You are on page 1of 8

The Canon of the Christian Scriptures David A. deSilva 0.

Introduction: The Modern “Debate” Are there “Lost Scriptures” of “Lost Christianities”? Are these texts and varieties of Christianity to be reclaimed and given a place alongside the forms that had historically survived/thrived? Was the process of the formation of a canon a matter of the suppression of texts and the early Christian voices they represented, which can now be rescued from oppression? Witness the attention given to “The Gospel of Judas,” “The Gospel of Thomas,” “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.” Or could the process be seen more as a matter of “natural selection” at work? I. Canon, Inspiration, Authority, Use A. All canonical texts are held to be inspired, but not all inspired texts are held to be canonical. Canonicity is not an exclusive claim to inspiration. B. All canonical texts are held (in principle) to be authoritative, but not all authoritative texts are canonical. Canonicity is not an exclusive claim to authority. C. All canonical texts are (in principle) to be read in public worship as “Scripture.” Non-canonical texts are distinguished from canonical texts in the manner and nature of their use. (Increasingly, church fathers cautioned against reading particular texts, notably the pseudo-apostolic works associated with the Gnostic movement and other breakaway groups.) D. “Canon” is the “measuring stick” for evaluation of all other texts, proclamations, and practices. (Shepherd of Hermas was widely regarded as an inspired text, and Hermas regarded as an inspired prophet, but he was a prophet subject to being tested against the rule of faith, as it were, not a part of the measure of that rule of faith himself.) Canon, as a list of books, is an answer to the question, “Where do we go to discover who we are?” “Where do we go to rediscover the foundations of our identity, our core convictions, our purpose as a body and as individuals, our distinguishing practices?” Other texts may also help answer these questions, but only insofar as they themselves are reflections upon, and reflect, the foundational texts. (The strongest reason, in my opinion, for

either those churches would eventually cease to read it as a primary source or those churches would develop their own. Marcionites. (If a text was only read as Scripture by a small number of churches. etc.e.. This is true in regard to early heretical groups (e. Ten Pauline epistles: Galatians. Romans. 1 & 2 . split off from the Great Church. or the visions of Hermas. different trajectory. and in the sense of reflecting the apostolic faith. in part.. The New Testament Canon Some important criteria that appear to have played a significant part in conversations about canon: 1.). 2. Clement. Apostolicity. Antiquity: has the text been with us as a Church from the beginning? Thus the letters of Ignatius. or Polycarp. The Formation of the Canon A. i.) II. both in the sense of coming from an apostle or at least being authorized by an apostle.separating the Old Testament Apocrypha from the Old Testament Canon is that they fall more into this second category. though “apostolic” in terms of their content. Gnostic groups) as well as throughout church history (Protestants and Catholic communions are distinguished. The Old Testament Canon B. by decisions about OT canon..g. the “Book of Mormon”.e.) C. both in the sense of being useful and “applicable” to situations beyond their first expression and in the sense of being read widely throughout the Christian churches as “Scripture. authoritative. Marcion’s Canon [No Old Testament at all] One heavily edited gospel. and to be used in public worship). Catholicity (=universality).” as foundational texts. 3. Some Early Canonical Lists (NT focus) 0. Canon is the result of decisions made by particular communities of faith (and vice versa – particular communities of faith are formed as a result of decisions about what texts are inspired. III. that of Luke.” i. 1 & 2 Corinthians. the Mormons are set off by their acceptance of a “Third Testament of Jesus Christ. do not establish themselves as canonical.

1. And therefore it ought indeed to be read. and.” Also: the Epistle of Jude. III. to the Colossians fourth. to the Galatians fifth. But … the thoughts of the Epistle are admirable. and not inferior to the acknowledged writings of the apostle. XXV. Ecclesiastical History. his brother. one to Titus. The Muratorian Canon (Fragmentary) [Matthew. [both] forged in Paul's name to advance the heresy of Marcion..” The Epistle “’To the Hebrews’ has not the apostle's rudeness in speech…. once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition. while bishop Pius.254) From Eusebius. Acts of all the apostles. xxv. the Asian founder of the Cataphrygians. the apocalypses of John and Peter. to the Romans seventh. and Philemon. Laodiceans. to the Philippians third. and First Epistle of Peter. Luke.” Origen believes the thought to be Paul’s but the expression to belong to a disciple/co-worker of Paul. 1-7. First Epistle of John. the book of Wisdom.D. Acts of the Apostles. 265 .D. but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the prophets. Colossians. who also composed a new book of psalms for Marcion. “though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church.340) From Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. together with Basilides. two epistles of John. was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome.” “We accept nothing whatever of Arsinous or Valentinus or Miltiades. John. Undisputed: Four Gospels. it may be. “There is current also [an epistle] to the Laodiceans.. [and] another to the Alexandrians. The Canon At The Time Of Origen (A. a second and a third. in the city of Rome. in our times. and several others (66) which cannot be received into the catholic church. and two to Timothy). one to Philemon. whose number is complete. 3-14.” 2.” “But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently. Mark]. but this is disputed. 185 . to the Ephesians second. to the Thessalonians sixth.” John “wrote also the Apocalypse” and “has left also an Epistle of a very few lines. c. for it is after [their] time. “Peter … has left one acknowledged Epistle.Thessalonians. Vl. Epistles of Paul (to the Corinthians first. That the Epistle is better Greek in the framing of its diction will be admitted by everyone who is able to discern differences of style. 3. or among the apostles. . possibly also a second. Epistles of Paul.. Philippians. for not all say that these are genuine but the two of them are not a hundred lines long. The Canon Of Eusebius Of Caesarea (A.

