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Why the early Christians rejected the alternate gospels as “non-canonical"?
Jan 25, 2022 00:15:31   #
Zemirah Loc: Sojourner En Route...
 
Why did the 1st century early Christians reject the “non-canonical" alternate gospels from a place in the Bible?

People often talk about the “Gospel of Thomas,” the “Gospel of Peter,” and the “Gospel of James.” (These writings and others like them are known as the “Gnostic gospels.”) Some even refer to these as “alternative” or “competing” gospels of Jesus Christ.

Why did the early Christians reject these other accounts of Jesus?

The New Testament Gospels met all the criteria of the early Christians, and these other self-claimed gospels did not. This is what their criteria was:

When Was It Written?

Put into historical perspective, Jesus’ ministry took place in the late 20s to early 30s of the 1st century. The Christian apostle Paul wrote his letters from the 40s to the 60s. Most scholars agree that Mark’s Gospel was the first, and was written by the 60s, that Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels were written by the 70s (many Bible scholars date all three even earlier), and John’s Gospel was written by the 90s.A.D..

The Gnostic gospels were all written much later. There is no historical or literary evidence placing the writing of any of these rejected gospels before the middle of the 2nd century. This means they couldn’t have been written by eyewitnesses and their authors couldn’t even have directly interviewed any eyewitnesses. Their late dates of authorship make it impossible to authenticate them as legitimate.

By the time these gospels were written there was already widespread agreement among Christian believers as to which writings they considered inspired Scripture. This is especially true concerning the Gospel accounts of Christ. Despite the rhetoric of some contemporary sensationalist critics, these Gnostic “gospels” weren’t considered by the earliest Christians as alternative or competing gospels because during their lifetimes, these writings did not yet exist.

Who Wrote It?

This may surprise some readers, but all scholars agree that none of these later Gnostic gospels were written by the people whose names had been attached to them. The Gospel of Thomas was not written by Thomas, the Gospel of Peter was not written by Peter, etc. These gospels are what we call “pseudonymous,” they were written in the name of someone famous (usually someone long dead). This was done intentionally in the ancient world as a "marketing ploy," - to attract a wider acceptance and reading.

While Gnostics and other groups followed such deceitful practices, the early Christians viewed these falsely claimed letters with disdain. These believers saw this attribution to famous dead people as inauthentic and grounds for immediate rejection. Not only did they not know who wrote the books, or what connection they could have possibly had to the now long dead apostles, it was obvious the books were misleading and intended to deceive. Because Jesus was a literal, historical person, and because the events recorded in the authenticated Gospels had actually taken place, they were very serious about the necessity of maintaining the trustworthy nature of all accounts of Jesus’ life and words... and they had the steadfast guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Had It Been Widely Accepted and Used By The local Church Congregations?

These new "other" gospels fared poorly on this question as well. They weren’t old enough to have been around for the formative years of the early Christian movement. The churches simply didn’t use them, even as merely inspirational works. Instead, these gospels were propagated by groups of people outside of the Christian churches. Not only did no one know who wrote these gospels, but the Christians found much of their content as strange and not at all in harmony with the apostolic teaching at the heart of the Christian faith. Not only were they not widely accepted by the churches, they were consistently panned and rejected. Thankfully, we have writings from Christian leaders of this period showing their quick and decisive rejection of these so-called gospels. They were aware of these new “gospels” now loudly hailed by a few speculative critics; they were not impressed.

Gnosticism

To understand these later gospels, it is helpful to understand something about the ancient religious system known today as Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” These people sought secret or hidden knowledge that was supposedly known only to an elite select few, accordingly, they were called “Gnostics.” Through their extant writings, it is knowable of what this “secret knowledge” consisted.
The Gnostics were heavily influenced by forms of Greek philosophy. They viewed the spiritual - immaterial world to be pure, and the entire physical world to be innately corrupt. They believed the physical world was created by an evil god (the god of the Jews), and that salvation could only be attained through gaining secret knowledge. These secrets were said to reveal how to escape the prison of physical, bodily existence. Some Gnostics taught that Jesus was an “emanation” of God who came to teach them this secret knowledge. They denied the physical existence and humanity of Jesus.

