By the end of the second century, Christians and Christian writings had spread to every corner of the Roman Empire. And with this increase came an increase in quotations, allusions, and citations of New Testament writings. The research of scholars such as Franz Stuhlhofer, Biblia Patristica, and Bruce Metzger is invaluable in understanding the quality and quantity of these uses by the early Church Fathers. From a detailed study of second century writings, we notice a distinct pattern of use. Excluding Old Testament allusions and quotations, the use of specifically Christian writings (that is, those written after the death and resurrection by those claiming to follow Jesus of Nazareth) fell into three categories: books viewed as authoritative and scriptural, books viewed as non-scriptural, and “fringe” books. Among the books generally accepted as scriptural (and thereby part of the “practical canon”), a core of immediately emerged as the chief texts of Christianity, including the Synoptic Gospels (especially Matthew), the Fourth Gospel (John), and the major Pauline epistles. Metzger and Barton indicate that surrounding these core Christian texts were two additional categories of “practically canonical” writings: writings which were generally accepted but less used than the core texts, and writings which were candidates for the fringe category. By the second and third centuries those categories had become clearly differentiated, with books such as the Acts of the Apostles, the minor Pauline letters, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse of St. John, being widely viewed as scriptural and texts such as First Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Herman, and the Didache generally categorized as “fringe” writings. Continue reading
This post is part of an ongoing series outlining the formation of the New Testament canon.