The Apostles and the Written Word
by Leland M. Haines
The Holy Spirit guided the apostles to put the Word into a written form. This was an expected and natural development; otherwise the redemption and revelation brought by Jesus Christ could have been lost. Luke was aware of this and searched out, as mentioned earlier, "things which are most surely believed" that were "delivered . . . unto us [Luke and his contemporaries] which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word" and wrote these in his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). The apostles were selective in writing about Christ; they had no intentions of writing a complete history of His life. We see this fact in Matthew not writing about an important event in redemptive history, the ascension, even though he was an eyewitness. Or that Mark did not mention Christ's birth. Or that only John writes about the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), an event that played such an important part in Christ's death. Or that Luke wrote a whole special section (9:51-18:14) not mentioned in the others Gospels. Thus we see they through the Holy Spirit choose not to write a complete life of Christ. The reason for this is obvious. As John wrote that Jesus did "many other signs . . . which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (John 20:34). Latter he stated that "there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (21:25).
Today we believe a canon of inspired writings is a necessity, but this was not so in the early days of the church. There was a strong oral and apostolic tradition within the early church. As mentioned earlier, the apostles and their associates were the human source of the "word of God" (Acts 4:29-31; 6:2-7; 11:1; 12:24; 13:46; et al.). Many of the early Christians remembered the apostles and their associates' teachings, teachings that were deeply imbedded in their minds. At first unity and lack of controversy within the church meant brethren did not have to constantly turn to a written Word to settle issues. By the middle of the first century, some uninformed individuals caused confusion about the relation of the Mosaic Law and Old Covenant to the Gospel and New Covenant. This issue was addressed by the apostles (Acts, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, et al.). The apostles' effort largely corrected this problem, and the church was generally unified in doctrine. Also, writing and books were nothing like they are now. Today we generally think that for any idea to be authoritative, it must have come from a book, but this was not so in the early church.
As time passed, several factors made it desirable to have authoritative Christian writings and a canon of them. Some of these factors are, first, the outreach of the church brought in many new disciples. As the apostles opened work in more distant areas, one way they kept in contact with churches was through letters. The new Christians had to be nurtured; so the four Gospels, the history of the church, and letters of encouragement and correction were written. At first these writings were sent out individuality, but much later these books were brought together and sent to the outlying churches as a group. In some cases these books had to be translated into the disciples' native languages. Both the collection and translation factors required identity of which books were authoritative and belonged to the New Testament canon.
Second, the early church expected Jesus Christ to return soon, and this undoubtedly delayed the apostles' writing. But as time progressed and He did not return, the need arose to have a written record of Jesus' life and teaching and the history of redemption.
Third, persecution resulted in the Christian writings being searched out and destroyed. So the brethren needed to know which writings were inspired so they could be protected at all cost.
Fourth, it was inevitable that the apostles would die, and with time the authority of the their oral teachings would be questioned and subject to being treated as legends and myths. Because of these very real dangers, which would surely result in doctrine disunity, the need for an authoritative written Word increased.
Fifth, gradually, false teachers arose. They were present early in the life of the church, well before the end of the first century. Paul wrote that there were "empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision party" (Titus 1:10 RSV). Paul asked Timothy to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions [promote speculations] rather than godly edifying" (I Timothy 1:3-4). These false teachings, mainly concerning the relation of the law given by Moses and the grace and truth brought by Jesus Christ, led to the writing of many of the New Testament books.
Sixth, John wrote that "as ye have heard that antichrist shall come. . . . They went out from us" (I John 2:18, 19). After the apostolic times, God knew these antichrists would question the authority of certain of the writings that did not agree with their ideas, leading to the need to clarify which books were inspired.
The preceding factors no doubt contributed to the apostles' writing the Gospels and Epistles, and the early Christians and church's bringing them together in a canon. But there is another factor. The work of the Holy Spirit was the chief cause of bringing God's Word into a written record. It was His activity working in the ordinary circumstances of the apostles' lives that resulted in the written Word being preserved for all subsequent generations.
The written Word quickly received a place of high significance; those who received it gave it special status because they knew it was the message they heard from the apostles. We have evidence that the written Word was very early placed on the same level as the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul's letters were read in church gatherings with the same authority as Old Testament Scriptures (Col. 4:16. I Thess. 5:27). Peter was aware of Paul's letters to the churches and classed his letter with the Scriptures (II Peter 3:15). John presupposed that his Book of the Revelation would be read as other Scriptures (Rev. 1:3).