It’s important to know that Christianity was rooted in 1st century Jewish beliefs. The beliefs of the Gnostics were hostile to both Jewish religious tradition and early Christian beliefs. They borrowed some of the terms Jews and Christians used, but redefined them according to their own unique purposes. One example of this is the way they “borrowed” Jesus. Similar to New Age proponents today, who speak of a "Christ-consciousness" but don’t believe in the biblical Christ, these Gnostics adapted and reshaped the story of the historical Jesus to fit their new elitist religion.

Scholars agree that the Gnostic faith developed during the 2nd century. Gnosticism didn’t exist during the 1st century, so there’s no way for there to have been Gnostic gospels written that early. This was a religion that developed independently of Christianity, but sought to draw new followers from the Christian churches. Because Christians put great stock in the teachings of the apostles, these Gnostics wrote “gospels” of Jesus that claimed to be written by Peter, James, Thomas, etc. The fact that they were not written in the 1st century was a problem for them, but an even greater problem was the fact that these false Gospels also depicted a distinctly Gnostic Jesus and a worldview, completely incompatible with the existing beliefs of the Christians. Because of this, these so-called gospels were universally rejected.

Gospel of Thomas

Use the Gospel of Thomas as an example. The Gospel of Thomas was rediscovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. (Because of this, they are often referred to the “Nag Hammadi gospels.”) It is not at all what is ordinarily thought of as a “gospel.” It doesn’t tell the story of Jesus, but merely records things he was supposed to have said. The material is clearly Gnostic in nature. The book begins:

"These are the secret words that the living Jesus spoke and Judas, even Thomas, wrote."

The book goes on to tell us of the secret or hidden teachings of Jesus. These teachings are meant only for the spiritually elite, not for the common people. Instead of being taught to have faith, the reader is urged to discover the hidden interpretations that will reveal the secret knowledge necessary for salvation.

In the midst of this, are interposed a few statements that are strikingly similar to what is read in the historical biblical Gospels. This does not mean the Gospel of Thomas is from the 1st century, or on a par with the New Testament Gospels, although a few Gnostic critics would say yes, all other scholars - Christian and non-Christian - see these critics as clutching at straws. The evidence otherwise is too totally convincing.

There is no historical evidence placing the Gospel of Thomas before the mid-2nd century, even though the Gospel of Thomas has included quotes of Jesus that have been commonly known from all four of the biblical Gospels. It quotes from later variations of these Gospels, not the earliest readings. The Gospel of Thomas also references works we know weren’t written until the 2nd century, and even when it quotes the Bible, it often twists the statements of Jesus into Gnostic variations. Despite the efforts of a few to attempt to find a 1st century fragment within the Gospel of Thomas, the vast majority of scholars acknowledge that the earliest it could have been written is ca 170 CE, i.e., A.D..

Conspiracy Theories

The sensationalist writings of some fictional novel authors attempt to turn all of the historical evidence and scholarly consensus on its head by claiming the New Testament Gospels were later revisions and the Gnostic gospels were the earlier writings. This, although no hindrance to those familiar with God's Word, can be a detriment to the soul of those who are not in Christ, and lack any knowledge of Holy Scripture.

These novels also claim the Gnostic gospels defend a human Jesus from Christians who attempted to turn Him into a god, as they completely reverse the actual nature of their own cherished "alternative gospels."

It is the New Testament Gospels that portray a Christ who is not only divine but also profoundly human. It was the later, Gnostic gospels who denied the humanity of Jesus, insisting he was purely divine! [Note: The Gospel of Thomas strongly emphasizes Jesus' divinity, and imitates Eastern Religious Ideology in encouraging their readers to recognize their own divinity!] Such subterfuge is not humorous, but is an evil influence on those who are perishing.
Lastly, these Gnostic novels repeatedly claim their Gnostic gospel-writers were seeking to defend the rights of women and somehow protect the “feminine divine.” Below is a quote from the end of the Gospel of Thomas, by which it can be seen whether this gospel intends to protect the feminine divine (and whether there’s any reason to ever accept this perverted speech as an authentic statement of Jesus):

A Gnostic Invention of a Conversation That Never Took Place:

"Simon Peter said to them: 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.'"

