Holman’s QuickSource Guide to Apologetics Chapter 6: Where Did the New Testament Come From?
guest blog by David Stoecker*
Today we will look at the 27 books that make up the New Testament. They are the bedrock that Christianity is built upon, and knowing more about them allows us to better defend our faith. We need to have answers to questions that are often raised when people have doubts: Who wrote the books? Are the authors trustworthy? Are the books of the Bible historically accurate? Why were these 27 chosen? Why were there some books that were rejected?
Who Chose the Books
The councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 fixed the list of books the New Testament contains. There were certain criteria that needed to be met in order for them to be included. They had to have apostolic origin, meaning they were either written by apostles or an associate who kpet the apostle’s teachings. Exceptions were made for Jude and James because they were brothers to Jesus.
They had to be written during the apostolic age, meaning while the disciples were still alive. They had to have been accepted and in use by the church. They also had to agree with accepted Scripture. Last and most important, they had to have been inspired by God and have the power to transform lives. That last part is the hardest part to define.
As early as 115 AD Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, referred to “The Gospel.” Marcion created a canon that contained 10 of Paul’s Letters and the Gospel of Luke in 135 AD. The oldest known list of the New Testament canon books was compiled around 180 to 200 AD. It contained 23 books. Tertullian, who lived from 120-220 AD quotes from 23 of the 27 canonical books. The reason these books were used was because they preserved the teaching of the disciples, who were commissioned by Jesus to spread His teaching.
Who Wrote the Books
Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John. The bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, was a student of Polycarp. Irenaeus passed on the following in AD 180, which was directly given to him by Polycarp who had been told by John himself. He said that Matthew published his gospel, Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome, Mark wrote what Peter had preached and Luke recorded what Paul had declared. John the disciple of the Lord published his own Gospel in Ephesus.
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Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians that quoted from 10 different New Testament books in 95 AD and recorded how the book of Mark was written. It is thought by some scholars that Matthew was written relying on Mark. If this is true, than Mark myst have accurately preserved the teachings of Christ or why would it have been copied.
The best explanation for the names given the four Gospels is that those men were the authors. Otherwise, why affix Matthew to one since he was seldom mentioned in the Gospels? Even more so with Mark and Luke since they were not apostles at all. Peter knew about Mark’s writing and gave it his blessing, and Paul was known to refer to Luke’s writing as “my Gospel” in Eusebius church history.
Dating the Gospels
According to Clement, John wrote his Gospel after the other 3 were written. In his writing he talks about the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem as if it still existed. It was razed in 70 AD, which would put his works as well as the other gospels pre-70 AD. Also the omission of the destruction of Jerusalem in all of the gospels further supports the books being written before 70 AD.
Acts ends with Paul in a Roman prison. His beheading is not mentioned, so that puts the writing of Acts a nd Luke at the latest in the 60s.The other gospels also have landmarks and customs that would not have existed after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Dating Paul’s Writings
Since Paul died during the persecution of Nero around 64-67 AD, his works had to have been written earlier than that. Acts 18:12 is used to date the book. It mentions Gallis as the proconsul of Achiai, who was discovered through a letter found in 1905 that was dated to 52 AD. There is also a famine mentioned that was dated by the historian Josephus to 45-46 AD. Using this information, Paul’s conversion is dated to 32-35 AD with his letters written after that.
What About the Books That Were Left Out?
The Acts of Paul were written by an elder at Carthage while the Didache was of unlikely authorship.The epistle of Barnabas was believed to have been written by an early church father and not Barnabas. The Shepherd of Hermas was also likely written by an early church father. The Apocalypse of Peter was written in the first half of the second century, far to late to have a connection to Peter himself.
Although there are dozens of other books bearing names such as “the Gospel of Peter” and “the Acts of Pilate” they did not meet the criteria for inclusion. Most of these were written beyond the apostolic age and some as late as the Middle Ages.
To close, it is curious that the New Testament standards made it more likely to exclude authentic Scripture than to include false writings. Therefore, we see that the New Testament has a very strong case for the information it contains to have been events recorded by those who could reliably document them. Join us next month when we look at the reliability of the New Testament.
*Written for TPE by David Stoecker of Spiritual Spackle.
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