Canon of the New Testament
When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left a body, not a book.
The gospel came first. The gospels came later. Oral tradition produced the communities that produced and preserved the scriptures of the New Testament.
The 27 books of the New Testament
The canon ("official list of books") of the New Testament was not settled until 382-419 AD. Up until then, there were disagreements about which books to include and which to exclude from the official list of books inspired by God. It took time for the Church to decide which books to include in or exclude from the New Testament. The Church reached agreement on the four gospels and the seven undisputed letters of St. Paul early in the second century; other books were disputed for the next three centuries.
The first column in this table, the Biblical order of the books, follows the Catholic canon rather than the Lutheran, which puts Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation at the end as apocryphal works.
All of the other columns are illustrative, not definitive. The Church has no dogmatic teachings on the date, author, or genre of the books of the New Testament; scholars disagree on these things. The more you learn about Biblical criticism, the more you may enter into these debates, if you wish to do so. I have followed the Jerome Biblical Commentary and the New American Bible in constructing this table, for the most part.
|Matthew||70s to 80s||Jewish scribe?||Gospel||undisputed|
|Mark||60s||disciple of Peter?||Gospel||undisputed|
|Luke = Luke vol. 1||70s to 80s||Syrian Gentile||Gospel||undisputed|
|John||90-100||The Beloved Disciple||Gospel||undisputed|
|Acts = Luke vol. 2||after Luke||author of Luke||History||undisputed|
|Ephesians||after Colossians||not Paul?||Treatise?||undisputed|
|2 Thessalonians||51-100?||not Paul?||Epistle?||undisputed|
|1 Timothy||circa 100||Author of Titus||Pastoral epistle||undisputed|
|2 Timothy||circa 100||Author of Titus||Pastoral epistle||undisputed|
|Titus||circa 100||not Paul||Pastoral epistle||undisputed|
|Hebrews||before 70?||Jewish Christian?||Treatise||disputed by Luther|
|James||60s to 90s?||James of Jerusalem||Epistle||disputed by Luther|
|1 Peter||65?||disciple of Peter?||Epistle||undisputed|
|2 Peter||after Jude||Not Peter||Epistle?||disputed by others|
|1 John||circa 100||Not John the Apostle or Beloved Disciple||Epistle||undisputed|
|2 John||circa 100||Not John the Apostle or Beloved Disciple||Epistle||disputed by others|
|3 John||circa 100||Not John the Apostle or Beloved Disciple||Epistle||disputed by others|
|Jude||circa 100||Not the apostle Jude||Epistle?||disputed by Luther|
|Revelation||95-96||Not John the Apostle or Beloved Disciple||Apocalypse||disputed by Luther|
Development of the Canon of the New Testament
- later writings
Sequence of decrees
In 382 AD, Pope Damasus and the Council of Rome (a local, not worldwide or ecumenical council) listed the books of the Old and New Testament exactly as they appear in today's Catholic bibles. This decision was reaffirmed four times over the next forty years and again in two ecumenical councils of the Church.
|382||Council of Rome under Pope Damasus|
|393||Council of Hippo|
|397||Council of Carthage|
|405||Pope Clement I|
|1442||Ecumenical Council of Florence|
|1546||Ecumenical Council of Trent|
Luther's Attempt to Discard New Testament books
Luther treated four books of the New Testament as "antilegomena," literally, books that had been "spoken against" or disputed in the patristic era. By contrast, Luther called books that were spoken of with the same reverence "homologoumena." The four disputed books that Luther separated from those that he thought were undisputed were:
These books were placed at the end of the New Testament, lacked page numbers, and did not appear in the index. This is exactly how Luther denigrated the seven extra books of the Septuagint. Luther's rejection of the Septuagint material caught on with most Protestants; his rejection of the four New Testament books did not. Some Protestants add 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John to the list for a total of seven "doubtful" books of the New Testament.
Early Non-canonical Christian Writings
|1st or 2nd century||The Didache||"The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." Catechism, Baptism, Eucharist.|
|1st or 2nd century||Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians||"The epistle was publicly read from time to time at Corinth, and by the 4th century this usage had spread to other churches. It was included in the 5th century Codex Alexandrinus, which contained the entire Old and New Testaments."|
|1st or 2nd century||The Shepherd of Hermas||"The work comprises five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it."|
|1st or 2nd century||The Epistle of Barnabas||After destruction of the Temple (70 AD) and before Bar Kochba Revolt in 132 AD. "In no other writing of that early time is the separation of the Gentile Christians from observant Jews so clearly insisted upon. The covenant promises, he maintains, belong only to the Christians (e.g. 4.6-8), and circumcision, and the entire Jewish sacrificial and ceremonial system are, according to him, due to misunderstanding."|
|4th century||Pseudo-Clement||Alleged first-person account of a companion and disciple of Peter. Not quoted until the 4th century by Eusebius, who notes that it was unknown among the ancients.|