The New Testament Canon - From the Bible and History

By COGwriter

The Greek term 'kanon,' which is called canon in English, meant 'measuring rod.' The main use of the term canon now has to do with a body of 'accepted' sacred writings (i.e. those writings that passed the measure). And a best selling fiction book, The Da Vinci Code, has caused renewed interest in the subject of how the New Testament canon came to be.

Indirectly because of this book, I was asked if it was true that the Books of New Testament (NT) were not canonized (accepted as a whole without other books) until the late 4th century. The question was also based on a few statements from another critic, who made the statement, "Neither Peter, nor John, had anything to do with canonization. How absurd!"

Is that true? Is the concept that Peter and John having anything to do with canonization absurd?

This article will address those questions to provide biblical and historical evidence of regarding the early canonization of the New Testament.

Two Basic Views

There are two basic views of the canonization of the New Testament. There is the view of those who believe that the Bible itself should be trusted (which means that the canon was truly complete by the time of the Apostle John) and there is the view of those that prefer to accept a humanly progressive historical explanation.

The latter view is held by many scholars, the Da Vinci Code, and the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, one Catholic teaching is,

Since the Council of Trent it is not permitted for a Catholic to question the inspiration of these passages...The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council...But in the Synod of Hippo (393) the great Doctor's view prevailed, and the correct Canon was adopted. However, it is evident that it found many opponents in Africa, since three councils there at brief intervals--Hippo, Carthage, in 393; Third of Carthage in 397; Carthage in 419--found it necessary to formulate catalogues...So at the close of the first decade of the fifth century the entire Western Church was in possession of the full Canon of the New Testament (Reid, George J. Transcribed by Ernie Stefanik Canon of the New Testament. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Many Catholic supporters push this view, because if accepted, it means that any who claim to believe the Bible would have to accept the Catholic position that it (the Roman Catholic Church) is the true mother church. A commonly claimed statement by Catholics is "the Church gave the world the Bible" (e.g. The Role of The Church According to the Bible. © Catholicbible101 2008 - 2010 AD. http://www.catholicbible101.com/theroleofthechurch.htm). Certain Catholics also teach that since they believe their church gave Christianity the Bible all other 'Christian' churches need to come back to it (it should be noted that the Bible itself does discuss a false mother church and her daughters, Revelation 17:1-6).

Bible critics, and even many Protestant scholars, tend to prefer that Catholic canonization view as well. We in the Continuing Church of God believe that view, while true for the Greco-Roman churches, is inconsistent with the Bible and overlooks the reality that the Church of God in Smyrna demonstrated that it had the complete canon in the 2nd century and that it truly had been finalized by the Apostle John in the late 1st century. John also wrote five books of the Bible including apparently the last ones (note: some have questioned John's authorship, but history supports it, for details please the article The Apostle John, sometimes called John the Evangelist.; some have also questioned whether or not Matthew 28:19 should be in the Bible, for details about that, please check out the article Is Matthew 28:19 in the Bible?). This clearly demonstrates that the first possible place that had the entire canon was Asia Minor where the Apostle John was.

It is a historical fact that not too long after the 'bishop of Rome' took the title Pontificus Maximus (or Pontifex Maximus) c. 384 A.D. (a title that the Roman Caesars and Constantine had taken for themselves), that the Catholics had their own meetings where they and their related groups, finally officially decided to accept the NT canon. And it is reasonable that all factions that accepted that the 'bishop of Rome' was also Pontificus Maximus would perhaps agree among themselves to accept the same canon (which was the same for the NT, but ultimately differed from the Old Testament canon that the Churches of God {COGs}, Orthodox Jews, and Protestants accept).

That of itself does not change the basic position that the NT Church had already decided which books were (and were not) part of scripture before the formation of what we now refer to as the Church of Rome. Also, I should add that those who espouse the Roman Catholic view rarely cite scripture as their authority--they prefer to mainly look at the Catholic position on Church history (for more information, please see the article Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writers).

Without taking the time to go into all the details here, I will simply state that the early New Testament Church was not Roman Catholic, the Peter of the Bible was not the first pope (even the Catholic Church admits that none of the first 37 men they call 'the bishop of Rome' used that title), the official succession list of popes was put together over a century after Peter died and included names/orders there that had not been acknowledged by other Catholic writers (see What Do Roman Catholic Scholar Actually Admit About Early Church History?), the true NT Church did not hold to a lot of current Roman Catholic teachings, and there were many heretical groups in NT times (which ultimately formed various groups). Also, the name of the NT Church, as used in the NT, was "Church of God."

Part of the problem with secular historians is that they accept that the Catholics were THE Christian Church, when in fact, they (the Roman Catholics) made many changes and were often against the many of the teachings of the true Christian Church, the true Churches of God (please see articles Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Church of God?,The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3, and Location of the Early Church, Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome).

The late evangelist John Ogwyn wrote this insightful comment:

I think the simplest proof that the Catholic Church had nothing to do with the canon is that they would never willingly have put together a book that so completely contradicted their teachings. They have always been in a reactive mode in dealing with the Bible, trying to suppress both the text and the teachings (there are historical proofs in addition).

John Ogwyn's statement is totally logical and profound. For what it worth, I first rejected inaccuracies associated with Roman Catholicism once I began to read the New Testament (and I found significant Roman errors before I finished the Gospel According to Matthew). It was quite clear to me that the current Roman Catholic Church did not get many of its teachings or practices from the New Testament scriptures. For information about prophecies related to the Catholic Church, please read the article Europa, the Beast, and Revelation.

The balance of this paper will primarily focus on the biblical logic of the early canonization of the New Testament.

John Ogwyn, The Da Vinci Code, the Bible, and the Canon

First an overview from John Ogwyn on The Da Vinci Code, the Bible, and the canon may be helpful,

For more than a year, The Da Vinci Code, a suspenseful work of fiction, has rested near the top of the New York Times’ best-seller list...The story line of The Da Vinci Code involves the discovery of other "gospels" that were left out of the New Testament, and an alleged centuries-old plot by the Roman Catholic Church to suppress those books. This makes for a good novel, but is far from the facts! The Roman Catholic Church had absolutely nothing to do with creating the New Testament! This may seem like a shocking statement, but it is a fact.

The Roman Catholic Church, as it emerged from the Council of Nicaea in 325ad, was very different in its teachings and practices from the church of which you read in the book of Acts. In fact, surviving historical records from the second and third centuries illustrate a clear transition away from the teachings and practices of the Apostles to a very different brand of "Christianity"...

