Did the Early Christians Choose the Right Books to Put into the Canon of the New Testament?
by Nabeel Qureshi
I’ve noticed a fundamental mistake that is repeatedly made when historians ask this question. It might seem purely semantic, but it is deeper and has great implications.
There are 27 documents (we will call them ‘books’) in the New Testament (‘NT’). The first recorded instance of someone listing exactly these 27 books as the books of the NT is the 39th festal letter of the Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in 367 AD. Prior to this, on account of an inability to convene and determine the canon, different areas of Christendom used different sets of books.
There was great overlap among the books used and few, if any, disputes existed about most of them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 Peter, and 1 John.
The 7 under scrutiny were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. So when someone argues that the New Testament might contain books that it shouldn’t, the are referring to these 7. As a quick aside, I would like to point out that no essential doctrine, not even a remotely essential one, would be jeopardized if these books had not been included the canon. Of course, I’d be really sad to see Hebrews and James go, and most of my Baptist friends would be really depressed about losing Revelation 🙂 But there would be no effect on essential orthodox Christian theology.
The Importance of Clarifying Semantics
During a class discussion about the canon this January, my professor, Bart Ehrman, emphasized that no ecumenical council in antiquity ever convened to officially canonize these books. I immediately responded that the Council of Hippo in 393 presented and approved the canon. Without skipping a beat, Dr. Ehrman responded…
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