Compiling a “New” Testament

Which books were included in the NT

“At some point or some period between the second and fourth centuries, the 27 writings that go to make up the little book that Christians call the New Testament were accepted by the church as canonical, that is to say as authoritative records of their own faith… there are many other non-canonical writings, no less important for the understanding of the history of the period”. (John Ashton – Oxford)

“While the definition of a biblical canon has more to do with the end of a process – that is, with a fixed list of sacred scriptures – the authority attributed to those writings was recognised much earlier when they were in a more fluid stage of development and were more open to adaptability or change to meet the needs of the religious community”.  (Lee Martin Macdonald – Professor Acadia, visiting Professor Princeton)

“there is little agreement among scholars on when this “canonical activity” began, where it began, and especially when it was completed.”    (Lee Martin Macdonald – Professor Acadia, visiting Professor Princeton)

“There is no evidence from the time of Jesus that either the Jews or the followers or Jesus were even remotely interested in the notion of a closed collection of sacred scriptures”. (Lee Martin Macdonald – Professor Acadia, visiting Professor Princeton)

… long historical process whereby one version of Christianity came to establish itself as the authoritative, “catholic” (universal) form of “church”, and to win out over its rivals.  Once this happened, it was possible to draw a distinction between canonical gospels and “apocryphal” once, and to downgrade the importance of the latter.  But in the earliest centuries after Jesus’ death it was possible for any Christian group to produce its own gospel, thereby securing its particular understanding of Jesus and the life he inspired.  A few of these apocryphal gospels have survived.  (Linda Woodhead – Professor Lancaster, Cambridge)

The recognition of the canonical status of the several books of the New Testament was the result of a long and gradual process, in the course of which certain writings, regarded as authoritative, were separated from a much larger body of early Christian literature.  Although this was one of the most important developments in the thought and practice of the early Church, history is virtually silent as to how, when, and by whom it was brought about.  Nothing is more amazing in the annals of the Christian church than the absence of detailed accounts of so significant a process.  (Bruce Metzger – Professor Princeton)

Although the fringes of the canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia.  By the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth century, the great majority of the twenty-seven books that still later came to be widely regarded as the canonical New Testament were almost universally acknowledged to be authoritative.  There were, to be sure, a good many competing works that possessed temporary and local canonicity, but during the following generations the limits of the canon became progressively clarified.  (Bruce Metzger – Professor Princeton)

During the period, however, when there was no established canon, it was… by no means universally considered to be natural that different and, to some extent, divergent accounts of the life of Jesus should be regarded as equally authoritative.  The offence rose from the consideration that if it is necessary to have not one but several accounts of the one life of Jesus (which , in fact, must be the foundation of all Christian belief), this is as good as admitting that none of them is perfect.  (Bruce Metzger – Professor Princeton)

In its formative stages, including the composition of the individual New Testament books, Christianity did not seek uniformity of doctrine because the shapers of the Jesus tradition did not imagine their works would be forced into alignment. ..The canon does not arise as a spontaneous development, any more than Christian orthodoxy emerges as a single deposit in a bank account–to use an image from the second century. The canon is the regulation of sources that supported a growing consensus about who Jesus was, or rather, what was to be believed about him. (R. Joseph Hoffman – Professor Beijing, Oxford)

The formation of the New Testament was a slow process, not complete until the fourth century, but the main lines were clear by the time of Irenaeus (c. 180).  (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

It took until the fourth century for the book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse of John) to be generally acknowledged in the Eastern parts of the Empire.  (David F. Ford – Professor Cambridge)

“Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature,” writes Bart Ehrman, “is the degree to which it was forged.” The Homilies and Recognitions of Clement; Paul’s letters to and from Seneca; Gospels by Peter, Thomas, and Philip; Jesus’ correspondence with Abgar, letters by Peter and Paul in the New Testament–all forgeries. To cite just a few examples.  … … Christian authors forged documents in order to lend their ideas a veneer of authority in literary battles waged with pagans, Jews, and, most importantly, with one another in internecine disputes over doctrine and practice. In some instances a forger directed his work against views found in another forgery, creating thereby a “counter-forgery.” Ehrman’s evaluation of polemical forgeries starts with those of the New Testament (nearly half of whose books make a false authorial claim) up through the Pseudo-Ignatian epistles and the Apostolic Constitutions at the end of the fourth century.  (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)  (from book summary on Bart D. Ehrman’s own website

non-canonical texts were condemned by the early authorities as containing
dangerous teachings, while others were seen as valid but simply not quite
outstanding enough to qualify for inclusion in the canon, the list of Christian
writings whose antiquity and spiritual teaching offered a standard against
which the value of other teachings could be assessed. The first canonical lists
were compiled in the late 2nd century, and once the canonical writings began to
circulate as a single volume in the 4th century, the noncanonical writings
which had not been condemned were for the most part quietly forgotten.  But the forgotten gospels preserve a moment when Christians of differing views were involved in a lively and sometimes acrimonious debate over the nature of authority in the Christian community, and the complementary gifts of men and women as bearers of Christian authority. A case in point is the enigmatic Gospel of Mary, a non-canonical text of uncertain status which presents itself as the story of a female disciple,
probably Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus imparted some of his most precious
teachings. (Kate Cooper – Professor Manchester)

Besides the four that eventually formed part of the
New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — many other gospels
were known, one of the most famous being the Gospel of Thomas, but
there were gospels in the names of Many, Peter, and, as a recent
discovery has made famous, even Judas. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

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