Did John Finalize the New Testament Canon?

The View From the Cave in Patmos:


We in the Living Church of God believe that the true church knew the New Testament once Jesus had the Apostle John write the final book, which he did from an island called Patmos (Revelation 1:9).  John then conveyed this information to others in the true church such as Polycarp of Smyrna.

Catholics, agnostics, atheists, and many others generally do not share this view.

But there are scriptures, as well as non-COG scholars, that support the view of the Living Church of God.

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 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 27 books of the NT. At least 10 books of the New Testament directly written to the church leaders in Asia Minor. The ones written to those in Asia Minor include Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy (Timothy was in Ephesus), Philemon, 1 Peter, 3 John, and Revelation. In addition to these 10, there may 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 (which would make 14 of them). According to The Ryrie Study Bible John’s Gospel, 1 Corinthians, 1 & 2 John, and possibly Philippians were written from Ephesus. It is also likely that some others, like Acts were written at least partially from Asia Minor. So at least 15 books were written to or from Asia Minor, with possibly up to 17 of them.

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).

From Outside The Bible

Much, though not all, of what comes to us about the Bible in the second century comes from 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.

And according to 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 than that–nearly all the New Testament books are quoted from or alluded to (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 those New Testament books).

This clearly demonstrates that Polycarp had to have had a complete NT canon. In addition to the 17 books listed above, I believe that Polycarp may also have referred to John (15:8 “you bear much fruit; so that you will be my disciples”), Colossians (3:12 “elect of God”), 2 John 4 (“rejoiced greatly”), Revelation (22:14-15 “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life…But outside are whoever loves and practices a lie”).


Because Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians is so short, that to actually allude to most 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 had 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.

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”.

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).

Thus, both the Bible and even non-COG sources support the position of the Living Church of God that the Apostle John essentially finalized the New Testament and that knowledge of it was passed on to the leadership of the Church in Asia Minor.

Several articles of possibly related interest may include:

The Old Testament Canon This article shows from Catholic accepted writings, that the Old Testament used by non-Roman Catholics and non-Orthodox churches is the correct version.
The New Testament Canon – From the Bible Itself This article, shows from the Bible and supporting sources, why the early Church knew which books were part of the Bible and which ones were not.
Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians Did Polycarp refer to all the books of the New Testament in the early 2nd century? This is Roberts and Donaldson’s translation, corrected by me in one place, where they made a small error in translating Latin by omitting one word.
Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter Polycarp was the successor of the Apostle John and a major leader in Asia Minor. Do you know much about what he taught?
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view?  Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches?  Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a igreja viva do deus? Tambien Español: Cuál es fiel: ¿La iglesia católica romana o La Iglesia del Dios Viviente? Auch: Deutsch: Welches zuverlässig ist: Die Römisch-katholische Kirche oder die lebende Kirche von Gott?
Joyce’s Photos of Patmos Late in his life, the Apostle John reportedly was taken to Rome from Ephesus, then suddenly exiled to Patmos, by Emperor Domitian.

Get news like the above sent to you on a daily basis

Your email will not be shared. You may unsubscribe at anytime.