It is clear from the above that the written Word had great significance, and as time passed it received priority over the oral form of transmission. Actually, the written Word was a fixation of the oral form and carried the same message from God. The apostles and their associates' writings were brought together by the Christian brotherhood into the New Testament Scriptures.
The New Testament Canon
Thus far we have established a relationship between the apostles' written Word and Christ's historical redemptive events. The question arises, "How did the apostles' writings come together to form the New Testament canon, the collection of books that are received as genuine and inspired Scripture?"
First, we cannot turn to Acts, to any other New Testament book, or to early church records for an answer to this question. Neither the apostles nor the early church leaders left written records explaining how books were chosen or which ones belonged to the canon. So far as we know, the apostles did not "canonize" their books to make them authoritative. Today a written list of "canonized" books is a necessity. In the first couple of generations of the church, the need for a written list was not pressing since there was a strong oral teaching and apostolic tradition within the churches. The apostles' spoken words and established traditions were considered authoritative in the early church, and by them Christians were taught and knew which books were inspired.
We do not know why written records about the forming of the canon were not made. Perhaps one reason is that the early Christians may have decided, as just mentioned, to rely on verbal transmission of the list of books belonging in the New Testament. Thus they may not have seen the need to put in writing what everyone knew. The apostles may also have thought that it was not important for later generations to know every detail of the process by which the Word was put in writing. They may have thought that later generations would constantly be distracted from the message by turning their attention to the process. They may have also expected the Lord to return soon, eliminating any need for a written record. Furthermore, the apostles may have been too busy living and preaching the gospel and carrying out the Great Commission to make such lists.
So how was the canon formed? The answer is simple. The Christians and the church simply acknowledged the apostles' authority and accepted their writings and the writings of those closely associated with them (such as Mark and Luke) as part of the Holy Scripture. The church did not have to put together a canon by reviewing and examining prospective books and choosing those that qualified to be part of it. How would the church know which books the apostles and their associates wrote? During the opening period of church history, the apostles themselves, or those who received the books, could be asked. Oral tradition would pass the answers on to the following generations.
The next step would be to make a list of these books. Since bookmaking was not developed to where all the New Testament writings could be bound together, one would expect the canon list to develop long before many would have possessed a New Testament canon.
The third step would be for the church and individuals to gather the writings together. Would this be difficult? No, these books were treasured and preserved.
A source of the books in the early history of the church could have been the apostles themselves. One can safely assume that they kept copies of their manuscripts. The writers of the Gospels no doubt had copyists reproducing their manuscripts from the very start so they could be sent to the churches, and the copyists would have had to keep either the original or a copy to do this. One may speculate that the writer of a gospel or any other New Testament book would hardly had put such effort into a manuscript without seeing that it would be distributed. It seems unlikely that Paul would write such a major work as Romans without keeping a copy. There was too much chance that it might be lost in transit to Rome -- or even misplaced by the church in Rome -- for him not to keep a copy. Other authors may also have kept copies of their letters. But above all, the Holy Spirit saw to the overseeing of the distribution and preservation of the books He inspired.
Another source of a canonizing list would had been those receiving the books. They would knew right off that it was an important work since it came from an apostle or his close associate. They surely knew some of the above mentioned views that show these writings quickly were given an important position: (1) that Paul's letters were read in church gatherings on the same level as Old Testament Scriptures (Col. 4:16; I Thess. 5:27), (2) that Peter was aware of Paul's letters to the churches and classed his letters with the Scriptures (II Peter 3:15), (3) that John presupposed his Book of Revelation would be read as other Scriptures (Rev. 1:3), (4) that John's warning about adding to or taking away from the Book of Revelation showed great importance would be placed on it (22:19), and (5) that Paul's critics recognized his letters were "weighty and powerful" (II Cor. 10:10).
In summary, making a canon of New Testament books was no real problem for the early Christians since the church as a whole generally acknowledged the same writings; those questioned were few. When the some books were questioned, it was mainly in later times by individuals or in isolated areas of the church. Those receiving the books -- and possibly the writers themselves -- would have preserved the originals or copies. Copies must have existed from the very start and were available to the church. Those who wrote or more likely those who received the books must have copied them and passed them around the churches.
