The Formation And Closure Of Biblical Canons: A Multifaceted Development

`Abdullah David, M S M Saifullah & Usman Sheikh

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

First Composed: 20th August 2005

Last Updated: 26th January 2006


Assalamu-`alaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

1. Introduction

Today the vast majority of Christians assume that the New Testament accurately reflects the authentic words and teachings of Jesus. It is also the case, however, that the vast majority of Christians are unaware of the historical processes behind the formation of the New Testament canon. Many do not realise that there was a time when the New Testament canon (i.e., an authoritative collection of books) simply did not exist. Jesus did not write the New Testament; neither did he instruct his followers to write a New Testament. Thus, the New Testament canon did not come into being by the direct instruction of Jesus, nor of anyone so authorised by him. In fact, there is no one person, Church Council or Christian community which can claim to have originated the canon of the New Testament. The canonicity of many books of the New Testament were still being vigorously debated hundreds of years after the departure of Jesus, and, in fact, this debate continues to this very day. Given these well acknowledged facts, it is somewhat perplexing to find the missionaries and apologists identifying their canon of the Bible (i.e., Protestant Bible) as authoritative. If one surveys their literature, one would be inclined to think that the twenty-seven book canon of the New Testament simply dropped out of the sky not long after Jesus departed, to complement the already agreed upon Old Testament canon. What the missionaries and apologists are less inclined to discuss, is that their exist numerous other "canons" of the Bible, and, the respective churches which represent these canons all make the same truth claim – our canon of scripture is the "divinely inspired" word of God. Let us now take a brief survey of evangelical, missionary and apologetical statements regarding the canon of the New Testament.

One of the strangest claims come from F. F. Bruce, a prominent evangelical New Testament scholar, who says that since the fourth century the twenty-seven book New Testament is the actual canon of the Bible. According to him:

That the New Testament consists of the twenty-seven books which have been recognized as belonging to it since the fourth century is not a value judgment; it is a statement of fact. Individuals of communities may consider that it is too restricted or too comprehensive; but their opinion does not affect the identity of the canon. The canon is not going to be diminished or decreased because of what they think or say: it is a literary, historical, and theological datum.[1]

Similarly, the Christian apologist Josh McDowell claims that since the Third Synod of Carthage (397 CE):

... there has been no serious questioning of the twenty-seven accepted books of the New Testament by Roman Catholics, Protestants, or the Eastern Orthodox Church.[2]

There is a host of Christian missionary writings that make similar claims. For example, Nehls, while dealing with Muslim assertions concerning the corruption of the Bible, claims that:

There is no doubt that at least as early as A.D. 350 well before the time of Mohammed there was a uniform canon of the Bible and nothing has been changed, adulterated, polluted or perverted since.

Furthermore, he confidently adds that the selection of the books of the Bible was not only universal but also uanimous.

So we can, with the greatest degree of confidence claim that the New Testament was not just accepted by a group of bishops at a certain church council at random. The selection was not only universal and unanimous; it was actually a decision, which had already been made earlier by all the local churches over the years independently and at their own discretion.

According to Christian apologist J. R. White the canon of the Bible, obviously a Protestant one, was clearly functioning for more than a millennia.

But once again, there is a vast difference between an infallible declaration on Rome's part and the clearly functioning, well known canon of the Scriptures that had been in place more than a millennia.

Yet another Christian missionary claims that:

According to Metzger, the Church universally came to accept the 27 books of the NT in the fourth century, nearly three centuries before the advent of Islam.

If we analyse these various claims we can start to see some common points of agreement. All agree that since the fourth century there have been twenty-seven books comprising the New Testament (i.e., matching the Protestant New Testament canon). McDowell ventures one step further and claims that since the third Synod of Carthage, nobody has seriously questioned the twenty-seven books accepted by Catholics, Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox Church. White thinks that the councils of Hippo and Carthage "finish the process with an 'official' canon list". Nehls thinks that since 350 CE there has been a uniform canon of the Bible and nothing has been changed ever since; he then goes on to say the selection of the twenty-seven books was universal and unanimous, made by all the local churches. Finally, to give credibility to these claims discussed above, the missionary Shamoun uses the scholarship of Metzger as a stamp of authority, thus negating the need for any further enquiry.

In this paper we propose to examine 'canon' from a historical viewpoint. We will chart the development of canon within the various centres of early Christendom and pause briefly over some of the circumstances leading to the establishment of the twenty-seven book list accepted as "divinely inspired" by Protestants today. A broad selection of early church decisions, as well as those of the early fathers on the nature of canon is noted. A complete catalogue of books of the entire Bible according to the major churches of Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) Christendom, as seen in the modern times, will also be provided. The historic decisions of the Council of Trent will be discussed and we will briefly contrast the Protestant and Catholic view of the canon. The nature of the documentary evidence in relation to the canon will also be mentioned. Consequently, these historical facts will be contrasted with the historical and theological exegesis of the evangelists, missionaries and apologists in order to establish the validity of their claims.

2. Canon – An Overview

The twentieth century has seen two opposing conceptions regarding the formation of the New Testament canon proposed by two German scholars, Franz Theodor Ritter von Zahn (1838 – 1933 CE) Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Introduction at Erlangen, subsequently Professor at Leipzig, and, Adolf von Harnack (1851 – 1930 CE) Professor of Church History at Leipzig (1874) subsequently Professor at Giessen (1879 CE), Marburg (1886 CE) and finally at the University of Berlin (1888 CE). Harnack first described his view on the canon of the New Testament in his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte and it was during his time at Berlin that Harnack completed his pioneering work, entitled Die Entstehung des Neuen Testaments und die wichtigsten Folgen der neuen Schöpfung,[3] published in 1914 CE, describing the formation of the New Testament canon. Zahn contested Harnack's view that the canonical process only found its maturity in the end of the second century, and set out to prove that many of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were actually canonical by c. 80 – c. 110 CE. Harnack generally did not dispute the factual data in Zahn's thesis but instead debated his interpretation of the facts. Harnack viewed the rise of early 'heretical' sects such as Marcionism, Gnosticism and Montanism, as critical to the development of the New Testament canon. The advocates of these 'heretical' sects, by discussing which books were and were not to be accepted, provided an impetus to the early Church to start considering what it believed to be writings worthy of being considered as scripture. Harnack also held the view that the scriptures possessed authority because they had been so accorded by the communities in which they were prevalent (i.e., considered "inspired" scripture), and, that this would occur when a particular piece of Christian writing was held in the same esteem as the Jewish Scripture. Zahn, however, considered that the authority of a piece of Christian writing could be derived from its contents. Thus, should the writing in question contain the "Lord's" sayings, this acted as a self-authenticating mechanism which guaranteed its canonical status. Zahn attempted to demonstrate through the comments of the early fathers that much of the New Testament, including the four gospels, thirteen epistles of Paul as well as some other writings, were read and valued at an early period; he therefore perceived the development of the New Testament canon to be one of growth and augmentation. Harnack, on the other hand, perceived the development of the New Testament canon to be one of sifting and rejection, linking the formation of the New Testament canon with the rise of early 'heterodox' Christian sects. Due to these subtle and sometimes confusing differences in definitions, Zahn placed the existence of the New Testament canon as late first, early second century. Harnack, analysing the process by which the books were selected as being canonical by the individuals and communities in which they were circulating, suggested a late second century formulation.[4] Metzger neatly summarises their controversy:

The actual facts were hardly touched by the controversy, for it is altogether possible that small collections of Gospel materials and apostolic epistles were made here and there before the end of the first century, but that only in later generations did such collections gain exclusive canonical authority on the level of inspired Scripture. In short, 'canonical' means authoritative books, but 'the canon' means the only authoritative books. Use does not equal authority; though a certain kind of use does, namely, use that excludes any other.[5]

Similarly, the Revd. John Barton insights in his book, The Spirit And The Letter: Studies In The Biblical Canon, are noted by H. J. de Jonge, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at Leiden University, the Netherlands. With reference to Zahn and Harnack's understanding of the definition of 'canon', he concludes,

The debate between Zahn and Harnack has been analysed and evaluated by some more recent scholars, among them Bruce Metzger in his The Canon of the New Testament (1987) and especially John Barton in his The Spirit and the Letter (1997). Barton has pointed out that the controversy between Zahn and Harnack originated from the two scholars' fundamentally different ideas of what the nature of the New Testament canon was. For Zahn the canon was a product of continued collection, augmentation and growth. Harnack, on the other hand, looked upon the New Testament canon as the result of a process of delimitation and exclusion. Consequently, Zahn's concept of the canon was less strict than Harnack's and, as a result, Zahn's date for the canon earlier than Harnack's.

It will be wise to keep Barton's lessons in mind: both sides of the formation process of the New Testament canon have to be reckoned with: its growth and its delimitation. These two developments took place independently. The growth came first, delimitation and exclusion occurred later. The notion "Scripture" has to be distinguished from the notion "canon". The former is an open collection of authoritative books, a collection with only vague contours; books can still be added to it, or removed from it. A canon however is a closed and exclusive list of books regarded as authoritative. The more strictly one defines "canon", the later the date of its origin. Taking into account Barton's insights, the canon of the New Testament cannot be said to have come into existence until the second half of the fourth Century. It is no coincidence that the earliest evidence for the use of the Greek word kanon in the sense of "exclusive list of the authoritative books of Holy Scripture" dates from the middle of the fourth century. The earliest attestation occurs in Athanasius' treatise on the resolutions of the Council of Nicea, which dates from 350 or 351 AD.[6]

Therefore, we can observe a very broad three-stage development with regard to the precise nature and definition of canon. Zahn suggested that the recitation of scripture in public worship, broad usage, and the scriptures normative status acted as a mark of self-authentication; thus the early Church did not purposely choose what became canonical, rather the writings arose naturally and spontaneously and were inherently canonical.[7] Harnack proposed that the creation of the New Testament canon was a deliberate act of the early Church seeking to secure itself against the major heterodox sects (which he located in the second century) and that was where the real foundation of canon formation could be located. The main proposals by Harnack and Zahn have subsequently been debated and largely adopted by scholars (in Harnack's case) studying the history of the canon. Contemporary scholars have since reconsidered the precise nature and definition of canon, and, if the process is understood to be an authoritative collection of books to which nothing can be added and nothing can be subtracted, (i.e., echoing the decree of Athanasius' Epistola Festalis) the period of canon formation is properly located in the fourth/fifth century CE.

Only after the second half of the fourth century did Christian writers begin to use "canon" to refer to a canon of "scriptures", either using the Greek word Kanōn or the Latin word canon. Prior to this, the term canon was being applied to metaphorical standards and to refer to fixed lists in both the east and the west; for example, describing orthodox Christian teachings, terms such as the "canon of Truth", "canon of Faith" or "ecclesiastical cannon" were used. Canon was also used to refer to a "list" or "table" in astronomical, mathematical and chronological writings of the early Christians. However, only after the Council of Nicea (325 CE) did the word canon begin to be used to describe other types of lists, such as resolutions of Church synods or official lists of clergy. Soon afterward, the word canon was applied to lists of accepted Christian writings. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260 – c. 339 CE) is the first to use the term Kanōn or its cognate for a list of Christian scriptures – this refers only to the fourfold Gospel collection however. Although Eusebius in his History Of The Church spoke of the canon of the early fathers, namely Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 120 – c. 202 CE), Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215 CE) and Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 – c. 254 CE), these writers never identified an authoritative list of books, i.e., a canon. Eusebius constructed these lists on behalf of the early fathers by analysing their written material; therefore, these "canonical" lists do not represent the original writings of his predecessors, but are instead of Eusebius own creation. Athanasius (c. 293 – c. 373 CE), bishop of Alexandria (Egypt), writing around c. 350 CE provides for us the earliest extant use of the word Kanōn in reference to the Christian scriptures in general.[8]

Given that it is important to distinguish between several similar but distinct terms, lets us now highlight some popular terms. A note of caution though: even trying to define the terms canon and scripture is fraught with difficulties as these definitions are usually constructed according to the holder's preferred interpretation of Christian history, and, importantly, on their own theological presuppositions. Eugene Ulrich, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame, in his comprehensive treatment on the notion and definition of canon, helps to clarify many ambiguous terms and concepts. Discussing the differences between canon and other closely related concepts, he states,

A collection of authoritative scriptures... But it is necessary to keep in mind Bruce Metzger's distinction between "a collection of authoritative books" and "an authoritative collection of books." One can designate the growing collection of authoritative books as "canonical" in the first sense of the rule, but there is not yet a canon in the second sense of an authoritative list.[9]

Ulrich then goes on to speak about the essential elements in the concept of canon,

  1. The book, not its textual form,
  2. Reflective judgement, and
  3. Closed list.

With regard to the third essential element, that the "canon" constitutes a closed list, Ulrich explains,

Closed list. An essential part of the process toward the canon was the judging and sifting to determine which books were supremely authoritative and which not. As long as the list was open, there was a collection of authoritative books, a collection of scriptures, but there was not yet an authoritative collection of books, a canon. We have noted Metzger's insistence, echoing Athanasius, that the process by which the canon was formed "was a task, not only of collecting, but also of sifting and rejecting."[10]

Thus the requirement of reflective judgement and an exclusively closed list of books (prescinding from the textual form of the books) are essential elements in the concept of canon. As long as those elements are missing, the community has a collection of authoritative books of scripture, but it does not yet have a canon. This important distinction is unfortunately lost in the missionaries rush to prove that many books of the New Testament had reached "God inspired" status by the late first century! The missionary Farooq Ibrahim claims to describe the process by which certain books of the New Testament became an authoritative collection (i.e., a canon). He states,

I also discovered that of the 27 books of the Injeel, the 4 gospel books, book of Acts, and 15 letters of Peter, John and Paul were widely used and quoted by the early Christian leaders before 70 AD, within 30 years after Isa's ascension, while eye witness to these events were still alive. These 20 books were all considered God inspired scripture by the Christian community as the apostles did many miracles similar to those of Isa, thereby validating their claim of being divinely inspired.