"Jesus said: 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'”


Sadly, far too many believe that even though the novels are fictional, the historical research is legitimate. This is definitely not the case, these highly speculative, sensationalist sources contradict everything we know from history. No one should assume these kinds of books (or internet sites) are purveyors of truth.

These rejected, late gospels, give us a lot of helpful insight into the nature of 2nd century Gnostic beliefs, but they don’t tell anything truthful about the historical Jesus. They were written too late, by unknown authors who had an alternative, unbiblical, elitist agenda.

The early Christians consistently rejected these gospels for good reason, and this brings us back to the New Testament Gospel accounts of Jesus, and a clearer understanding of why these Gospels were accepted by the first century early followers of Jesus.


Adaptation from Curt Parton/Exploring the Faith/11-9-2012

Reply
Jan 25, 2022 11:26:52   #
permafrost Loc: Minnesota
 
Zemirah wrote:
Why did the 1st century early Christians reject the “non-canonical" alternate gospels from a place in the Bible?

People often talk about the “Gospel of Thomas,” the “Gospel of Peter,” and the “Gospel of James.” (These writings and others like them are known as the “Gnostic gospels.”) Some even refer to these as “alternative” or “competing” gospels of Jesus Christ.

Why did the early Christians reject these other accounts of Jesus?

The New Testament Gospels met all the criteria of the early Christians, and these other self-claimed gospels did not. This is what their criteria was:

When Was It Written?

Put into historical perspective, Jesus’ ministry took place in the late 20s to early 30s of the 1st century. The Christian apostle Paul wrote his letters from the 40s to the 60s. Most scholars agree that Mark’s Gospel was the first, and was written by the 60s, that Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels were written by the 70s (many Bible scholars date all three even earlier), and John’s Gospel was written by the 90s.A.D..

The Gnostic gospels were all written much later. There is no historical or literary evidence placing the writing of any of these rejected gospels before the middle of the 2nd century. This means they couldn’t have been written by eyewitnesses and their authors couldn’t even have directly interviewed any eyewitnesses. Their late dates of authorship make it impossible to authenticate them as legitimate.

By the time these gospels were written there was already widespread agreement among Christian believers as to which writings they considered inspired Scripture. This is especially true concerning the Gospel accounts of Christ. Despite the rhetoric of some contemporary sensationalist critics, these Gnostic “gospels” weren’t considered by the earliest Christians as alternative or competing gospels because during their lifetimes, these writings did not yet exist.

Who Wrote It?

This may surprise some readers, but all scholars agree that none of these later Gnostic gospels were written by the people whose names had been attached to them. The Gospel of Thomas was not written by Thomas, the Gospel of Peter was not written by Peter, etc. These gospels are what we call “pseudonymous,” they were written in the name of someone famous (usually someone long dead). This was done intentionally in the ancient world as a "marketing ploy," - to attract a wider acceptance and reading.

While Gnostics and other groups followed such deceitful practices, the early Christians viewed these falsely claimed letters with disdain. These believers saw this attribution to famous dead people as inauthentic and grounds for immediate rejection. Not only did they not know who wrote the books, or what connection they could have possibly had to the now long dead apostles, it was obvious the books were misleading and intended to deceive. Because Jesus was a literal, historical person, and because the events recorded in the authenticated Gospels had actually taken place, they were very serious about the necessity of maintaining the trustworthy nature of all accounts of Jesus’ life and words... and they had the steadfast guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Had It Been Widely Accepted and Used By The local Church Congregations?

These new "other" gospels fared poorly on this question as well. They weren’t old enough to have been around for the formative years of the early Christian movement. The churches simply didn’t use them, even as merely inspirational works. Instead, these gospels were propagated by groups of people outside of the Christian churches. Not only did no one know who wrote these gospels, but the Christians found much of their content as strange and not at all in harmony with the apostolic teaching at the heart of the Christian faith. Not only were they not widely accepted by the churches, they were consistently panned and rejected. Thankfully, we have writings from Christian leaders of this period showing their quick and decisive rejection of these so-called gospels. They were aware of these new “gospels” now loudly hailed by a few speculative critics; they were not impressed.

