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CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT?




This piece will explore questions such as:

  • Who wrote the books of the New Testament?

  • Who decided which books should be included in the New Testament?

  • What was the criterion for including or excluding a writing from the New Testament?

  • How can we be sure that today’s texts are a reliable representation of the originals?

INTRODUCTION

It seems that many questions about Christianity, or debates about truth, will bring up doubts about the Bible's trustworthiness. This piece will specifically address the New Testament. Our blog will soon have another discussion on the Bible as a whole and the certainty of truth.


For now this discussion will look at how we received the New Testament and how it has been preserved through the ages. Let is begin with a brief overview of how the books of the New Testament came to be written.


1 - THE APOSTOLIC AGE

30-100AD


Church history ensues roughly 30AD at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. From that time the church began to be established by the disciples who had been chosen by Jesus, had walked with Him and heard the doctrine of the Kingdom from His mouth.

Soon after that the Lord also called Paul (then named Saul) as the last to join their ranks. As with the others, the Lord Himself taught Paul the gospel of the Kingdom, only his teaching came by way of revelation not observation. He was then approved by Peter, John and James and given the right hand of fellowship as an apostle along with them (Galatians 2:9). It was the apostles who were entrusted with establishing the foundation of Christianity and setting its doctrines and practices in place.


"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." – Ephesians 2:19-20


As of the day of Pentecost, the apostles became the first evangelists. They were fervent in preaching the gospel and the early church grew quickly into a network of believers spread across many cities and territories. These gathered to fellowship together as small churches in private homes since there was no formalised Christian institutional structure. They were tight-knit communities who held all things in common and stayed away from excess and ceremony. They forsook their former lives, making their faith in the Lord, their identification with His sufferings, and their love for others their hallmark.

While Peter and James stayed mostly in Jerusalem preaching to the Jews, Paul was sent to the gentiles. He would move from city to city, staying for months or even years at a time, converting unbelievers and setting all things in order according to the gospel. When the apostles could not go to believes in person, or wanted to send a message to the churches, they wrote letters. These letters were then circulated amongst the churches.


"I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren." – 1 Thessilonians 5:27


As a result, the churches began to make copies of the apostle’s letters to share with each other and these began to circulate between the cities for mutual encouragement. We have evidence that this was happening from the very beginning, even while letters were still being written and most of the apostles were still alive.

It is these letters which were finally compiled to form the New Testament. Between 44–75AD, all of the first apostles had been martyred, with the exception of John. He was supposed to have been martyred too, but he escaped boiling oil unharmed and was banished to the Isle of Patmos where he saw the vision of Revelations. He died a very old man in roughly 100AD.

Apostolic Age Time-line

30AD – Jesus was crucified.

33AD – Stephen was the first martyr.

34AD – Paul was converted.

30-40AD – The gospel of Matthew (the disciple of Jesus) was written.

45AD – James (apostle and brother of John) was martyred. Peter was in prison set to be martyred as well but angels let him escape from prison.

45-50AD – The gospel of Mark (the traveling companion of Peter) was written.

45-65AD – The gospel and letters of John (the disciple of Jesus) were written.

50AD – The gospel of Luke (the traveling companion of Paul) was written.

50-65AD – All Paul’s letters were written.

54AD – Philip was martyred.

60AD – Matthew was martyred.

60-62AD – The letter of James (the half-brother of Jesus) was written.

60-65AD – The letters of Peter (the disciple of Jesus) were written.

64AD – The book of Hebrews was written and initially attributed to Paul.

65AD – Nero’s persecution of the church during which Peter and Paul were martyred.

68AD – James the Just (Jesus’ half-brother) and Mark were martyred.

70AD – The book of Jude (the brother of Jesus and James) was written.

70AD – The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

70-90AD – The letters of John (the last remaining disciple of Jesus) were written.

72 AD – Jude and Thomas were martyred.

73AD – Barnabas (traveling companion of Paul) was martyred.

81AD – Domitian’s persecution of the church. John was put in boiling oil but was unharmed.

90-100AD – The book of the Revelation of John (the disciple of Jesus) was written.

100-105AD – The death of John (the disciple of Jesus).


It was the writings of the original apostles, approved by their Lord Jesus for the establishing of the foundation of the church, which were regarded by the infant church as doctrine.