Apart from the not insignificant fact that numerous books on the above list were not even in existence before 70 CE, including Matthew, Luke and John[11] did the fact that these books were quoted by the early Christians and considered as 'inspired' impact their canonicity in terms of the second sense of the rule as described by Ulrich above? The answer is clearly no. The writings of the apostolic fathers only point to the existence and dissemination of certain Gospels and Epistles. There is little recognition of them being regarded as 'holy scripture'.[12] Moreover, the public reading of a certain book of the New Testament does not guarantee its canonical status. While (in hindsight) every canonical book was read in public worship, the converse is simply not true – that is, every book read in public worship is canonical.[13] Furthermore, 'inspiration' as a criterion of canonicity was never employed by the early Christians as an exclusive deciding factor.[14] So what criteria did the early church use to decide what writing was to become canonical and what writing was not? We can certainly state that the early church outlined no definitive criteria for the selection of canonical books. Rather, scholars today analyse the process by which certain books of the New Testament became canonical and then create certain criteria which, in their opinion, the early church utilised. As a result, the criteria proposed can sometimes be contradictory and be quite distinct from criteria proposed by other scholars. De Jonge makes reference to a comprehensive study on the criteria of canon contained in Karl-Heinz Ohlig's, Die Theologische Begründung des Neutestamentlichen Kanons in der alten Kirche. Ohlig mentions eleven different criteria used by the early Christians in deciding upon the canonicity of any given writing. These criteria were not applied consistently, neither were they applied universally:

1. apostolicity, sometimes taken in the narrow meaning of authenticity, but more often in the broader sense of deriving either from an apostle or from a follower of an apostle; apostolic could even mean "in keeping with the pure and right teaching of the apostles"; 2. the age of the document in question; 3. the historical likelihood of its contents (obviously fictitious and fantastic stories are often a ground for rejecting the book in which they occur); 4. orthodoxy; 5. the agreement with the Scriptures of the Old Testament; 6. the edifying nature of the document at issue; 7. its being directed to the Church as a whole (catholicity); 8. clarity and meaningfulness (the contents must not be absurd); 9. spirituality of the contents; 10. acceptance by the Church at large; 11. use for public lessons in the Church. It has often been observed that these criteria were applied with striking inconsistency. For instance, not all writings attributed to an apostle succeeded in being accepted as canonical, as the fate of the Gospel of Thomas or that of the Gospel of Peter may illustrate. l Clement is probably considerably older than such writings as 2 Peter and Jude; yet the latter two were eventually received into the canon, whereas the former was not. It will not do to argue that the author of l Clement was not known to be an apostle or an apostle's follower, for the author of the letter to the Hebrews was not known at all which did not prevent this writing from being highly esteemed in the eastern Church and, eventually, from being canonized both in the East and the West. Finally, several writings that were included in the list of authoritative books did not meet the criteria applied to justify the recognition of other writings. For instance, it is hard to maintain that such Pauline letters as those to Philemon or to the Galatians are addressed to the Church as a whole. In brief, the so-called criteria of canonicity were used with notable flexibility and irritating inconsistency.[15]

Many other early Christian writings are spoken favourably of by early fathers and considered by them to be 'divinely inspired', such as I Clement (II Clement), the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. In fact, scholars have shown that these writings were used more often, were more widely accepted, and found in larger geographical areas than other writings that were eventually canonised in the New Testament such as, Hebrews, II Peter, James, and II and III John![16] Based on surviving manuscript evidence, in comparison to the gospel according to 'Mark',[17] scholars have shown that in the early centuries of Christendom, the gospel according to 'Peter' has three times the amount of manuscript evidence, suggesting that it was at least as popular as Mark if not more so.[18] Up until the sixth century CE the most popular non-canonical writing called the Shepherd of Hermas had stronger manuscript evidence than some of the books that would eventually become part of the canonical (Protestant) New Testament! For instance, focussing on the early centuries of Christendom, in comparison to Mark, the Shepherd of Hermas has greater manuscript evidence, suggesting that it was more widely read than Mark.[19]

One notes, however, that these books did not make their way into the final collection of the twenty-seven book (Protestant) canon. Conversely, other books that did find their way into the canon, such as the Catholic Epistles and Revelation, were disputed by many in the early church – disputes that continue to this very day. Also, numerous apostolic fathers simply made no reference whatsoever to many writings that would eventually be found in the twenty-seven book (Protestant) canon.[20] One can see that this lack of terminological rigour has caused the missionary to misinterpret the historical data through which he constructs his own hypotheses regarding the essential elements of the concept of canon, paying scant regard to the etymology, theological definitions, including those of Jews, Catholics and Protestants, and the historical processes that are clearly elucidated in the scholarly discussions on the subject.[21]

3. A "Developing" Canon

Harnack considered the 'heretical' movements of early Christianity as a decisive factor in the churches' move towards a canon of the New Testament. Harnack identified influences such as Marcionism, Gnosticism and Montanism, as major contributory factors towards the development of the New Testament canon. For example, the challenges proposed by Marcion and his insistence on the Gospel of Luke (in modified form)[22] and the ten Epistles of Paul (also in modified form). Until Marcion's declaration, no one had advanced the claim to present the only normative and authentic documents for all Christendom.[23] Marcion, therefore, was one of the earliest, if not the earliest promoter of a collection of written Christian scriptures. This led the early church, reacting to what they believed to be 'heretical' claims, to think more carefully about what writings could be considered 'inspired' and authoritative and what writings could not, as well as the scope of the New Testament. One should bear in mind the difference between a collection of scriptures and a canon of scriptures (i.e., to which nothing can be added and to which nothing can be subtracted). Contemporary scholars have shown that Marcion cannot be credited with being the first entity to advocate a (closed) canon (i.e., to which nothing can be added and to which nothing can be subtracted) of the New Testament; there is no direct evidence that Marcion knew or excluded other gospels. Although Tertullian accused Marcion of rejecting certain epistles of Paul, there is no evidence to suggest he knew of them. In any case, his work continued to be edited by his followers who apparently did not consider their founder's view as one of exclusivity.[24]

No one can be absolutely sure of the historical reasons behind the emergence of the New Testament canon; some popular reasons associated with its emergence are as follows: Marcionism, Gnosticism, Montanism as well as persecution and book making practices.[25] However, with the exception of the Muratorian fragment,[26] there are no catalogues of the Christian canon before the fourth century CE, and, as such, to speak of a canon before the fourth century CE is problematic. As has been noted by Barton, as well as others, the stricter the definition of canon, the later its date of formation is located. With this in mind, taking into account the definitions of canon noted above, i.e., canon being an authoritative collection of books – an exclusive list, let us progress forward to the significant developments of the fourth century CE, paying attention to the major Bishoprics of early Christendom, i.e., Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch, and their respective localities.

Figure 1: Map of the Roman Empire: The Mediterranean in late antiquity.[27]

Athanasius, being the first Christian to advocate the twenty-seven book list of the New Testament, accepted as canonical by Protestants today, holds particular prominence in canon study. Without the aid of modern calendars and time-keeping devices, the date for Easter had to be set every year. Athanasius would thus take the opportunity to offer pastoral advice and council to his local congregations in churches and monasteries throughout Egypt under his jurisdiction. In his thirty-ninth Epistola Festalis written in 367 CE, as part of his religious advice, he delineates the extent of the New Testament canon that his churches were to accept – i.e., the twenty-seven book list accepted as canonical by Protestants today. However, even in Athanasius' own church there was intense disagreement regarding his proclamation. Didymus the Blind (c. 313 – c. 398 CE), a contemporary and close friend of Athanasius, claimed that II Peter was a "forgery". He also considered the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas and I Clement as authoritative and canonical.[28] Based on the historical facts, de Jonge observes,

Moreover, it should be remembered that the fixation of the New Testament canon in Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter of 367 and in the acts of the Synods of Hippo Regius of 393, confirmed by the Synods of Carthage of 397 and 419, was only temporary and provisional. In later sources, canon lists show hardly less variation than before 367. The first really effective measures were the decisions of the Council of Trent of 1545, and the inclusion of canon lists in a series of early confessions of faith drawn up by Protestants. These Protestant confessions include the Confession de foy or Confessio Gallicana of the French (Reformed) Churches established in Paris in 1559, and the Confession de foy or Confessio Belgica drawn up in 1561 by Guy de Brès and adopted by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the sixties and seventies of the sixteenth century.[29]

Even if we focus on the general timeframe of Athanasius proclamation, during the period of the fourth and early fifth centuries CE, we can observe the proliferation of canonical lists delineating the limits of the New Testament; in this period there are fifteen undisputed lists of the Christian canon, the bulk of them of them differing (i.e., their canon) from each other. The lists are as follows (in chronological order):[30]

1. Eusebius.
2. Catalogue in Codex Claromontanus.
3. Cyril of Jerusalem.
4. Athanasius.
5. Mommsen Catalogue.
6. Epiphanius.
7. Apostolic Canons.
8. Gregory of Nazianzus.
9. African Canons.
10. Jerome.
11. Augustine.
12. Amphilochius.
13. Rufinus.
14. Pope Innocent.
15. Syrian Catalogue of St. Catherine's.

So it is clear that Athanasius was not the only person advocating a canonical list of the New Testament; many other notable figures were involved in promulgating a canon of the New Testament, each entity representing their own community/church. Therefore, if we examine the provenance of these above named lists it becomes abundantly clear that "the Church" did not come to "universally" accept the twenty-seven book canon of the New Testament by the fourth century CE, let alone the "complete" Bible.[31]

The Provenance Of Fourth Century Catalogues
Palestine / Western Syria Alexandria / Egypt Asia Minor North Africa Rome / Italy Eastern Syria
303-25 Eusebius 303-67 Claromontanus 390 Gregory Nazianzus 365-90 Mommsen Catalogue 404 Rufinus c. 400 (Peshitta)
350 Cyril 331-50 (Cod. Vaticanus) 396+ Amphilochius 393-419 African Canons 405 Pope Innocent c. 400 Syrian Catalogue
374-77 Epiphanius 331-50 (Cod. Sinaiticus) c. 425 (Cod. Alexandrinus) 396-7 Augustine        
380 Apostolic Canons 367 Athanasius                
394 Jerome                    

Table I: The Provenance Of Fourth Century Catalogues.[32]

Should one be surprised by the facts provided in Table I above? It certainly would not have been surprising to the early Christians living at this period of time, as each Christian community was actively advocating their canon of scripture as there was no authoritative universally agreed-upon canon, received either through human instruction or divine revelation. For example, Tatian (d. c. 185 CE), a student of the famous Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165 CE), after returning to the East c. 172 CE, brought with him his Diatessaron (harmonisation of the four gospel accounts) which he introduced amongst the local churches. After managing to establish the authority of his book in Edessa, it spread throughout all churches in the region. The Diatessaron continued to be used for centuries longer amongst the Syrian clergy including notable figures such as Aphraat (c. 290 – c. 370 CE) and Ephraem (d. c. 373 CE), both of whom never make reference to any Catholic Epistle, rejected the Epistle to Philemon and accepted as canonical III Corinthians. The earliest known canon of scriptures in the eastern Syriac speaking churches is gathered from the Doctrine of Addai (c. 400 CE). It consists of Tatian's Diatessaron, the Epistles of Paul and the book of Acts. The seven Catholic Epistles and the book of Revelation are not used. We can observe a reaction against this "heretical" move when major personalities in the region began to remove the Diatessaron from circulation and replace them instead with the separate four-fold Gospel collection.[33] One should also recall the astonishing statement of Amphilochius of Iconium (see Table I above), bishop in Asia-minor, cousin of Gregory of Nazianzus, a contemporary and colleague of Basil the Great, who, in reference to his own catalogue of scripture states:

This is perhaps the most reliable [literally, the most unfalsified] canon of the divinely inspired scriptures.[34]

Amphilochius' catalogue appears to reject II Peter, II and III John, and Jude, and almost certainly rejects Revelation. Counted as one of the most highly rated theologians of his time, whose extensive secular erudition as well as scriptural knowledge was witnessed to by no less a figure than Jerome,[35] he was still unsure as to the extent of the New Testament canon at the close of the fourth century. Rather, he preferred a purely logical approach, suggesting that his list of scriptures was the one that could be falsified the least!

Although in the Western (Latin) Church there was a general recognition of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament by the beginning of the fifth century CE, it would be incorrect to suggest that the canon was finally settled in all the divergent Christian communities. The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans is found in more than 100 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, including the oldest manuscript Codex Fuldensis (546 CE) as well as in manuscripts of early Albigensian, Bohemian, English and Flemish Versions. Aelfric of Dorset and John of Salisbury both accept the epistle as part of the canon of the New Testament. In all eighteen German Bibles printed prior to Luther's translation, beginning 1488 CE, the Epistle finds its way in between Galatians and Ephesians. The first Czech (Bohemian) Bible, published in 1488 CE (including numerous re-prints in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), the Epistle finds its way between Colossians and I Thessalonians.[36] In the Eastern (Greek) Church the situation is even worse. For instance, the Trullan Synod (691 – 692 CE) in Constantinople endorsed the canonical lists of the following Synods: the Council of Laodicea [Canon 59 (60)], Apostolic Canons [Canon 85] and Council of Carthage [Canon 47], as well as those of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers namely Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus and Amphilochius of Iconium. In places these canonical lists vary considerably among themselves.[37] Therefore, in Eastern (Greek) Christendom, at the close of the seventh century we are left with a contradictory account of the canon of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Numerous Eastern Orthodox (Greek) theologians throughout the Byzantine period including Andrew of Crete (c. 660 – c. 740 CE), Germanus (patriarch) of Constantinople (c. 634 – 732 CE), Theodore the Studite (c. 759 – 826 CE) and Theophylact of Bulgaria (c. 1050 – c. 1108 CE) considered many books of the "apocryphal" Old Testament as canonical due to the fact that the Septuagint version of the Bible was widely accepted and received as authoritative in Greek speaking Christianity. They considered the canonicity of these "apocryphal" books to be on the same level as the 'canonical' books. At the second ecumenical council of Nicea (Asia Minor) in 767 CE, which included representatives from the patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch, certain apocrypha were quoted as authoritative (i.e., considered canonical). Likewise at the fourth general council of Constantinople (Asia Minor) in 869 CE convened by Basil the Macedonian (c. 813 – c. 886 CE), which included representatives from the patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch, certain apocrypha were also quoted as authoritative.[38]

As a result of this confusion, focussing specifically on the 10th century CE, B. F. Westcott is able to enumerate no less than six different canons of both the New and Old Testament that were received in the Greek Church alone.[39] Given that the core of these historical facts are clearly recorded in Metzger's The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, one cannot help but note the incredible dishonesty in the following statement,

According to Metzger, the Church universally came to accept the 27 books of the NT in the fourth century...

Contrary to the claim of the missionary, Metzger did not say that the Church "universally came to accept the 27 books of the New Testament in the fourth century." Rather Metzger points out that,

During the third and part of the fourth century there was a sifting of the disputed books; certain of them came to be acknowledged as canonical and others as apocryphal. Among the church fathers who made a careful study of the usage through out the church was Eusebius of Caesarea, who quotes in his Ecclessiastical History the pronouncements of earlier writers concerning the limits of the canon. In summarizing the results of his investigations (Book III, chap. 25), he divides the books into three classes: (a) twenty-two are generally acknowledged to be canonical, namely the four Gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul (including Hebrews), I John, I Peter, and Revelation (though see Eusebius' comment cited in (c) below); (b) five are widely accepted, though disputed by some (apparently all were accepted by Eusebius himself), namely James, Jude, II Peter (earlier regarded by Eusebius as spurious), II and III John; and (c) five are spurious... Eusebius continues, "To these perhaps the Revelation of John should be added, as some reject it while other count it among the accepted books." It will be observed that this is virtually the canon as we know it today. After Eusebius' time (about A.D. 325) the fluctuations in the canon are very slight.

In the East, Athanasius was the first to name (in his Festal Letter for A.D. 367) exactly the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as exclusively canonical. In the West, at the African synods of Hippo Regius (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397 and 419) the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were accepted... Though in the East some continued to have doubts about the canonicity of the book of Revelation, eventually the canon of most of the Eastern churches came to be identical with that of the Western church. The Syrian church, however, accepted only twenty-two books; II Peter, II and III John, Jude, and Revelation are lacking in the standard version of the Syriac Bible, called the Peshitta, dating from the early part of the fifth century.[40]

As one can see it does even remotely sound like Metzger is saying that the Church "universally came to accept the twenty-seven books of the New Testament in the fourth century." In fact, there is no such assertion by Metzger at all! Metzger is simply pointing out that in Eusebius' time there were differences among the extent of the New Testament canon, and not everyone accepted the authority of all the twenty-seven books. Furthermore, he also adds that the Syriac Church has twenty-two books in their New Testament; five books less than what is accepted by the Protestants and Roman Catholics today.

The dispute over the extent of the Old Testament and New Testament has never ceased even to this day. Remarkably, even the celebrated Protestant reformer Luther (1483 – 1546 CE) considered several books of the New Testament declared canonical in Athanasius list, were in actual fact apocryphal! As we have observed, the decision to sanction the twenty-seven book canon was made at a local level either through synods or council meetings. Their proceedings were not binding on the whole church.[41] In fact, there was no official "church-wide" decree until the (Roman Catholic) Council of Trent (1545 – 1563 CE), where the issue of canon was debated and finally decided upon in the fourth session on the 8th April, 1546 CE, by a vote of twenty-four to fifteen, with sixteen abstentions.[42] Soon thereafter there appeared numerous Protestant confessional statements, many of which included an authoritative list of books, i.e., a canon.

Is the question of canon closed? A quick glance at the last 2,000 years of Christian scholarship from various churches, denominations and sects, throughout the ancient, medieval and modern period, suggests not. M. J. Sawyer, Professor of Theology at Western Seminary, comments,

The Festal letter of Athanasius (c. A.D. 367) is well known as the first list to contain all and only the present twenty-seven book New Testament Canon. Thirty years later the Synod of Carthage, under the influence of the great Augustine, reached a similar conclusion. Youngblood gives the common Protestant evaluation of these pronouncements:

Thus led (as we believe) by divine Providence, scholars during the latter half of the fourth century settled for all time the limits of the New Testament canon. The 27 books of Matthew through Revelation constitute that New Testament, which possesses divine authority equal to that of the Old.