Who, then, did put together our New Testament? The answer is found in 2 Peter 1:12–21. The Apostle Peter explained to his readers that his death was imminent, and that he wished to ensure that after he was gone there would be an authoritative record of Jesus’ real teachings. There were already, in the late 60s ad, "cunningly devised fables" (v. 16) circulating. Peter explained that the young Christian community should look to him, and to his fellow Apostle, John, for the "sure word of prophecy."

This becomes clear when we read Peter’s words carefully. Beginning in verse 12, Peter writes in the first person singular about his approaching death, and his desire to leave a permanent record. In verse 16, he abruptly switches from "I" to "we." Who is the "we?" The answer becomes plain in verses 16 through 18. The "we" are those who accompanied Jesus to the mountain where they saw His transfiguration, and heard the voice from heaven (Matthew 17:1–6). These were Peter, John, and James the brother of John.

By the time Peter was writing 1 Peter, James had died—the first of the Apostles to be martyred (Acts 12:1–2)—so Peter’s "we" had to refer to him and to John. Before his death in the late winter of 68ad, Peter put together the very first "canon" of the New Testament, consisting of 22 books. Near the end of the first century, John added the five books that he wrote, bringing to 27 the number of books in the New Testament that we have today.

Already in the second century, in the earliest writings of the "Church Fathers," we see that the New Testament canon existed, and was quoted from and referenced frequently. Certainly there were attempts to change the canon, but its books were already written and too well known to be abandoned.

How should we understand the various "lost gospels" referred to by the author of The Da Vinci Code and other writers? We should not be surprised by such discoveries, because the New Testament itself warns of spurious gospels already circulating in the days of the original Apostles. How much more would we expect such accounts to multiply in subsequent years, after the Apostles had died?

Remember that the Apostle Paul, writing in the mid-50s, warns of those who sought to bring "another gospel" and "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4). He labeled these preachers as "false apostles" and "deceitful workers" (v. 13).

Peter assured his readers that he and John had not followed the "cunningly devised fables" that were already extant in the first century.

Some of these false gospels have survived, however, and have found a new audience in recent years with the discovery of the "Nag Hammadi" library. In December 1945, a young Egyptian farmer unearthed a pottery jar containing several ancient books written in Coptic. Translation began in earnest in the 1950s, and the content of these books has since fed into radically new interpretations of Jesus, His mission and His message. Eventually, these books—with such titles as The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Mary—became available in English. Though the physical copies of these books were new discoveries, knowledge of their contents and of their teachings was not. They represent the Gnostic heresies that originated in the first century and flowered in the second and third, which were well known" (Tomorrow's World. September-October 2004).

Since the Bible, in 1 Peter 1:25, teaches, "But the word of the LORD endures forever," it would not seem to be biblically correct to believe that portions of it were lost for centuries. I should perhaps add that most scholars admit that the Gnostic gospels, like Thomas and Philip were NOT written until the second century, long after the Apostles Philip and Thomas were dead.

Furthermore, in the Protoevangelium of James, sometimes refered to as the Gospel of James, is a spurious second century document, c. 145.  The document falsely claims to have been written by James in Jerusalem and in the first century—scholars realize it is false as it was apparently a second century document written by someone other than James (The Protoevangelium of James.  Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm>; The Infancy Gospel Of James; Alternate title: The Protovangelion.  Geoff Trowbridge's Introduction. http://www.maplenet.net/~trowbridge/infjames.htm viewed 08/13/11; Kirby, Peter. "Infancy Gospel of James." Early Christian Writings. 2011. 13 Aug. 2011 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/infancyjames.html; Reid, George. "Apocrypha." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 17 Aug. 2011 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01601a.htm; Thurston, Herbert. "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 9 Sept. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15459a.htm>; Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision, p. 72).

Perhaps it needs to be mentioned that the so-called gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Judas, James, Peter, Philip, or Barnabas were not written by the famous people in their titles.  Nor were they accepted by faithful Christians as inspired by God (though some Greco-Roman types accepted some of them for a while).

The Gospel of Thomas is held by certain scholars to be the earliest of the "gnostic" gospels composed. Scholars generally date the the Gnostic 'gospels' text to the early-late 2nd century (Ehrman B. Lost Christianities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. xi–xii.).

Most scholars do not believe that any of them were written until after John, the last of the original apostles, died (e.g. Ibid). 

All the books accepted by the Continuing Church of God and most other churches were written before the close of the first century.

Peter, John, and Paul

The Bible does not in one place lay out all the steps of how the NT canon was finalized. Yet by relying on the scriptural position that all scripture is profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:15) and that "precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little" (Isaiah 28:10), it becomes clearer how the NT canon came about.

Looking throughout the entire Bible is how the true Church determines its doctrines. On the other hand, the Catholics of Rome and, to some degree, many Protestants & Eastern Orthodox accept the concept of 'progressive revelation' through tradition (a concept that would be opposed to 2 John 9) which means essentially that they did not care of certain parts of the Bible. And that they rely on various human hermeneutics for that interpretation. The Roman Catholic rely on Papal interpretation and early Catholic writers (more information can be found in the article on Tradition and Scripture), while certain Protestants tend to rely on Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestant writers (more information can be found in the article Sola scriptura or Prima Luther: What Did Martin Luther Really Believe About the Bible?). Eastern Orthodox leaders tend to rely on traditions as found in writings of those they consider to be early "fathers" (see also
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Genuine Church of God
).

Between them, Peter, John, and Paul wrote 21 of the 27 books of the NT (plus, between them, they personally knew all the other NT writers). The Bible also suggests that Peter, John, and Paul all had roles in the process of finalizing the NT canon. Even though many Catholics believe that the Catholic Church "gave the Bible to the world," the Catholic Church admits that it wrote none of the books of the NT (though it claims Peter as its original leader).

2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us:

"knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit"

Thus the Bible teaches that God gave scripture to humans. And as John Ogwyn pointed out, 2 Peter 1:15 demonstrates that Peter intended for God's teachings to be remembered--and since he was writing at the time, this (as well as common sense) suggests that preserving canonical writings would be the way to accomplish this.

Thus, the Bible is not any church's book in the sense that any church has authority to change it, add to it or subtract from it--"For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19). On the contrary, God gave the Book to the Church so that its members should accept it, submit to it and live by ever word of it (Matthew 4:4).

Paul wrote:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, That the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

These verses show that it was necessary to know what ALL SCRIPTURE was. Otherwise, the man of God could never be complete, etc. Thus, the New Testament canon must have been finalized by the end of the first century A.D.