Certainly what happened concerning the list of canonical books and their preservation was tied to Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit was active in bringing the books together. As mentioned earlier, the church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:20-21). Christ is the corner stone, and He promised the apostles that "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:26 RSV); thus the apostles built upon Him to form the foundational truths to guide the church.
Let us mention here an interesting development concerning paper and bookmaking that may also have affected the development of the canon. At least some of the first New Testament writings may have existed in a roll or scroll form if Paul "books" and parchments mentioned in II Timothy (4:13) were New Testament. But we are not at all sure these were New Testament writings. These parchment may had been Old Testament scrolls Paul wanted to use in his defense. As Alands has pointed out, "All the literature of the period was written on scrolls (including Jewish literature . . .); yet apparently from the very beginning Christians did not use scrolls format for their writing, but rather the codex." (The codex is a "leaf" formed booklet.) They note that only four of the early known papyri were scrolls, and these four were "either opisthographs or written on used material." Roberts and Skeats suggest the papyrus codex was probably used by Christians before 100 A.D. The reason for this change to codies is unclear. It may have been for economic reasons (both sides could be written on; their use of abbreviations show the scribe wanted to shortened the text), convenience in paging back and forth in the writings, or to break from the Jewish use of scrolls, etc.
Roberts notes that of the 172 biblical manuscripts or their fragment written before A.D. 400, only 14 are in scroll form. He believes that Christians adapted the codex (leaf) form at Antioch before A.D. 100. Before the fourth century, only a few New Testament books could be put together in one codex. During the fourth century paper and bookmaking technology developed to the point where all the New Testament books could be bound together in one book, and the first "one book" New Testament likely came into existence then. This development may have been a factor in Athanasius' making his list.
When we look back to the early church's written records, it appears to have taken a fairly long time to "canonize" the New Testament. Currently we know of no list of canonical books dating before A.D. 170, and this list does not contain all twenty-seven books found today in the New Testament. The first list we know of containing the twenty-seven books was made in 367, when Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria listed them in his annual Easter letter to the church. It was just before this, soon after 350, that Athanasius applied the Greek term kanon to the list of books that was Scripture. It was not until the fifth century that disputes about which books belonged in the canon generally ceased. Before we conclude from these facts that the canon was slow in being recognized, we must realize that our vision into early church history related to the canon is likely very imperfect. Undoubtedly, there were many other lists earlier than that of 170, because the canon would have been fairly well-defined soon after the apostolic age, and for certain by the end of the second century.
So far as we know, twenty of the twenty-seven books were accepted as they were written. Schaff wrote, "The principle books, the Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first Epistle of John, in a body, were in general use after the middle of the second century, and were read, either entire or by sections, in public worship, after the manner of the Jewish synagogue, for the edification of the people." Some early church leaders questioned the inspiration of the other seven books for a time. For example, the author of Hebrews was unknown, they did not understand how James's remarks on faith and works fit into Paul's explanation of justification by faith. The writing style of Peter's second letter differs considerably from his first letter; John's second and third letters were private and slow to receive wide circulation; Jude referred to the apocryphal Book of Enoch; and some questioned the literalness of Revelation's thousand-year-reign teaching.
The only way we know today which books the early church considered canonical is through the early leaders' writings, by which books they quoted from or alluded to. But even this becomes difficult. "The first half of the second century is comparatively veiled in obscurity. . . . After the death of John only a few witnesses remained to testify of the wonders of the Apostolic days, and their writings are few in number, short in compass and partly of doubtful origin. . . . The men of that generation were more skilled in acting out Christianity in life and death, than in its literary defense."
The earliest record that the apostolic writings were accepted as Scripture is found in The Epistle of Barnabas (c. 100). He wrote, "As it is written, 'Many are called, but few are chosen.'" The footnote states that this is "an exact quotation from Matt. xx.16 or xxii.14. It is worthy of notice that this is the first example in the writings of the Fathers of a citation from any book of the New Testament, preceded by the authoritative formula, 'It is written.'"  A footnote to Cement's Second Letter concerning the statement, "And another Scripture says, 'I did not come to call the righteousness, but sinner'" states this statement is a quotation of Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32; and that "this is the earliest example of a New Testament passage being cited as 'Scripture.'"
Below is a brief review of which books early church fathers quoted from and, if available, their views of these books. Obviously, these writers may have also accepted other books, but may not have quoted from them.
