Why the Twenty-Seven Books in our New Testament?

by Ryan Leasure

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we have the twenty-seven books in our New Testament canon and not others? Why aren’t there twenty-eight or twenty-six? Why only four Gospels when the Da Vinci Code tells us that the Church suppressed dozens of other Gospels? How come those didn’t make the cut?

What if, after all these years, we’ve had the wrong books in our Bible? What if the skeptic is right when he argues that other equally valid books, e.g., the Gospel of Thomas, give us just as good, if not a better picture of Jesus?

If you watch a History Channel special or read some of the skeptical literature, you get the impression that the New Testament canon came down to an arbitrary vote. That is, the winners decided which books to include and exclude. In other words, the canon could have easily been radically different.

Yet this narrative couldn’t be farther from the truth. The compilation of the New Testament canon wasn’t arbitrary. Rather, the universal church used a set of criteria to determine which books belonged — divine qualities, apostolic origins, and universal reception.1

DIVINE QUALITIES

First, the church recognized the books which had divine qualities. For example, early Christian writer Origen writes:

If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings… it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize the words he is reading are not utterances of man but the language of God.2

But how did the church recognize divine qualities in these books? It did so by observing their harmony, power, and beauty…

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Why the Twenty-Seven Books in our New Testament?