Paul makes basically the same point in Ephesians 6:13-17:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

If the proper NT canon would not be known for 300 or more years, then this would result in an incomplete word of God, which would represent a broken sword of the Spirit. Since a broken sword is of little value "and the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), it makes no sense that there would not have been a reliable NT canon that the true Church of God recognized.

Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches that the faithful, at least in Thessalonica, understood that Paul's teachings were scripture:

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14a)

It should also be noted that the Bible teaches:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

It would not be possible for the word of God to be sharper than any two-edged sword if it was dulled because the true Church (the COG) did not know what it was! The word of God could also not be much of a discerner of thoughts if the word of God itself had not been properly discerned.

The Bible clearly shows that there were false teachers in NT times that should not be relied upon (e.g. 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1), including some with false writings (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The fact that the Catholics and certain heretics held differing views of which books were in the NT canon until around 400 A.D. has no effect on what the COG knew and taught.

Bringing The Books Together

As Paul and others realized that Christ would probably not return in their lifetimes, they took steps to make sure that all the information needed by Christians would be written down. It is possible that Paul may have also encouraged Luke, his traveling companion (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24), to write both the Book of Acts and the Gospel According to Luke. This way whatever teachings had not been written down, that were necessary, finally did get preserved through writing.

Notice what Luke was inspired to write,

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed (Luke 1:1-4).

Luke is making it clear that this writing is to set down in order the narrative (scripturally approved oral tradition) for the purpose of making what should be known as a certainty.

Paul specifically wrote,

Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come--and the books, especially the parchments (2 Timothy 4:11-13).

Mark, scripture reveals (1 Peter 5:13), spent time with Peter .

Various theologians believe that he (Mark) brought those books and parchments to Paul, who, presumably with consultations with Peter and possibly John, made the final canonization decisions on all that was written until that time. In his second epistle, Peter refers to Paul's writings as scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16), which provides even more of a scriptural basis for this position. John also wrote, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9)--you can not abide in the doctrines of Christ by having the true Church changing which books contain the true doctrines. Revelation 22:18-19 itself suggests that God had John then finalize all that would be scripture. While some critics have pointed out that the books of the New Testament were not written until after Jesus was resurrected, not only were those of the Apostle Paul, as well as the other epistle basically written contemporaneously, the original apostles such as Peter and John, as they were eye witnesses, would have been able attest to the veracity of the books of the New Testament.

Also regarding John's role, John Ogwyn wrote,

As for the real New Testament, it was preserved exactly where we would expect it to be. Historians are unanimous in noting that John, the last original Apostle, died in Asia Minor at Ephesus. The writings of Eusebius and others make plain that during the second and third centuries ad, the churches in Asia Minor, which had had John’s direct guidance, preserved the practices of the original Jerusalem Church (such as observing Passover on Abib 14 rather than keeping the Roman Easter). It is from Asia Minor that the Byzantine family of New Testament texts originated—the text officially preserved in the Greek world. (Tomorrow's World. September-October 2004).

Not too long before writing 2 Timothy, Paul also wrote:

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

It is a fact that there must have been some confusion about the canon when Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians or people would not be shaken by words or letters that were purported to be from him (regarding oral teachings, please see the article Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writers). And while that could be dealt with through visits while he was alive, Paul must have known that what constituted scripture must be known prior to his death. This is what most likely led to his call for Timothy to send for Mark to bring the books and the parchments--as this was a matter that needed to be resolved quickly.

Even the Catholic News Service is accepting that at least the Gospels were known in the first and second centuries. Notice the following from a 2007 news story:

The Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, handwritten in Greek around the year 200, contains "about half of each of the Gospels of Luke and John," Cardinal Tauran explained.

"With this new precious papyrus, the library of the pope possesses the most ancient witness of the Gospel of Luke and among the most ancient of the Gospel of John," he said...

Before the Bodmer documents were discovered in Egypt in 1952, it said, biblical scholars relied on references to the Gospels in the writings of the early church theologians to assert that by the year 100 the Christian community had accepted only four Gospels as inspired texts.

The Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, containing the last two Gospels, the newspaper said, provides concrete evidence that the four Gospels were circulating among Christian communities as a complete set by the year 200, although the twin papyrus containing the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark has not been found. (Wooden
Cindy. American's donation lets pope peruse oldest copy of St. Luke's Gospel. Catholic News Service. POPE-PAPYRUS Jan-23-2007 (630 words) xxxi http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0700433.htm).

It is illogical, historically, that the true Church of God could have existed for over 300 years without knowing what books were part of the New Testament canon or not--this would contradict 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which cannot happen since "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Surely the leaders of the true Church, as well as their followers, had to know. For any to conclude that Peter and John had nothing to do with the canonization of the New Testament does not square with what the Bible seems to be teaching on this subject. Nor does it make much historical sense.

I perhaps should add that I have been criticized for writing the preceding paragraph, and hence should perhaps address those objections here. The main objection is if the original NT Church did not have the full NT until John finished it, how did it function? Well, the truth is that the original NT Church had John and the original apostles who knew what the teachings of the true Church should be since they, plus Paul, were taught directly by Christ. Furthermore, this also is consistent with scriptural record that Peter, Paul, and John all had some role in the canonization before they died to insure that there would not be disputes over the books for true Christians.

For others that is another matter. As even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits,

The most explicit definition of the Catholic Canon is that given by the Council of Trent, Session IV, 1546...Since the Council of Trent it is not permitted for a Catholic to question the inspiration of these passages. (Reid G. Canon of the Old Testament. Transcribed by Ernie Stefanik. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York)

This would seem to mean that the Roman Catholics did not really finalize their canon in an explicit and clear way (including the Old Testament) until 1546. Would God have wanted humankind to wait 14-15 centuries before knowing which books are from Him?

God Provides What We Need

The a fortiori principle also demonstrates that God provided copies of the Scriptures to the church. Since Jesus taught that God provides food for the birds and people are worth more than birds (Matthew 6:25-34), it is logical that God will provide proper (and complete) spiritual food for people. Why? Because Jesus also taught that the word of God was more important than food, "But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' " (Matthew 4:4).

Also notice Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:7-12,

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Jesus is showing that as decent parents know to not give their children rocks or unclean meats, God provides good things to his people, especially when they ask Him.

It is simply inconceivable that no one in the early Church asked God what Scripture was legitimate to believe and God left that to the Roman Catholic Church to decide 300 years later.

Also, notice Paul's writing

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14-17).