The problem with such a sweeping assertion is that it does not fit the historical facts. First, the synods of Hippo and Carthage were not ecumenical councils, but local assemblies whose decisions held sway only in the local sees. The Festal letter of Athanasius, to be sure, gives us the judgment of a key figure of the ancient church, but it did not bind even the Eastern Church. The ancient church never reached a conscious and binding decision as to the extent of canon. Proof of this fact can be seen in the canons of the various churches of the empire.[43]

Let us now turn our attention to the historical position regarding various books of the Bible in various Churches.

4. Catalogue Of Canonical Books In Various Churches

The list below represents the historical position regarding various books of the Bible in different Churches, in both the Eastern and the Western Christianity. The list may be slightly different from that of modern printed editions. For the sake of comparison we have also added the list of books in the Vulgate, Septuagint and in Luther's Bible.[44]

P Present

(P) Present in some recensions

ARejected as Apocrypha

.Not present or not listed

OLD TESTAMENT

Name of the Book / Church Roman Catholic Protestant Coptic Ethiopic Syriac Armenian Greek Orthodox Slavonic / Russian   Vulgate Septuagint Luther's Canon
Pentateuch P P P P P P P P P P P
Joshua P P P P P P P P P P P
Judges P P P P P P P P P P P
Ruth P P P P P P P P P P P
Samuel P P P P P P P P P P P
Kings P P P P P P P P P P P
Chronicles P P P P P P P P P P P
Ezra (1 Ezra) P P P P P P P P P P P
Nehemiah (2 Ezra) P P P P P P P P P P P
Tobit P . P P P P P P P P .
Judith P . P P P P P P P P .
Esther P P P P P P P P P P P
Esther (add.) P . P P . P P P P P .
Job P P P P P P P P P P P
Psalms P P P P P P P P P P P
Proverbs P P P P P P P P P P P
Qohelet P P P P P P P P P P P
Song of Songs P P P P P P P P P P P
Wisdom of Solomon P . P P P P P P P P .
Sirach P . P P P P P P P P .
Isaiah P P P P P P P P P P P
Jeremiah P P P P P P P P P P P
Lamentations P P P P P P P P P P P
Baruch P . P P P P P P P P .
Letter of Jeremiah P . P P P P P P P P .
Ezekiel P P P P P P P P P P P
Daniel P P P P P P P P P P P
Daniel (add.) P . P P P P P P P P .
Minor Prophets P P P P P P P P P P P
1 Maccabees P . P P P P P P P P .
2 Maccabees P . P P P P P P P P .
3 Maccabees . . P P P P P P . P .
4 Maccabees . . . . P . . P . P .
Prayer of Manasseh . . . P P . P P P P .
3 Ezra . . . P P P P P P P .
4 Ezra . . . P P P . P P P .
Psalms 151 . . (P) P P . P P P P .
Testament of 12 Patriarchs . . . . . P . . . . .
Jubilees . . . P . . . . . . .
Enoch . . . P . . . . . . .
Letters of Baruch . . . . P . . . . . .

NEW TESTAMENT

Name of the Book / Church Roman Catholic Protestant Coptic Ethiopic Syriac Armenian Greek Orthodox Slavonic / Russian   Vulgate Septuagint Luther's Canon
Shepherd of Hermas . . . P . . . . . . .
I and II Clement . . P P . . . . . . .
Gospel of Mark P P P P P P P P . . P
Gospel of Mark (add.) P P P P . P P P . . P
Gospel of Matthew P P P P P P P P . . P
Gospel of Luke P P P P P P P P . . P
Gospel of John P P P P P P P P . . P
Gospel of John (add.) P P P P . P P P . . P
Acts . P . . P . . . . . .
Acts (West. add.) P . P P . P P P . . P
10 Letters of Paul P P P P P P P P . . P
Pastoral Epistles P P P P P P P P . . P
Hebrews P P P P P P P P . . A
III Corinthians . . . . . P . . . . .
Epistle of Corinthians . . . . . P . . . . .
James P P P P P P P P . . A
I Peter P P P P P P P P . . P
II Peter P P P P . P P P . . P
I John P P P P P P P P . . P
I John (add.) P . . . . P P P . . P
2 John P P P P . P P P . . P
3 John P P P P . P P P . . P
Jude P P P P . P P P . . A
Revelation P P P P . P P P . . A
Apostolic Constitutions . . . P . . . . . . .

A more exhaustive treatment on the issue of canons is available in the article The Canons Of The Old Testament & The New Testament Through The Ages. Various canons and recensions of Armenian Bible are tabulated here.

5. The Protestant Reformation & The Council Of Trent

Following on from the period known as the "dark ages", where large swathes of Latin and Greek Christendom were characterised by a poverty of thought and material advancement, men of new learning known as the 'humanists' sought to raise themselves above the scholasticism that was all pervasive at the time. This new mode of learning and advancement of knowledge saw the biblical texts once again come under the magnifying glass of the 'original' languages in which they were commonly written. One man of particular importance during this period was Johannes Reuchlin (1455 – 1522 CE), founder of the university of Wittenberg, Germany, who was the first person to introduce the focussed study of Greek and Hebrew into German universities. An in-depth knowledge of the original biblical languages would subsequently lay the foundations for the Protestant reformers application of 'canonical criticism', including two people who would eventually become fellow professors at Wittenberg, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546 CE) and Andreas Rudolf Bodenstein von Karlstadt (c. 1480 – 1541 CE).

LUTHER AND KARLSTADT: THE STRUGGLE FOR ASCENDANCY

"... Now a wild Boar from the forest threatens to ravage the vineyard, indeed, a wild animal threatens to pluck its fruit...",[45]

So Pope Leo X declares in his famous opening paragraph in his papal bull Exsurge Domine of 1520 CE in reference to one of the major figureheads of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. What interests us here, however, is not how Luther understood what he recognised as the corrupt practices and theological errors of the Roman Catholic Church, rather it is his view of scripture and how he interprets its canonical authority. Bodenstein, who conferred on Luther his doctorate of theology, anticipated him in two important respects that would be foundational in his approach to the question of canon.

  1. Bodenstein's 152 theses of April 1517 CE included an important pronouncement on the relative authority of the Bible, and,
  2. Whilst defending Luther in a second series of theses published in May 1518 CE, Karlstadt affirmed the supremacy of the Bible over and above those decisions of councils, popes and the church.

Later in 1517 CE, Luther, in response to Silvester Mazzolini (official censor of the Pope Leo X) for the first time appeals to books he called canonical as alone binding. Let us now turn to a watershed moment in the application of 'canonical criticism'. On the 8th July 1519 CE, whilst discussing the subject of purgatory with Johann Eck (1486 – 1543 CE), the chief strategist of the Roman see and Luther's principal theological adversary, Luther stated that the second book of Maccabees was not part of the biblical canon and therefore could not be used to prove any point of doctrine. This was the first explicit statement by a Protestant reformer that a book commonly received by 'the church' was not in fact part of the biblical canon. In a subsequent exchange with Eck, Luther stated that a book affirmed its own canonical authority and needed no other witness apart from itself.

Let not one conclude that such disputations, debates and discussions were conducted by those on opposite sides of the theological spectrum. The Protestant reformers quarrelled among themselves regarding what biblical books were to be viewed as authoritative and which were not. For example, Luther's understanding of justification by faith and faith alone, ran contrary to the message he saw portrayed in the epistle of James, and he, along with his students at Wittenberg held a low view of James and poured contempt on it. Karlstadt however devoted a summer term to lecture on James and maintained its canonicity in the most vigorous language. Such was the heat of the discussion that a rivalry and feud broke out amongst their respective students. Karlstadt, appalled by the fact that Luther had reduced the mater of canonicity to one of personal choice and internal illumination, wrote a work entitled De Canonicis Scripturis Libellus published in August 1520 CE, where he attempted to deal with the problem of the biblical canon in a methodical and scientific way, and in doing so attacked Luther's adopted stance. In his treatise Karlstadt condemned Luther's rejection of the epistle of James and said, "One must appeal either to know apostolic authorship or to universal historical acceptance as to the test of a book's canonicity not to internal doctrinal considerations."[46] It is remarkable then that the motivation behind the first systematic work on the biblical canon from a Protestant reformer, was not in response to the Roman Catholic Church but due to a fellow professor and reformed colleague at Wittenberg, namely Martin Luther!

It seems as though Luther, Karlstadt and others were largely influenced by Reuchlin, who in turn followed Jerome and adopted the canonical position of the Hebrew Old Testament. Therefore, Karlstadt divides both Old and New Testaments into three different ranks of dignity wherein each book is classified according to its level of divine inspiration and authority. The third and lowest class of books (i.e., comparatively inferior to the other two classes) which are termed as tertius ordo canonis and In tertium et infirmum auctoritatis divinae locum respectively, include Job, Psalms, the three books of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, the two books of Chronicles, Esdras, Esther, and, the seven antilegomena (disputed) books of James, II Peter, II and III John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. Howarth notes that Karlstadt innovated an interesting two fold division of Old Testament books he considered outside the Hebrew canon:

Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith Tobias, two books of Maccabees: These are apocryphi, he says, i.e. outside the Hebrew Canon, nevertheless agiographi ('Hi sunt apocryphi, i.e. extra canonem hebraeorum, tamen agiographi').

The two later books of Esdras, Baruch, the prayer of Manasses, a large part of the third chapter of Daniel, the last two chapters of Daniel: These books are plainly apocryphal ('Hi sunt plane apocryphi, virgis censoriis animadvertendi').

The first class of books in this two fold division was still considered by Karlstadt to be scripture; nevertheless they were rejected from his canon of scripture because they were not accepted by the Jews. The first "complete" Bible according to the view of the Protestant reformers was that of the Lutheran evangelist Andreas Osiander (1498 – 1552 CE). Published in December 1522 CE, it was a new edition of Jerome's Latin Vulgate corrected in several places from the Hebrew, wherein the Hebrew Old Testament canon was followed. It also contained numerous "apocryphal" books many of which have attached to them headings and marginal notes identifying their lack of canonical authority. The first edition of Luther's New Testament was completed in September 1522 CE with a second edition complete by December. The textual basis for his translation was the second edition of the Greek New Testament of Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466 – 1536 CE). The actual physical construction of Luther's New Testament is very interesting. In his list there are twenty-three New Testament books which are numbered sequentially. The four New Testament books viz., Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were all placed at the end separated by a space and were numberless. In the prefaces to each of these books, Luther explains his doubts as to their apostolic as well as canonical authority.[47] What was the fate of these four books? Luther's principal test to determine canonicity can be summed up in three words: was Christum treibet ("whatever promotes Christ"). Whatever preaches Christ is thus the principal way to delineate the extent of the biblical canon.[48] This key principle allowed Luther to call into question and subsequently reject as apocryphal Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation – writings which had been declared as part of an exclusive collection of books first promulgated by Athanasius in his Epistola Festalis of 367 CE. Not only did Luther dismiss these four books as "apocryphal", he divided the remaining twenty-three books of the New Testament into different ranks of nobility dependant on his interpretation of was Christum treibet. For example, John's Gospel is "... the one, fine, true, and chief gospel, far, far to be preferred over the other three and placed high above them."[49] The letters of Paul and Peter "far surpass the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke."[50]

In a very short period of time, Luther's theories on what constituted the biblical canon, his canonical ordering and relative value judgements on the biblical books, very quickly spread throughout large parts of Western Christendom as we shall now observe.

PRINTED EDITIONS OF THE BIBLE: THE ACCEPTANCE OF LUTHER'S CANONICAL JUDGEMENT

Two Low-German editions of the New Testament were completed in 1523 CE and were published by Simon Corver and Melchior Lotther at Hamburg and Wittenberg respectively. Luther's prefaces to the biblical books and his understanding of their relative value and canonical order were adopted. In the same year the first volume of Luther's Old Testament was published at Wittenberg and it contained a title page which indicated he intended to publish his work in five separate volumes, the fifth and final volume containing the "apocryphal" books. A translation of Luther's New Testament into Dutch was published at Antwerp and maintained Luther's prefaces to the biblical books, his understanding of their relative value and canonical order. In 1524 CE there appeared a translation of the New Testament into Danish at Leipzig. The epistles and Revelation were translated from Luther's edition as was his general introduction as well as some other introductions to the biblical books. Luther's canonical ordering of the biblical books was maintained. In 1525 CE a Dutch translation of the Old Testament was also published at Antwerp. The Torah and Psalms were translated from Luther's edition with the rest of the Old Testament being translated from the Delft edition of the Vulgate of 1477 CE. The apocryphal books are printed in the order as they appear in the Vulgate with the Prayer of Manasses coming after II Chronicles. In 1526 CE another complete Bible in Dutch was published by Van Liesveldt. The New Testament was translated from Luther's edition and maintained Luther's prefaces to the biblical books, his understanding of their relative value and canonical order. The Old Testament was translated from Luther's edition only from Genesis to Canticles. This was apparently the first complete Bible in a modern language where the "apocrypha" were separated from the (Luther's) other "canonical" books. Also in 1526 CE a Swedish translation of the New Testament was published at Stockholm. It was based on Luther's edition and maintained his prefaces to the biblical books, his understanding of their relative value and canonical order. The first complete Bible in Iceland appeared in 1584 CE; the New Testament books were present in accordance with Luther's canonical order. Howarth notes that by the early sixteenth century, all of the Scandinavian countries adopted Luther's understanding and ordering of the biblical canon, and, as we have observed, this was reflected in their printed editions of the Bible.

In Switzerland, Huldreich Zwingli (1484 – 1531 CE) also adopted Luther's understanding of the biblical canon. With the assistance of his friends, Zwingli translated the Bible into Swiss-German using Luther's edition of the New Testament and Old Testament (from Genesis to Canticles only). This 'Zürich' Bible was published between 1527 – 1529 CE and it maintained Luther's prefaces to the biblical books, his understanding of their relative value and canonical order. As was the case with several other Bible's and other editions of this period, the books given on the title page and the actual books contained within the text were not the same; although nowhere to be seen in the title page, the third book of Maccabees is included[51] within the text of the Zürich Bible with the following heading: 'Das dritt büch Machabaeorum nach dem Graechischen (als der Sibenzig spraachmeysteren edition vermag) recht tygenlich verteuschet'. In 1529 CE a Latin translation of Luther's Bible (as far as it had been printed) was published at Wittenberg. The books of the New Testament are present in accordance with Luther's canonical order. Johannes Oecolampadius (1482 – 1531 CE), a German Protestant reformer and an associate of Zwingli in the Reformation in Switzerland said that, "We do not despise Judith, Tobit, Baruch, the last two books of Esdras, the three books of Maccabees, the last two chapters of Daniel, but we do not allow them Divine authority equally with those others (i.e. of the Hebrew Canon)." He also added, "In the New Testament... we do not compare the Apocalypse, the Epistles of James, and Jude, and II Peter and II, III John with the rest."[52] Writing just one year before his death, Oecolampadius enumerated a complete listing of the biblical books of both the Old and New Testament; the epistle to the Hebrews was not mentioned as being part of the New Testament. In 1530 CE Lefèvre completed a French translation of the complete Bible that was published anonymously at Antwerp. This version of the Bible would become the foundation from which all subsequent French Bibles would be built. In 1534 CE a second edition was published which included a 'special table' of books. The "apocrypha", in contrast to the other biblical books, had their titles set back. Several books not mentioned in the list, namely the Prayer of Manasses, Lamentations and the Epistle of Jeremy found their way into text of the Bible. Also in 1530 CE a second edition of the (Zwingli et al) Zürich Bible was published. All of the "apocryphal" books were now printed at the end of the New Testament, making them even more separated than was previously so. In 1531 CE yet another edition of the Zürich Bible was published. This time the Old Testament "apocrypha" follow immediately after Esther. The last four books of the New Testament, namely Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, were present in accordance with Luther's canonical order. In 1532 CE, a revised edition containing an updated translation of Liesveldt's Dutch Bible was published; the New Testament books were present in accordance with Luther's canonical order.

