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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?


The New Testament Canon

The New Testament Canon
Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians



An important question for apologists and Christians alike is when and by whom the books of the New Testament were first collected and used as a rule (canon) for judging doctrine. The conventional explanation in response to these important questions is that the canonization (and collection) of the New Testament books occurred in the fourth century councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 and 419 AD).

Latin Fathers - The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed. - wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon

The Council of Carthage, called the third by Denzinger,[4] on 28 August 397 issued a canon of the Bible quoted as, "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kingdoms, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, the Davidic Psalter, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Ezra, 2 books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 letter of his to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Jude, and one book of the Apocalypse of John." - Council of Carthage, wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synods_of_Carthage

An informed Christian apologist will typically and accurately explain that neither council actually created the New Testament collection. Rather they simply recognized (and made official) the collection of books that had always been upheld in the churches from the earliest times. While we feel that this conventional explanation is sound and without need of additional support, an important question can still be asked. Can we know more precisely when it was that the early church began to collect and recognize the books of the New Testament?

In part, this article will serve to demonstrate the historical accuracy of the conventional claim that these fourth century councils merely affirmed what the earliest church already knew regarding the books of the New Testament. But we will also seek to go beyond this conventional explanation and see if we can determine exactly how early the New Testament came into existence. To this end we will examine both the historical and biblical record for details that might inform us of who first collected the New Testament books and when.

We have already seen that by the end of the fourth century the church councils of Hippo and Carthage had a collection of the New Testament that is identical to the one we have today. Earlier in that century, in a festal letter of 367 AD, Athanasius (champion of the Nicaean Creed and bishop of Alexandria, Egypt) provided the same list of New Testament books.

5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John. From Letter XXXIX.-(For 367.) Of the particular books and their number, which are accepted by the Church. From the thirty-ninth Letter of Holy Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, on the Paschal festival; wherein he defines canonically what are the divine books which are accepted by the Church. - Athanasius, Festal Letter 367 AD
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.xxv.iii.iii.xxv.html

So, we will begin our historical inquiry with Athanasius and the councils of Hippo and Carthage. From these accounts we know that the church of the mid and late fourth century had a collection of the New Testament books. (This is around 300 years after the books themselves were written.) How much earlier than the fourth century did the church have this collection and where did they get it?

If we backtrack another 150-200 years into early church history we arrive in the late second century. Two sources from this period confirm that the church already possessed the New Testament books and that they were using these books as a canon (or rule) to measure doctrine and moral practice. The first of these two sources is the Muratorian fragment, which dates to about 170 AD.

The Muratorian fragment is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of the books of the New Testament. The fragment is a seventh-century Latin manuscript bound in an eighth or seventh century codex that came from the library of Columban's monastery at Bobbio; it contains internal cues which suggest that the original was written about 170 (possibly in Greek), although some have regarded it as later. The copy "was made by an illiterate and careless scribe, and is full of blunders" (Henry Wace[1]). The poor Latin and the state that the original manuscript was in has made it difficult to translate. The fragment, of which the beginning is missing and which ends abruptly, is the remaining section of a list of all the works that were accepted as canonical by the churches known to its anonymous original compiler. It was discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan by Father Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672 - 1750), the most famous Italian historian of his generation, and published in 1740. - wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muratorian

The text of the list itself is traditionally dated to about 170 because its author refers to Pius I, bishop of Rome (142 - 157), as recent: But Hermas wrote The Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after their time. - wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muratorian

Biblical literature - The first clear witness to a catalog of authoritative New Testament writings is found in the so-called Muratorian Canon, a crude and uncultured Latin 8th-century manuscript translated from a Greek list written in Rome c. 170-180, named for its modern discoverer and publisher Lodovica Antonio Muratori (1672-1750). Though the first lines are lost, Luke is referred to as "the third book of the Gospel," and the canon thus contains [Matthew, Mark] Luke, John, Acts, 13 Pauline letters, Jude, two letters of John, and Revelation. -Britannica.com

The Muratorian fragment begins with the list of the four gospels. However, because it is a fragment of an ancient document, we do not have the portion that lists Matthew and Mark. But we do see that Luke's gospel is listed as the third gospel and John as the fourth. This clearly indicates that Matthew and Mark were in their typical place within the New Testament canon.

Below is the text of the Muratorian canon.

