The Development of the Canon of the New Testament

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The Bibles of Constantine

There is another piece of evidence that bears on the subject of the canon - even though we may not know how to interpret it. About the year 322 CE, the emperor Constantine, wishing to promote and organize Christian worship in the growing number of churches in Constantinople, directed Eusebius to have 50 copies of the sacred Scriptures made by practiced scribes and written legibly on prepared parchment. At the same time the emperor informed him, in a letter still preserved to us, that everything necessary for doing this was placed at his command, among other things two public carriages for conveying the completed manuscripts to the emperor for his personal inspection. According to Eusebius:

Such were the emperor's commands, which were followed by the immediate execution of the work itself, which we sent him in magnificent and elaborately bound volumes of a threefold and fourfold form. (Vita Const. 4.36.37)

The exact meaning of the concluding words has been taken in a half dozen different senses. Two of the most popular are, that the pages had 'three or four columns of script', or that as the copies were completed, they were sent off for the emperor's inspection 'three or four at a time'. The astonishing thing is that Eusebius, who took care to tell us at some length about the fluctuations of opinion in regard to certain books, has not one word to say regarding the choice he made on this important occasion. Of course, 50 magnificent copies, all uniform, could not but exercise a great influence on future copies, at least within the bounds of the patriarchate of Constantinople, and would help forward the process of arriving at a commonly accepted New Testament in the East.

Some have suggested that the codex Sinaiticus is one of the 50 bibles commissioned by Constantine, but its Alexandrian type of text makes this unlikely.

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