"Let a man so consider us (Apostles), as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." – 1 Cointhians 4:1


"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." – Acts 2:42


With the death of John, the possibility of further books authored by the first apostles came to a close and with it, any new writings that could be included in the final collection called the New Testament.

The basic factor for determining New Testament canonicity was inspiration by God, and the chief test to determine that was apostolic authorship.


"In New Testament terminology, the church was ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph. 2:20) whom Christ had promised to guide into ‘all the truth’ (John 16:13) by the Holy Spirit." – McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


If the primary rule for inclusion of a book into the New Testament canon was apostolicity, it should come as no surprise then that all the books known to be authored by Jesus’ chosen apostles were included.

Beside those books, there are only 3 others which were not of apostolic authorship. These are firstly the Gospel of Mark, who was the traveling companion of Peter and carefully recorded Peter’s account of the gospel. Secondly the writings of Luke, which included a Gospel and the book of Acts. The latter was Luke’s a first-hand account of his travels with Paul.

Though Mark and Luke were not apostles, their writings were included because they were historical accounts written under Peter and Paul’s apostolic oversight.


"Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History III. preserves writings of Papias, the bishop of Heirapolis (130 A.D.) which Papias got from the Elder (apostle John): “The Elder used to say this also: ‘Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he (Peter) mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teachings as necessity required, not as though he were making a compilation of the sayings of the Lord. So then Mark made no mistake, writing down in this way some things as he (Peter) mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them.’" – McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

2 - APOSTLES


Since apostolicity is the chief test for the choice of books included in the New Testament, we need to determine who had the right to be called an apostle. The 12 disciples were the first apostles, called so by Jesus Himself as recorded in Luke’s Gospel.


"He called the disciples to Himself and from them He chose 12 whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor." – Luke 6:16


These were not the only apostles however. We know definitively that Paul was also, at least two of Jesus’ brothers seem to have been, and Barnabas (Acts 13:2), Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:12) and others likely were as well. According to Paul’s definition, apostles had at least three defining traits:


Criterion 1:

The Lord had to have appeared to them personally after His resurrection. Here Paul accounts a list of those blessed in that way, himself as the last in the list and thus the final apostle.


"He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James (Jesus’ brother), then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time." – 1 Corinthians 15:4-8


"Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?" – 1 Corinthians 9:1


  • Criterion 2:

The Lord had to have called them personally as an apostle.


"Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God." – Romans 1:1


"As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." – Acts 13:2


"Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)." – Galatians 1:1


"(for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles). – Galatians 2:8


  • Criterion 3:

Their apostleship had to be confirmed with the miraculous power of the Spirit working through them. If they were separated unto God, sent by Him as servants and apostles, His power could been seen through their works to prove to men that they had God’s stamp of approval.


"Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds." – 2 Corinthians 12:12


"And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." – 1 Corinthians 2:4


"Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power." – 1 Corinthians 4:18-20


Note in this next extract from the book of Acts, how all three the marks of apostleship are mentioned. And how after they were chosen, had seen the Lord alive and received power from Him, their task was to go into the world and be His witness. It is on this basis that apostles received their authority as those approved by God to teach on His Kingdom and lay the foundation of the church.


"The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me... But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." – Acts 1:1-4, 8

3 - THE BROTHERS OF JESUS


Directly after His ascension, which was witnessed by “the apostles... being assembled together” we get a list of who was there when they returned from the mount.


"And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." – Acts 1:13-14


Here we see the remaining 11 of the 12 disciples, along with Jesus’ brothers listed (which indicates that there were at least two present). We know that in human terms, Jesus had 4 half-brothers.


"Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James (the less or James the Just), Joses (also called Joseph), Simon, and Judas (also called Jude)?" – Matthew 13:55

  • James the Less

Jesus’ half-brother James, was called “James the Less” in the book of Mark to distinguish him from the other two who were disciples. Those being the brother of John and son of Zebedee, and James the Son of Alpheus.


"So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less." – Mark 15:39-40


This James the Less, sometimes also called James the Just, was the man Jesus appeared to after His resurrection which Paul makes mention of in 1 Corinthians. James was therefore accounted an apostle from the beginning. He was in very high regard amongst the 11 disciples and Paul. We can find evidence of this in many New Testament verses. From the beginning he was leader of the church in Jerusalem along with Peter. James the Less is also the one who wrote the book of James found in the New Testament. It was him, along long with John and Peter, who gave Paul the right hand of fellowship (Acts 13:2). Note: It could not have been the other James, (brother of John), because he was the first of the apostles to be martyred (Acts 12:2).