Since God sent preachers throughout history, God demands faith (Hebrews 11:6), and hearing comes by the word of God (Romans 10:17), there must have been a reliable word of God. A reliable NT canon would have been part of it.

Why Was it John Who Finalized the Canon?

The Old Testament Book of Isaiah prophesied that the LORD's disciples would bind up and seal the Bible. Notice the following:

Bind up the testimony, Seal the law among my disciples (Isaiah 8:16).

While other portions of this article have shown that various of Christ's disciples were involved, the above verse suggests that there would be no additions "to the law and to the testimony" (an expression for the Bible, see Isaiah 8:20), after those disciples were gone. Isaiah is thus indicating that the original disciples would have finalized the New Testament--that would include people such as Peter, Paul, and John.

As the longest surviving of the original apostles, John would have seen more problems with false teachers professing Christianity than possibly all the other apostles. Since John wrote the last books of the New Testament and was the longest surviving disciple, the Old Testament clearly supports that he would be the final one to bind up the testimony and seal the law.

The New Testament also suggests that disciple John finalized the Bible through his writing of the Book of Revelation,

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).

While it is possible that he is only referring to the Book of Revelation when he penned the above, as the last New Testament writer, it would seem that God had him put in the above statement to show that the Bible, and not just Revelation, was finalized. Since "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10) and Jesus is the Word (John 1:1, 19), it makes sense that Revelation 22:18-19 is, at least in a sense, referring to the fact that none were to add to the word of God (and that is consistent with other scriptures, such as Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32) . And that this was the last intended book of the canon for the Church age.

Even some Protestant theologians understand that Revelation 22:18-19 supports the concept that the canon was then finalized. Notice what is stated in Matthew Henry's Commentary:

Rev 22:6-19
It is confirmed by a most solemn sanction, condemning and cursing all who should dare to corrupt or change the word of God, either by adding to it or taking from it, v. 18, 19. He that adds to the word of God draws down upon himself all the plagues written in this book; and he who takes any thing away from it cuts himself off from all the promises and privileges of it. This sanction is like a flaming sword, to guard the canon of the scripture from profane hands. Such a fence as this God set about the law (Deut 4:2), and the whole Old Testament (Mal 4:4), and now in the most solemn manner about the whole Bible, assuring us that it is a book of the most sacred nature, divine authority, and of the last importance, and therefore the peculiar care of the great God (from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

Interestingly, in all of his epistles John repeatedly warns about false ones who try to influence Christians (1 John 2:4; 2:18-19; 3:10; 4:1; 2 John 7; 3 John 9-19). Hence, this may be part of why God had John write the passage in Revelation 22.

John also wrote,

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

This statement, combined with his writings in Revelation 22:18-19, show that only certain things needed to be written and only certain writings accepted as scripture. Thus, it is logical to conclude that he, the last of the original apostles, finalized the NT canon (cf. Isaiah 8:16).

But why else would John have been the one?

John was the last of the original apostles that Jesus, while on the Earth, personally selected. And although the first proper baptisms in Ephesus were apparently done by Paul (Acts 19:1-6), it is John who was there later. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that John was in charge of the church at Ephesus,

...the Apostle and Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province (St. John the Evangelist, 1910).

It is important to note that the Church of Ephesus is the first of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 1:11 as well as the first of the seven in Revelations to receive an individual letter that ends with "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (see chapters 2 & 3).

Since these Churches are shown to those whom Christ walks in the midst of (2:1), it is logical that the first one would have received the entire, properly canonized, NT. The one that John personally oversaw. The same John who wrote that nothing should be added or taken away from the word of prophecy. The same John whose disciple Polycarp became in charge of the Church at Smyrna (the second of the seven churches of Revelation).

Doesn't it make sense that before John died that he would pass on his knowledge of which books should be part of the New Testament canon? And does it not make sense that this would be to Polycarp, the one who appeared to be his most faithful disciple?

Furthermore, John even records that Jesus told him to write Revelation as a book and send it to the Churches in Asia Minor. Look what Jesus said:

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea" (Revelation 1:11).

Thus it is clear that the last book of the New Testament was sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor, including Smyrna!

The simple truth is that the Church in Asia Minor did have the canon to both the Old and the New Testaments (more information can be found in the article The Old Testament Canon).

Another reason it is logical to conclude that the Church in Asia Minor would have the entire New Testament is because most of the New Testament was written to or from church leaders in Asia Minor.

There are a total of 27 books in the New Testament.  At least 9 books of the New Testament were directly written to the church leaders in Asia Minor. The ones clearly written to those in Asia Minor include Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy (Timothy was in Ephesus), Philemon, 1 Peter, 3 John, and Revelation.  According to The Ryrie Study Bible John’s Gospel, 1 Corinthians, 1 & 2 John, and possibly Philippians, were written from Ephesus.  In addition to these 14, there see to be more as 1 & 2 John and 2 Peter, and possibly Jude may have also been mainly directed to one or more of the churches in Asia Minor.

The Book of James was written to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1).  Some of them were in Asia Minor.  Others according to the historian Josephus were “beyond Euphrates”.  It is also likely that some others, were written at least partially from Asia Minor. Acts, for example, specifically has a portion written to Christians in Ephesus.

So probably 14 to 20 New Testament books were written to or from Asia Minor (plus it has been claimed that all four gospel accounts were as well, though this is less certain, though one or more other than John may have been).

There is only one book written to those in Rome (it never mentions any of the so-called Roman bishops), with 2 to Corinth, 2 to Thessalonica, and 1 to Crete (Titus), a total of 7 letters not sent from nor addressed to those in Asia Minor.

What this clearly shows, is that although there were Christians in various areas, the focus for the New Testament writers were the churches in Asia Minor. And interestingly, the last book of the Bible is specifically addressed to the churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 1:4,11).  It was in Asia Minor that the NT canon was originally formed.

From Outside The Bible: Those with Church of God Doctrines Originally Had the Bible

The Jews in Jerusalem in the late first/early second century were aware of some type of Christian canon. Jews tended to call Christians minim, a derogatory term for some type of groups--essentially meaning sectarians/heretics.