Justin Martyr (c. 110-65) used all the Gospels, Paul's epistles, I Peter and Revelation. His high view of these writings is shown in his words: "the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called the Gospels, have delivered unto us," and then gives details of Jesus' ministry; "the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them" show the source of these writings: "We have not believed empty fables, or words without foundation, but words filled with the Spirit of God, and big with power, and flourishing with grace," "a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law -- namely, Christ -- has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy." Concerning the Book of Revelation, he writes, "A certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by revelation that was made to him," etc. These writings were read in the early church alongside Old Testament Scriptures: "On the day called Sunday . . . the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. . . . the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things."
Polycarp (c. 69-155) quoted from Matthew, Luke, John, and ten of Paul's epistles, Hebrews, I Peter, and 1 and 2 John. In his short Philippians letter, he had numerous New Testament quotations and allusions. This shows that most of the New Testament books were available to him, that he was very familiar with them, and that he treated them authoritatively. Polycarp is a reputable witness to the canon. He was a student of John, and as Irenaeus wrote, Polycarp "would speak of the conversations he held with John and with the others who had seen the Lord." Polycarp recognized that the apostles were specially gifted teachers: "For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth." He quoted Matt. 26:41 and/or Mark 14:38: "As the Lord has said: 'The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.'" He wrote about those who "pervert the oracles of the Lord . . . let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning."
Ignatius (c. 30-107) wrote seven epistles to the church while enroute to martyrdom in Rome. His writings differ from Polycarp's since Ignatius wrote while traveling and could not refer to the written Word. He had to recall truth from memory; so his writings contain very few direct quotations, but they contain many allusions to the New Testaments books. He quotes or makes allusions to Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, I Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, and I Peter. He wrote that he did "not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles," and that "the lot of the Christians of Ephesians, who have always been in the same mind with apostles in the power of Jesus Christ."
Tatian's (c. 110-72) Diatessaron, or Harmony of the Four Gospels, which was once widely circulated, shows that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Gospels in the early church. He referred to John 1:5 as "scripture." Tatian made frequent allusions to Paul's epistles and Hebrews. He was a pupil of Justin Martyr but "seems to have afterwards wandered to the borders of heretical Gnosticism, or at least to an extreme type of asceticism." His Harmony "conclusively proves the existence and ecclesiastical use of the four Gospels, no more and no less, in the middle of the second century."
Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202), the disciple of Polycarp, wrote extensively and used almost all the New Testament books; he named or cited all the books except Philemon, James, II Peter, and III John. His high views are shown in his writings: "We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. . . . [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge." "Thus did the apostles simply, and without respect of persons, deliver to all what they themselves learned from the Lord."
Tertullian (c. 150-220) was an elder who lived and served in Carthage, North Africa. He was a major early church writer, even though he did not repent until he was in his thirties or forties. In his writing he makes over 7,200 New Testament Scripture quotations. He used all the books except Philemon, James, II Peter, and III John.
The Moratoria Fragment on the canon (c. 170) is an incomplete Latin writing discovered in an eighth-century manuscript by an Italian librarian and historian, L. A. Moratoria, in 1740. Its unknown Roman author named all the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and I and II Peter. It is believed this is "an authoritative list of the writings which are to be 'received' in the Catholic [general] church and to be read in public." Some have argued that the names of these missing books were lost from the list because of a break in the manuscript. This document also names several books that are to be rejected. Kummel comments: "Quite clear is the consciousness that just as the prophetic writings is closed, so also the apostolic writings must be exactly delimited and the new canon must be a closed one. Decisive for including a writing is not its content but the fact that it was written by an apostle." Clement of Alexandrea (c. 155-212), in his Outlines manuscript, went into details of the New Testament canon's books, but this manuscript has been lost. He accepted or cited all the books except II Timothy, Philemon, James, II Peter, and II and III John. Since he wrote about historical details of the books, it is clear that their backgrounds were known and that the church was interested in and knew of the books' histories.
Origen (c. 185-254), according to Eusebius, "attests that he knows of only four gospels" -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- "which are the only undisputed ones in the whole church of God throughout the world."
Eusebius' Witness to the Written Word
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340), a Christian apologist and early church historian, has contributed much to our understanding of the canonization of the New Testament. In his Ecclesiastical History, he classifies the writing into three groups: undisputed or genuine, disputed, and spurious. As we look at this in more detail, we will give rather lengthy quotations from his writings. Hopefully, many readers will find his writing valuable.