"Those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." – Galatians 2:7-9


  • Judas or Jude

So far we have covered the claim to apostleship of all the authors of books of the New Testament except the book of Jude. This is the shortest book with only a single chapter. The book was written by Jude, which is simply a variation on the name Judas or Judah (all spelled the same in Greek). He identifies himself as the brother of James (probably to distinguish himself from the other Jude, one of the 12 who was called the son of James). Since James the Just had a brother called Judas (Jude), it is understood that Jude was the half-brother of Jesus also. We have already noted that more than one of Jesus’ brothers was numbered amongst the apostles, and with them at Jesus’ ascension. It seems likely that it was James and Jude that were there, which would identify Jude as an apostle also.

4 - CIRCULATION OF APOSTOLIC LETTERS

100-180AD


The apostles had been approved by God through the power of His Holy Spirit working in them, and were accepted by the church as men of God. Their letters were in circulation even before John, the last apostle, died. John himself is said to have given his own gospel to different church communities during his lifetime.

With the passing of the last of the original apostles, the Apostolic Age came to a close. A new era began called the Age of the Apostolic Fathers. The first church fathers were the direct disciples of the apostles. They faithfully continued in the doctrine they were taught through a time of some of the worst Christian persecutions in history. As with the apostles, martyrdom was the fate of most of them. From their writings we can glean something of how the apostolic letters were circulated and adopted across the church as foundational scripture.


The books of the New Testament were written as separate letters, to different audiences, in cities spread all over Christendom, over a period of 50 to 60 years. It took some time therefore for the books to be compiled into collections, and even more time for a final list to emerge. We will now have a look at how that process took shape.

The church fathers, though filled with the Holy Spirit and still exhibiting His power in their lives, were of less supernatural power than their predecessors, the apostles. For this reason they did not claim the same spiritual authority as their mentors, nor were their writings considered inspired in the same manner as the apostles.


Ignatius (A.D. 50-115): “I do not wish to command you as Peter and Paul; they were apostles.”

– McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


Polycarp (AD 115), Clement and others refer to the Old and New Testament books with the phrase “as it is said in these scriptures.” – McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


A letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth written by Clement (mentioned in the above quote) was mostly likely composed some time between 70 and 100AD. It ranks as probably the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament. In it are 95 quotes taken from 10 of the 27 books which eventually formed the New Testament. This shows that many of the letters of the apostles were accepted and in circulation before the death of the last apostle.


Clement of Rome (95AD) a disciple of the apostle Peter, quotes from: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, I Corinthians, I Peter, Hebrews and Titus.


By 100AD it is said of Clement: “He knows several of Paul’s epistles, and values them highly for their content; the same can be said of the Epistle to the Hebrews, with which he is well acquainted.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon


Writings attributed to the Apostles circulated among the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating, perhaps in collected forms, by the end of the 1st century AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon


Papias (a disciple of John), attests to the veracity of John’s Revelation and also quotes in his writings from the first letter of John, and the first letter of Peter. This next early church quote shows the acceptance of the book of the Revelation of John.


"I do not need to dwell on the inspiration of John’s book of Revelation since from the earliest times the blessed Papias (a disciple of John), Ireneaus (a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John), Methodius and Hippolytus bear witness to its genuineness." – The Early Christians in their Own Words by Eberhard Arnold, p137


The best evidence for the early circulation of apostolic writings comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among them were found text fragments dated as far back as a decade after being written. This proves the fact that these letters were being copied and circulated between the churches from the very beginning. This news should not surprise us because John, Paul, James and Peter all encouraged the circulation of their epistles amongst the churches.


Fragments of the Dead Sea Scroll texts are dated as follows:

  • Mark 4:28 (7Q6) dated 50AD

  • Mark 6:52,53 (7Q5) dated 50AD

  • Mark 12:17 (7Q7) dated 50AD

  • Acts 27:38 (7Q6) dated 60+AD

  • Rom. 55:11,12 (7Q9) dated 70+AD

  • 1 Timothy 3:16, 4:1-3 (7Q4) dated 70+AD

  • 2 Peter 1:15 (7Q10) dated 70+AD

  • James 1:23,24 (7Q8) dated 70+AD

Within the span of 100-150AD we begin to find distinct collections of apostolic letters forming and church fathers becoming acquainted with large sections of what would finally be called the New Testament. Between 100-140AD Polycarp alone (a disciple of John), made some 120 quotes from 16 books of the New Testament. Amongst them were all four gospels, Acts, and most of Paul’s epistles.