Here is something from (I also included the footnotes as they add to this):

The blank spaces15 and the Books of the Minim16 may not be saved from a fire, but they must be burnt in their place, they and the Divine Names occurring in them. Now surely it means the blank portions of a Scroll of the Law? No: the blank spaces in the Books of Minim. Seeing that we may not save the Books of Minim themselves, need their blank spaces be stated? — This is its meaning: And the Books of Minim are like blank spaces. (Contents of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH WITH NOTES, GLOSSARY AND INDICES UNDER THE EDITORSHIP OF RABBI DR. I. EPSTEIN B.A., Ph.D., D. Lit. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath Folio 116a. Soncino. London, 1948)

15 Jast. s.v. [H] translates, the gospels, though observing that here it is understood as blanks. V. Herford, R.T., 'Christianity in the Talmud', p. 155 n.
16 Sectarians. The term denotes various kinds of Jewish sectarians, such as the Sadducces, Samaritans, Judeo-Christians, etc., according to the date of the passage in which the term is used. The reference here is probably to the last-named. V. J.E., art. Min; Bacher in REJ. XXXVIII, 38. Rashi translates: Hebrew Bibles written by men in the service of idolatry. (http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_116.html#116a_11 viewed 12/15/13)

The first statement above has been translated "The gospels and the Books of the Minim may not be saved from a fire." This is a recognition by Jewish leaders that Christians had their own books, but that the Jews clearly rejected them.

But it is not just Jewish sources. Actually much of what comes to us about the Bible in the second century comes from Christan leaders, in Asia Minor, such as Polycarp, who was one of the earliest post-NT writers.

Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians (circa 110-135 A.D.) is written in the manner of one quite familiar with the New Testament as it starts out similar to some of Paul's writings.

Notice the portion of Charles Leach's book, Our Bible: How We Got It (1898) where he discusses Polycarp's epistle,

In the whole Epistle, which occupies but ten minutes to read, we find the language of Matthew, Luke, John, and the Acts of the Apostles; of the Epistle of Peter; and of Paul's Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Timothy, and Titus. Here, then, we get a link in our chain which connects us to the actual writers of the New Testament, and assures us, beyond all possibility of doubt, that the contents of our New Testament were in the hands of the men who lived before the last of the Apostles were dead.

Actually, there are many more books than that--all the New Testament books are quoted from or alluded to in Polycarp's letter (see the annotated second version of the Epistle to the Philippians as it contains many citations to show were Polycarp seems to be referring to all the New Testament books).

This clearly demonstrates that Polycarp had to have had a complete NT canon.

Why?

Because Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians is so short, that to actually quote or allude to all of the accepted books of the NT, he really would have needed to be familiar with the entire New Testament.

In addition, Polycarp made it clear that those he wrote to he and they had to have the correct Bible otherwise he would not have written:

For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, "Be ye angry, and sin not," and, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Note that Polycarp quoted a verse that is in the New Testament, when he used the term Scriptures.

Perhaps it also should be mentioned that there is a document known as the Harris Fragments (ca. 2nd or 3rd century) that also discusses Polycarp.  Basically it stresses that Polycarp’s connection with the Apostle John, indicates he was baptized at age 18, suggests he was appointed bishop of Smyrna by John, and that he died at martyr’s death at age 104. Here are some translated quotes from the Harris Fragments, with one addition from me in {}:

There remained [---]ter him a disciple[e ---] name was Polycar[p and] he made him bishop over Smyrna…He was… {an} old man, being one hundred and f[our] of age.  He continued to walk [i]n the canons which he had learned from his youth from John the a[p]ostle (Weidman, Frederick W.  Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to Literary Traditions.  University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (IL), 1999, pp. 43-44)

By mentioning the term “canons,” the Harris Fragments seems to be suggesting that John passed the knowledge of the proper books of the Bible to Polycarp--and that would seem to be the case.

Furthermore, it was one of Polycarp's successors (Melito) who listed the books of the Old Testament around 170 A.D. Melito wrote,

I accordingly proceeded to the East, and went to the very spot where the things in question were preached and took place; and, having made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set them down (Reid G. Canon of the Old Testament. Transcribed by Ernie Stefanik. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight . Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

As the scholar Wace points out,

"The expressions "the Old Books," "the Books of the O.T.," shew clearly that the church of Melito's time had a New Testament canon".

Wace also noted that Melito's other writings show that he must have accepted the Gospel according to John as scripture, as Wace wrote,

"Melito held the same theory concerning our Lord's age as Irenaeus and other Asiatics, derived no doubt from John viii. 57. The whole passage shews that Melito believed strongly in the atoning efficacy of Christ's death, and looked on Him as the sacrificial lamb. The word he uses is amnoV, as in the Gospel".

It should be noted that Irenaeus, who claimed to have seen Polycarp, wrote c. 170:

1. After this fashion also did a presbyter, a disciple of the apostles, reason with respect to the two testaments, proving that both were truly from one and the same God. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 32).

So, someone prior to 170 A.D. who was a disciple of the apostles stated that there already were the two testaments.

A later leader in Asia Minor, Polycrates of Ephesus, claimed that he had the complete Bible (circe 193 A.D.):

I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture...I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book V, Chapter XXIV, Verses 2-7 . Translated by A. Cushman McGiffert. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell (KS), 2005, p. 114).

Other scholars, such as the late James Moffatt, have recognized that the church in Asia Minor had the canon first:

Was not the Apostolic Canon of scripture first formed...in Asia Minor? Was not Asia Minor ahead of Rome in the formation of the Apostolic, Episcopal, ministry?...The real thinking upon vital Christianity for centuries was done outside the Roman Church (Excerpt of James Moffatt's review, p.292. In: Bauer W. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd ed. Sigler Press Edition, Mifflinown (PA), 1996).

It seems to be that a version of something like the "Traditional Text"--out of which the Textus Receptus originated--was the text of the historic church from Asia Minor and Byzantia. Interestingly, when the Greco-Roman churches tended to move away from the biblically 'Semiarian' view of the Godhead in the late fourth century, they started to rely less on the "Traditional Text" (Burgon JW. The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels. Cosimo Classics, 2007, p. 2).

But what about Jerusalem as the site of the canon? There is a 10th-11th century Arabic Islamic manuscript that has one chapter that reports about those considered to be Judeo-Christians. Shlomo Pines translated much of that chapter into English. the translation of one section of it (the term "Christian" below refers to apparently Latin supporters) about something that seems to have happened in Jerusalem in the 130s A.D.:

(71a)...(And the Romans) said: "Go, fetch your companions, and bring your Book (kitab)." (The Christians) went to their companions, informed them of (what had taken place) between them and the Romans and said to them: "Bring the Gospel (al-injil), and stand up so that we should go to them."