By 1532 CE, Luther had published a total of four volumes which contained all the books he considered to be part of the canonical Old Testament. The fifth volume which would have contained the "apocrypha" never made it to press, although Luther did throughout his career make a number of independent translations of various "apocryphal" books. A Low-German edition of the Bible published at Lübeck in 1533 CE omits numbering the four books, although subsequent editions would vary in this regard; whatever the case, Luther's prefaces to the biblical books, his understanding of their relative value and canonical order were maintained. Consequently, Luther's theories on the biblical canon were further solidified among the Lutherans of North Germany. In 1534 CE a German translation of the Bible was published by Egenolph at Frankfort and was based on Luther's translations of the biblical books available at the time. The "apocrypha" were printed after Malachi with a title page named "apocrypha". Baruch was placed in the "apocrypha" along with the additions to Esther and the three books of Maccabees. The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children and the Prayer of Manasses, found in previous editions of the Bible according to other Protestant reformers, were not present. Luther's canonical arrangement of the New Testament books was followed. The first complete Luther's Bible was published in 1534 CE. Luther had the printing of the "apocrypha" towards the end of the Old Testament.[53] Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were printed towards the end of the New Testament. In prefaces to each of these books, Luther explains his doubts as to their apostolic as well as canonical authority. Interestingly, Luther's apocryphal list of books had changed with time. In this complete edition of his Bible, Esra was nowhere to be seen and the Prayer of Manasses was included even although it was not to be found in his earlier list of Old Testament "apocrypha" nor the present one – indeed the Prayer of Manasses was rejected by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike. Contrary to the recently published Zürich Bible, the third and fourth books of Esdras were not included. Howarth comments:

He [Luther] thus emphasized the difficulty created by the subjective method of discriminating the Canonicity of the books, and, by his own practice, admitted that among the Reformers there was dissension as to the very keystone of their position, i.e., as to what were the legitimate contents of the Bible.

A second issue of the first edition of Coverdale's English Bible was published in 1536 CE. In his dedication to the King, Coverdale stated his translation was based on 'five sundry interpreters' which scholars have understood to mean the Zürich Bible, Luther's and Tyndale's translations that were available at the time, the Latin version of the Dominican Pagnini and the Vulgate. Interestingly the third book of Maccabees is not present, given its presence in numerous influential Protestant translations of the Bible (e.g., Zürich Bible) that were widely available. The New Testament books are present in accordance with Luther's canonical order and they would remain so in subsequent editions. Pierre-Robert Olivetan (c. 1506 – 1536 CE), the cousin of John Calvin (1509 – 1564 CE), completed a new French translation (probably an edition of Lefèvre with some corrections) of both the Old and New Testament which was published in 1534 CE and 1535 CE respectively at Neuchatel, France. The Old Testament is present according to the Hebrew canon and is followed by the heading 'Les Apocryphes', which included the books that the Protestant reformers generally understood to be the "apocrypha", with the Prayer of Manasses appearing last; the only exception to this is the absence of III Maccabees. The canonical order of the New Testament is present in accordance with that of the Vulgate. Like the Tyndale Bible published in 1525 CE, successive English translations of the Bible including the Nycolson Bible published in 1537 CE, the Matthew Bible published in 1537 CE and the Taverner Bible published in 1539 CE, maintained Luther's canonical arrangement of the New Testament books. The 'Great Bible' published in 1539 CE was the first English Bible officially authorised for public use. The canonical order of the New Testament was present in accordance with that of the Vulgate.

Calvin accepted the twenty-seven books as being the canonical New Testament with the possible exception of II John, III John and the Apocalypse, all of which he never wrote any commentaries on. Although he quotes the Apocalypse in his Institutes Of The Christian Religion, he never quotes II John or III John. Calvin also said that for II Peter to be accepted as canonical its Petrine authorship must be conceded and like Luther and Zwingli before him, he also commented on the relative value of individual New Testament books. In 1540 CE, just one year after Calvin had spoken forcefully about the authority of the Bible in his Institutes Of The Christian Religion, he published a corrected edition of Olivetan's Bible at Geneva. In the title page of this edition particular emphasis is laid on the appeal to the canonical books alone, which included the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. In contrast to previous printed editions of the Bible, the third book of Maccabees is excluded. An examination of printed editions of the Bibles issued under the patronage of Calvin and other Genevan reformers shows that they differed markedly from the other continental reformers regarding the authority and scope of the New Testament canon, in that they had always considered the twenty-seven books as comprising the canonical New Testament. The first complete Swedish translation of the entire Bible was published in 1540–1541 CE wherein Luther's edition of 1534 CE is followed precisely. It contains all of his prefaces (some abridged) as well as Luther's canonical arrangement of the Old/New Testament books. Therefore, as noted by Howarth, the Lutherans of Sweden entirely adopted their spiritual mentor's theory of the biblical canon. Moving back to Switzerland, a revised edition of the Zürich Bible (1531 CE) was published in 1542 CE; what makes this edition particularly notable was its abandonment of Luther's canonical ordering of the New Testament books.

After the birth of Luther's theories on the biblical canon his influence was steadily growing; throughout the first half of the sixteenth century a large section of Western Christendom had adopted his theories of the biblical canon. There was a major response to the Protestant reformation sometimes termed as the Catholic reformation and it is to this we now turn our attention.

THE COUNCIL OF TRENT

On 8th February 1546 CE, the first president, Cardinal Del Monte, announced his intention to proclaim the precise nature of the biblical canon in order that the foundations could be laid for all decisions on matters of faith. On 11th February 1546 CE, the particular congregation discussed the question of canon and this was followed by subsequent meetings of the general congregations on the 12th and 15th of February 1546 CE. It was thereafter agreed to accept the canon of the Council of Florence, however, this was not met with unanimous approval. The jurists Del Monte and Pacheco along with the majority of others, maintained that the canon of the Council of Florence was the decree of a general council, there could be no further discussion, only approval of what had already occurred. Cervini and Madruzzo along with a minority of supporters, said further discussion was necessary to highlight the reasons of the Florentine decision, given the modern arguments aggressively pursued by the humanists and reformers of the period, such as Erasmus and Luther, not to mention the criticisms of their own clergy, such as the reputed Tommaso de Vio, also known as (Cardinal) Cajetan. After much disagreement, Cervini's view was defeated. Critically, in order to prevent any further discussion on the scope of the canon Pacheco proposed in the General Congregation of the 15th February 1546 CE to add an anathema to the decree, i.e., declaring it an article of faith. This shrewd move instigated by Pacheco was met with fierce resistance, and as a result it was not possible to gauge the opinion of the Council other than to put the matter in hand to a vote! The result: twenty-four prelates sided with Del Monte's proposal while fifteen rejected his proposal; the remaining sixteen, clearly unhappy with the direction taken by the Council, abstained.[54]

Some of Luther's most devoted followers distanced themselves from his canonical test theories and instead fell back upon more ancient canonical divisions of the New Testament, such as those devised by the early church fathers including the scheme espoused by the Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260 – c. 339 CE), who categorised the books vying for a place in the New Testament as homologoumena (recognised), antilegomena (disputed), notha (spurious) and the 'fictions of heretics'. Lutheran devotee Matthias Flacius (1520 – 1575 CE), quoting the opinion of Eusebius in reference to II Peter, II John, III John and Hebrews, regarded them as not legitimate. Martin Bucer (1491 – 1551 CE) a leading reformer based in Strassburg, South Germany, also insisted that the early church recognised only the twenty books as homologoumena. Later on due to political trouble in his home city, Bucer fled to England at the invitation of Archbishop Cranmer; he would eventually become Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge where he taught until his death. Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz (1522 – 1586 CE) who had previously studied under Luther at the University of Wittenberg, wrote a response to the recently convened Council of Trent named Examen Concilii Tridentini which was published between 1565 CE and 1573 CE. Chemnitz distanced himself from his spiritual mentor theories of the biblical canon and instead adopted the Eusebian division. Chemnitz stated the seven antilegomena could not be used for proofs of doctrine but only for the purposes of edification. Johannes Brenz (1499 – 1570 CE), one of the primary authors of the Württemberg Confession designated the seven antilegomena as apocrypha; James, II Peter, II and III John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were useful to read but were not fully canonical. Later on, in a Low-German edition of the Bible published at Hamburg in 1596 CE, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were plainly labelled as apocrypha. In fact, in a Dutch polyglot edition of the Bible also published at Hamburg in 1596 CE, these four books were explicitly labelled as non-canonical! In another Low-German edition of the Bible which was published at Goslar in 1614 CE, the four books were once again labelled as apocrypha. This practice was also observed in Sweden, and, beginning in 1618 CE, the 'Gustavus Adolphus' Bible had the four dubious books labelled with the caption "Apocr(yphal) N. T." In this edition of the Bible including its future printings, as well as some other editions published in this period, the New Testament is divided threefold: "Gospels and Acts", "Epistles and Holy Apostles", and "Apocryphal New Testament".

At the beginning of the seventeenth century ardent Lutherans such as M. Hafenreffer and J. Schroeder in their written works also designated the seven antilegomena as apocrypha. It is important to note that this view was not held by the odd eccentric Lutheran, it was also the view of the theological faculty at the University of Wittenberg – the theological heart of the Protestant reformation. In response to criticisms of the Roman Church, Hafenreffer further changed his mind and judged that the New Testament apocrypha had greater authority than the Old Testament apocrypha. Similar views were also shared by the Lutherans F. Balduin and Dieterich. Leonhard Hutter (1563 – 1616 CE), professor of theology at Wittenberg, stated that the New Testament apocrypha (i.e., the antilegomena) occupied a place intermediate between the Old Testament apocrypha and the canonical books. Therefore, some of these reformers considered the seven antilegomena on a par with the Old Testament apocrypha while others judged them to be superior; some even went as far as to say that four books from the seven antilegomena, viz., Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were non-canonical. Adopting an advanced defensive position in anticipation of further criticism, terminology such as 'apocrypha' was no longer applied to the antilegomena and they were to be distinguished by titles such as Libri canonici secundi ordinis and deuterocanonici.

By the early seventeenth century, England, Scotland, Holland and the German speaking Swiss reformers hailing from Zürich and Basle eventually came to adopt the canonical order in accordance with the Vulgate, after initially preferring the canonical arrangement of Luther and Zwingli. It should be remembered though that editions of the Bible in accordance with the Lutheran order of books were still being read and/or published for a considerable time afterward. In Germany and Scandinavia where Luther's theories on the biblical canon found strong favour, there was unswerving support and no such reversion to the canonical order of the Vulgate (of note) was observed. Although Luther's canonical order was modified in the next official revision of the Bible in Sweden published in the early eighteenth century, in countless instances, Luther's comments, prefaces to the biblical books and other associated materials were carried forward unhesitatingly in these two regions. In the revised standard edition of Luther's Bible published in 1892 CE, his canonical order is maintained. Luther's canonical order of the biblical books remains to this day in printed editions of Danish, Norwegian and German Bible's.

Based on his study of the New Testament books as reflected in the printed editions of the Bible in Western Christendom beginning from the time of Luther, Wikgren concludes:

From length of usage as either canonical or near-canonical writings, this really leaves the seven disputed New Testament books as primary candidates for the title "New Testament Apocrypha". Churchmen and scholars of the early Reformation period were not far off the mark in so designating them, although modern critical evaluation would probably add others from the standpoint of the pseudepigraphic criterion. But, as we have seen, this was not necessarily a deciding factor in the matter. Ultimately the long ecclesiastical usage of the books and their cultural involvements militated against the tendency to demote them from full canonical status, and the church found itself without a separate corpus of books which would be legitimately comparable to the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Luther said that the continual inspiration of the 'Holy Spirit', which he said could be found in every good Christian, would protect him from error, and, as such, Luther made himself the final authority on what constituted the biblical canon. Whatever book passed his test found welcome;[55] whatever book failed his test was deprecated and excluded. Calvin and his scholars had an even more elastic test for canonicity. Calvin claimed that the 'Holy Spirit' spoke within him and enabled him to distinguish the true word of God from other spurious writings. For them, canonicity was based on the internal witness of the 'Holy Spirit' and no further test was required. It is worthwhile pointing out that Luther as well as the other early Protestant reformers treated the Bible commonly received by the Roman church as containing the maximum number of possible canonical books. This means that they did not conduct any canonical tests on biblical books not otherwise found in the Roman Catholic canon.[56] As we have observed, these canonical decisions greatly influenced those reformers from other parts of the continent where Luther's theories on the biblical canon were adopted by a large section of Western Christendom and this was reflected in successive printed editions of the Old Testament, New Testament, "complete" Bibles and other editions. It should be mentioned that some scholars opine that Luther eventually came to accept the canon of the medieval Church. Whatever the case may be this only serves to highlight how inconsistent Luther was in the application of his own canonical criteria, which he claimed were underwritten by the continual inspiration he said he received from the 'Holy Spirit'.

Why does it take one of the major bishoprics of Christendom over 1,500 years to limit the scope of the New Testament canon by making it an article of faith, confirmed by anathema? One can also observe that it was not a unanimous decision, plagued as it was by infighting amongst those select jurists who managed to secure a place at the relevant discussions. Interestingly, it is after this time that the Protestants reformers, clearly enamoured with the methodology solidified by Rome, decided to start promulgating official canon lists of their own![57] Metzger notes,

Among subsequent confessions of faith drawn up by Protestants, several identify by name the twenty-seven books of the New Testament canon, including the French Confession of Faith (1559), the Belgic Confession (1561), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). The Thirty-Nine Articles, issued by the Church of England in 1563, though identifying by name the books of the Old Testament separately from those of the Apocrypha, concludes the two lists with the statement, 'All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical' (Art. vi). None of the Confessional statements issued by the several Lutheran churches includes an explicit list of the canonical books.[58]

Thus for the first time in the history of Christendom, effective, disciplined measures to limit the scope of the canon were enacted. In spite of that, as we have observed, Old Testament's, New Testament's, "complete" Bible's and other editions containing a different mixture of books and/or labels such as canonical, deuterocanonical, non-canonical, apocryphal, accepted and disputed, continued to be printed, published, distributed and read centuries afterward. This practice has not ceased and continues until the present day.

6. Church & Canon: Is The Canon Open Or Closed?

The issue of whether the canon is open or closed has dogged many a Christian scholar. To state that the canon is open would imply that the Church can add or remove books from the canon. The early history of Church Councils and the differing views of various Christian scholars on the extent of canon even until the advent of Reformation suggests that the question of the extent of the canon is certainly open. Karl Barth (d. 1968), one of the most famous Christian theologians of the 20th century, said in his magnum opus Church Dogmatics (German: Kirchliche Dogmatik) concerning the extent of the canon:

An absolute guarantee that the history of the Canon is closed, and therefore that what we know as the Canon is also closed, cannot be given either by the Church or by individuals in the Church according to the best and most satisfactory answers to the question. In the past there has already been more than one proposal to narrow or broaden the human perception of what ought to count as Canonical Scripture, and if the proposals never came to anything they were at least seriously considered. The insights that the concrete form of the Canon is not closed absolutely, but only very relatively, cannot be denied even with a view to the future.[59]

Barth's position, in principle, has been shared by scholars such as Kurt Aland and Bruce Metzger. But there are doubts whether such a practice would be acceptable to everyone. Lamenting on the state of affairs of the Church due to lack of unity in the actual canon, Aland says:

This present state of affairs, of Christianity splintered into different churches and theological schools, is the wound in the body. The variety in the actual Canon in its different forms is not only the standard symptom, but simultaneously also the real cause of its illness. This illness - which is in blatant conflict with the unity which is fundamental to its nature - cannot be tolerated.[60]

To support the unity of the Church, Aland has made proposals that discussions should take place among the Churches looking toward a briefer and more unified canon; the canon that existed c. 200 CE. In doing so, he supports the view of Luther who treated the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, Jude and the Revelation as "apocrypha" and demoted them to the back of his Bible. He admits that Luther's canon does not correspond with the canon around 200 CE; at this time II Peter and II and III John, which were accepted by Luther, were still definitely outside the generally accepted canon of the Church.[61] Aland was also aware of that fact that the remaining parts of the New Testament, the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles of Paul, Peter and John, are by no means interpreted uniformly in the Churches. As for the acceptance of his proposals, one can only say that they were awkward and, not surprisingly, died a natural death.

On the issue whether the canon is open, Metzger says:

It may be concluded, therefore, that, while the New Testament canon should, from a theoretical point of view, be regarded as open in principle for either the addition or the deletion of one or more books, from a practical point of view such a modification can scarcely be contemplated as either possible or desirable.[62]

In other words, Metzger prefers a status quo. He then adds that the Church has received that canon as it is today and it can't be remade - for the simple reason that history cannot be remade.[63] However, this principle can be utilized by Churches other than the Protestant ones to defend their own "inspired" canon. The problems of canon, and whether it is open or closed, are not solved and perhaps they will remain insoluble.