Ignatius (70-110AD) was martyred for his faith in Christ. He knew all the apostles and was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John. His seven epistles contain quotations from: Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, Colossians, James I and II, Thessalonians I and II, Timothy and I Peter.

– McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


Shepherd of Hermas (115-140AD) cited Matthew, Mark, Acts, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Didache (120-150AD) referred to Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Papias, companion of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John, quoted John. This argues powerfully that the gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive

.– https://www.uniontheology.org/resources/bible/new-testament/the-dating-of-the-new-testament


Justin Martyr, (martyred for his faith in 165AD) made multiple references to the “memoirs of the apostles” which he also called the “gospels of the apostles” from as early as 100AD, saying how they were read in the churches every week for as long as time allowed.


Justin Martyr (whose writings span the period from 100–163AD)... quotes the letters of Paul. References are found to Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, and possible ones to Philippians, Titus, and 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, and Acts in his writings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon


In the next quote Justin Martyr (150 AD) refers to Revelation 20.


“And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.” – Justin Martyr, Dialogue 81.4


Of the four Gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. This includes 268 by Justin Martyr (100-165AD), 1038 by Irenaeus (active in the late second century), 1017 by Clement of Alexandria (155-220AD), 9231 by Origen (185-254AD), 3822 by Tertullian (160–220AD), 734 by Hippolytus (236AD), and 3258 by Eusebius (265-339AD).

– https://www.uniontheology.org/resources/bible/new-testament/the-dating-of-the-new-testament


By 150-180AD we begin to see more encompassing collections of apostolic writings being made. For example:


Irenaeus (180AD) apparently quotes from 21 of the New Testament books and names the author he thought wrote the text. He mentions the four gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles with the exception of Hebrews and Philemon, as well as the first epistle of Peter, and the first and second epistles of John, and the book of Revelation. Irenaeus argued that it was illogical to reject Acts of the Apostles but accept the Gospel of Luke, as both were from the same author... He may also refer to Hebrews (Book 2, Chapter 30) and James (Book 4, Chapter 16) and maybe even 2 Peter (Book 5, Chapter 28) but does not cite Philemon, 3 John or Jude.

– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon


From the year 180AD we get the following text called the Muratorian Canon:


“The third gospel book we accept is that according to Luke. Luke was a physician. He wrote his book after Christ’s ascension and after Paul had taken him as his companion on the way...

The author of the fourth gospel is John. When his fellow apostles and bishops urged him to write it down he said, ‘Fast with me from now on for 3 days, and let us share with one another whatever is revealed to each of us.’ The same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should write everything down in his own name and that all the others should check it... The Acts of all the apostles, however are compiled in only one book. Luke collected them for the excellent Theophilus because these different events took place in his own presence. These are all he wants to report, as is clearly born out by his omission of the martyrdom of Peter and by the fact that he does not report anything about the journey of Paul from the city of Rome to Spain...

To all those who want to know, the letters of Paul themselves make it clear who wrote them, and from what place and for what reasons they were written. First of all he writes to Corinth, forbidding all dissension: to the Romans however he writes more fully, introducing them to the order of the Scriptures and showing them that Christ is the crux of everything. It is not necessary for us to dwell on individual letters because he, the blessed apostle Paul, following the order of his predecessor John, write only to seven churches by name, and in his sequence: first to the Corinthians, second to the Ephesians, third to the Philippians, fourth to the Colossians, fifth to the Galatians, sixth to the Thessalonians, seventh to the Romans. Although he writes to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians a second time to admonish them, yet it is clearly evident that there is only one church spread over the whole earth... The letter (of Paul) to Philemon, though, and the one to Titus and the two to Timothy were written out of love and personal affection and yet are held in great honour in the whole church everywhere. They are held sacred for the carrying out of church discipline in the church.