But these (companions) said to them: "You have done ill. We are not permitted (to let) the Romans pollute the Gospel. In giving a favourable answer to the Romans, you have accordingly departed from the religion. We are (therefore) no longer permitted to associate with you; on the contrary, we are obliged to declare that there is nothing in common between us and you;" and they prevented their (taking possession of) the Gospel or gaining access to it. In consequence a violent quarrel (broke out) between (the two groups). Those (mentioned in the first place) went back to the Romans and said to them: "Help us against these companions of ours before (helping us) against the Jews, and take away from them on our behalf our Book (kitab)." Thereupon (the companions of whom they had spoken) fled the country. And the Romans wrote concerning them to their governors in the districts of Mosul and in the Jazirat al-'Arab. Accordingly, a search was made for them; some (qawm) were caught and burned, others (qawm) were killed. (As for) those who had given a favorable answer to the Romans they came together and took counsel as to how to replace the Gospel, seeing it was lost to them. (Thus) the opinion that a Gospel should be composed (yunshi`u) was established among them…a certain number of Gospels were written. (Pines S. The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity according to a New Source. Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Volume II, No.13; 1966. Jerusalem, pp. 14-15)

Now this is important for many reasons.

The first is that it shows that the companions (those who distanced themselves from the Romans/Latins) had the Gospels and likely all the other books of the New Testament.

Second, it shows that those who were inclined to compromise with the Romans did not.

Third, it shows the beginning of so-called "Christians" getting the State to persecute true Christians--which should make it clear to true believers of the Bible which group was faithful.

Fourth it shows that those associated with the Romans developed false gospels, which is probably why it took a while for the Greco-Romans to get their NT straightened out.

And fifth, since there was communication between those faithful Christians in Asia Minor and Judea during this time (and later, see Melito. From the Book of Extracts.  Cited in Eusebius.  The History of the Church, Book IV, Chapter XXVI. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell (KS), 2005 edition. p. 90), this indicates that it was the faithful in Asia Minor as well as those that did not wish to compromise with the Romans in Judea that had the canon in the second century.

Even Irenaeus and Later Writers

Even though he was more supportive of what became the Roman Catholic Church (and held some erroneous positions), around the time of Melito, Irenaeus (who had met Polycarp) acted like everyone knew the N.T. canon when he made statements such as:

Some passages, also, which occur in the Gospels (Book 1, Chapter 20, Verse 2).

That expression of Scripture, "Seek, and ye shall find," (Book II, Chapter 30, Verse 2).

A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in [acquaintance with] them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures. And therefore the parables ought not to be adapted to ambiguous expressions (Book II, Chapter 27, Verse 1).

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us (Book III, Chapter 1, Verse 1).

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the "pillar and ground" of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit (Book III, Chapter 11, Verse 8).

We must conclude, moreover, that these men (the Montanists) can not admit the Apostle Paul either. For, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, he speaks expressly of prophetical gifts (Book III, Chapter 11, Verse 9).

The Apostle Peter, therefore, after the resurrection of the Lord, and His assumption into the heavens, being desirous of filling up the number of the twelve apostles, and in electing into the place of Judas any substitute who should be chosen by God, thus addressed those who were present: "Men [and] brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, spake before concerning Judas, which was made guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us: ... Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and, His bishop-rick let another take;" -- thus leading to the completion of the apostles (Book III, Chapter 12, Verse 1).

...in the Epistle to the Galatians...(Book III, Chapter 13, Verse 3).

...in the New Testament...(Book IV, Chapter 28, Verse 2).

Speaking of antichrist, too, he says clearly in the Second to the Thessalonians...(Book IV, Chapter 21, Verse 1).

(Irenaeus. Adversus haereses. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

The statement about a sound mind is from 2 Timothy 1:7. The parables are in the gospel accounts. A further read into Adversus haereses shows that the four gospels he is referring to are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not any gnostic ones). The statement from and about Peter are from the Book of Acts. He also mentions Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Thessalonians by name. The fact that Irenaeus states that things are clear and unambiguous in the Sacred Scriptures (and he only refers to the New Testament teachings in the above passages) is clear evidence that he felt that the canon was known.

Furthermore, Irenaeus also wrote:

After this fashion also did a presbyter, a disciple of the apostles, reason with respect to the two testaments, proving that both were truly from one and the same God...

For all the apostles taught that there were indeed two testaments among the two peoples; but that it was one and the same God who appointed both for the advantage of those men (for whose sakes the testaments were given) who were to believe in God (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book IV, Chapter 32, Verse 1,2. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Hence Irenaeus is clearly claiming that the apostles knew the books of the Old and New Testaments. Thus he believed that the early church did have the entire canon of the Bible. I suspect that the presbyter, a disciple of the apostles Irenaeus is referring to was Polycarp or Melito. And if so, this shows that the church in Asia Minor had the complete biblical canon very early on.

Around the time of Melito and Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch wrote:

Therefore, do not be sceptical, but believe; for I myself also used to disbelieve that this would take place, but now, having taken these things into consideration, I believe. At the same time, I met with the sacred Scriptures of the holy prophets, who also by the Spirit of God foretold the things that have already happened, just as they came to pass, and the things now occurring as they are now happening, and things future in the order in which they shall be accomplished. Admitting, therefore, the proof which events happening as predicted afford, I do not disbelieve, t (sic) I believe, obedient to God, whom, if you please, do you also submit to, believing Him, lest if now you continue unbelieving, you be convinced hereafter, when you are tormented with eternal punishments; which punishments, when they had been foretold by the prophets, the later-born poets and philosophers stole from the holy Scriptures, to make their doctrines worthy of credit. Yet these also have spoken beforehand of the punishments that are to light upon the profane and unbelieving, in order that none be left without a witness, or be able to say, "We have not heard, neither have we known." But do you also, if you please, give reverential attention to the prophetic Scriptures, and they will make your way plainer for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God...But to the unbelieving and despisers, who obey not the truth, but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they shall have been filled with adulteries and fornications, and filthiness, and covetousness, and unlawful idolatries, there shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish, and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter VII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

And concerning chastity, the holy word teaches us not only not to sin in act, but not even in thought, not even in the heart to think of any evil, nor look on another man's wife with our eyes to lust after her (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book III, Chapter XIII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Since fornication, for example, is directly mentioned in the New Testament (while not really mentioned by that name in the Old), it appears that Theophilus is encouraging unbelievers to listen to all the Scriptures, using the New Testament as part of an evangelistic tool. Also since it was Jesus who specifically taught that to lust after another woman was sin, Theophilus is endorsing the concept that the New Testament contains the word of God.

Furthermore around 195 A.D., one after Theophilus, specifically claiming to be a successor of Melito and Polycarp, Polycrates, taught:

I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture (Polycrates. Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24).

