Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



 The New Testment Canon. 

The formation of the New Testament canon was likewise gradual but there is a sense in which the process presented far more difficulties than did that of the Old Testament.  In the case of the Old Testament the books of the writers all belong to one race and one community. 

It was quite different in the case of the New Testament.The various books and letters were written in far seperated parts of the Roman Empire and often sent to different places.  At first each was only in the place to which it had been sent; then copies would be made and handed around, especially in the immediate vicinity. 

It was therefore, some time before all the churches have a copy of each. In the case of the very small letters it would be quite conceivable that some churches would not have a copy even as late as the third century. 

It was naturally the desire to be able to read or have read the story of our Lord's life and death and letters off the apostles which hastened all but the spread of the New Testament and its various books becoming a recognized as god's inspired word as much as the Old Testament.  The new Bible hand book sums up the historical process as follows,

  1. In the first century the various books were written, copied and then disseminated to the churches. 
  2. In the first half of the second century they became more generally known, were read in churches and quoted with authority. 
  3. In the second half of the second century they were given a place beside the Old Testament as Scripture, translated, and made the subject of commentaries. 
  4. In the third century they were collected into one whole, were spoken of as the New Testament.  And by sifting process were separated from other Christian literature. 
  5. In the fourth century the writings of the fathers state that the conclusions reached were universally accepted by all Christian people in other words can became fixed.

Another stimulus to the fixing of the canon was the rise of heretical teaching.  Each heresy often had its own particular copy of the authoritative Scriptures, altered to suit its particular slant.  It therefore became necessary to put the stamp of the church on those books which were truly inspired and the word of God. 

This was the reason why some books were slow in being accepted.  Each church or area sifted thoroughly books with which it was not well acquainted. The church as a whole finally only put its seal on those books which every church recognized as being true to the inspired of God.

Eusebius divided the books into four classes-those universally agreed as canonical which he called the "homologomena", those which were disputed which he called the "antilegomena", those which were spurious which he termed "notha" and those which were heretical and absurd. 

In his day at the beginning of the fourth century (A.D.316) the agreed and the disputed included all the books in our New Testament today.  By the end of the century all were agreed on the canon was finally settled. 

To sum up the basic reasons why these books which we now have in our New Testament were accepted by the early church, two fundamental qualifications can be given- 

  1. The external evidence was such that they were known to have been accepted by some church from the start as inspired and could be shown without doubt to have been written by an apostle or to have had apostolic authority. 
  2. The internal evidence was such as to give witness to the heart of the writing was inspired of God and was his message to the church.  A comparison between the New Testament books at all the books and epistles written at the same or almost the same time brings out clearly the marked difference between the two.

4. The Apocryphal Books and the Pseudepigrapha.

The Apocryphal books and the Pseudepigrapha are the names given to certain religious books both of the Jewish and the Christian era which have never been considered as inspired or on the same level as the canonical books, and some of them are utterly false. There are four types, two belonging to the Jewish era and two to the Christian.

The Jewish Era or Old Testament. 


The word "apocryphal' is the neuter plural of a Greek word which originally meant "hidden"; it later came to mean "private" or "secret". Its meaning in connection with the canon probably arose from the fact that they were books which were not read in public as "Scripture" but only privately or in secret.

The word finally came to mean "non-canonical". In the Old Testament there is a section of books called by this name and included in some editions of the Bible. Their names are as follows:- 1 & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith,  Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or Wisdom of Sirach ), Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Song of the Three Children, Story of Sasanna , Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, 1 & 2 Maccabees (and perhaps 3 & 4 Maccabees).

Protestantism generally has rejected these books. The Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Churches accept them as canonical though not as of such a high standard as the remainder of the books of the Bible.



The word means "false writings" and refers to a number of books, some of them very strange in their content, which have never been accepted as canonical by any one. The books included under this title were - The Book of Jubilees, The Letter of Aristeas, The Books of Adam and Eve, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, l Enoch (Ethiopic), The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Sibylline Oracles,The Assumption of Moses, 2 Enoch (or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch - Slavonia), 2 Baruch (or the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch), 3 Baruch (or the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch), The Psalms of Solomon, Pirke Aboth, The story of Ahikar, and the Fragments of a Zadokite Work. 

The Christian era or the New Testament. 

Books of good repute but accepted as Canonical. A number of books were written both during the New Testament period and immediately after which were held in high regard by the Church and in some cases in very high regard by local churches where they were known.

Some are found bound together with the New Testament in some old manuscripts. They were never, however, finally accepted into the canon. Their names are - The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Letter of Clement, Second Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas.



The New Testament Apocrypha included a number of works the character of which was far removed from the straightforward honesty and deep spirituality of the canonical books or even of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. They were often more like Christian novels and were very far fetched.

None was ever even considered as canonical. The names of the books included. The Apocalypse of Peter,  the Gospel of Peter, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, The Gospel of the Birth of Mary, The Protevangelium of James, The Gospel of the Infancy, The Gospel of Nicodemus (or the Acts of Pilate), and the Acts of Paul and Thecla.


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