Gnosticism

To understand these later gospels, it is helpful to understand something about the ancient religious system known today as Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” These people sought secret or hidden knowledge that was supposedly known only to an elite select few, accordingly, they were called “Gnostics.” Through their extant writings, it is knowable of what this “secret knowledge” consisted.
The Gnostics were heavily influenced by forms of Greek philosophy. They viewed the spiritual - immaterial world to be pure, and the entire physical world to be innately corrupt. They believed the physical world was created by an evil god (the god of the Jews), and that salvation could only be attained through gaining secret knowledge. These secrets were said to reveal how to escape the prison of physical, bodily existence. Some Gnostics taught that Jesus was an “emanation” of God who came to teach them this secret knowledge. They denied the physical existence and humanity of Jesus.

It’s important to know that Christianity was rooted in 1st century Jewish beliefs. The beliefs of the Gnostics were hostile to both Jewish religious tradition and early Christian beliefs. They borrowed some of the terms Jews and Christians used, but redefined them according to their own unique purposes. One example of this is the way they “borrowed” Jesus. Similar to New Age proponents today, who speak of a "Christ-consciousness" but don’t believe in the biblical Christ, these Gnostics adapted and reshaped the story of the historical Jesus to fit their new elitist religion.

Scholars agree that the Gnostic faith developed during the 2nd century. Gnosticism didn’t exist during the 1st century, so there’s no way for there to have been Gnostic gospels written that early. This was a religion that developed independently of Christianity, but sought to draw new followers from the Christian churches. Because Christians put great stock in the teachings of the apostles, these Gnostics wrote “gospels” of Jesus that claimed to be written by Peter, James, Thomas, etc. The fact that they were not written in the 1st century was a problem for them, but an even greater problem was the fact that these false Gospels also depicted a distinctly Gnostic Jesus and a worldview, completely incompatible with the existing beliefs of the Christians. Because of this, these so-called gospels were universally rejected.

Gospel of Thomas

Use the Gospel of Thomas as an example. The Gospel of Thomas was rediscovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. (Because of this, they are often referred to the “Nag Hammadi gospels.”) It is not at all what is ordinarily thought of as a “gospel.” It doesn’t tell the story of Jesus, but merely records things he was supposed to have said. The material is clearly Gnostic in nature. The book begins:

"These are the secret words that the living Jesus spoke and Judas, even Thomas, wrote."

The book goes on to tell us of the secret or hidden teachings of Jesus. These teachings are meant only for the spiritually elite, not for the common people. Instead of being taught to have faith, the reader is urged to discover the hidden interpretations that will reveal the secret knowledge necessary for salvation.

In the midst of this, are interposed a few statements that are strikingly similar to what is read in the historical biblical Gospels. This does not mean the Gospel of Thomas is from the 1st century, or on a par with the New Testament Gospels, although a few Gnostic critics would say yes, all other scholars - Christian and non-Christian - see these critics as clutching at straws. The evidence otherwise is too totally convincing.

There is no historical evidence placing the Gospel of Thomas before the mid-2nd century, even though the Gospel of Thomas has included quotes of Jesus that have been commonly known from all four of the biblical Gospels. It quotes from later variations of these Gospels, not the earliest readings. The Gospel of Thomas also references works we know weren’t written until the 2nd century, and even when it quotes the Bible, it often twists the statements of Jesus into Gnostic variations. Despite the efforts of a few to attempt to find a 1st century fragment within the Gospel of Thomas, the vast majority of scholars acknowledge that the earliest it could have been written is ca 170 CE, i.e., A.D..

Conspiracy Theories

The sensationalist writings of some fictional novel authors attempt to turn all of the historical evidence and scholarly consensus on its head by claiming the New Testament Gospels were later revisions and the Gnostic gospels were the earlier writings. This, although no hindrance to those familiar with God's Word, can be a detriment to the soul of those who are not in Christ, and lack any knowledge of Holy Scripture.

These novels also claim the Gnostic gospels defend a human Jesus from Christians who attempted to turn Him into a god, as they completely reverse the actual nature of their own cherished "alternative gospels."

