Development of the New Testament Canon: Introduction

For the next two weeks, Pursuing Veritas will run a series outlining some important facets of the development of the New Testament canon. This series is designed to provide an introduction to how the writings of the New Testament came to be included in that collection (no, the Bible did not fall complete and leather-bound from the sky). As canonical development constitutes an important piece of my own scholarship, suffice it to say that there will be (much) more on this topic at a later date, and that all questions are welcomed.

NT CanonFundamental to the Christian worldview is the Word, Jesus Christ. Of great importance in determining not only who Jesus is but also what He taught are the words of God contained within the Christian Bible, more specifically the twenty-seven books contained in the New Testament. Where the New Testament came from and the amount of authority that can be allocated to that text have been the questions of theologians for nearly two millenniums. More recently, historians and scholars[1] have questioned the veracity of the Biblical text and its formation as a holy book. The task of this two-week series is to examine but a facet of this greater conversation, namely, the question of the development of the Christian New Testament canon and the factors which contributed to this collection.Numerous scholars have devoted their careers to studying the development of the New Testament canon, including  Adolf von Harnack, Hans van Campenhausen, Theodore Zahn, A. C. Sundburg, and Bruce Metzger, to name but a few luminaries. This series will cover the contributing factors that are generally seen as highly formative and illuminating on the discussion as a whole, necessarily leaving out many of the ‘boring scholastic details’ in order to present an overarching picture of canonical development. Fortunately, scholarship has outlined several key “moments” within the formation of the New Testament canon: the definition of “canon”; the context of Second Temple Judaism; the evidence of the Apostolic Fathers; Second century Fathers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons; the impact of heretics such as Marcion, Montanus, and various Gnostic groups; and early canonical lists, such as that of Athanasius. It is these topics to which we will turn over the next couple of weeks. In surveying these important areas, we shall see that while an effectively closed canon of the Christian church was not completed until the fourth century in most places, nevertheless the words of Jesus Christ, the foundation and founder of Christianity, and the writings of His Apostles were held in high regard since their delivery.

[1] Scholars such as Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus, Lost Christianities, and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture), Walter Bauer, and Darmaid McCulloch come to mind.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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