The canon of the Bible: What books did the apostolic fathers and apologists quote?

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  1. "he [Graham N. Stanton, The Fourfold Gospel, p 322] points to a significant passage, often ignored in the literature, which shows that Justin must have reckoned with at least four gospels. In Dialogue 103.8 he refers to "memoirs" composed by Jesus' apostles and by those who followed them." As noted above, this remark corresponds to the evidence that the early church thought that two gospels were written by apostles (Matthew and John), and two by followers of apostles (Mark as the interpreter of Peter, as per the Papias fragment, and Luke as the companion of Paul). Stanton also argues that 1 Apol. 61.4 and Dial. 88.7 show that, apart from the Synoptics, Justin also knew John's Gospel, because the former draws on John 3:3-5 and the latter on John l:19-20. (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, Editors: The Canon Debate; Peter Balla, Evidence for an Early Christian Canon: Second and Third Century, p 380, 2002)
  2. The first author who clearly asserts that the church has no more and no less than four authoritative gospels is Irenaeus. (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, Editors: The Canon Debate; Peter Balla, Evidence for an Early Christian Canon: Second and Third Century, p 380, 2002)
  3. Graham Stanton has rightly argued that it is a good method to point to the source that is most explicit, and "to work back from the full flowering of a concept or a development to its earlier roots." If we find no sign of a major change in the view of the great church reflected in the previous sources, it can be argued that the situation clearly expressed around 180 C.E. by Irenaeus applies to earlier decades as well. Irenaeus employs analogies from both nature and scripture (e.g., the four winds and the four-faced cherubim of Ezek l; Haer. 3.11.8) to show that the church has to have no more and no less than four gospels. Additionally, "he reckons to `scripture' . . . Acts and the thirteen letters of Paul. 1 Peter and the two Johannine letters (l and 2) are appraised like the Pauline letters, while James and Hebrews are probably not so highly esteemed" (see, e.g., Haer. l.9.4; 2.26.l-2; 3.l.1). (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, Editors: The Canon Debate; Peter Balla, Evidence for an Early Christian Canon: Second and Third Century, p 380, 2002)

 

Which books did the apostolic fathers refer to? 

Book

Clement
of Rome

Justin
Martyr

Polycarp

Didache

Papias

Barnabas

Hermas

 Book

Aristides

Muratorian
Fragment

Athenagoras

Lyons

Clement
of
Alexandria

Irenaeus

Book

Hippolytus

Tertullian

Tatian

Theophilus

Origen

Cyprian

Ignatius

Eusebius

 Book

Date
AD

95

100

110

125

130

140

150

Date
AD

175

175

177

177

180

180

Date
AD

200

200

200

200

230

250

250

275

Date
AD

Mt

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Mt

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Mt

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Mt

Mk

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Mk

 

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Mk

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Mk

Lk

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Lk

 

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Lk

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Lk

Jn

 

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Jn

 

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Jn

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Jn

Act

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Act

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Act

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Act

Rom

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Rom

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Rom

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Rom

1Co

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1Co

 

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1Co

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1Co

2Co

 

 

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2Co

 

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2Co

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2Co

Gal

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Gal

 

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Gal

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Gal

Eph

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Eph

 

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Eph

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Eph

Phi

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Phi

 

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Phi

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Phi

Col

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Col

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Col

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Col

1Th

 

 

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1Th

 

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1Th

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1Th

2Th

 

 

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2Th

 

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2Th

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2Th

1Ti

 

 

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1Ti

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1Ti

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1Ti

2Ti

 

 

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2Ti

 

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2Ti

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2Ti

Tit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tit

 

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Tit

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Tit

Phl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phl

 

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Phl

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Phl

Heb

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Heb

 

 

 

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Heb

 

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Heb

Jas

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Jas

 

 

 

 

 

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Jas

 

 

 

 

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Jas

1Pe

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1Pe

 

 

 

 

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1Pe

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1Pe

2Pe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2Pe

 

 

 

 

 

 

2Pe

 

 

 

 

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2Pe

1Jn

 

 

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1Jn

 

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1Jn

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1Jn

2Jn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2Jn

 

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2Jn

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2Jn

3Jn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3Jn

 

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3Jn

 

 

 

 

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3Jn

Jud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jud

 

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Jud

 

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Jud

Rev

 

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Rev

 

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Rev

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Rev

Book

Clement
of Rome

Justin
Martyr

Polycarp

Didache

Papias

Barnabas

Hermas

 Book

Aristides

Muratorian
Fragment

Athenagoras

Lyons

Clement
of
Alexandria

Irenaeus

Book

Hippolytus

Tertullian

Tatian

Theophilus

Origen

Cyprian

Ignatius

Eusebius

 Book

Date
AD

95

100

110

125

130

140

150

Date
AD

175

175

177

177

180

180

Date
AD

200

200

200

200

230

250

250

275

Date
AD

 

Notes:

  1. We take the view that all 15 letters of Ignatius are forgeries written about 250 AD. They are important, only in that they document 250 AD. If you look at the books Ignatius quoted from, only Hebrews is of any value because it was one of the disputed books. Otherwise, Ignatius is an insignificant witness in the Canon discussion.
  2. Regarding the date of the Muratorian Fragment: The majority of conservative scholars still believe the evidence best supports the date of 175 AD.

Bibliography:

  1. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, Bruce Metzger, 1987
  2. New Testament Apocrypha, 6th edition. 2 Vols. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, 1989
  3. A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, B.F. Westcott, 1855
  4. General Introduction to the Bible, Norman Geisler and William Nix, 1986

 

 By Steve Rudd

 

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