It is the New Testament Gospels that portray a Christ who is not only divine but also profoundly human. It was the later, Gnostic gospels who denied the humanity of Jesus, insisting he was purely divine! [Note: The Gospel of Thomas strongly emphasizes Jesus' divinity, and imitates Eastern Religious Ideology in encouraging their readers to recognize their own divinity!] Such subterfuge is not humorous, but is an evil influence on those who are perishing.
Lastly, these Gnostic novels repeatedly claim their Gnostic gospel-writers were seeking to defend the rights of women and somehow protect the “feminine divine.” Below is a quote from the end of the Gospel of Thomas, by which it can be seen whether this gospel intends to protect the feminine divine (and whether there’s any reason to ever accept this perverted speech as an authentic statement of Jesus):

A Gnostic Invention of a Conversation That Never Took Place:

"Simon Peter said to them: 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.'"

"Jesus said: 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'”


Sadly, far too many believe that even though the novels are fictional, the historical research is legitimate. This is definitely not the case, these highly speculative, sensationalist sources contradict everything we know from history. No one should assume these kinds of books (or internet sites) are purveyors of truth.

These rejected, late gospels, give us a lot of helpful insight into the nature of 2nd century Gnostic beliefs, but they don’t tell anything truthful about the historical Jesus. They were written too late, by unknown authors who had an alternative, unbiblical, elitist agenda.

The early Christians consistently rejected these gospels for good reason, and this brings us back to the New Testament Gospel accounts of Jesus, and a clearer understanding of why these Gospels were accepted by the first century early followers of Jesus.


Adaptation from Curt Parton/Exploring the Faith/11-9-2012
Why did the 1st century early Christians reject th... (show quote)


Very interesting. things I have never read before.. thanks..

Reply
Jan 26, 2022 04:10:58   #
Zemirah Loc: Sojourner En Route...
 
I'm glad you found it interesting, permafrost,

By the close of the first century all the documents which are now the New Testament had been written, and were being read, examined, prayed over, and accepted as Scripture by Jesus' followers.

Over 200 years before the Christian church in Rome was corrupted by political power, after becoming a ward of the Roman Empire (313 A.D.), - God (through the Holy Spirit's guidance of the 1st century church), not the Roman Emperor Constantine, chose the books of the Bible.

"I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols."
(Isaiah 42:8)

If searching for reading material when the temperature is 0 outside, there are three books in my library which are still in print:

1. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, editor David W. Bercot, 1994. 736 pgs.

2. The Canon of Scripture, by F. F. Bruce, 1988, 349 pgs.

3. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible, by Norman L. Geisler, 1974, 256 pgs.


permafrost wrote:
Very interesting. things I have never read before.. thanks..

Reply
 
 
Jan 26, 2022 10:25:01   #
permafrost Loc: Minnesota
 
Zemirah wrote:
I'm glad you found it interesting, permafrost,

By the close of the first century all the documents which are now the New Testament had been written, and were being read, examined, prayed over, and accepted as Scripture by Jesus' followers.

Over 200 years before the Christian church in Rome was corrupted by political power, after becoming a ward of the Roman Empire (313 A.D.), - God (through the Holy Spirit's guidance of the 1st century church), not the Roman Emperor Constantine, chose the books of the Bible.

"I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols."
(Isaiah 42:8)

If searching for reading material when the temperature is 0 outside, there are three books in my library which are still in print:

1. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, editor David W. Bercot, 1994. 736 pgs.

2. The Canon of Scripture, by F. F. Bruce, 1988, 349 pgs.

3. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible, by Norman L. Geisler, 1974, 256 pgs.
I'm glad you found it interesting, permafrost, br ... (show quote)


good to know..

Reply
Jan 26, 2022 13:05:30   #
336Robin Loc: North Carolina
 
permafrost wrote:
Very interesting. things I have never read before.. thanks..


Don't believe everything you read. Do your own research. Some of his stuff is a bit tilted like who are these early Christians? Makes it sound like everyone was against them. He writes an awful lot maybe he should write his own book.

Reply
Jan 26, 2022 13:26:53   #
permafrost Loc: Minnesota
 
336Robin wrote:
Don't believe everything you read. Do your own research. Some of his stuff is a bit tilted like who are these early Christians? Makes it sound like everyone was against them. He writes an awful lot maybe he should write his own book.