For an up-to-date picture regarding the issue of church and canon, let us now examine the position of the United Bible Societies, the organisation which publishes the Greek New Testament that is the basis for the vast majority of translations of the New Testament made today in various languages across the globe, including the popular NIV version. With regard to the array of different books constituting the Old Testament canon of various churches, H. P. Rüger, Professor of Old Testament in the University of Tübingen and chairman of the UBS Europe – Middle East Translation Sub-Committee, says:

This situation makes it probable that the United Bible Societies will not be able to make a single agreement with the various Orthodox churches. In this process, the common basis of the contents of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament should be given prominence. For the additional biblical writings, it might be possible to take as a model the extent of the Vulgate (without its appendix) or the Septuagint (without the parartēma. As for the order and arrangement of the biblical books, it would be desirable for the United Bible Societies to reach a uniform agreement with the Orthodox churches, similar to that reached in 1968 between the UBS and the Roman Catholic Secretariat for promoting Christian Unity (published as "Guidelines for Interconfessional Co-operation in Translating the Bible..", and revised and confirmed in 1987). Such agreements need not remain pious hopes: they are completely attainable, as is shown by the fact that the UBS European Production Fund published in 1979 and 1987 two complete Syriac Bibles with a letter of recommendation from His Holiness Ignatius Zakka, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. In the first of these editions the "Apocrypha" follow the following order: Wisdom, Sirach, the Letter of Baruch, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, 1-2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, and the additions to Esther; in the second, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Letter of Baruch, Baruch, additions to Daniel, and 1-2 Maccabees. But in both editions, these writing appear "in a separate section before the New Testament", exactly as provided for in the "Guidelines for Interconfessional Co-operation in Translating the Bible".

The same picture is shown in the Amharic Bible, produced in 1988 by the United Bible Societies' European Production Fund. The "special section before the New Testament" includes the following writings: 3 & 4 Ezra, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, 1-3 Maccabees, Sirach, the prayer of Manasseh, the letter of Jeremiah, Susanna, Baruch, Wisdom, the Song of the Three Dead Men, Daniel (= Bel and the Dragon), Jubilees, and Enoch. In addition, Psalm 151, in accordance with the Septuagint tradition, is placed at the end of the Psalter.[64]

One can only note with a tinge of irony that the same organisation which publishes the underlying Greek text for the great majority of English translations used and approved by the evangelists, missionaries and apologists, also produces editions of the text including books of the Old & New Testament considered "apocryphal" by them! This they do at the request of various churches around the world, perpetuating on a global scale the continued inconsistency of acceptable Old & New Testament canons of the Bible. One can at least say they are not innovators in this regard; they had around 1,900 years of debate and argument preceding them.

7. Documentary Evidence – The Intersection Of Biblical Textual Criticism

Adopting a textual perspective regarding the question of church and canon and, whether it is opened or closed, proves equally problematic. Given that Athanasius was the first to use the word 'canon' in reference to Christian scriptures in general, as well as being the first to list the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (no more or no less) accepted as canonical by Protestants today, it therefore makes sense to ask at what point in history can we observe the first "Athanasian" codex in the "original" language (i.e., Greek) of the New Testament? What conclusions can we draw from the appearance of such manuscripts with respect to the numerous canonical lists appearing throughout Christendom?

There are no Greek manuscripts before c. 800 – c. 900 CE which contain the twenty-seven books that became the "canonical" New Testament. D. D. Schmidt, Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University, advances the question thus:

Our search can thus be framed in this way: When did Athanasius's list first become a table of contents for a complete Greek codex? When did a Greek codex first exhibit the sequence now considered canonical? These questions cannot be answered with any certainty, but they can provide a focus for our enquiry.[65]

Of the oldest candidate, Codex (1424), dated by Aland to c. 9/10th century, Schmidt concludes:

It may be a "complete New Testament," but a rather unique one - certainly not an Athanasian codex.[66]

Of the next oldest candidate, Codex (175), dated by Aland to c. 10/11th century, Schmidt concludes:

The manuscript is defective, lacking the opening folios, and contains marginal corrections. The oddities here again rule out an Athanasian codex.[67]

Schmidt goes on to state the inability for several more 11/12th century manuscripts to claim the title of an Athanasian codex, until that is we arrive at manuscript (Greg. 922). Of this manuscript Schmidt concludes,

A Manuscript dated 1116 at Mt. Athos (Greg. 922) is a purer example of a complete New Testament codex. It could prove to be the oldest noncomposite complete New Testament with an Athanasian arrangement, although no detailed description is available to confirm this.[68]

Therefore, based on surviving manuscript evidence, the twenty-seven book New Testament adhering to the canonical arrangement as specified in Athanasius' Epistola Festalis of 367 CE, does not find for its support a single Greek codex until 1116 CE – understood comparatively, over 1000 years after the birth of Jesus and approaching 750 years after Athanasius' declaration. As this codex finds its way into Alands' list of Byzantine type minuscules, it is instructive to ask what the descriptor "Byzantine" means. Textual critics classify the witnesses (i.e., manuscripts) to the text of the New Testament according to the form of text they represent. Throughout Christian history, these text-types evolved as they were copied and quoted in their respective geographical areas. The Byzantine text-type, almost universally considered to be the worst text-type in relation to preserving the "earliest attainable text" of the New Testament, is characterised by smoothing, conflation, harmonisation and outright fabrication.[69] With this in mind, the label "Byzantine", as applied to other minuscules on Alands' list, usually means these are not important enough to be collated individually for variant readings. Consequently codex 922, which may be the oldest "Athanasian codex", is relegated to the sidelines due to its poor textual quality and fails to even make it into Alands' list of most important minuscules! To put it simply, the Alands call this minuscule (and many others Byzantine-type minuscules) irrelevant for textual criticism.[70] Furthermore, Metzger says, endorsing the scholars agreeing with Westcott and Hort's theory on the Syrian (or Byzantine) text, that no ante-Nicene Father quotes a distinctively Byzantine-type reading.[71] So, the first "Athanasian codex", which is based on the 'inspired' list of books as specified by Athanasius, dated nearly 1116 years after the birth of Jesus, contains distinctive readings that have not been quoted by any Christian prior to 325 CE including perhaps Athanasius himself![72] Surprising though this may seem, biblical textual critics have long since made the astute observation regarding the Christian manuscript tradition: "every copy is different, both unique and imperfect".[73] The relevance of this important point to the nature of canon is made by D. C. Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Palaeography at the University of Birmingham, England:

It follows that while early Christianity may have come to make lists of authoritative books, there were no authoritative copies of them.[74]

Unfortunately, those Christian missionaries and apologists with demonstrably less knowledge regarding the science of textual criticism are prone to conceiving what can only be described as outlandish claims. While discussing Codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, the Christian missionary Samy Tanagho says:

The facts that these manuscripts existed at least two hundred years before Muhammad founded Islam means that the only Holy Book in the hands of the Christians at Muhammad's time consisted of the same Old and New Testaments we have today.[75]

Given all of the historical and textual data regarding the formation of the New Testament canon that has been discussed so far, it is not difficult to notice the sheer lunacy of the above claim. Based on surviving manuscript evidence, given that the first "complete" Greek New Testament is dated approximately 800–900 years after the birth of Jesus and 200–300 years after the birth of Muhammad, it is mystifying as to why the missionary has chosen to mention three Greek Uncial Manuscripts of uncertain composition and provenance that do not contain anything like the same Old/New Testaments that are found in modern printed editions of the (Protestant) Bible in the 21st century CE, let alone the 7th century CE! Furthermore, perhaps unknowingly to the missionary, his conclusion implicitly assumes that Codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus are textually and canonically the same, and, that they functioned as exemplars (a manuscript from which another manuscript has been copied) for every single Greek New Testament manuscript in existence since that period – both absurd, illogical suggestions. Nevertheless, as there are only a few extant manuscripts which are speculatively thought to have contained the "complete" Bible before the fourth/fifth century CE, let us analyse perhaps the earliest of these manuscripts, the celebrated Codex Vaticanus (c. 350 CE), which is considered by many Biblical scholars to be the single most important manuscript of the Bible. In 1995, P. B. Payne, a teacher of New Testament Greek at the University of Cambridge, wrote a paper on the variants in Codex Vaticanus.[76] In the course of his study he discovered numerous double-dots (named umlauts) and subsequent analysis by him revealed that the umlaut was utilised by the scribe as a text-critical note, indicating that he was aware of the presence of a variant reading; that is, the scribe was making critical decisions as to which text he copied and in doing so provided a very rudimentary textual apparatus. A subsequent study[77] by P. B. Payne and P. Canart, Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Professor of Codicology and Greek Palaeography and President of the International Greek Palaeography Committee, who has spent more than four decades analysing the codex, revealed the full scope of the text-critical notation discovered within Vaticanus: there were approximately 765 dots resembling a dieresis or umlaut and analysis revealed that almost all of these umlauts appeared next to a line that was known to have a textual-variant that differed significantly from other manuscripts of the fourth century CE.[78] A thorough examination of Payne's thesis has been conducted by J. E. Miller,[79] teaching pastor at Trinity Bible Church, Texas, who has also shown, that in all probability, there are in fact over 750 text-critical markers (umlauts) contained within Codex Vaticanus – appearing on almost every page of the New Testament.[80] Miller even goes as far as to state that it is "an early UBS text"![81] Endorsing Miller's contribution toward the understanding of the text-critical notation found within Codex Vaticanus, D. B. Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and Executive Director at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, states, "In sum, Miller's study is a refreshing piece that takes Payne's original insights one step further. In so doing, it may well become the catalyst for several other studies that unlock some of the treasures hidden for centuries in this most precious copy of the scriptures."[82] What does the text-critical notation found in Codex Vaticanus have to do with the nature of canon? Confusing though it may seem, E. J. Epp, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Literature at Case Western Reserve University, while discussing the issue of textual variants and canonicity raises an important point - which manuscript is canonical?

Finally, to raise the question to its highest level and broadest range, what can "canonical" mean when each of our 5,300 Greek New Testament manuscripts and perhaps 9,000 versional manuscripts, as well as every one now lost, was considered authoritative - and therefore canonical - in worship and instruction in one or more of the thousands upon thousands of individual churches when no two manuscripts are exactly alike? A corollary heightens the force of the question: If no two manuscripts are alike, then no two collections of Gospels or Epistles are alike, and no two canons – no two "New Testaments" – are alike; therefore, are all canonical, or some, or only one? And if some or one, which?[83]

As Epp has pointed out, this suggests that the canon formation was operating at two quite different levels – one at the level of scribes modifying the text to express their theology or other understanding and the other at the level of Church leaders of major localities seeking consensus on what books were to be accepted in the canon.[84] Such a bicameral state of affairs pose serious problems for the nature of canon itself. One should not find it surprising therefore that the missionaries and apologists are reluctant to state which form of the text they consider canonical (i.e., to which nothing can be added and nothing can be subtracted), as they realise that to make such a statement has wide ranging and damaging implications regarding the history of the text of the New Testament as accepted by the different Christian communities in the Eastern (Greek) and the Western (Latin) Christendom from the 2nd century to the 21st century, not to mention the form of text (verse by verse) found in the 5,745 extant Greek Manuscripts, including the early papyri and early uncial manuscripts such as codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus.[85] If, as the apologists, missionaries and evangelists hold, it is 'heresy' to reject a certain book of the New Testament, is it also 'heresy' to reject or accept a particular verse, or form of verse, found in some manuscripts but not others? Consequently, whilst making text-critical decisions, did the scribe(s) of codex Vaticanus commit 'heresy' (knowingly or unknowingly) by accepting or rejecting a verse, or form of verse, not found in modern critical editions of the Bible? Although the missionaries and apologists enthusiastically speak of a closed, universally agreed upon canon to which nothing can be added and nothing can be subtracted, they soon discover that it is not possible to adopt a similar historical approach with the (Greek) text of the New Testament! Von Soden has shown that many forms of the Byzantine New Testament text were received in Eastern (Greek) Christendom. All these forms of text were regarded as authoritative. One should also not forget the Western version of the book of Acts which is textually around 8.5% larger than the text commonly read in critical editions of the Greek New Testament today; again, it was considered authoritative and canonical in the early centuries of Christianity by the communities that received this textual version of the Book of Acts.[86] As has been shown in textual studies there are four different text-types of the New Testament, Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean and Byzantine. Each text-type represents a distinct group of readings that allows a textual critic to be able to identify it as belonging to that particular group of text or text-type. As Epp has pointed out, these readings would have been considered as authoritative in worship and instruction by the Church and therefore would have been 'canonical'. Metzger summarises,

In short it appears that the question of canonicity pertains to the document qua document, and not to one particular form or version of that document. Translated into modern terms, Churches today accept a wide variety of contemporary versions as the canonical New Testament, though the versions differ not only as to rendering but also with respect to the presence or absence of certain verses in several of the books (besides the ending of Mark's gospel, other significant variations include Luke xxii. 43-4, John vii. 53-viii. II, and Acts viii. 37).[87]

Metzger also makes reference to the documentary evidence and the nature of canon when he notes the surviving number of Greek Bibles from the Byzantine period containing various combinations of the New Testament. He states,

It is obvious that the conception of the canon of the New Testament was not essentially a dogmatic issue whereby all parts of the text were regarded as equally necessary (the Gospels exist in 2,328 copies; the Book of Revelation in 287 copies). The lower status of the Book of Revelation in the East is indicated also by the fact that it has never been included in the official lectionary of the Greek Church, whether Byzantine or modern. It is also significant, judging from the total number of surviving copies, that only a very small proportion of Christians could have ever owned, or even seen, a copy of the complete canon of the New Testament.[88]

Thus, based on surviving Greek manuscript evidence, knowing that the conception of the canon was not a dogmatic issue whereby all parts of the text were regarded as equally necessary, the missionaries and apologists are unable to muster even a meagre amount of documentary evidence to support their claim of a widespread "church-wide" accepted canon by the fourth century CE, or indeed throughout any period of Christian history. The Christian apologist J. R. White, failing to appreciate the broad conclusions arising from this subtle point, whilst discussing the biblical canon at the time of Muhammad (a separate issued discussed here), misrepresents the documentary evidence and says [his statement is at time slice 56:33–56:41]:

... Certainly we do know what the Bible looked like in 630; we have plenty of manuscript evidence to be able to determine that...

No evidence is proffered. What type of manuscript evidence is the apologist referring to? We are not told where we can find this "... plenty of manuscript ..." nor are we informed of the contents of these "... plenty of manuscript ..." In fact, we are not even told what the contents of these unidentified biblical manuscript(s) available as of 630 CE are.

To put the apologists' claims in perspective, let us focus on the primary documentary evidence (i.e., Greek manuscripts) and start with a very simple calculation: as of May 1988, of the more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts extant, only approximately 4% (218 manuscripts) date from before the 7th century CE.[89] One should not seek to attach the appellative "plenty" to a numerical figure of slightly over 4% – it is grossly misleading and entirely inaccurate (similar claims discussed here). Let us now tabulate actual combinations of majuscule and minuscule Greek New Testament manuscripts as well as the New Testament papyri in order to establish if the apologist is correct in his assertion that there is "plenty of manuscript evidence", and, that it is able to unequivocally (read. certainly) delineate the extent of the biblical canon available as of 630 CE (or indeed at any period of Christian history).

Scholars divide the New Testament into well known sections from which they are able to analyse the transmissional history of the books contained therein. These are as follows: Gospels, Acts & Catholic Epistles, Pauline Letters and Revelation. The approximate total across the minuscule, majuscule and papyri range of New Testament manuscripts with respect to these groupings are as follows: Gospels: 2,361; Acts & Catholic Epistles: 662; Pauline Letters: 792; Revelation: 287.[90]

A. Four Gospels: 193 majuscules (119 fragmentary), 1,896 minuscules (fifty-seven fragmentary).

B. Acts + Catholic Epistles + Pauline Letters: eight majuscules, 256 minuscules.

C. All books except Revelation: two majuscules (B6, Y), 147 minuscules.

D. Pauline Letters: fifty-eight majuscules (forty-six fragmentary), 138 minuscules (six fragmentary).

E. Revelation to John: eight majuscules (four fragmentary), 118 minuscules (one fragmentary).

F. All books except Gospels: one majuscule (Papr), seventy-five minuscules.

G. Acts + Catholic Epistles (= Apostolos): thirty majuscules (twenty-eight fragmentary), forty minuscules (five fragmentary).