Ephesians. 1 & 2 Timothy.Disputed but familiar books: the Epistle of James. for instance. and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles. Spurious: the Acts of Paul. or even of some others besides these. of Thomas. . 350) From Cyril's Catechetical Lectures.The Shepherd of Hermans . iv.” and the Apocalypse of John. 36. Colossians. 2 Corinthians. & 3 John. but are to be cast aside as altogether absurd and impious.” Criteria for rejection: “The character of the style also is far removed from apostolic usage.” 4. Jude. perhaps as disputed: . Titus. And whatever books are not read in the churches. and Jude. A. Luke. and as a seal upon them all. the Apocalypse of Peter. and the thought and purport of their contents are completely out of harmony with true orthodoxy and clearly show themselves that they are the forgeries of heretics. For this reason they ought not even to be reckoned among the spurious books. the fourteen Epistles of Paul. 1 Corinthians. the Epistle of Barnabas. as you have already heard [me say concerning the Old Testament apocryphal].The Acts of Paul . NT Canonical List (unknown date) Inserted in Codex Claromontanus (6th c.) Four Gospels: Matthew. however. the Didache (Teachings of the Apostles). Then of the New Testament there are four Gospels only. Philemon Other Epistles: 1 & 2 Peter. such books as the Gospels of Peter. the Gospel of the Hebrews.D. and the latest work of disciples. The Canon Of Cyril Of Jerusalem (c. “whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.The Apocalypse of Peter 5. 1. and the Second and Third of John. Galatians. of Matthias. including. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James. the Shepherd of Hermas. the second Epistle of Peter. The Manichaeans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas. of Jude. But let all the rest be put aside in a secondary rank. Peter. Barnabas Revelation of John Acts of the Apostles Added with dashes to mark them off. All of the above. are distinguished from “those which the heretics put forward under the name of the apostles. John. for the rest have false titles and are harmful. John Epistles of Paul: Romans. James. which being smeared with the fragrance of the name 'Gospel' destroys the souls of those who are rather simple-minded. Mark. 2. do not read these even by yourself.

and John. but only the canonical ones of the New and Old Testament. one to the Philippians. then. clarifying Canon 59. one of Jude. Mark. Let no private psalms nor any uncanonical books be read in church. and lastly. 360) New Testament: The Four Gospels. A remark (“one only”) following the mention of the three Johannine epistles and again following the mention of the two Petrine epistle suggests some disagreement re: 2 & 3 John and 2 Peter (as above in Eusebius’s snapshot of consensus forming around the canon). The Cheltenham Canon (c. Can. to the Ephesians. Luke. James. Canon Approved By The Synod Of Laodicea (c. Luke. The Canon Of Athanasius (A. that to Philemon. one to the Galatians. Mark. the Apocalypse. and again. the four Gospels. Acts of the Apostles..6. Latin. there are fourteen Epistles of Paul the apostle. and John. namely. after these. 2 Epistles of Peter Note: Hebrews. to the Galatians. to the Philippians. In addition. fourteen Epistles of Paul. after these. Let no one add to these. one to the Romans. two of Peter. “ 8. one to Titus. two. And besides. two to Timothy. A. of John. one of James. one to the Colossians. that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the living words they contain. three of John.D. 367) on the New Testament canon. then. 367) From Athanasius' Thirty-Ninth Festal Epistle (A. and one to Philemon. two to Timothy. written in this order: the first. seven Catholic Epistles. three.. after these. the 13 Epistles of Paul. 60. of Peter. the Acts of the Apostles. to the Romans.. [Old Testament canon listed] New Testament: “four Gospels.” .D. 3 Epistles of John. one to the Hebrews. then. the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles called Catholic: of James. two to the Corinthians. to the Colossians. “These are fountains of salvation. “These are. the Revelation of John. one of Jude. two of the Thessalonians. and Jude are omitted. 7. according to Matthew. next. two to the Thessalonians. two to the Corinthians.D. and that to the Hebrews. 59. After these. one to the Ephesians. In these alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed. 363) (The absence of Canon 60 in a variety of Greek.) Can. and Syriac manuscripts makes it probable that it was a somewhat later appendage. according to Matthew. let nothing be taken away from them. one.D. one to Titus. A.

