The Earliest evidence for the New
God's providence gave us the 27 book New Testament Canon, not the church. God, not men decided the canon. This providence does not mean that church leaders were inspired in their selecting the canon, only that God had his eye on the scriptures the whole time and brought about His will to form the Bible we see today!
The Earliest evidence for
the New Testament canon
The Earliest evidence for the New Testament canon
1. God oversaw the collection of the Canon of the New Testament by providence:
a. God's providence gave us the 27 book New Testament Canon, not the church. God, not men decided the canon.
b. This providence does not mean that church leaders were inspired in their selecting the canon, only that God had his eye on the scriptures the whole time and brought about His will to form the Bible we see today!
2. This of course does not mean that there was direct inspiration in the many men who were part of the process, just that God, in His providence, achieved His goal of a 27 book canon.
a. For example the late 4th century councils that drafted lists of 27 books, were merely rubber stamping what had long been the universal standard for the majority of Christians.
3. By 100AD, all 27 books of the New Testament were in circulation and all but Hebrews, 2 Peter, James, 2 Jn, 3 Jn, Revelation were universally accepted.
a. "All of these elements -the notation of the nomina sacra, the codex form, the uniform arrangement and number of writings in the manuscript tradition, the formulation of the titles, and the evidence indicating that the collection was called "New Testament" from the very beginning- are evidence of a careful final redaction. These editorial features did not originate with the authors of the individual writings. They serve to combine disparate material into a collection and to create the impression of a cohesive literary unit for readers of the work. Furthermore, these elements are so idiosyncratic that they cannot be credited to several independently operating editors but must be the work of a single editorial entity." (The first edition of the New Testament, David Trobisch, p 44, 2000)
b. "But this question, like most over which Christians disagree, is not the cutting edge of what Christianity is all about...there was division everywhere in the church on the books that might be called the 'fringe,' but there was very little disagreement over what was at the core of the matter...The division of opinion...was not over the core, but over the 'fringe.'" (The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, Lee M. MacDonald, 1995, p 132)
c. Basilides was a Gnostic heretic who lived about 117-138 AD. Basilides, however, quoted from 1 Corinthians prefacing the quote with: "the scripture says".
I. Evidence to support the early canon:
1. The use of "Nomina Sacra":
a. Although non-inspired books also contained these abbreviations for special words, it does prove the existence of a special collection of books.
2. The Codex Form rather than scrolls.
a. It is quite amazing, but the New Testament breaks with the Old Testament tradition of using scrolls and used book form (codex) right from the very beginning.
3. That books were distributed within four sets of collections:
a. Gospels, Paul's letters, Catholic epistles, Revelation. So consistent are the sets of collections, that there are standard symbols used in the study of Bible manuscripts to designate each collection.
4. Uniform Arrangement within each category:
a. Generally there was a similar order of books like Matthew, Mark Luke and John within the gospel collection. Although there were exceptions to the ordering of the books, they were often very similar.
5. Number Of Writings within each category:
a. 4 gospels, Paul's letters etc., Catholic epistles, Revelation.
6. Formulation Of the Titles:
a. The titles (ie. Gospel according to Matthew, etc.) were added at a later date by those who compiled the letters into one volume.
b. Although the titles are not inspired, the fact that all the manuscripts employ the same titles for each book, strongly argues for an early and unified canon of scripture.
c. "In view of the unanimity on this point of the tradition of the Church which can be traced back to the beginning of the second century, we are justified in assuming that the Epistle [Ephesians] had this title [in Ephesus 1:1] when it was incorporated into the collection of Pauline letters which afterwards came into general circulation in the Church." (Introduction To The New Testament, Theodor Zahn, 1909 p 481)
a. The Earliest Christians described their writings as "the New Testament". Since the expression "the New Testament" is used many times within the Bible itself, this proves that the apostolic writings were clearly intended to be organized into a single collection.
8. Marcion's restricted canon: 125-144 AD
a. Marcion's concern was to exclude books that he disapproved of from his "canon." He was not assembling a collection of Christian books, but making a (very restricted) selection from the corpus of texts which already existed and which must already have been recognized as sacred by many in the church-otherwise he would not have needed to insist on abolishing them. (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, Editors: The Canon Debate; John Barton, Marcion Revisited, p 342, 2002)
b. The New Testament books, or at any rate the central "core" of the Gospels and the Pauline and Catholic Epistles, were already used very widely in the time before Marcion, and continued to be so used after him. (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, Editors: The Canon Debate; John Barton, Marcion Revisited, p 343, 2002)
II. What Scholars have said:
III. Roman Catholic and Orthodox confuse the issue:
1. False claims by Catholic and Orthodox church leaders like James Bernstein:
"The second big surprise came when I realized that the first complete listing of New Testament books as we have them today did not appear until over 300 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. (The first complete listing was given by St. Athanasius in his Paschal Letter in A.D. 367.)" (Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?, Fr. James Bernstein, Orthodox churchman, 1994, p 6)
2. Refutation of James Bernstein (Orthodox):
By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.