Eusebius wrote that of the twelve apostles, the seventy and other disciples,
Matthew and John are the only ones that have left us recorded comments, and even they, tradition says, understood it from necessity. Matthew also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrews, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writings in his native tongue, and thus supplied the want of his presence to them, by his writings. But after Mark and Luke had already published their gospels, they say, that John, who during all this time was proclaiming the gospel without writing, at length proceeded to write it . . . on the following occasion. These gospels previously written, having been distributed among all, and also handed to him; they say that he admitted them, giving his testimony to their truth; but that there was only wanting in the narrative the account of the things done by Christ, among the first of his deeds, and at the commencement of the gospel.
Earlier Eusebius wrote about Luke: "But Luke, who was born at Antioch, and by profession a physician, being for the most part connected with Paul, and familiarly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two inspired books. . . . One of these is his gospel. . . . It is also said, that Paul usually referred to his gospel, whenever, in his epistles he spoke of some particular gospel of his own, saying, 'according to my gospel.'" In his introduction he stated he wanted "to free us from the uncertain suppositions of others, in his own gospel, he delivered the certain account of those things, that he himself had fully received from his intimacy and stay with Paul, and also, his intercourse with the other apostles."
Eusebius connected Mark to Peter:
So greatly, however, did the splendour of piety enlighten that mind of Peter's hearers, that it was not sufficient to hear but once, nor to receive the unwritten doctrine of the gospel of God, but they persevered in every variety of entreaties, to solicit Mark as the companion of Peter, and whose gospel we have, that he should leave them a monument of the doctrine thus orally communicated, in writing. Nor did they cease their solicitations until they had prevailed with the man, and thus become the means of that history which is called the Gospel according to Mark. They say also, that the apostle [Peter], having ascertained what was done by the revelation of the spirit, was delighted with the zealous ardour expressed by these men, and that, the history obtained his authority for the purpose of being read in the churches.
Some other of Eusebius remarks follow:
The early church was certain about Paul's writings: "The epistles of Paul are fourteen, all well known and beyond doubt."
The Book of Hebrews was disputed: "that some have set aside the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it was disputed, as not being one of St. Paul's epistles."
He wrote that John's "first epistle is acknowledged without dispute, both by those of the present day, and also by the ancients."
"Among the disputed books, although they are well known and approved by many, is reputed, that call the Epistle of James and Jude. Also the 'Second Epistle of Peter,' and those called 'The Second and Third of John,' whether they are of the evangelist or of some other of the same name." "The opinions respecting the Revelation are still greatly divided."
The spurious writings (according to Bruce this term "means little more uncanonical. . . . The 'spurious' books were not generally included in the cannon, yet they were known and esteemed by many churchmen. If not canonical, they were at least orthodox.") stand in sharp contrast to the disputed. It is one thing for brethren to dispute among themselves about minor points of a writing, but it is another to recognize a writing as obviously forged, deceitful, and wrong.
Eusebius listed among the spurious writing "The Acts of Paul," "Pastor," "The Revelations of Peter," "The Epistle of Barnabas," and the "Institutions of the Apostles." He also denounced and rejected such books as "those that are adduced by the Heretics under the name of the apostles, such, viz., as compose the gospel of Peter, Thomas, and Matthew, and others beside them, or such as others the Acts of the Apostles, by Andrew, and John, and others, of which no one of those writers in the ecclesiastical succession has condescended to make any mention in his works; and indeed, the character of the style itself is very different from the apostles, and the sentiments, and the purport of those things that are advanced in them, deviating as far as possible from sound orthodoxy, evidently proves they are the fictions of heretical men; whence they are to be ranked not among the spurious writings, but are to be rejected as altogether absurd and impious." Some earlier church leaders occasionally quoted from some of these books, but this does not mean they accepted them as Scripture. Several New Testament writers quoted non-Biblical sources to illustrate their own writings. Heathen poets are quoted, such as Aratus in Acts 17:28, Menander in I Corinthians 15:33, and Epimenides in Titus 1:12. Some Old Testament writers also quoted Gentiles. The important point to recognize is that none of the above quotations are preceded with the authoritative "it is written" or "the scripture says"; therefore these quotations do not mean they were considered Scripture.
