The Development of the Canon of the New Testament

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Apostolic Fathers
codex Hierosolymitanus
Bibles of Constantine
Closing the Canon in the West
Closing the Canon in the East
The New Testament Books
The Quo Vadis? Legend
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Revision History

Closing the Canon in the West

An eclectic, but not ecumenical, synod at Rome was convened in the year 382 CE. This Roman synod must have devoted itself specially to the matter of the canon. The result of its deliberations, presided over, no doubt, by the energetic Pope Damasus himself, are lost to us. Some hold they are partially preserved in the Decretum Gelasianum though this is disputed. The New Testament canon presented there agrees with the present one (although, for some reason, [Metzger] p. 188 says the Revelation of John is omitted).

Pope Innocent I, in 405 CE, reaffirmed the canon in a letter to Bishop Exsuperius of Toulouse.

During the Middle Ages the Church in the West received the Latin New Testament from the Vulgate, and the subject of the canon was seldom discussed. However, we still find a certain elasticity in the boundaries of the New Testament. The most notable addition in some manuscripts is the Epistle to the Laodiceans. It was not until the Council of Florence (1439-43) that the See of Rome delivered for the first time a categorical opinion on the Scriptural canon. In consequence of the efforts of this Council to bring about reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which sought support from the West against the Turks, who were nearing Constantinople, Pope Eugenius IV published a bull setting forth the doctrines of the unity of the Old and New Testament, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and a statement of their extent. In the list of 27 books of the New Testament there are 14 Pauline Epistles, that to the Hebrews being last, with the book of Acts coming immediately before the Revelation of John. The Epistle to the Laodiceans is not even mentioned.

One century later, the disrupting influences of opinions about the Scriptures expressed by such Catholics as Cardinal Cajetan, the humanist Erasmus, and by German, Swiss, and French Protestants, prompted Pope Paul III to convene the Council of Trent in order to consider what, if any, moral and administrative reforms needed to be made within the Roman Catholic Church. On April 8 1546, by a vote of 24 to 15 with 16 abstentions, a decree (De Canonicis Scripturis) was issued in which, for the first time in the history of the Church, the question of the contents of the Bible was made an absolute article of faith and confirmed by anathema. In translation:

The holy ecumenical and general Council of Trent, ... following the example of the orthodox Fathers receives and venerates all the books of the Old and New Testament ... and also the traditions pertaining to faith and conduct ... with and equal sense of devotion and reverence (pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia) ... If, however, anyone does not receive these books in their entirety, with all their parts (cum omnibus suis partibus), as they are accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the ancient Latin Vulgate edition as sacred and canonical, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be Anathema.

Among subsequent confessions of faith drawn up by Protestants, several identify by name the 27 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, names the books of the Old Testament, but not the New Testament. None of the Confessional statements issued by any Lutheran church includes an explicit list of canonical books.

Pages created by Glenn Davis, 1997-2010.
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