Canon

Who decided which books to include in the New Testament, when, and why?

Who decided which books to include in the New Testament, when, and why?

The Religion Guy observes that with “fake news” all over the news it’s wise to be aware of fake history.

Consider Dan Brown’s influential pop novel “The DaVinci Code.” Though the plot is fiction, readers may assume the book provides reliable historical background. Experts say that’s misleading, and one example is Brown’s version of how the New Testament came to be.

That’s a timely question due to an important new technical work on the subject, “The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity” by Edmon Gallagher and John Meade. “Canon” refers to recognized scriptures. Oxford University Press published this collection of ancient texts and analysis in Britain this month, with U.S. release due in January.

(The following relies on “The Formation of the New Testament” (1965) by Robert M. Grant of the University of Chicago, and “The Canon of the New Testament” (1987) by Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary, and covers only the New Testament, not the canon of the Hebrew Bible a.k.a. Old Testament.)

Brown is correct that many texts about Jesus were circulating during Christianity’s first few centuries, so decisions had to be made about which were authentic and recognized as scripture. Many Christian folk don’t realize how complex the process was.

By Brown’s account, the Roman Emperor Constantine was the power-broker who picked only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John out of some 80 Gospels in contention. Actually what Constantine did in A.D. 331 was commission Bishop Eusebius to have copyists produce 50 new copies of the Greek canon to replace Scriptures that had been destroyed during Rome’s previous anti-Christian purge. The 80 count is exaggerated, and most rejected writings did not resemble the genre of the favored four, which were not chosen by the emperor but church authorities.

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Did St. Paul write all 13 letters that the Bible credits to him?

Did St. Paul write all 13 letters that the Bible credits to him?

RACHAEL ASKS: What is the debate about the authorship of Paul’s letters to the early church?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

The New Testament includes 13 letters (“epistles”) from Christianity’s first decades that name the apostle Paul as the author, or Paul with colleagues Silvanus, Sosthenes, or Timothy. The earliest is 1 Thessalonians, written just a couple decades after Jesus’ crucifixion. In the traditional view, Paul produced the others during the next 15 years or so before his execution.

As early as the 2nd Century, Paul’s 13 letters formed a defined collection that was widely recognized and later incorporated into the New Testament. That’s where matters stood till modern times. Today, scholars say Paul certainly wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. But questions are raised about these six: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, and the “pastoral epistles” of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

The Religion Guy can only provide glimpses of this intricate discussion. Some of the doubts involve writing style, word choice, and such, lately examined via computer. Others concern whether the contents fit the context of Paul’s lifetime.

Would pseudonyms undercut the Bible’s credibility?

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