Thus, it appears obvious that history also supports that the true Church of God knew the proper NT canon from the beginning. And that it can be traced from John (very late first century), to Polycarp (early to mid second century) to Melito (mid to late second century) to Polycrates (very late second century).

In what has been described as "the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived" (Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 102) sometimes erroneously referred to as Second Letter of Clement as it "is not a letter, nor is it by Clement" (ibid), there, perhaps with a year or so of John's death, is a statement referring to a quote from Mark and Matthew as "another Scripture" (ibid, p. 109). Thus, there is one more reason to accept the idea that from the time that John died, the early church had knowledge of the entire NT.

Also, by the end of the second century or possibly the first part of the third century (circa 180-205 A.D.), it is clear that even the Roman Catholics knew what the books of the New Testament were. In a document commonly called the Muratorian Canon, possibly Caius, an apparent Roman Catholic supporter, listed them as follows:

The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name in order after the ascension of Christ...The fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples...Moreover, the Acts of all the Apostles are comprised by Luke in one book...As to the epistles of Paul, again...And John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes only to seven churches, yet addresses all. He wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem...The Epistle of Jude, indeed, and two belonging to the above-named John--or bearing the name of John--are reckoned...We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some amongst us will not have this latter read in the Church. The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Pius sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time (Caius. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. In Muratori, V. C. Antiq. Ital. Med. av., vol. iii. col. 854. From http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0510.htm 01/20/08).

Though "Caius" (the actual author is uncertain) mentioned some other books in his writing, he stated that those after the NT books were not included essentially as scripture "as their number is complete" (ibid), meaning that the NT was considered complete, even by Roman Catholics by the early 200s (and of course, the COG knew it as complete as of 100 A.D., the time of the Apostle John's death--but we never accepted the false Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, nor the Gospel of Peter like some of the Greco-Romans originally had). They probably had the complete list by the time of Polycarp's visit c. 155 A.D. as Polycarp would have known all the ones that the Apostle John accepted (but also kept some that Polycarp did not, like the false Gospel of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, and/or the Apocalypse of Peter). The reason I mention Polycarp here is that the Muratorian Canon specifically also states that it accepts none of Valentinus' or Marcion's writings--Polycarp was recorded as rebuffing those heretics when he visited Rome.

It is only the first epistle (and possibly second as well) from Peter that seem to be missing, the first which the Catholics and the true Church clearly accepted from the beginning:

Epistles of Saint Peter...The authenticity, universally admitted by the primitive Church...in writings of the first and second centuries, e.g., Justin's letter to the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Papias, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, the "Didache", the "Pastor" of Hermas, and others. The Second Epistle of St. Peter, admitted to be very ancient even by those who question its authenticity, alludes to an earlier Epistle written by the Apostle (iii, 1). The letter therefore existed very early and was considered very authoritative (Van Der Heeren A. Transcribed by Judy Levandoski. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

The fact that later, within the Roman Catholic world (not the Church of God world) there were major debates by some of its later leaders about the books, does not in any way disprove the idea that the Bible and the true church (which in the first two or so centuries was often headquartered from Asia Minor) did have knowledge of the true New Testament.

Place like Rome and Alexandria did not. Clement of Alexandria seemed to accept the false "Gospel According to Nicodemus" (see What Happened in the 'Crucifixion Week'?).

Notice that around the end of the 4th century, the "Nazarenes" (people who held Church of God doctrines like the Sabbath) knew that they had the scriptures and that they came from God, not a Greco-Roman council. Jerome wrote that the Nazarenes stated:

…God has given us the Law and the testimonies of scriptures. (Jerome, cited in Pritz R.  Nazarene Jewish Christianity.  Magnas, Jerusalem, 1988, p. 63)

The Catholic Bishop and saint Epiphanius similarly taught about the Nazarenes:

For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old (cited in Pritz, p. 33)

Now, while many believe that because of the Latin Vulgate Bible by Jerome, that the Catholic Church gave the world the Bible, those who espouse that view overlook the question of where Jerome got his information. Based on records in Latin and other languages, Scholars Ray Pritz and the Catholic Priest Bagatti both concluded that Jerome got some of his information on the Bible from the Nazarenes and from various synagogues (Pritz, pp. 49-53; Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, pp. 84-85).

It is a fact that Jerome did deal with “Nazarene Christians” who kept the Sabbath, etc. (Jerome. Letter 112 to Augustine, Chapter 4). Jerome also wrote that he was friendly with at least one of the believing Hebrews that seemed to assist him as he wrote:

Ad quam edomandam, cuidam frati, que ex Hebræis crediderat, me in disciplin dei, ut post Quintiliani acumina, ciceronis fluvios...(Jerome, Epistula CXXV, Chapter 12.  Patrologia Latina (22, 1079; alternatively 22, 941). The edition by J. P. Migne, c. 1886, p. 1079.  http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/02m/0347-0420,_Hieronymus,_Epistolae_Secundum_Ordinem_Temporum_Distributae,_MLT.pdf viewed 04/28/12)

Thus, it is logical to conclude that Jerome got some of his information from people who held to Church of God doctrines.

Therefore, then it would appear that the claim that the Roman “Church gave the world the Bible” neglects to mention that their church most likely got the Bible from those in the true Church of God, also known as the Nazarenes in Asia Minor and in Jerusalem!

This seems to be indirectly acknowledged by some modern scholars. Notice a 21st century account by Gerd Theissen:

Therefore we can advance the hypothesis that above all those writings entered the canon on which the Christian communities of Asia Minor and Rome could agree. (Theissen G, Translated by John Bowden. Fortress introduction to the New Testament. Fortress Press, 2003, p. 178)

Taking this a step further, even those who later compromised in Asia Minor apparently recognized that they knew of the complete canon and thus they (and probably others) influenced the Church of Rome.

Scholars Ray Pritz (Pritz R.  Nazarene Jewish Christianity.  Magnas, Jerusalem, 1988, pp. 49-53) and Priest Bagatti (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Circumcision.  Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, pp.84-85) both concluded that Jerome got some of his information on the Bible from the Nazarenes and from various synagogues. Thus, then it would appear that the Greco-Roman claim, which I have heard many times, that it (the Greco-Roman Church) gave the world the Bible neglects to mention that their church most likely got the Bible from those in the true Church of God, also known as the Nazarenes in Asia Minor and in Jerusalem!