We can also have added confidence in the New Testament when we compare its books to other early church writings that were not received into the canon. The New Testament books stand together as a group of the highest quality, with doctrinal value and without doctrinal peculiarities. There are no questions about their superiority; we have no doubt that the right books were chosen to be in the canon.
As Schaff wrote, "The hand of God has drawn a bold line of demarcation between the century of miracles and the succeeding ages, to show, by abrupt transition and the striking contrast, the difference between the works of God and the work of men, and to impress us the more deeply with the supernatural origin of Christianity and the incomparable value of the New Testament."
Some of the rejected books, "the gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Matthew, and other besides them, or such as contain the Acts of the Apostles, by Andrew, and John, and others," as the early church historian Eusebius wrote,
no one of those writers in the ecclesiastical succession has condescended to make any mention in his works; and indeed, the character of the style itself is very different from that of the apostles, and the sentiments, and the purport of those that are advanced in them, deviating as far as possible from sound orthodoxy, evidently proves they are the fictions of heretical men.
These were not to be ranked among the spurious writings but were totally "rejected as altogether absurd and impious." They were written to support peculiar heretical teachings clearly without New Testament support or to give information about Jesus Christ's childhood and the apostles' lives. They often contained mythical and fictional details.
Confidence in the Canon
Today we accept the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as authoritative and can do so without the slightest doubt. We depend on the early Christians' decision that each of the twenty-seven books has apostolic authorship or authorization. We do this since the early Christians were in a much better position to judge. The reason for this lies in the concept of apostolicity, which limits itself to a certain place and time. The recipients of each writing were in the best position to know where the writings came from. Thus we accept their decision and can do so with confidence since the Holy Spirit was at work guiding their decision.
The apostles or other early church leaders did not explain how the actual canonization process occurred. At first each of the apostle's writings were acknowledged individually as authoritative. There was no canon that made them authoritative. But as time passed, several factors caused a need for a canon of authoritative written Word.
The church gathered together the writings that were accepted as the apostles' from the very beginning. This was no real problem for the church since it as a whole generally acknowledged the same writings. Those that were questioned were small in number and were disputed by only a few. Generally, when this questioning occurred, it was done in later times by obviously false teachers or occurred only in isolated areas of the church. Today when, we study these early writings, we have not only the early writings testimony that they are Scripture, but also internal evidence shows they are a special, stand-alone class of writings.
In summary, the New Testament is our authority in religious matters because it is tied to Christ and the historical-redemptive events. Christ established the means by which it was written. He directed the apostles and their associates to give His Word and sent the Holy Spirit as a guide. The early Christians accepted the apostolic word as Christ's Word because of its supernational origin and character. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the early church gathered together the apostles' writings that God wanted preserved, thus completing the last step in recording the final written revelation of God to man, the New Testament.
1 Kurt and Barabara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, p. 75.
2 Aland, The Text, op. cit., p. 102.
3 C. H. Roberts and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex, London, 1983. pp 37-43. Cited by Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 261, n. 1.
4 Idid., pp. 37-43.
5 Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910, 1991, I:572. 6 Ibid., II:12.
7 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:139.
8 Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1:194.
9 Ibid., I:185.
10 Ibid., I:251.
11 Ibid., I:199.
12 Ibid., I:200.
13 Ibid., I:240.
14 Ibid., I:186. 15 J. B. Lightfoot, J. R. Harmer, and Michael W. Holes, The Apostolic Fathers, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989, p. 119.
16 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:31.
17 The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:33, 34.
18 Romans 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:75.
19 Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:54. 20 Tatian, Apology, chapter 13, cited by Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 101.
21 Schaff, op. cit., II:727, 730.
22 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:414.
23 Ibid., 1:438.
24 Werner G. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987, p. 492.
25 Ibid., p. 493.
26 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966, p. 245.
27 Ibid., p. 108.
28 Ibid., p. 85.
29 Ibid., p. 109. 30 Ibid., pp. 64-66.
31 Ibid., p. 83.
32 Ibid., p. 110.
33 Ibid., p. 110.
34 F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988, pp. 199, 200.
35 Ibid., p. 111.
36 Schaff, op. cit., 2:7.
37 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966, p. 111.
38 Ibid., p. 111.
The above is Chapter 2 of The Authority of Scripture, © copyright 2000 by Leland M. Haines