Clement. it is not among the genuine [books]. New Testament: “Matthew indeed wrote for the Hebrews the wonderful works of Christ. You have all. and . because of the mysteries contained in them . two Epistles of Peter. for all. of which James is one. the Apostles. having written wisely to the churches twice seven Epistles: to the Romans one. but first in height of teachings. one of Jude. 85. that of the catholic Acts of the Apostles. the bishops. not all of Athanasius’s contemporaries were in agreement. that to the Galatians. two Epistles of Clement. the great preacher. of the New Testament. to whom. count John as fourth in time. Then the Acts of the wise apostles. And receive also the second book of Luke. The Canon Of Amphilochius Of Iconium (d. after which that in Philippi. A. Even Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 9. Luke. then Mark. which it is not appropriate to make public before all. that is. the herald of the Gentiles. and the Acts of us. The Canon Approved By The 'Apostolic Canons' (c. having added Luke as third. permitting them only as devotional reading. Two of Peter. for I call this one rightly a son of thunder. The Canon Of Gregory Of Nazianzus (A. then the one written to the Colossians. And seven Catholic [Epistles]. 394) “Receive only four evangelists: Matthew. the fourteen Epistles of Paul. Luke for Greece. Our sacred books.Old Testament: Athanasius excludes the deuterocanonical books. John. one of James. 380) From the “Apostolic Constitutions”: Can. by me. of Matthew. to which one must add two to the Corinthians. and the Constitutions dedicated to you. And Mark for Italy. 389) would still omit Revelation from his list of canonical texts. And Jude's is the seventh.” 11. both clergy and laity…. and that to the Ephesians. Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by all of you.D. three of John. If there is any besides these. John. walking in heaven. the apostle Paul. Note: This is the first time a list corresponds to what would eventually become the New Testament as we know it. 329-89) Ratified by the Trullan Synod in 692. Nevertheless. 10. two to the Thessalonians. Mark. three of John again. two to Timothy. in eight books. are the four Gospels.D. Add next the chosen vessel. And fourteen Epistles of Paul. sounding out most greatly with the word of God.

. 1 & 4 Maccabees. Moreover. and that of Jude a seventh. Exodus.” It is not entirely clear. Psalm 151. Leviticus. Besides the canonical Scriptures.D. Can. Psalter of . Old Testament: “Genesis. And some receive three [of John]. two of Peter. “Decretum Gelasianum” Pseudonymous. one. 393). some approve. Job. 14. for the grace is genuine. and those of John. NT: The 27 books (with some variation in order among Acts & Epistles). Jesus Nave. The [books of the] New Testament: the Gospels. but also includes Epistle of Barnabas. “Well. Odes NT: All 27 books. nothing shall be read in church under the name of divine Scriptures. two. Numbers.to Titus and Philemon. of James. Concerning the confirmation of this canon. Wisdom and Sirach. four books. and “The Shepherd of Hermas. And again the Revelation of John. but others say only three should be received--that of James. their acts shall also be read. and one to the Hebrews. Deuteronomy.D. one Epistle. one book. Codex Alexandrinus OT: Includes 3 & 4 Maccabees. 24. This is perhaps the most reliable (lit. the Revelation of John. 397) Confirming the earlier decision of the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (A. Judith. 13. the Epistles of Paul. and one of Peter. one. Ruth. three. Judges. 4 books of Kings. thirteen. the canonical Scriptures are these: [then follows a list of Old Testament books]. 1 Esdras. what remains? Of the Catholic Epistles some say we must receive seven. of Jude. one each. 2 books of Chronicles. but the most say it is spurious. plus 1 & 2 Clement Indications of an appendix containing Psalms of Solomon 15. and besides these. But some say the one to the Hebrews is spurious. but these might have been meant to be regarded as an appendix. AD list. Codex Sinaiticus OT: Hebrew Canon (longer forms of Daniel. most unfalsified) canon of the divinely inspired Scriptures. of John. apostle. one. of Peter. Esther). probably represents a 6th c. one. Tobit. of the same to the Hebrews. not saying well.” 12. the transmarine Church shall be consulted. On the anniversaries of martyrs. the Acts of the Apostles. The Canon Approved By The Third Synod Of Carthage (A.

1 book of Acts of the Apostles. Judith. Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin. Isaiah. 1 of Jude. H. Collection. 1 of James. Patzia. .” New Testament: “4 books of Gospels. 2 of Peter. Westcott. F. The Canon of Scripture. 1988. Text and Canon.” Bibliography: Bruce. Tobit. Downers Grove. Ill. 13 letters of the Apostle Paul. 1985.: InterVarsity Press. Development. and the Apocalypse of John. 2 books of Esdras. 12 books of Prophets. Ezekiel.David. 7th ed. Esther. 3 of John. Nashville: Abingdon. Arthur G. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. *Metzger.: InterVarsity Press. F. 1 of him to the Hebrews. Daniel. 1987. 2 books of Maccabees. Lohse. Y. The Formation of the New Testament. 5 books of Solomon. and Significance. London: Macmillan. Brooke F. Gamble. 1981. Ill. Downers Grove. Oxford: Clarendon. A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament. Jeremiah. Philadelphia: Fortress. 1896. The Making of the New Testament: Origin. Eduard. 1995.