There is also in circulation a letter to the Laodecians and another to the Alexandrians, forged in Paul’s name for the dissenting group of Marconion, as well as several others that cannot be accepted by the whole church everywhere, for it will not do to mix gall with honey. Certainly the letter of Jude and two bearing the name of John are accepted by the whole church and also the Wisdom of Solomon written by his friends in his honor. We also accept a revelation by John and one by Peter, although some of us do not want the latter to be read aloud in the church. The Shepherd was written very recently in our times (140-155AD) by Hermas of Rome when his brother Pius occupied the chair of the church at Rome... yet to the end of time, it cannot be read aloud to the people in the church either with the prophets, who’s number is complete, or with the apostles.”


The above quote from 180AD shows how established an accepted list of apostolic writings was in the church by that time. This list is the first record we have of a more formal compilation of writings considered inspired by the earliest form of the church. Every book currently found in our New Testament is included in his list, with the exception of Hebrews, James, Peter’s letters and the third letter of John.

Included in the list are four books which are not in the New Testament. Laodecians, Alexandrians he says are known to be forged. The Shepherd and the Revelation of Peter were both written after the end of the Apostolic Age, and therefore could not be read along with apostolic writings. We understand then that these books were omitted from the New Testament and not considered of equal status.

The oldest clear endorsement of the four gospels as being the only legitimate gospels, was also written around 180AD by Irenaeus in Against the Heresies:


“It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the church is the gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Testament


Irenaeus continues in Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, that he “had the preaching of the Apostles still echoing in his ears and their doctrine in front of his eyes.” He quotes from: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, I Corinthians, I Peter, Hebrews, and Titus. – McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


Irenaeus (180AD), who was a student of Polycarp (who in turn was a student of the apostle John), wrote: “So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavours to establish his own particular doctrine” (Against Heresies III)... His writings attest the canonical recognition of the fourfold Gospel and Acts, of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, of I Peter and I John and of the Revelation. – McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


Thus by no later than 180AD the writings of the current New Testament were already well established as the foundation of Christian doctrine and inspired by the Holy Spirit.


The New Testament was given its primary form between the years 140AD and 200AD. From then on it was seen as the authoritative gift of the Spirit and even revered above the Old Testament... Included were the Revelation of John, the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic letters. – The Early Christians in their Own Words by Eberhard Arnold, p31.


Based on the quotes we have seen so far, 26 of the 27 books of the eventual New Testament were accepted and circulating in the church. The exception is III John. It was one of the last of the New Testament books to be written. This may have influenced the rate of its early circulation. It is not known if it was accepted or rejected since no mention is made of it. This may also be because of its insignificance, it is only 14 verses long and holds no new or questionable doctrinal teachings (much like II John).


5 - EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

100-165AD

Clement, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp


All of the church fathers we have been quoting from this period were martyred. Clement and Ignatius were killed during Roman Emperor Trajan’s persecution of the Christian church which began in 108AD, shortly after the Apostolic Age came to a close. Justin and Polycarp were killed under the persecution of Marcus Aurelius in 165AD, bringing a close to this period and its persecutions.

  • Clement – martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea (99AD).

  • Ignatius – martyred in the Colosseum and mauled by lions (108AD).

  • Justin (Martyr) – martyred by beheading (165AD).

  • Polycarp – martyred by fire. When the flames would not consume him he was pierced (166AD).

The early church fathers wrote pieces of their own, under their own names, not claiming to be inspired scripture. These were held in high regard by the churches but were never seen as inspired texts or on the level of the letters of the first apostles. But by around 140-150AD, in the void left by the martyred apostles and church fathers, an influx of new writings surfaced. Some of them were known to be Gnostic (an occult twist on Christianity), which commonly claimed authorship from the deceased apostles in order to gain veracity. But often the true authors of the texts were known. Also these letters exposed themselves by both their late arrival and their heretical doctrines which did not agree with the true apostle’s teachings. The early church fathers vehemently resisted these, but after their decline, the church was not able to withstand the influx of new doctrinal mixture.


Polycarp often exclaimed, “Dear God for what times hast thou preserved me, that I should endure these things!” He even went so far as to call a leader of the Gnostic movement the firstborn of Satan. Under no circumstance would the Christians recognise anything ‘Christian’ in this ‘Gnosis’ or ‘mystery knowledge’... the slightest contact with these counterfeits was considered dangerous beyond measure. – The Early Christians in their Own Words by Eberhard Arnold, p31


Polycarp was the last of his generation of direct disciples of the apostles.


6 - SECOND GENERATION OF CHURCH FATHERS

165-250AD

Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Hippoluytus