Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 9, 1964

The First "New Testament"

Edward Fudge

We shall get a better conception of the formation of the New Testament Canon if we now consider the evidence for the existence and recognition of the several books chronologically by countries. For this purpose we shall divide the early Christian world into three parts: Syria, Asia Minor, and Thrace; Egypt and Palestine; and Italy, Gaul, and North Africa. The several writers will be introduced according to the countries in which they wrote or are thought to have written on the subject under discussion, irrespective of their doctrinal viewpoint or the language in which they wrote.

In an effort to condense material as much as possible and still keep the chain of evidence, one's testimony will not be mentioned if his contemporaries in his locale better express the same testimony.

The Second Century

In Syria, Asia Minor, and Thrace, our first witness is Ignatius. Bishop of Antioch (ca. AD. 116), Ignatius knew and quoted Matthew, and possibly John. He was familiar with all the Pauline Epistles.

A disciple of the Apostle John, and a martyr of about A. D. 150, Polycarp wrote to the church at Philippi. In addition to books used by Ignatius, Polycarp referred to I Peter, I John, I Clement, and Acts.

From Egypt and Palestine come the witnesses of our next group. Justin Martyr lived from A. D. 100 until his execution in A.D. 165. His work may be taken as a fair representative of his day. He speaks of the "Memoirs of the Apostles," called "Gospels" which were read along with the Old Testament Scriptures in the church services each Lord's Day. He also used Hebrews and the Apocalypse, which he ascribed to John.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 155-c. 215) ... was exceedingly well read. He accepted all the books in our present New Testament, not passing by the books that were disputed by some, as Jude and the rest of the Catholic Epistles. He held that Hebrews was written by Paul in Hebrew and that Luke had translated it. But he commented on only four of the Catholic Epistles; I Peter, I John, 2 John, and Jude...and also recognized the Apocalypse.

A world traveler whose testimony is very reliable and valuable was Origen. He lived from 185-253. Notably, he recognized Hebrews, 2 Peter, and James as inspired. However, he also accepted the Shepherd of Hermas as well as the Didache. Souter "thinks it possible" that Origen may have also accepted 2 and 3 John, which would complete the Canon as we think of it today.

Though he does not chronologically fit into this group of men, Clement of Rome should be mentioned. He lived sometime during the first century A.D. He is known chiefly for his letter, I Clement, which some accepted as canonical. Matthew, Romans, I Corinthians, Hebrews, and possibly James, I Timothy, I Peter, and Titus were all known to him. He is an important witness of the period, and his influence was far-spread.

Valuable to our study because he organized a Canon (ca. 140), Marcion of Rome is the first witness of the second century whom we shall call from the third division of the world — Italy, Gaul, and N. Africa. Marcion's list included Luke and the Pauline Epistles excepting Titus.

Concerning Marcion, Tenney Says:

He was so anti-Judaic that he repudiated the whole Old Testament and sought to establish a canon of the New Testament that would be free from Jewish influences...His canon produced a violent reaction in the church. The fact that he rejected certain books shows that they had been regarded as authoritative in his day, and his opponents flew to their defense...Marcion's arbitrary organization of a canon showed (1) that the books which he included must have been regarded as indisputably authentic, and (2) that those which he rejected were accepted as canonical by the masses at large.

Another witness, who "quoted Paul more than 200 times," was Irenaeus. He used all the books of our New Testament except Philemon and III John. Irenaeus, who was Bishop of Lyons had seen Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John.

Discovered and published by L. A. Muratori in 1740 from a Milan manuscript of about 800, The Muratorian Fragment represents the usage of Rome about 200 A.D. The lines dealing with the first and second gospels are missing, but Luke is numbered the third.

With the allusion to Matthew and Mark, the Muratorian canon mentioned all of the now accepted New Testament books except Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, HI John, and Revelation. This list gives us an accurate picture of the "position of the canon at the close of the 2nd Century."

Tertullian, the founder of Latin theology, was a lawyer of about A.D. 150-222. Except for Hebrews (which he believed was written by Barnabas, and not inspired), James, 2 Peter and 2 & 3 John, he quoted or mentioned all 27 of our New Testament books. It was a common thing during his period to include 2 and 3 John in I John.

The canon of the Gospels and of the Pauline epistles seem to have been settled by the end of the second century. Whereas the Jews referred to the Old as the "Law and the Prophets," the New soon came to be known as the "Gospels and the Apostles." Approximately A.D. 193 the title "New Testament" first appears. (The terms "new testament" and "old testament" are used in contrast, however, long before this date. See II Cor. 3:6,14.) After this it is often seen in the writings of Origen, and those who came after him.

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