Who decided which books made it into the New Testament and which ones didn’t? How do we know they got it right?
This is a question about the New Testament canon, a term that describes which books have been accepted as official and are therefore included in the Bible. I raised this issue with renowned New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger when I interviewed him for The Case for Christ.
“How did the early church leaders determine which books would be considered authorita¬tive and which would be discarded?” I asked. “And what criteria did they use in determining which documents would be included in the New Testament?”
“Basically, the early church had three criteria,” he said. “First, the books must have apostolic authority—that is, they must have been written either by apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about, or by followers of apostles.
“Second, there was the criterion of conformity to what was called the rule of faith. That is, was the document congruent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative?
“And third, there was the criterion of whether a document had had continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large.
“What’s remarkable,” Metzger continued, “is that even though the fringes of the canon remained unsettled for a while, there was actually a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament within the first two centuries. And this was true among very diverse congregations scattered over a wide area.”
Another authority in this area, F. F. Bruce, added in his book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? “The historic Christian belief is that the Holy Spirit, who controlled the writing of the individual books, also controlled their selection and collection, thus continuing to fulfill our Lord’s promise that he would guide his disciples ‘into all the truth’ (John 16:13).”
So we can see there was both divine and human care in collecting the canon of books that we now know as the New Testament Scriptures.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16–17
This week's essay is drawn from "The Case for Christianity Answer Book" by Lee Strobel
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