What Biblical Books are Included in the Earliest Canonical Lists?
by Ryan Leasure
There are two opposing ways to view the history of the canon. One would be to believe that the church, in its entirety, uniformly accepted all twenty-seven books of the New Testament as canonical from the very beginning. The other would be to suggest that the canon didn’t exist until an arbitrary church vote in the fourth or fifth century.
While either view might fit one’s preconceived agenda, the fact of the matter is that both views are terribly naive. The truth is, neither adequately deals with what history tells us.
I believe there’s a better, more balanced approach to the canon. It’s one that recognizes the canon’s development wasn’t as neat and tidy as some conservative scholars might think. Yet at the same time, it wasn’t a wild free-for-all like some other liberals suggest.
Instead, we find that the church affirmed a majority of the New Testament books at the beginning stages of Christianity. We might call these books the canonical core. Then as time progressed, the church, likewise, affirmed the peripheral books of the canon. To demonstrate this balanced approach, I want to highlight some of the early canonical lists from the first few centuries…