New Testament - Origins


The details of the origin of each book are given in that sections on those books, but the origin of the New Testament as a whole is a separate and interesting subject.

Christianity arose within Judaism. The earliest Christians, were Jews, so their hopes and expectations of a Messiah foretold in Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. These Christians already understood what 'scripture' was, and how to use it in the context of teaching and worship from their Jewish roots. Consequently, the formation of 'scripture' to be used for teaching and worship of the Christian faith was a logical requirement. The review of Christian writings to determine what was 'scripture'; that is valid, authoritative and holy led to the development of the New Testament and can be seen in three major stages: 1) the rise of Christian literature to the status of scripture, 2) the conscious grouping of various writings into collections, and 3) the revision and approval of these collections as a 'New Testament' - this being called a 'canon'. Canon comes from the Greek word 'kanon' meaning measuring rule. Only certain books passed the measuring rules required for 'canonization'.

No original author wrote their works with the intent of them becoming 'scripture'. However, most of the books were written with the backdrop that the author had 'apostolic authority' to proclaim the teachings in the book. Paul also frequently referred to writings as inspired by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 7:40b). All the authors were considered to have been inspired with the same true Spirit that inspired the prophets of the Old Testament. At first, this was the only criteria for a work to be considered for canon, with the possible additions of popularity and circulation amoung the churches. Works such as the Shepherd of Hermas and I Clement were considered scripture in the early canons.

Marcion was the first to have published a formal canon list in about 140 A.D.. It consisted of Luke and ten of Paul's letters. A number of other letters, Acts of various apostles, and other writings began to circulate at this time. Some supported various groups of the time including the Montanists, Gnostics, Docetists, and others who were later declared to be heresies. Irenaeus declared that there could only be four gospels and the Muratorian Canon was soon published which included the four Gospels, thirteen letters of Paul, two letters of John, Jude, Revelation, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Revelation of Peter (somewhat contested). The book of Hebrews was not included, although widely used and discussed even by Clement much earlier. The list of books in the canon continued to be debated throughout the third century until Eusebius published a list at the beginning of the fourth century. Books still in question included James, II Peter, II and III John, and Jude. Another canon was released by concensus in 367 A.D. which names the 27 books we know today. Additional books, the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, I Clement, and the Letter of Barnabas were considered suitable for study but not as scripture. This last list of books was finally accepted by the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. and the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D..

The general rules to be included in the later canons were:

Some books which appeared to meet these rules were later dropped when proved to be forgeries, such as the Acts of Paul.

Approximate dating of the development of the New Testament:

AD 200AD 250AD 300AD 400
Muratorian Canon
Four Gospels
Acts
Pauls Letters: Romans, I & II Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col. I & II Thess., I & II Tim., Titus, Philemon
James
I & II John
Jude
Revelation of John
Revelation of Peter
Wisdom of Solomin

for private study:
Shepherd of Hermas
Origen's collection
Four Gospels
Acts
Pauls Letters: Romans, I & II Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col. I & II Thess., I & II Tim., Titus, Philemon
I Peter
I John
Revelation of John

disputed:
Hebrews
James
II Peter
II & III John
Jude
Shepherd of Hermas
Letter of Barnabas
Teaching of Twelve (Didache)
Gospel of the Hebrews
Eusebius's collection
Four Gospels
Acts
Pauls Letters: Romans, I & II Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col. I & II Thess., I & II Tim., Titus, Philemon
I Peter
I John
Revelation of John

disputed:
Hebrews
James
II Peter
II & III John
Jude

Purposely excluded: Shepherd of Hermas
Letter of Barnabas
Teaching of Twelve (Didache)
Gospel of the Hebrews
Revelation of Peter
Acts of Peter
Council of Carthage
Four Gospels
Acts
Pauls Letters: Romans, I & II Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col. I & II Thess., I & II Tim., Titus, Philemon
Hebrews
James
I & II Peter
I, II, & III John
Revelation of John