The Canon of the New Testament

Yesterday my family and I continued reading Chapter 3, “The Canon of Scripture,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time, reading the first half of its section on the canon of the New Testament.

The New Testament consists primarily of the writings of the apostles, their being given the ability to speak for God just as the prophets had and thus their writings having equal authority with the writings in the Old Testament. Jesus promised to empower the twelve by the Holy Spirit to remember what he had said and to guide them into all truth. “The Helper, 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 have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV; all quotations from the Bible are from the ESV). And Paul, whom Jesus called to be an apostle on the road to Damascus, told the Corinthians that what he wrote to them came from God. “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things that I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

However five books of the New Testament were not written by apostles: Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude. (Although James was not one of the twelve, he was recognized as an apostle, his being appeared to by Jesus after the resurrection and his becoming leader of the Jerusalem church.) All of them except Hebrews were probably recognized as Scripture because of their authors’ association with apostles–Mark with Peter, Luke (the author of Luke-Acts) with Paul, and Jude with James (they were both brothers of Jesus). And Hebrews may have been accepted as Scripture because many attributed it to Paul.

Early in the history of the church the writings of the New Testament began to be accepted as Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:15-16 Peter refers to the writings of Paul as Scripture, saying, “Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” And in 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul refers to a passage from Luke as Scripture, saying, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ [a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4] and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’ [a quotation from Luke 10:7].

However for some time there was disagreement over the inclusion of a few books and it wasn’t until 367 A.D. that a list appeared containing exactly the same twenty-seven books that are in our New Testament. Tomorrow I’ll consider why the inclusion of some books was disputed and what criteria was used to decide which books to include.

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