H. Entire New Testament (as finally defined in the twenty-seven books): three majuscules (א, A, C5), some fifty-six minuscules.

I. Gospels + Revelation: eleven minuscules.

J. Gospels + Acts + Catholic Epistles: one majuscule (D), eight minuscules.

K. Pauline Letters + Revelation: six minuscules.

L. Gospels + Pauline Letters: five minuscules.

M. Acts + Catholic Epistles + Revelation: three minuscules.

N. Gospels + Acts + Catholic Epistles + Revelation: two minuscules.

List I: Majuscule and minuscule manuscript contents (with the majuscules updated to 1998), though not all actual combinations are included in the list.[91]

The papyri on the other hand are more complex to tabulate, as it is not possible to determine accurately their "original" contents.[92] Of the 116 New Testament papyri, representing 112 different manuscripts, only fourteen contain more than one writing; the remaining ninety-eight contain portions of a single writing only. It is important to remember that the papyri constitute the earliest extant evidence for the Greek text of the New Testament.

A. More than one writing: fourteen papyri.

(1) Two or more Pauline letters:

i. six papyri:

i.i. P30 (1-2 Thessalonians); P34 (1-2 Corinthians); P46 (Romans + Hebrews + 1-2 Corinthians + Ephesians + Galatians + Philippians + Colossians + 1 Thessalonians); P61 (Romans + 1 Corinthians + Philippians + Colossians + 1 Thessalonians + Titus + Philemon); P92 (Ephesians + 2 Thessalonians); P99 (Romans + Galatians + Ephesians).

(2) More than one gospel:

i. five papyri:

i.i. P44 (Matthew + John); P45 (four gospels + Acts); P64 + P67 + P4 (Matthew + Luke); P75 (Luke + John); P84 (Mark + John).

(3) Acts + other writings:

i. three papyri:

i.i. P45 (above); P53 (above); P74 (Acts + 1-2 Peter + 1-3 John + Jude).

(4) One or two gospels + another writing:

i. two papyri:

i.i. P45 (four gospels + Acts, see above); P53 (Matthew + Acts).

(5) Two or more Catholic Epistles:

i. two papyri:

i.i. P72 (1-2 Peter + Jude); P74 (above).

B. Portions of a single writing: ninety-eight papyri.

(1) Portions of one gospel only:

i. fifty papyri:

i.i. Twenty-one with Matthew; one with Mark; seven with Luke; twenty-one with John.

(2) Portions of one Pauline letter only:

i. sixteen papyri:

i.i. Romans (P10; P26; P27; P31; P40; P94; P113); 1 Corinthians (P11 + P14; P15; P68); Galatians (P51); Ephesians (P49); Philippians (P16); 1 Thessalonians (P65); Titus (P32); Philemon (P87).

(3) Portions of Acts only:

i. eleven papyri:

i.i. (P8; P29; P33 + P58; P38; P41; P48; P50; P56; P57; P91; P112).

(4) Portions of Hebrews only:

i. seven papyri:

i.i. (P12; P13; P17; P79; P89; P114; P116).

(5) Portions of one Catholic Epistle only:

i. seven papyri:

i.i. James (P20; P23; P54; P100); 1 Peter (P81); 1 John (P9); Jude (P78).

(6) Portions of Revelation to John only:

i. seven papyri:

i.i. (P18; P24; P43; P47; P85; P98; P115).

List II: The content of 116 "New Testament" papyri, representing 112 different manuscripts (most of which are fragmentary), might be summarized as follows (with some duplications, and considering only writings in Greek).[93]

A quick glance at Lists I & II enables one to categorise the apologist's argument as wholly specious. Based on the actual combinations of New Testament writings found in minuscule, majuscule and papyri New Testament manuscripts,[94] over the entire date range of Christendom until the present day, Epp concludes with the following cautionary note:

We end, then, with a note of caution about claims for a regular and consistent combinations or grouping of writings in manuscripts, especially the earlier ones, for – as noted in the lists above – a vast array of groupings are present.[95]

How the apologist was able to decipher with certainty what the Bible looked like in a specific year, namely 630 CE (i.e., 1,375 years ago), and then erroneously claim that there is "plenty of manuscript evidence" in support of this assertion is preposterous; it also points to an inability (willingly or unwillingly) to examine the extant documentary evidence from which the (number of) actual combinations of the New Testament books can be clearly adduced. With respect to the actual combinations of biblical books found in minuscule, majuscule and papyri Greek New Testament manuscripts, we can therefore conclude that the decrees made at various synods and council meetings regarding the extent of the New Testament canon (especially with regard to the twenty-seven book canon) and the practical actualisation of their announcements (i.e., actual manuscripts) seem not to be mechanically related.[96] A small but important example helps to illustrate all of the interconnected points discussed in this section: the number of extant twenty-six book Greek New Testament manuscripts (i.e., excluding Revelation) outnumbers the number of "complete" twenty-seven book Greek New Testament manuscripts by a factor of approximately 3 to 1! Therefore, prior to the advent of the printing press, for whatever reason, a twenty-six book canon of the New Testament has had primacy over a twenty-seven book canon of the New Testament – "we have plenty of manuscript evidence to be able to determine that."

8. Conclusions

Contrary to the wishful thinking of the evangelists, apologists and missionaries, the twenty-seven book canon of the New Testament did not simply descend from the sky after the departure of Jesus. The Catholic Encyclopaedia discussing the historical development of the New Testament canon from 100 – 220 CE, states,

The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council.[97]

From the 3rd century CE onward, amongst many of the early Christian churches, there was a general acceptance of the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline epistles, I Peter and I John.[98] It should be remembered that although these writings were considered as scripture, they did not constitute "A closed set of "scriptures", to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be subtracted." – i.e., a canon. Athanasius in his thirty-ninth Epistola Festalis (367 CE), is the first Christian to delineate the extent of the New Testament canon as is found in modern day Protestant Bibles. But was Athanasius' decision binding on all Churches, both Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin), in early Christendom? No. Was his decision even binding in his own Church? No. Didymus the Blind, a close disciple and friend of Athanasius, considered several additional scriptures not listed by Athanasius to be authoritative and canonical. The first Church councils to ratify Athanasius decision, the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (c. 393 CE) and the third Synod of Carthage also in North Africa (c. 397 CE), were not ecumenical councils; they were merely local (Western), temporary assemblies whose voice had authority only within their local sees. The inability of the Eastern Church to decide on an authoritative canon is perhaps best witnessed by the confusing and contradictory statements of the Trullan Synod (691 – 692 CE). Even if we focus on the general timeframe of Athanasius proclamation, during the period of the fourth and very early fifth centuries, we can observe the proliferation of canonical lists delineating the limits of the New Testament; in this period there are fifteen undisputed lists of the Christian canon, the bulk of them differing (i.e., their canon) from each other. With regard to the New Testament, M. J. Sawyer, concludes,

The canon of the New Testament was not closed historically by the early church. Rather, its extent was debated until the Reformation. Even then, it was closed in a sectarian fashion. Therefore the question must be asked, is it then heresy for a person to question or reject a book of the present canon? There have been repeated reevaluations of the church's canon. This happened during the initial sifting period. It happened again during the Renaissance and Reformation period, and it is beginning to happen again now. In such instances the fringe books of the canon have been repeatedly questioned.[99]

It is well known by Church historians that the extent of the New Testament canon was debated well into the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. And, as has been noted, the decision to close the canon was made in a sectarian fashion. We have to wait approximately 1,500 years after the birth of Jesus before a (Roman Catholic) "Church-wide" pronouncement (1546 CE) on the issue of canon is decreed. Even then there was disunity in this announcement. Of the select few who were invited to participate in the debate regarding the extent of the canon, twenty-four voted in favour of a twenty-seven book New Testament whilst fifteen rejected the proposal and sixteen abstained. To think that the Trinitarian deity would wait over 1,500 years after the birth of Jesus before enabling a "Church-wide" decree on the canon of scripture is remarkable in itself. To then think that the Trinitarian deity would "inspire" fifteen people to reject this canon of scripture in a final vote, and have sixteen people abstain, (which when added together is greater than the number of people who voted for!) has some troubling implications for the missionaries and apologists theology of divine providence as well as their view on the majesty and truthfulness of God. Consequently, it is important to note whether the Trinitarian deity has since "inspired" the Christians and/or the Church to a unified canon? Examining the canon lists of the churches in both Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Christendom, we discover that the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Coptic, Ethiopic,[100] Syriac, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Slavonic/Russian church, all have a different "inspired" canon of scriptures. A quick survey of recent scholarly opinions shows that several modern day theologians and textual critics, including Metzger and Aland (who both, significantly, play a huge role in deciding what constitutes the Bible textually), consider the New Testament canon to be open. Metzger prefers to advance a theoretical position regarding the state of canon and church and suggests that any changes to the canon now would be harmful and create more disunity. Aland goes one step further and suggests the practical omission of the apocalyptic literature from the New Testament, which he thinks would help to promote Church unity.

Equally unflattering are the lack of Greek manuscripts bearing the "complete" twenty-seven book canon of the New Testament. The apologist, missionary and evangelical Protestant position that the canon was decided decisively, unanimously and universally by the fourth century CE, is not supported by the surviving documentary evidence. The first Greek codex to contain the "complete" New Testament (i.e., twenty-seven books) is dated to c. 800 – c. 900 CE. The first Greek codex to adhere to the canonical arrangement as specified in Athanasius' Epistola Festalis of 367 CE is tentatively thought to be the Mount Athos manuscript (Greg. 922) dated to 1116 CE. Based on actual combinations of New Testament books as adduced from minuscule, majuscule and papyri Greek New Testament manuscripts, there is considerable variation in the composition and order of the New Testament canon. Astonishingly, there are only around fifty "complete" New Testaments in existence before the advent of the printing press; given this fact, Metzger comments, "... it suddenly becomes clear that only a very small proportion of Christians could have owned, or even seen, a copy of the complete canon of the New Testament before the invention of printing."[101] Even more astounding is the fact that over the entire date range of Christendom, there are an infinitesimal number of "complete" Greek Bibles – numbering only eight.[102] As an aside, one wonders about the precise function and authority of Sola Scriptura when the overwhelming majority of Christians (either scholars or laymen) would never have seen a complete New Testament – let alone a complete Bible. Consequently, the evangelicals, apologists and missionaries are unable to muster even a paltry amount of documentary evidence (in the form of Greek manuscripts) to support their claim of a universal, unanimous, widely accepted and clearly functioning canon that had been in place for over a millennia.

An appraisal of Christian history from the birth of Jesus to the present day therefore admits that the concept of "the" biblical canon, whether understood theoretically, practically, theologically or historically, has never existed. Only a dogmatic, ahistorical view of the processes described above would lead one to stray from this literary, historical, and theological datum.

And Allah knows best!


References & Notes

[1] F. F. Bruce, The Canon Of The Scripture, 1988, Chapter House Ltd.: Glasgow, p. 250.

[2] J. McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Evidence I & II Fully Updated In One Volume To Answer Questions Challenging Christians In The 21st Century, 1999, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, p. 25.

[3] A. von Harnack (Trans. Rev. J. R. Wilkinson), The Origin Of The New Testament And The Most Important Consequences Of The New Creation, 1925, Williams and Norgate: London.

[4] H. Y. Gamble, "The New Testament Canon: Recent Research And The Status Quaestionis", in L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.: Peabody (MA), pp. 267-273; H. J. de Jonge, "Introduction: The New Testament Canon", in J. -M. Auwers & H. J. de Jonge (Eds.), The Biblical Canons, 2003, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium CLXIII, Peeters/Leuven University Press: Leuven (Belgium), pp. 310-312; B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, Clarendon Press: Oxford, pp. 23–24.

[5] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 24.

[6] H. J. de Jonge, "Introduction: The New Testament Canon", in J. -M. Auwers and H. J. de Jonge (Eds.), The Biblical Canons, 2003, op cit., p. 311.

[7] For an excellent brief summary of Zahn's views and a concise refutation/criticism see, A. von Harnack (Trans. Rev. J. R. Wilkinson), The Origin Of The New Testament And The Most Important Consequences Of The New Creation, 1925, op cit., pp. 218–229. One can see that Harnack has anticipated many of the strange assertions, bold conclusions and methodological absurdities that are found scattered throughout the missionary, apologetical and evangelical literature in circulation today with regard to the history and formation of the New Testament canon.

[8] G. M. Hahneman, "The Muratorian Fragment And The Origins Of The New Testament Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., pp. 405-415.

The importance of Eusebius contribution to the nature of canon has been assessed by Hahneman, see G. M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment And The Development Of The Canon, 1992, Clarendon Press: Oxford, pp. 133-136. He says:

The canon of scriptures was a recurrent theme in Eusebius, since he acknowledged an interest in recording the usage of the ancient fathers (HE, 3.3.3; 5.8.1). Perhaps as a consequence, Eusebius created lists or catalogues of the New Testament from the writings of his predecessors, namely Irenaeus (HE 5.8.1–15), Clement of Alexandria (HE 6.14.1–7), and Origen (HE 6.25.3–14). A reading of these passages reveals that Eusebius simply wove together various texts from their works in order to create the impression that each of these Church Fathers had a 'canon'. It was Eusebius who created the 'canon' from their comments, not the writers themselves, so that none of these lists are original catalogues. They are expressions in Eusebius' interest in the Canon, and not of his sources. The remarks of the early authors themselves reflect only the concept of scripture. R. P. C. Hanson has confirmed that no list, not even the concept of a closed collection of New Testament Scriptures, was entertained by Origen and Clement of Alexandria.

The absence of original New Testament catalogues in Eusebius' works, other than his own (HE 3.25.1–7), is a reliable indication that no such catalogues were known to him, and probably that none existed prior to his time. If Eusebius had known, or even heard of, any earlier catalogue he would surely have made a reference to it. That Eusebius created such catalogues for himself and others suggests that the interest in catalogues was his. The interest in defining the Canon by the use of catalogues, which was widely repeated in the fourth century, may be traced back no further than Eusebius.

Similar views are shared by L. M. McDonald in his The Formation Of The Christian Biblical Canon, 1995, Revised and Expanded Edition, Hendrickson Publishers Inc., p. 194.

[9] E. Ulrich, "The Notion And Definition Of Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 30.

[10] ibid., pp. 32-33.

[11] B. D. Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction To The Early Christian Writings, 2000, Second Edition, Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York, p. 43. Ehrman says:

... most historians think that Mark was the first of our Gospels to be written, sometime between the mid 60s to early 70s. Matthew and Luke were probably produced some ten or fifteen years later, perhaps around 80 or 85. John was written perhaps ten years after that, in 90 or 95. These are necessarily rough estimates, but almost all scholars agree within a few years.

[12] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 75.

[13] A. von Harnack (Trans. Rev. J. R. Wilkinson), The Origin Of The New Testament And The Most Important Consequences Of The New Creation, 1925, op cit., p. 219. Similarly, it is also worth mentioning Harnack's wider criticism of Zahn regarding the issue of assigning canonical status to a book read in public lection (see pp. 219–220):

1. The first part of Zahn's larger work, as well as his Grundriss, ought not to bear the title History of the Canon of the New Testament, but History of the public and private use of works that were afterwards united in the New Testament; in the second part also the question of public lection is very much to the front. The right to be read publicly and the right to be included in the Canon are jumbled together by Zahn as if they were identical, though he himself admits (vide supra) that the conception of what should be regularly read at public worship "had not been clearly defined." It is, indeed, quite true, that every work that was "Canonical" (in the sense of the Old Testament) was also read publicly, but the converse statement is simply inadmissible. Public lection was certainly a most important preliminary condition for the canonising of a book (in many cases, however, it was a consequence), but it was by no means the sole condition. I mean that because a book was read at public worship it is far from following that it had, therefore, the same dignity as the Old Testament. But this is the very point In so far, therefore, as Zahn, dealing with the earliest history of the "Canon of the New Testament," confines himself, and must confine himself, exclusively to proving the existence of certain smaller collections of books now in the New Testament and the fact that they were read publicly, his work is simply not a history of the Canon of the New Testament, but—even if all his investigations are correct and to the point—a history of the earliest public and private use of certain books. Moreover, it hangs together with this unjustifiable identification of public lection and Canon that Zahn, in his larger work, thinks that he may neglect all other aspects of the history of the origin of the New Testament. The most learned authority on the second century in his discussion of this question makes really no use of his knowledge of the opinions and controversies, of the problems great and small, that agitated the Christendom of those days. Hundreds of details in the history of that period are brought forward and investigated thoroughly and comprehensively, but the growing New Testament is never brought into connection with the living history of the Church—not at all because the author was unable to do this, but because he believes that it is not necessary—public lection alone is sufficient and decisive.

