Testament of the Holy Christian Bible. Christians believe that the authors of these books of the Holy Bible were divinely inspired. The set of books of the canon of the New Testament are believed to have been written in the first century. It is agreed among Christians that the list of these books sum up to twenty seven books which constitute of the canonical gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and revelation. Basically, the identification of these books as authoritative was solemnized in the second council of Trullan of 692. Later in the mid 300’s, it was accepted globally. Despite the conclusive information regarding the date and origin of each book of the New Testament, Christians are yet to understand the origin of the New Testament itself as a collection. There are various questions that Christians would ask about the books of the New Testament such as who collected the writings, and based on what principles, what circumstances forced the fixing of the canon books.
Based on the notable Christian belief, the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of these canon books. Moreover, He also controlled the selection and collection of these writings to make the New Testament. Christians believe that the writing of the canon of the New Testament has been meant to proceed with the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to guide His disciples into all truth. Actually, this can solely be discerned through spiritual insight and not through historical research. In the books of canon, the only identified authority is Jesus Christ. They commonly recorded everything that Jesus did and taught among the Jews and the Gentiles.
Basically, the motive to find canonical books was developed by the need to disprove the heretics. Therefore, the anti-heretic and other rhetoric aspects manipulated the selection and editing of the books. The earliest set of New Testament books which many Christians have clear knowledge was brought up at Rome by the heretic Marcion in 140. Marcion differentiated the God of the Old Testament, considered as an inferior creator from the God and Father portrayed in Jesus Christ. He believed that Christians should discard everything that appertained to the creator, God of the Old Testament. Therefore, this involved rejecting the Old Testament and segments in the New Testament that seemed to embrace Judaism. Basically, Marcion’s canon involved two parts which included a censored edition of the third Gospel and ten of the Pauline epistles. However, Marcion’s canon list of writings does not reflect the present verdict of the church but a deliberate deviation from it.
Nevertheless, there was another early canon list that is dated in the second century. It is referred to as the Muratorian Fragment that was named after an individual known as Cardinal Muratori. The canon list clearly stated Matthew and Mark, and mentioned Mark as the third gospel. Still, the list mentioned Paul’s nine letters to churches and four to persons (Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus), John, Acts, the two Epistles of John, Jude, and the apocalypse of John and Peter. The initial steps in the creation of canon authoritative books which formed the Holy Bible of our Lord and His apostles seem to have been taken in the second century. During this period, there was clear circulation of two anthologies of Christian books in the church. During the early period, it is clear that the four gospels were integrated in one collection. It is believed that they were brought together after the edition of the Gospel according to John.
Actually, the collection of the four writings was primarily referred to as The Gospel. The Gospel was recounted in four records and was renowned as according to Matthew, according to Mark. The gospel was referred to as an authoritative writing which portrayed the fourfold collection. Basically, after the four gospels were collected together in a single volume, the two segments of Luke’s history were partitioned. Therefore, Luke and Acts were partitioned and one or two alterations were fixed into the writing at the end of Luke and beginning of Acts.
The Paulin Epistles
The discrepancies which may have been identified in the accounts of the ascension in both Luke and Acts are mostly as a result of the changes made when the two writings were portioned from each other. The writing of Acts inherently related the authority and prestige of the third gospel and was perceived as a canonical by everyone but Marcion. Generally, it was the work of the same author. Actually, the writing of Acts took a vital position in the New Testament canon. It was perceived as important in the New Testament because it connects the Gospels with the Epistles. The writing also through the record of the call, conversation, and missionary activity of Paul clearly illustrated how authentically an apostolic authority lay behind the Pauline Epistles.
The collection of Paul’s writing was actually referred to as corpus paulinum. These writings are believed to have been brought together during the same period as the gathering of the fourfold gospel. The Pauline collection had letters such as that distinguished as To the Romans, First to the Corinthians. Later, the writing of Hebrews was fixed to the Pauline writings while the book of Acts as an issue of convenience was fixed to the general epistles which included Peter, James, John and Jude. The writings which appear at the end of the New Testament, gained doubt among people towards the end of the middle of the second century. According to Origen (185-254), the four gospels, the Acts, 1 peter, 1 John, the thirteen Paulines, and Revelation were accepted by everyone.
However, writings such as Hebrews, 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, James and Jude, the Epistle of Barnabas were disproved by some individuals. On the other hand, Athanasius (367) states the twenty seven books of the New Testament solely as canonical. Later, people continually embraced all the twenty-seven books as canon of the New Testament.
Basically, it was very vital for the church to recognize exactly which writings were divinely authoritative. These gospels recorded all the teachings and activities of Jesus. It was also significant to establish the writings which could be employed for the development of Christian doctrine, and those that could most confidently be appealed to in conflicts with heretics. In an instance, if Marcion brought up his canon, it was important for the churches to exactly realize the real canon. There were other issues that demanded an elaborate definition of these writings that possessed divine authority. It had to be decided which books could be used in church services. People figured that certain books could be read in the church services but they could not efficiently settle doctrine questions.
Still, it was important to realize which books could and could not be handed over on requirement to the imperial police during persecution without bearing the guilt of sacrilege. Categorically, the New Testament writings did not turn out to be authoritative for the church since they were formally added in a canonical list. These books were, actually, added by the church in the canon because people perceived them as divinely inspired. As earlier stated, this meant that the authors of these books were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Christians identified their inherent value and general apostolic authority. The primary ecclesiastical councils to categorize the canonical writings were both held in North Africa. Basically, these councils did not enforce anything new to the Christian communities. They codified what was already the usual practice of the communities.
Generally, there are numerous theological questions emerging regarding the history of the canon. In order to illustrate that the church made the correct choice, one needs to compare the writings of the New Testament with the different previous documents such as those gathered by M.R. James in his Apocryhal New Testament, and the writings of the apostolic fathers. It is easy to identify the superiority of the New Testament in comparison to these documents. Basically, the Gospel is perceived as the pillar of the church and the breath of life. It is obvious that the Word, the architect of all things, having been illustrated t to people, has granted us the Gospel in fourfold form, though held as one by one Spirit.
- Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.
- Farmer, William Reuben, Denis M. Farkasfalvy, and Harold W. Attridge. The Formation of the New Testament Canon: An Ecumenical Approach. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.
- Metzger, Bruce Manning. The Canon of the New Testament Its Origin, Development and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.