The Development of the Canon of the New Testament

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Early Christian Authorities

Ignatius of Antioch
Polycarp of Smyrna
Justin Martyr
Irenaeus of Lyons
Clement of Alexandria
Tertullian of Carthage
Muratorian Canon
Eusebius of Caesarea
codex Sinaiticus
Athanasius of Alexandria
Didymus the Blind

Early Christian Authorities

An early Christian authority is included in this survey if he or it gives important evidence on the development of the canon of the New Testament (perhaps even having some influence on it) and did so before ~400 CE, when the first complete manuscripts of the Vulgate were issued. The early 'authorities' fall into these categories:

  • early Church fathers (Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Didymus the Blind)
  • early heretics and their followers (Marcion and Marcionites, Valentinus and the Valentinians)
  • lists of canonical books (Muratorian Canon, Athanasius' Festal Epistle)
  • a single manuscript collection (codex Sinaiticus)
  • series of manuscripts (Peshitta, Vulgate)

Authority Date CE Form of evidence provided on the development of the canon of the New Testament
Ignatius of Antioch ~110 7 letters with quotations and allusions to Christian writings as scripture. There are no citations by name.
Polycarp of Smyrna ~110 1 letter with ~100 quotations and allusions to Christian writings as scripture. There are no citations by name.
Marcion ~140 founded a sect with its own "New Testament" collection. There was one Gospel, based mostly on the Gospel according to Luke
Valentinus 140-150 Valentinus and his followers - Heracleon, Ptolemy, Marcus - were Gnostic heretics so their doctrines mostly survive in the writings of the orthodox, such as Irenaeus, who summarized the Valentinian views before attacking them. The Gospel of Truth from Nag Hammadi probably derives from the Valentinians, but this is not certain.
Justin Martyr 150-160 many of his writings survive; he was the most prolific Christian writer up to his time.
Irenaeus ~180 two of his writings survive in translations (Latin and Armenian). There are quotations and allusions to Christian writings as scripture, and citations by name.
Clement 180-200 many of his writings survive; in them are about 8000 citations - over 1/3 of them from pagan sources. There are citations by name.
Tertullian 200-210 Tertullian was the most prolific writer of the Latin Fathers in pre-Nicene times (before 325 CE). There are citations by name.
Muratorian Canon 200-300 a manuscript discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan with a catalogue (in Latin) of the New Testament writings with comments
Origen 220-350 only a small part of his works survives, but this fills volumes There are citations by name.
Eusebius 300-330 much of the works of Eusebius survives, but here we only use his famous classification in [Eusebius]
codex Sinaiticus ~350 a manuscript discovered in 1859 containing a 4th-century New Testament
Athanasius ~367 his 39th Festal Epistle of 367 CE has a list of canonical books
Didymus the Blind 350-398 some of his exegetical writings have survived, including six commentaries discovered in 1941
Peshitta ~400 a series of manuscripts of the Bible in Syriac including 22 New Testament books
Vulgate ~400 a series of manuscripts (over 10,000) of the Bible in Latin, whose New Testament coincides (more or less) with the present one

For a summary of the authorities' opinions on New Testament writings, see the Cross Reference Table.

Pages created by Glenn Davis, 1997-2010.
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