Harry Gamble also tells us that it is not necessary that a writing is considered "scripture" just because it was read publicly:

Justin also remarks that in Christian services of worship it was customary to read from both the "memoirs" of the apostles and from the "compilations" of the prophets (Apol. 1.67.3). This does not mean that the Gospels were authoritative in just the same sense as the prophetic writings; for whereas Justin thinks the prophetic writings are inspired, he does not value the Gospels in this way. But his comment at least points up the context in which the correlation of Jewish scripture and Christian writings gradually developed.

See H. Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning, 1985, Fortress Press: Philadelphia, p. 29.

[14] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 254–257. Metzger says (p. 256):

In short, the Scriptures, according to the early Fathers, are indeed inspired, but that is not the reason they are authoritative. They are authoritative, and hence canonical, because they are the extant literary deposit of the direct and indirect apostolic witness on which the later witness of the Church depends.

[15] H. J. de Jonge, "Introduction: The New Testament Canon", in J. -M. Auwers and H. J. de Jonge (Eds.), The Biblical Canons, 2003, op cit., pp. 313–314. Apostolicity is the first point on Ohlig's list. This important criterion is usually the starting point of the missionaries' investigation into a certain books canonicity. Once again, however, they fail to take into account biblical criticism that has conclusively shown that many books of the New Testament cannot be considered as apostolic. This point is succinctly explained by L. M. McDonald, The Formation Of The Christian Biblical Canon, 1995, op cit., p. 255. He says,

... if apostolicity is still a legitimate criterion for canonicity of the NT literature, as it was for the churches that first drew up biblical canons, should the church today continue to recognize the authority 2 Peter, the Pastorals, and other nonapostolic literature of the NT? If the Spirit's activity was not considered to be limited to apostolic documents... can we and should we make arguments for the inclusion of other literature in the biblical canon? For example, should our attention be on the authorship of a document or on the substance of the document itself in determining its inspiration and authority? Although there was considerable doubt about the authorship of Hebrews among the church fathers, the book nevertheless was included into the biblical canon because its message was both relevant and important to the Christian communities that adopted and preserved it as scripture. Is it not the intrinsic worth of the writing to the church in establishing its identity and facilitating its ministry that is the ultimate criterion for canonicity?

[16] H. Y. Gamble, "The New Testament Canon: Recent Research And The Status Quaestionis", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 290. Compare this to the view of the missionaries who think,

Furthermore, Metzger is essentially arguing from silence. Just because a Father doesn't use the appellation "Scripture" does not mean that the Father in question didn't regard the NT books as such. The fact that a particular Father would quote an NT book actually suggests that the Father accepted its divine inspiration.

It is important to note that when the missionaries use the terms 'divine inspiration' and 'scripture' they mean the same thing, i.e., they are canonical books. It would also be instructive to consider the issue of public and private reading, as discussed by Harnack in ref. 13 above.

[17] It is important to note that when speaking about the gospel according to 'Mark', or indeed any other book of the New Testament, we are talking about a pluriform text whose textual identity is dependant on numerous interrelated factors such as environment, culture, theology, education, location, date, etc. For further information with regard to tracing the textual history of Mark, see J. K. Elliott, C. -B. Amphoux & J. -C. Haelewyck, "The Marc Multilingue Project", Filologia Neotestamentaria, 2002, Volume XV, Issue 29-30, pp. 3–17.

[18] B. D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles For Scripture And The Faiths We Never Knew, 2003, Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York, pp. 22–24.

[19] B. D. Ehrman, "Textual Traditions Compared: The New Testament And The Apostolic Fathers", in A. F. Gregory & C. M. Tuckett (Eds.), The New Testament And The Apostolic Fathers: The Reception Of The New Testament In The Apostolic Fathers, 2005, Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York, pp. 10–11.

[20] For plentiful examples of this as well as a good overview of the topic in general, see sub-section "Gospel" in the Apostolic Fathers in Helmut Koester's, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History And Development, 1990, Trinity Press International: Philadelphia and SCM Press Ltd.: London, pp. 14–19; Also see B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 39–73.

[21] Such as the article by E. Ulrich, "The Notion And Definition Of Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., pp. 21-35.

[22] It is important to note that there is no direct evidence to suggest that Marcion attributed this 'gospel' to a character called 'Luke'. Interestingly, it takes c. 100 years after the supposed composition of this 'gospel', before there is a historical record explicitly stating the author's name. The earliest extant manuscript witness that mentions 'Luke' as the author of the 'gospel' is New Testament papyri manuscript P75 dated c. 175 – c. 225 CE; the title 'EUAGGELION KATA LOUKAN' (Gospel according to Luke) is found at the end. The first undisputed Christian writer to mention Luke as the author of the gospel is Irenaeus of Lyon (Against Heresies III.I.I) dated c. 180 CE. See J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According To Luke I–IX: A New Translation With Introduction And Commentary, 1981, Doubleday: New York, p. 37.

[23] H. von Campenhausen (Trans. J. A. Baker), The Formation Of The Christian Bible, 1972, Adam & Charles Black: London, p. 162.

[24] G. M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment And The Development Of The Canon, 1992, op cit., pp. 90–93; Also see H. Y. Gamble, "The New Testament Canon: Recent Research And The Status Quaestionis", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., pp. 291–293.

[25] For instance, see B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 75–112.

[26] This is intense debate over the date and provenance of this mutilated fragment. It seems as though an earlier date is to be preferred, although the matter has hardly been decided. For a "who's who" as regards the early/later dating of this fragment, both for and against, as well as a concise summary of the arguments see J. Verheyden, "The Canon Muratori: A Matter Of Dispute", in J. -M. Auwers & H. J. de Jonge (Eds.), The Biblical Canons, 2003, op cit., p. 487–556.

Gamble notes however that the history of the New Testament canon is little affected by this document or by its dating. It was not the last word on the matter of what should be included in the canon; several writings now considered canonical were not mentioned, namely Hebrews, I & II Peter, 3 John and James. Likewise, writings which are not considered canonical today were mentioned favourably, namely the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon. Conversely, it does contradict the fact that several New Testament writings were considered authoritative and broadly used, such as the four gospels, the Pauline epistles as well as some other books – see H. Y. Gamble, "The New Testament Canon: Recent Research And The Status Quaestionis", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., pp. 269–271. Compare this with the quite ludicrous statement of the missionary Shamoun who claims in reference to this fragment,

Here is a document dating approximately A.D. 170 that lists all the 27 NT books as canonical.

[27] C. Freeman, The Closing Of The Western Mind: The Rise Of Faith And The Fall Of Reason, 2003, Pimlico: London, pp. xii–xiii.

[28] B. D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles For Scripture And The Faiths We Never Knew, 2003, op cit., pp. 230–231; Also see B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 214. Metzger comments:

That there was still fluidity of the New Testament canon of Alexandria in the second half of the fourth century is disclosed not only by the absence of reference to 2 and 3 John, but also by Didymus' occasional citation of several of the apostolic fathers as authoritative.

[29] H. J. de Jonge, "Introduction: The New Testament Canon", in J. -M. Auwers & H. J. de Jonge (Eds.), The Biblical Canons, 2003, op cit., p. 312.

[30] G. M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment And The Development Of The Canon, 1992, op cit., p. 133.

[31] If one were also to include the Old Testament section (those which contain them) of these fifteen canonical lists, the identity of the Bible deteriorates significantly and becomes far more troubled. For an excellent summary regarding the Old Testament canon and the movement of the "apocrypha" throughout the ages see A. de Kuiper, "Apocrypha", The Bible Translator, 1974, Volume XXV (Issue III), pp. 301–313; also see H. P. Rüger, "The Extent Of The Old Testament Canon", The Bible Translator, 1989, Volume XL (Issue III), pp. 301–308. One can immediately observe that the variation in the extent of the Old Testament canon is appreciably worse than that of the New Testament canon.

[32] G. M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment And The Development Of The Canon, 1992, op cit., pp. 171–172.

[33] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 218–219; Also see G. M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment And The Development Of The Canon, 1992, op cit., p. 156.

[34] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 212–213.

[35] "Amphilochius of Iconium" in Catholic Encyclopaedia, available online (26th September 2005).

[36] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 238–239.

[37] H. P. Rüger, "The Extent Of The Old Testament Canon", The Bible Translator, 1989, op cit., p. 303.

[38] B. M. Metzger, An Introduction To The Apocrypha, 1977, Oxford University Press Inc.: New York, pp. 192–193; Metzger bluntly notes, "The position of Eastern Orthodox Churches regarding the canon of the Old Testament is not at all clear." – i.e., unintelligible!; "The Second Council Of Nicaea" in Catholic Encyclopaedia, available online (28th October 2005); "Fourth Council of Constantinople" in Catholic Encyclopaedia, available online (28th October 2005).

[39] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 216–217.

Specifically with regard to the Old Testament, because of these differences, the canonicity of several books of the Greek Orthodox Bible are still being contested. Even as late as 1960/61 CE, there are those calling for an ecumenical council to decide once and for all the extent of the Greek Orthodox canon(!):

Because of these differences, in the Greek Orthodox Church, the canonicity of the deuterocanonicals/apocrypha is still contested. This is why an urgent desire has been expressed "that a much desired future ecumenical Council should include this among other matters to be discussed, an confirm by an infallible judgement the generally prevailing opinion in the Greek Orthodox Church".

See H. P. Rüger, "The Extent Of The Old Testament Canon", The Bible Translator, 1989, op cit., p. 304.

[40] B. M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth And Content, 1990, 2nd Enlarged Edition, Abingdon Press: Nashville, pp. 275-276.

[41] A. C. Cotter, S. J., "Lost Books Of The Bible?", Theological Studies, 1945, Volume VI, available online.

[42] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 246.

[43] M. J. Sawyer, Evangelicals And The Canon Of The New Testament, available online (30th August 2005).

[44] The references used to plot the canons of various churches are the following. H. P. Rüger, "The Extent Of The Old Testament Canon", in S. Meurer (Ed.) Translated by P. Ellingworth, The Apocrypha In Ecumenical Perspective: The Place Of The Late Writings Of The Old Testament Among The Biblical Writings And Their Significance In The Eastern And Western Churches, 1991, UBS Monograph Series No. 6, United Bible Societies: New York, pp. 150-160; R. W. Cowley, "The Biblical Canon Of The Ethiopic Orthodox Church Today", Ostkirchliche Studien, 1974, Volume 23, pp. 318-323; Michael E. Stone, "Armenian Canon Lists IV – The List Of Gregory Of Tatcew (14th Century)", Harvard Theological Review, 1979, Volume 72, No. 3-4, pp. 237-244; "Bible", in B. M. Metzger & M. D. Coogan (eds.), Oxford Companion To The Bible, 1993, Oxford University Press: Oxford & New York, p. 79; B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., pp. 225-228; B. M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origins, Transmission, And Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press: Oxford; Dr. Martin Luther, Biblia, 1538, Wolff K: Strassburg; A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta Id Est Vetus Testamentum Graece Iuxta LXX Interpretes, 1935, Privilegierte Württembergische Bibelanstalt. In Two Volumes.

[45] C. Lindberg, The European Reformations Sourcebook, 1999, Blackwell Publishers, p. 36.

[46] M. F. Bartling, Luther and James: Did Luther Use The Historical-Critical Method?, 1983, p. 3, available online at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary's official website (21st December 2005). So scathing was Luther of the epistle of James that he said, "Only the papists accept James on account of the righteousness of works, but my opinion is that it is not the writings of an apostle. Some day I will use James to fire my stove." See ibid., p. 2.

[47] M. Luther (Trans. E. T. Bachman), "Preface To The New Testament", in E. T. Bachman (ed.), Luther's Works: Word And Sacrament I, 1960, Volume 35, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Philadelphia, pp. 394-399. For instance, Luther says:

... though, to be sure, we cannot put it [Hebrews] on the same level with the apostolic epistles... However, to state my opinion about it [James], though without prejudice to anyone I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, ... Therefore, although I value the book [Jude], it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books, which are supposed to lay the foundation of faith... My spirit cannot accommodate itself to the book [Revelation]. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it; Christ is neither taught nor known in it.

[48] D. W. Lotz, "Sola Scriptura: Luther On Biblical Authority", Interpretation, 1981, Volume 35, No. III, pp. 272-273.

[49] M. Luther (Trans. E. T. Bachman), "Preface To The New Testament", in E. T. Bachman (Ed.), Luther's Works: Word And Sacrament I, 1960, op. cit., p. 362.

[50] ibid.

[51] This is not the only place where this "apocryphal" book turns up in a Protestant Bible. A detailed study by Metzger reveals that III Maccabees is found in scores of Bibles, Old Testaments, and other editions even after the Council of Trent and the Protestant reformers had declared it "apocryphal". For a listing of over one hundred separate editions and translations of this text into a diverse range of languages such as Greek, Armenian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, Georgian, German, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Rumanian, Russian, Slavonic and Syriac, see B. M. Metzger, "An Early Protestant Bible Containing The Third Book Of Maccabees: With A List Of Editions And Translations Of Third Maccabees", in M. Brecht (Ed.), Text–Wort –Glaube Studien Zur Überlieferung, Interpretation Und Autorisierung Biblischer Texte: Kurt Aland Gewidmet, 1980, Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin, pp. 123–133. Available online.

[52] B. F. Westcott, The Bible In The Church: A Popular Account Of The Collection And Reception Of The Holy Scriptures In The Christian Churches, 1879, Macmillan & Co.: London, p. 270.

[53] Dr. Martin Luther, Biblia, 1538, Wolff K: Strassburg.

[54] Rt. Rev. H. Jedin (Trans. Rev. F. C. Eckhoff), Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent: Cardinal Seripando, 1947, B. Herder Book Co.: London, pp. 268–282; Also see Rt. Rev. H. Jedin (Trans. D. E. Graf, O.S.B), A History Of The Council Of Trent, Volume II: The First Sessions At Trent, 1545–47, 1961, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., pp. 52-58. In the translator's note, Graf provides some useful definitions of some common terms [ibid., p. v.]:

It may be useful to explain briefly some of the technical terms which occur again and again in these pages. The term "congregation" designates a gathering, or a sitting, of the whole, or of a section of the Council. A "general congregation" is a gathering of all the members of the assembly, including those not entitled to a vote. A "particular congregation" consisted of a group chosen from among the members. It was in these congregations that the problems, for the solution of which the council had been convened, were thrashed out. A Sessio or Session, on the other hand, was a solemn liturgical function, with a High Mass and a sermon by one of the more distinguished members of the assembly, not necessarily a bishop. It was at this solemn gathering that the decrees elaborated in the congregations, were read out and voted upon. This was done not by the dropping of a white or black ball into a box, but by the word placet or non placet being written on a ballot paper–scheda. At times permission was given to add some remarks to the signature, but they had to be in the handwriting of the voter. The schedae were then collected and counted by the collectors.

The term votum, or vote, has yet another meaning, one that might be rendered by our "counsel's opinion". A vote, in this sense, could be a lengthy document. Thus when we are told that Seripando, for instance, read his "vote", or that the text of the "vote" of this or that bishop has been preserved, there is a question of paper, or an essay, on the subject under discussion and read in a congregation, whether general or particular. No vote, in this sense, was read at the Session. That solemn gathering was exclusively for the purpose of promulgating the conclusions arrived at in the congregations by means of the "votes" (vota) of its members.

[55] Luther is certainly not unique in applying self-made tests to the Bible in order to establish the relative value and/or authority of the item in question. In fact, every verse of biblical text has a self-made test applied to it by textual critics before it can be recommended as being part of the Bible. For an interesting account of how 'thought' is applied to the sphere of textual criticism, see A. E. Housman, "The Application Of Thought To Textual Criticism", Proceedings Of The Classical Association, 1921, Volume XVIII, pp. 67–84.

