Apologetics: How Long Was the Canon in Question?
by Timothy Paul Jones
The Canon of the New Testament and the Categories of Eusebius
The suggestion continues to be made by popular skeptics that the New Testament canon was in flux for hundreds of years. One scholar claims that no one came up with “a definitive list of books to be included in the canon that matched our list today” until “the famous Athanasian letter of 367 C.E. Even the powerful Athanasius could not settle the issue once and for all.” It’s true that, in the year 367, Athanasius of Alexandria did write a letter in which he listed the same twenty-seven books that appear in the New Testament today.
But that doesn’t mean that the canon of the New Testament was in complete flux until the end of the fourth century or later!
In a recent blog post and in his excellent book Canon Revisited, Michael Kruger has provided some helpful context and clarification on this issue, using the four categories that fourth-century historian Eusebius of Caesarea employed to describe the texts circulating in the churches (see Historia Ecclesiastica, 3:25).
Category 1: “These Then Belong Among the Accepted Writings”
In the first place, most of the New Testament was never in flux at all; a clear core of texts was fixed in the churches from the time they first began to circulate. This core included the four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 John, and 1 Peter—texts that were known from the very beginning to have come from eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of the risen Lord Jesus. Eusebius included John’s Revelation in this list as well…
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