This is even indirectly confirmed by other modern scholars, like the following account by Gerd Theissen:

Therefore we can advance the hypothesis that above all those writings entered the canon on which the Christian communities of Asia Minor and Rome could agree. (Theissen G, Translated by John Bowden. Fortress introduction to the New Testament.  Fortress Press, 2003, p. 178)

Therefore, since the true Church of God in Asia Minor originally had the New Testament canon (as the last books of the New Testament were written in Asia Minor and not Rome), it should be realized that the New Testament canon was originally finalized in Asia Minor and then mainly adopted by Rome.

Yet, The Catholic Encyclopedia specifically claims:

The Bible…we are dependent upon the Church for our knowledge of the existence of this inspiration. She is the appointed witness and guardian of revelation. From her alone we know what books belong to the Bible. At the Council of Trent she enumerated the books which must be considered “as sacred and canonical”. They are the seventy-two books found in Catholic editions, forty-five in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New. (Gigot, Francis. "The Bible." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 11 Aug. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02543a.htm> )

What is bizarre is the Catholic claim that the Church of Rome decided which books were in the Bible, yet it did not decide them completely until the 16th century Council of Trent. 

Even if it claims to have known them centuries earlier, (some indicate that Jerome knew them all, yet the Catholic saint Jerome did not accept that several of the books that the Romans later declared at Trent as inspired were inspired: see Jerome. Apology Against Rufinus, Book II, Chapter 33 as well as the article Old Testament canon), the fact is that the New Testament was known first by the Ephesians and Smyrnaeans (the Asia Minor churches) in the first and second centuries.  It was partially because of their canon that the Church of Rome did not adopt any of the apocryphal books for the New Testament.  And if they would have relied on Asia Minor more, Rome would not have adopted any of the apocryphal books for the Old Testament.

Origen Did Not Understand Which New Testament Books Were Canonical, But Serapion Did

Part of the problem with the idea of when the New Testament canon was finalized has to do with the fact that since most Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox consider that Origen of Alexandria was a true Christian (and he was not, though sometimes he had proper understandings of some matters), the fact that he did not seem to know the proper New Testament canon seems to be proof enough for them that the canon was not finalized until after the third century.

For example, the allegorizing Origen of Alexandria appeared to recognize several non-canonically writings as scripture. Notice that he refers to falsely titled Epistle of Barnabas like he does the actual canonical parts of the Bible:

Now in the general Epistle of Barnabas, from which perhaps Celsus took the statement that the apostles were notoriously wicked men, it is recorded that "Jesus selected His own apostles, as persons who were more guilty of sin than all other evildoers." And in the Gospel according to Luke, Peter says to Jesus, "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man." Moreover, Paul, who himself also at a later time became an apostle of Jesus, says in his Epistle to Timothy, "This is a faithful saying, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief." (Origen. Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter 63).

The Epistle of Barnabas was not written by the Barnabas of the Bible and actually encourages an allegorical, non-literal, interpretation of the Bible (more information on this is included in the article What is the Appropriate Form of Biblical Interpretation?).

Origen even called what I consider to be the “demonically-influenced” Shepherd of Hermas as “divinely inspired” (Cited in Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1987, p.140).

Origen seems to possibly have accepted the falsely titled Gospel of Peter (see Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Verse 17.  In Roberts and Donaldson). Perhaps it should be mentioned that while Origen was from Alexandria, he did visit Rome and spent time with a Bishop of Rome named Zephyrinus.

Antioch, until Serapion, probably resisted much of this canonical confusion until some time into the early third century. And while Origen and some others apparently recognized the falsely titled “Gospel of Peter” it was specifically condemned by Serapion, Bishop of Antioch.

Eusebius records that Serapion went to see a group that he thought was Christian in the seaside port of Rhossus, which is located southwest of Alexandria. When he got there he was disappointed to learn that they were reading this “Gospel of Peter” and thus he realized that they were not all part of the “true faith” so Serapion stated:

For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely inscribed with them, knowing that such were not handed down to. When I visited you I supposed that all of you held the true faith…(Eusebius.  The History of the Church, Book VI, Chapter XII, verses 3-4, p. 125-126).

Notice that Serapion is teaching that the proper books were "handed down to us" (or "received" as it has alternatively been translated, see article Serapion of Antioch for the Greek and more details)--they were accepted by the faithful long before any canonical Greco-Roman council.

Thus, items such as the false "Gospel of Peter" show there was canonical confusion within the Greco-Roman churches—confusion that we did not see in the churches in Asia Minor nor Antioch for that period. This canonical confusion is probably because historical records show that Asia Minor and Antioch communicated with each other until the early third century, yet they did not seem to try to communicate much with Alexandria or Rome (they tried with Rome twice—once when Polycarp tried to get the Roman Bishop Anicetus to change and second when Polycrates wrote the Roman Bishop Victor that he did not recognize Victor’s authority over the word of God)

Also the fact that the Gospel of Peter, Sections 12-14, suggests that the resurrection was on the last day of unleavened bread—which is clearly in conflict with the canonical gospels—may have also have been a major factor in Rome and Alexandria finally rejecting that book. But again, the faithful did not rely on it from the beginning.

Conclusion

It is clear that Peter, John, and Paul, who wrote nearly all of the books of the NT between them, all had a role in determining and finalizing the NT canon. It is also clear that God would want His people to know His word as both the Old Testament and NT teach (Deuteronomy 8:3; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). And, as Polycarp, Melito, Theophilus, and Polycrates show, the Church in Asia Minor must have had it. And probably later, that it became obvious that Roman Catholic leaders knew which were the proper NT books.

And while it is true that "the Church gave the world the Bible"--it was the church established by Christ through the apostles Peter, Paul, and John and their successors that did so. The Church of God which Polycarp and others were part of.

It is logical that God would have the entire NT in place before the death of the last of the original apostles. And that the Apostle John would have been the last apostle in charge of the Church in Ephesus, the first of the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 . It is logical that the true churches that followed (including at Smyrna, the second church listed in Revelation 2 & 3) would have knowledge of what had been canonized as scripture. And that is, in fact, what the historical record demonstrates happened.

This paper has received some harsh criticism from those that do not believe they need to live "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4) or that the Bible interprets itself (Isaiah 28:10). But since the Bible teaches that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine...so the man of God may be complete..." (2 Timothy 3:16,17), it makes sense that those the believe the Bible would use it to establish doctrines, such as to provide insight as to how the Bible canon was finalized.

Those who do not wish to accept that may wish to remember that Paul also taught "Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4).

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Thiel B., Ph.D. The New Testament Canon - From the Bible and History. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015/2016 0309