[56] Information contained in the preceding paragraphs has been summarised from H. H. Howarth, "The Origin And Authority Of The Biblical Canon In The Anglican Church", Journal Of Theological Studies, 1906, Issue VIII, Volume XXIX, pp. 1–40; H. H. Howarth, "The Origin And Authority Of The Biblical Canon According To The Continental Reformers: I. Luther And Karlstadt", Journal Of Theological Studies, 1907, Issue VIII, Volume XXXI, pp. 321–365; H. H. Howarth, "The Origin And Authority Of The Biblical Canon According To The Continental Reformers: II. Luther, Zwingli, Lefèvre, And Calvin", Journal Of Theological Studies, 1908, Issue IX, Volume XXXIV, pp. 188–230; H. H. Howarth, "The Canon Of The Bible Among The Later Reformers", Journal Of Theological Studies, 1909, Issue X, Volume XXXVIII, pp. 183–232; A. Wikgren, "Luther And "New Testament Apocrypha"", in R. H. Fischer (Ed.), A Tribute To Arthur Vööbus: Studies In Early Christian Literature And Its Environment, Primarily In The Syrian East, 1977, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago: Chicago (NY), pp. 379–390. Available online.

[57] Among the Protestant reformers, it appears that Luther is the first to demean the books of the "apocrypha" (which includes several books accepted as canonical by Protestants today). The first systematic treatment of canon however is made by Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstad in his book entitled De Canonicis Scripturis Libellus published in 1520 CE. It was only after the declaration of the Tridentine council that official Protestant creedal statements delineating the extent of the biblical canon start to appear. See B. M. Metzger, An Introduction To The Apocrypha, 1977, op. cit., p. 181 and p. 190.

[58] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op. cit., p. 247.

[59] K. Barth (Trans. Rev. G. T. Thomson & Rev. H. Knight), Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine Of The Word Of God, 1956, Volume I, 2, T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, p. 476.

[60] K. Aland, The Problem Of The New Testament Canon, 1962, A. R. Mowbray & Co. Limited: London, pp. 30-31.

[61] ibid., p. 30.

[62] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 275.

[63] ibid.

[64] H. P. Rüger, "The Extent Of The Old Testament Canon", The Bible Translator, 1989, op cit., pp. 307–308.

[65] D. D. Schmidt, "The Greek New Testament As A Codex", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 476.

[66] ibid.

[67] ibid.

[68] ibid., p. 477.

[69] The best word to describe the Byzantine text-type is "corrupt". See B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary On The New Testament: A Companion Volume To The United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament, 1971, United Bible Societies, London & New York, pp. xvii-xxi; B. F. Westcott & F. J. A. Hort, Introduction To The New Testament In The Original Greek, 1882 (1988 reprint), Hendrickson Publishers Inc., pp. 115-119.

[70] K. Aland & B. Aland (Trans. E. F. Rhodes), The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions And To The Theory And Practice Of Modern Textual Criticism, 1995, 2nd Revised Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids (Michigan), p. 142. After listing Byzantine type minuscules by century, including codex 922, the Alands say:

All of these minuscules exhibit a purely or predominantly Byzantine text. And this is not a peculiarity of the minuscules, but a characteristic they share with a considerable number of uncials. They are all irrelevant for textual criticism, at least for establishing the original form of the text and its development in the early centuries.

Also see D. D. Schmidt, "The Greek New Testament As A Codex", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (eds.), The Canon Debate, op cit., p. 471.

[71] B. M. Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration, 1992, Third Enlarged Edition, Oxford University Press: Oxford & New York, p. 135. He says:

By the way of retrospect and evaluation it may be said that scholars today generally agree that one of the chief contributions made by Westcott and Hort was their clear demonstration that the Syrian (or Byzantine) text is later than the other types of text. Three main types of evidence supports this judgement: (1) the Syrian text contains combined or conflate readings which are clearly composed of elements current in earlier forms of text; (2) no ante-Nicene Father quotes a distinctively Syrian reading; and (3) when the Syrian readings are compared with the rival readings their claim to be regarded as original is found gradually to diminish, and at last to disappear.

[72] B. M. Metzger & B. D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York, pp. 277-278.

[73] D. C. Parker, The Living Text Of The Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge (UK), p. 188.

[74] ibid.

[75] S. Tanagho, Glad News! God Loves You My Muslim Friend, 2003, Authentic Media: Waynesboro (GA), p. 32.

[76] P. B. Payne, "Fuldensis, Sigla For Variants In Vaticanus And 1 Cor 14:34-5", New Testament Studies, 1995, Volume 41, pp. 240-262.

[77] P. B. Payne & P. Canart, "The Originality Of Text-Critical Symbols In Codex Vaticanus", Novum Testamentum, 2000, Volume 42, pp. 105-113.

[78] ibid., p. 106.

[79] J. E. Miller, "Some Observations On The Text-Critical Function Of The Umlauts In Vaticanus, With Special Attention To 1 Corinthians 14.34-35", Journal For The Study Of The New Testament, 2003, Volume 26, Issue II, pp. 217–236. In response to this paper see P. B. Payne, "The Text-Critical Function Of The Umlauts In Vaticanus, With Special Attention To 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: A Response To J. Edward Miller", Journal For The Study Of The New Testament, 2004, Volume 27, Issue I, pp. 105-112.

[80] J. E. Miller, "Some Observations On The Text-Critical Function Of The Umlauts In Vaticanus, With Special Attention To 1 Corinthians 14.34-35", Journal For The Study Of The New Testament, op cit., p. 224. Miller demonstrates his conclusions via four avenues:

The umlaut appears to retain its unique text-critical function whether accompanied by a bar or not. To demonstrate that the umlaut sigla appearing on nearly every page of the Vaticanus New Testament are early indicators of known variants, I will employ four tests. First, Old Testament lines accompanied by umlauts will be scrutinized for possible variations. Next, an analysis of statistical probability will be presented pertaining to significant variants surviving in lines accompanied by umlauts (whether adjacent to bars or not). Third, an examination will be conducted of numerous parallel passages signified by umlauts. Finally, Vaticanus will be approached with knowledge of early variants in search of umlaut counterparts.

One should note that one page of Codex Vaticanus is not the same as one page of the Bibles that are commonly read today. Miller states in the footnotes:

The notation in the margin points to a line of text, not a verse of text. In Vaticanus, a line typically contains 15 to 19 characters, while each verse normally occupies 3 to 8 lines of text... Keep in mind that the umlaut siglum is not marking a verse, but a line of 15 to 19 characters, thus substantially narrowing the scope of potential variants intended by the copyist.

ibid., p. 218 (no. 2) and p. 227 (no. 32). For further information regarding the characteristic features of Codex Vaticanus, see here.

[81] ibid., p. 219, footnote 6.

[82] D. B. Wallace, A Review Of "Some Observations On The Text-Critical Function Of The Umlauts In Vaticanus, With Special Attention To 1 Corinthians 14.34-35", available online (27th September 2005).

[83] E. J. Epp, "Issues In The Interrelation Of New Testament Textual Criticism And Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 514 (italics original).

[84] ibid.

[85] For example, consider the position assumed by the Christian apologist J. R. White. He says [his statement is at time slice 17:44–18:02]:

... he can hold up the Nestle-Aland text and say I believe that this is the word of God and that there is not a single original reading that has been left out of what this book contains; but I will admit the fact that there are textual variants and there are times we have to study it, but the original is there, it has not been lost, it has not been changed ...

White says the Nestle-Aland text is the word of God; it contains all the original readings and it contains textual variants. His statement implicitly assumes that the Trinitarian deity originally revealed a critical edition of the New Testament complete with an up-to-date (NA27: 1993 CE) textual apparatus. What about the time when NA27 did not exist? For example, could Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536 CE) hold up his edition of the New Testament and say "I believe that this is the word of God and that there is not a single original reading that has been left out of what this book contains?" It does not take a great deal of acumen to understand the inherent difficulties in this uninformed dogmatic position adopted by the apologist.

Lamentably, the apologist's understanding of the text-critical procedure fares no better. Given that Barbara Aland herself (as well as many other New Testament textual critics) has explicitly stated that the original text, i.e., the text reflected in the manuscript tradition, is something quite different from the ("original") autographs, the apologist places himself in the undesirable position of indirectly calling into question Aland's ability to evaluate her own work. Subsequently, we are left with the bizarre situation whereby the apologist is claiming something about the work of a particular author, namely Barbara Aland, which she does not claim for herself, and, in fact, plainly contradicts! See J. H. Petzer, "The History Of The New Testament Text – Its Reconstruction, Significance And Use In New Testament Textual Criticism", in B. Aland & J. Delobel (Eds.), New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis And Church History: A Discussion Of Methods, 1994, Kok Pharos Publishing House, Kampen: The Netherlands, p. 36, see note 94.

Textual critics like David Parker have emphasized the fact that the text in the Novum Testamentum Graece edited by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland (27th edition, Stuttgart, 1993) was agreed upon by the committee as the 'best' reading and it has nothing to do with the 'original' text.

This text was agreed by a committee. When they disagreed on the best reading to print, they voted. Evidently, they agreed either by a majority or unanimously that their text was the best available. But it does not follow that they believed their text to be 'original'. On the whole, the textual critics have always been reluctant to claim so much. Other users of the Greek New Testament accord them too much honour in treating the text as definitive.

See D. C. Parker, The Living Text Of The Gospels, 1997, op cit., p. 3.

[86] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, op cit., pp. 267–268.

[87] ibid., p. 270.

[88] ibid., p. 217.

[89] K. Aland & B. Aland, The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions & To The Theory & Practice Of Modern Text Criticism, 1995, 2nd Revised Edition, op cit., p. 81. The calculation is as follows: 218 / 5197 * 100 = 4.19%

[90] E. J. Epp, "Issues In The Interrelation Of New Testament Textual Criticism And Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 486.

[91] ibid., p. 487. We have rearranged the layout into descending numerical order.

[92] ibid.

[93] ibid., pp. 488–489. We have rearranged the layout into descending numerical order and slightly modified its appearance.

[94] Nota bene: For obvious reasons, lectionaries, which are non-continuous text manuscripts, are not included in the total. Therefore, the readers will notice, apart from the reasons already mentioned, that when the minuscule, majuscule and papyri numbers are totalled, 3065 + 112 = 3177, it amounts to considerably less than the 5,000+ Greek New Testament manuscripts known today. Lectionaries are of very limited value to textual critics when they are tracing the early history of the text, however, they can be important for the later history of the text. Almost all lectionaries date from the 9th century CE onwards. For an excellent discussion regarding lectionaries and their significance, see K. Aland & B. Aland, The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions & To The Theory & Practice Of Modern Text Criticism, 1995, 2nd Revised Edition, op cit., pp. 163-170.

[95] E. J. Epp, "Issues In The Interrelation Of New Testament Textual Criticism And Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op. cit., pp. 490-491. Epp's paper provides a systematic treatment of the transmission of the books of the New Testament as extrapolated from surviving manuscript evidence.

[96] With regard to the technological aspect of this problem, see D. C. Parker, Inventing New Testaments, 2003, Slides 32-33, available online (16th October 2005). In his inaugural lecture at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing, University of Birmingham, England, Parker comments:

Although the development in the first centuries of the New Testament canon is a topic which has been addressed in great detail, the significance of technological advance has yet to be fully appreciated. For whatever the theory of 27 books in Athanasius Festal Letter of the year 367, there is no evidence for what we might expect to be the obvious result, the general adoption of a single-volume New Testament. It would be easy to conclude that the multiple-gathering parchment codex technology led to the concept of the canon, but the fact is that Greek-speaking Christianity scarcely latched onto the idea of a single codex comprising only the entire New Testament. From the fourth and fifth centuries, four manuscripts, each in several volumes, survive which contain not only the New Testament but also the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are generally described as complete Greek Bibles. But it might be more accurate to describe them as early Christian libraries, since the two whose original contents are known to us contain various other texts, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Psalms of Solomon. Whether these massive volumes are typical of their age we cannot tell, but I suspect that they were not. Certainly they did not set a trend. Remarkably, there are no surviving complete Greek New Testaments from the following five hundred years. And from the next five hundred years, there are very few. Out of more than three thousand manuscripts containing some part of one or more of the books of the New Testament, fewer than 40 are manuscripts originally produced as a single unit, which contain all 27 books and nothing more. Complete Greek Bibles are an even greater rarity - in addition to the fourth-fifth century copies I have mentioned, there are four from the Byzantine period, a grand total of eight.

The fact is that the single-volume New Testament is an invention of western Christianity. But even here we have to wait a surprisingly long time for the emergence of a book of the kind which we take for granted as the Bible. The oldest extant complete Latin New Testament was made in the early sixth century. Later in the same century, Cassiodorus edited a single volume Bible which found its way to Jarrow, where it was the model for the Codex Amiatinus. But these were special books, expertly produced in a large and sophisticated format. The majority of copies were less ambitious, and the truth is that there are no more complete Latin New Testaments surviving from antiquity than there are Greek. And even from the early Middle Ages, complete Bibles continue to be special productions.

[97] "Canon Of The New Testament" in Catholic Encyclopaedia, available online (3rd September 2005).

[98] G. M. Hahneman, "The Muratorian Fragment And The Origins Of The New Testament Canon", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 415.

[99] M. J. Sawyer, Evangelicals And The Canon Of The New Testament, available online (30th August 2005).

[100] For an interesting historical account of this largest known canon of the Bible see G. A. Mikre-Sellassie, "The Bible And Its Canon In The Ethiopian Orthodox Church", The Bible Translator, 1993, Volume XLIV (Issue I), pp. 111-123.

[101] B. M. Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission Corruption, And Restoration, 1992, Third Enlarged Edition, op cit., p. 263. Metzger mentions that fifty-eight minuscule Greek New Testament manuscripts contain the entire New Testament as well as one uncial manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus. However, a recent study (2002) by D. D. Schmidt provides additional clarification:

The number of Greek "manuscripts that contain the entire New Testament canon" has recently been set at sixty-one (including one duplicate). This is one more than previously calculated. In The Text of the New Testament the Alands claimed that only three uncials and fifty-six minuscules (excluding the duplicate one) "contain the whole of the New Testament." In the new edition of his Text of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger claims fifty-eight complete copies but provides no documentation. The fluctuation in count indicates the uncertainty over the actual contents of many of the minuscules. Even the three great uncials on the list require a disclaimer, because their contents are not limited to "the whole New Testament." Codex Sinaiticus (א, 01) also includes Barnabas and Hermas, while Codex Alexandrinus (A, 02) adds 1-2 Clement. Codex Ephraemi (C, 04) has many lacunae, including all of 2 Thessalonians, 2 John, and the ending, so it could have contained other writings as well. Codex Vaticanus (B, 03) has to be excluded because it ends at Heb 9:13 with the rest of Hebrews and Revelation supplied by a miniscule manuscript from the fifteenth century. As a result, the portion originally located between Hebrews and Revelation in the sequence of many earlier manuscripts, the Pastoral Letters and Philemon, is lacking entirely in the present combination of the two manuscripts. With such variations in mind, these "complete New Testament Manuscripts" are the ones assumed to have been "originally complete" or "written as complete New Testaments," so far as can be determined.

See D. D. Schmidt, "The Greek New Testament As A Codex", in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, op cit., p. 469. He goes on to state the number of codices appears to be closer to fifty than sixty, see ibid., p. 471.

[102] See ref. 96. Parker notes that four of these manuscripts generally described as complete Greek Bible's are the uncial codices, Vaticanus (4th century CE), Sinaiticus (4th century CE), Alexandrinus (5th century CE) and Ephraemi (5th century CE). These manuscripts are speculatively thought to have once been "complete" Greek Bible's by a few scholars, although they show the presence of books considered 'apocryphal' and the absence of books considered 'canonical' (according to the Protestants). The other manuscripts known to have been referred to are the minuscule codices (Gregory-Aland numbers): 582 (1334 CE), 205 (15th century CE) and 205abs (15th century CE). The designation abs (Abschrift) indicates that it is a direct copy of another manuscript, in this case manuscript 205. Incredibly, this means that there are only three or four "complete" Greek Bibles that are still complete as seen today, the earliest hailing from the fourteenth century CE.

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