MMM, yes.. should be taken with a grain of salt.. or two...

Reply
Jan 26, 2022 15:38:07   #
Zemirah Loc: Sojourner En Route...
 
This I have always believed, and practiced, Robin:
336Robin wrote:
"Don't believe everything you read. Do your own research."


I add to it the necessity of investigating the sources of all online videos one watches, for they often have less accompanying verifiable information that a printed book.

The persecution of Christians can be historically traced from the first century of the Christian era to the present day. Christian missionaries and converts to Christianity have both always been targeted for persecution, sometimes to the point of being martyred for their faith, ever since the emergence of Christianity.

Early Christians (phrase traditionally refers to the first Christians, those of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries) were persecuted at the hands of both Jews, to whose country and religion, Jesus and His apostles were born and Christianity arose, and the Romans who controlled their territory, - as the early centers of Christianity were located within the Roman Empire.

The watchdog organization Open Doors USA says levels of Christian persecution are at a record high around the world. Open Doors reports that levels of Christian persecution are at a record high, revealing that the number of Christians murdered for their faith rose 60 percent in 2020.

The group announced the 2021 World Watch List this week, ranking the top 50 countries where it is the most dangerous to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Their latest data indicates one-in-eight Christians now suffer for their religious beliefs worldwide.

The total known number of Christian martyrs increased from 4,305 (WWL 2020) to 4,761 (WWL 2021).

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?” (Romans 8, 35)


336Robin wrote:
Don't believe everything you read. Do your own research. Some of his stuff is a bit tilted like who are these early Christians? Makes it sound like everyone was against them. He writes an awful lot maybe he should write his own book.

Reply
 
 
Jan 27, 2022 06:28:48   #
336Robin Loc: North Carolina
 
Zemirah wrote:
This I have always believed, and practiced, Robin:


I'm sure you think you're being helpful, but you opine a lot more than you should and you write every word in your mind before distillation to what you should write. There is no doubt you're a believer but you seem on a mission to do everything in your power to justify your view. I've already decided I'm not reading but the top of anything you write because you go on and on and on and never stop your segue into the universe but thank you for your reply.

Reply
Jan 27, 2022 08:25:02   #
Zemirah Loc: Sojourner En Route...
 
Robin, This is the Faith, Religion, Spirituality section on a public forum where participants normally cite historically provable facts, to confirm their faith. This is obviously not your forte as everything you just chose to write on my thread, as well as every other has been your subjective opinion with no basis in fact.

What you read or do not read requires no notification to anyone, and most assuredly not to me.



Reply
Jan 27, 2022 12:11:10   #
336Robin Loc: North Carolina
 
Zemirah wrote:
Robin, This is the Faith, Religion, Spirituality section on a public forum where participants normally cite historically provable facts, to confirm their faith. This is obviously not your forte as everything you just chose to write on my thread, as well as every other has been your subjective opinion with no basis in fact.

What you read or do not read requires no notification to anyone, and most assuredly not to me.


I know where I'm at and what its for. Type on brother.

Reply
Jan 27, 2022 15:09:05   #
Zemirah Loc: Sojourner En Route...
 
The Earliest List of the 27 Books of the New Testament Canon

October 19, 2015

In the study of the New Testament canon, the list of the 27 New Testament books in Athanasius’ Festal Letter (c.367A.D.), four decades after the 325 A.D. Council of Nicea, is assumed to be the first written list, in order to lend credence to crediting the New Testament text to church councils, rather than to God interacting with His called out "ecclesia" through the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus Christ.

"But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to respond or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say.
For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:19-20)

First, the existence of the New Testament Canon is not measured by the presence of lists, but in the frequency with which these books were used by the early church fathers and among the local members of the body of Christ, by which it is made evident that there was a “core” collection of New Testament books already functioning as accepted Scripture in the early third century, over one hundred years before Athanasius' fourth century mention of them.

