Since the New Testament books were immediately recognized by God’s people within or shortly after the apostolic age, then from a historical standpoint, the early church was already using many of the Books of the Bible even before the apostles died out.
2. The earliest records that bear witness to the development of the New Testament Canon
Church historian Everett Harrison cites the letters of Paul, Peter and John as the first immediate evidence of the early church’s recognition of the inspired texts of those apostles.
With all of these New Testament texts dated between 50-90 A.D by even the most hardened critics, we can safely acknowledge that recognition of what constituted inspired text was a first act of the apostolic church.
In fact the churches established by the apostles constituted the criteria by which the church recognized the number of books and the type of books as authoritative witnesses of the words of God. Harrison notes three tests used by the early church in determining which books were canonical:
a). Was it of apostolic origin or authority?
c). Ireneus, Bishop of Lyons, wrote his work “Against Heresies” to record and critique the growing Gnostic threat that was attempting to undermine the orthodox, Bible believing church of his day. Irenaeus not only mentions almost all of the 27 books of the New Testament, but effectively denounces all of the Gnostic gospels. Iranaeus wrote his work in 180 A.D, some 85 years after the apostolic age.
d). The Muratorian Fragment, the earliest list we have of the New Testament books outside the apostolic era, can be dated to 170 A.D. In it we have almost a complete record of all the New Testament books except two. This canonical list represents a good portion of the early church’s opinion of what constituted the New Testament.
4. The length of time it took for the early church to acknowledge the New Testament Canon?
“While there was some considerable dispute over some of the N.T books, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 2nd century (150 A.D).”
Thus despite the claims of radical critics of the Bible like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman (two authors who have written material attempting to discredit the Bible and its history), the New Testament canon as we know it was well on its way by 150 A.D. By the time we arrive in the fourth century, various church fathers (like Athanasius of Alexandria) and certain church councils (Hippo in 393 A.D and Carthage in 397 A.D) did nothing more than affirm what was already generally acknowledged by all Christians everywhere – namely the canonicity of the 27 New Testament Books.
5. Constructing a Timeline for history’s account of the story of the N.T canon
CHURCH HISTORY’S RECKONING OF THE N.T CANON
50 -----100 A.D-------------------------150 A.D----------------200 A.D------------>>
Epistle of Barnabas (120 A.D), Papias (120 A.D), Irenaeus (180 A.D) quote or refer to almost all the 27 New Testament books.
Athanasius “Festal Letter” Council of Carthage listing all 27 books 367 A.D recognizes canon
Part Three: Ancient New Testament Translations that testify of the recognition of the 27 N.T Books as being Canonical
Ancient translations Athanasius “Festal Letter” Council of Carthage of Greek originals listing all 27 books 367 A.D recognizes canon N.T writings (Itala, for whole church 397 Syriac, Coptic) verify unanimity of 27 books from 200-300 A.D
200 A.D-----------300 A.D-----------350 A.D------------------------400 A.D
Church is being persecuted. Council of Hippo agrees on 27 books 393 A.D, reaffirming what church generally had believed since shortly after the days of the Apostles.
Today's post aimed to introduce the issues surrounding the canonicity of the Bible and how the books we have in our Bible's today were immediately recognized for what they were - the Word(s) of God. It must be remembered that the church did not create the Bible, but the scriptures the church. To God be the glory!