Second, “Origen of Alexandria’s List of New Testament Books in Homilies on Joshua 7.1, was also made over a century before Athanasius' list was made public. In his classic allegorical fashion, Origen used the story of Joshua to describe the New Testament canon:

"But when our Lord Jesus Christ comes, whose arrival that prior son of Nun designated, he sends priests, his apostles, bearing “trumpets hammered thin,” the magnificent and heavenly instruction of proclamation. Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel; Mark also; Luke and John each played their own priestly trumpets. Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles; also James and Jude. In addition, John also sounds the trumpet through his epistles [and Revelation], and Luke, as he describes the Acts of the Apostles. And now Paul, that last one comes, the one who said, “I think God displays us apostles last,” and in fourteen (including Hebrews) of his epistles, thundering with trumpets, he casts down the walls of Jericho and all the devices of idolatry and dogmas of philosophers, all the way to the foundations (Homilies, Joshua 7.1).

As one can see from the list above, all 27 books of the New Testament are included (Origen clearly counts Hebrews as one of Paul’s letters). The only ambiguity is a text-critical issue with Revelation, but there is good evidence from other sources that Origen accepted Revelation as Scripture (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.25.10).

The reliability of Origen’s canonical list finds additional support in the fact that it fits with what Origen says elsewhere. Origen enumerates all the authors of the New Testament in his Homilies on Genesis, and this is a remarkable match with his list of New Testament books:

Isaac, therefore, digs also new wells, nay rather Isaac’s servants dig them. Isaac’s servants are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; his servants are Peter, James, Jude; the apostle Paul is his servant. These all dig the wells of the New Testament (Homilies, Genesis 13.2).

This list of authors (again in Origen's classical allegorical style) matches exactly with his list of books. They match with one another, in reflecting Origen’s understanding (before 250 A.D.) that these 27 books were the canon of the New Testament.

This is confirmed by comparing these two passages in Origen – the list of books in Homilies on Joshua and the list of authors in Homilies on Genesis – they are also evidence that (a) Christians were recording historical lists much earlier than had been supposed, (and thus cared and were paying close attention to which books were “in” and which were “out”); and (b) that the boundaries of the New Testament canon was always more stable than is typically theorized by speculative seminarians of today.

Origen does not offer his list as an innovation or as anything controversial, but mentions it in a natural and matter-of-fact way within the context of his sermon.

Thus, for Origen of Alexandria, the content of the New Testament canon was already settled.

Filed Under: Ancient Manuscripts, New Testament Canon - Tagged With: Athanasius, Canonical Lists, New Testament Canon, Origen


Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC.

He earned his Ph.D. under one of the world’s leading text-critical scholars, Larry W. Hurtado, at the University of Edinburgh, where he had the honor of researching a parchment fragment of the apocryphal gospel, P.Oxy. 840. He graduated summa cum laude with a M.Div. from Westminster Seminary California, after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He is the author of twelve books, most recently Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College (Crossway, 2021), and Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (SPCK, 2017; IVP Academic, 2018). The latter was awarded “Book of the Year” by The Gospel Coalition in the category of history and biography.

Other publications include The Gospel of the Savior (Brill, 2005), The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway, 2010, with Andreas Köstenberger), Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012), and The Question of Canon (IVP Academic, 2013). He is also the editor of and contributor to A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (Crossway, 2016) and co-editor of The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012) and Gospel Fragments (Oxford, 2009).

Dr. Kruger has served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (2019), the largest society of evangelical scholars in the world, where he is also the co-chair and co-founder of the New Testament Canon, Textual Criticism, and Apocryphal Literature study section. In addition, he is on the editorial board of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Bulletin for Biblical Research.

He is also a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, the American Academy of Religion, and was recently elected to the Society for New Testament Studies (Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas). During his 2009-2010 research sabbatical, he was a visiting scholar at St. Edmund’s College and Tyndale House at Cambridge University, England.

Dr. Kruger regularly speaks, lectures, and teaches throughout the United States and the world—including conferences such as The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, and the Ligonier Conference. In addition to his academic publications, his popular-level articles have appeared in places like Modern Reformation, Tabletalk Magazine, and The Gospel Coalition. He also blogs regularly on his own website, Canon Fodder.

Works About Origen of Alexandria

Title / Description
Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11: New Mexico-Philip
Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century
Origen (c. 185-c. 254) (external)



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