…at which nevertheless he was present, and so he placed [them in his narrative]. [1] (2) The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. (3) Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, (4-5) when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, [2] (6) composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. [3] Yet he himself had not (7) seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, (8) so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John. (9) The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. (10) To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], (11) he said, 'Fast with me from today to three days, and what (12) will be revealed to each one (13) let us tell it to one another.' In the same night it was revealed (14) to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, (15-16) that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it. And so, though various (17) elements [3a] may be taught in the individual books of the Gospels, (18) nevertheless this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since by the one sovereign [3b] Spirit all things (20) have been declared in all [the Gospels]: concerning the (21) nativity, concerning the passion, concerning the resurrection, (22) concerning life with his disciples, (23) and concerning his twofold coming; (24) the first in lowliness when he was despised, which has taken place, (25) the second glorious in royal power, (26) which is still in the future. What (27) marvel is it then, if John so consistently (28) mentions these particular points also in his Epistles, (29) saying about himself, 'What we have seen with our eyes (30) and heard with our ears and our hands (31) have handled, these things we have written to you? [4] (32) For in this way he professes [himself] to be not only an eye-witness and hearer, (33) but also a writer of all the marvelous deeds of the Lord, in their order. (34) Moreover, the acts of all the apostles (35) were written in one book. For 'most excellent Theophilus' [5] Luke compiled (36) the individual events that took place in his presence - (37) as he plainly shows by omitting the martyrdom of Peter (38) as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] [5a] (39) when he journeyed to Spain. As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. (42) First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; (43) next, [6] to the Galatians, against circumcision; (44-6) then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme). [6a] It is necessary (47) for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed (48) apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor (49-50) John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians (51) first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, (52) to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, (53) to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans (54-5) seventh. It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, (56-7) yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth. For John also in the (58) Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, (59-60) nevertheless speaks to all. [Paul also wrote] out of affection and love one to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy; and these are held sacred (62-3) in the esteem of the Church catholic for the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There is current also [an epistle] to (64) the Laodiceans, [and] another to the Alexandrians, [both] forged in Paul's (65) name to [further] the heresy of Marcion, [6b] and several others (66) which cannot be received into the catholic Church (67)- for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey. (68) Moreover, the epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church]… - The Muratorian Fragment, approximately, 170 AD

This document lists all but a few smaller books of the New Testament. This indicates that by at least 170 AD the church had a complete or nearly collection of the New Testament books. Only five New Testament books are not included in the list provided by the Muratorian fragment. They are: the epistle of James, the third epistle of John, the epistle to the Hebrews, and the two epistles of Peter. Included are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 John, 2 John, Jude, and Revelation.

Besides the Muratorian fragment, we have a second witness that the books of the New Testament had been collected before 180 AD. This witness is the second century apologist Irenaeus.

"Irenaeus, Saint - c.125-c.202, Greek theologian, bishop of Lyons, and Father of the Church. Born in Asia Minor, he was a disciple of St. Polycarp. Irenaeus went to Rome to plead for leniency toward the Montanists (see Montanism) and for those Eastern Christians who were threatened with excommunication because they did not observe the Roman date for Easter. He remained in the West and died in Gaul. He was the earliest Father of the Church to systematize Christian doctrine and is cited frequently by later theologians. Only two of his works survive-neither in the original Greek. Against Heresies establishes Christian doctrine against the Gnostics and incidentally supplies much information on Gnosticism. The Epideixix is a concise exposition of Christian doctrine (tr. by J. P. Smith Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 1952)." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Irenaeus, lived between approximately 125-202 AD. He was the bishop of Lyons, France. He had been discipled by Polycarp. Polycarp himself was a disciple of John the Apostle who had appointed him bishop in Smyrna.

"Polycarp, Saint - c.A.D. 70-A.D. 156?, Greek bishop of Smyrna, Father of the Church. He was a disciple of St. John, who appointed him bishop. Thus he linked the apostles and such 2d-century Christian expositors as St. Irenaeus. St. Polycarp was a close friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch. As a very old man, Polycarp went to Rome to discuss the problem of dating Easter. He died a martyr in Smyrna. His one surviving work, the Epistle to the Philippians, has been the subject of controversy. Some scholars have maintained that the letter is really two-one written c.115, enclosing St. Ignatius' epistles, and the other written c.135 to warn the Philippians against the teachings of Marcion. He was in his time the mainstay of Christianity in Asia Minor." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Irenaeus wrote his five volume work Against Heresies in about 180 AD. Throughout this long work containing hundreds of pages, Irenaeus quotes almost all of the New Testament books calling them by their names. This includes: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation. That is 20 out of the 27 books that make up the New Testament. The only books that Irenaeus does not mention are: James' epistle, Hebrews, Jude's epistle, Philemon, John's third epistle, Peter's second epistle, and Titus. However, just because Irenaeus does not quote these books does not necessarily indicate that he did not have them in his collection. It only tells us that he did not refer to them in his works. We do not know why he did not refer to them. It could be that he didn't have them or know of them. But it is just as possible that Irenaeus had the works in his New Testament collection, but that he simply didn't quote them for some reason.

Beyond his citation of the New Testament books there are two more very important facts that we can learn from Irenaeus regarding the canon. First, Irenaeus repeatedly utilizes the New Testament books as a rule (canon) to judge Gnostic teaching. At the same time, Irenaeus also refers to the New Testament books as scripture.

1. WE have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.(2) - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. I.--THE APOSTLES DID NOT COMMENCE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, OR TO PLACE ANYTHING ON RECORD, UNTIL THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH THE GIFTS AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY PREACHED ONE GOD ALONE, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.

Even Irenaeus' appeal to the New Testament books throughout his writing tells us something important. Irenaeus' appeals to the New Testament books clearly indicate that such works were collected and recognized in the Christian world as the documentation of New Testament teaching. If they were not, then Irenaeus could not appeal to them as a known authority. According to Irenaeus, the recognition of the New Testament canon was so universal that even the heretics knew it. Indeed, the heretics weren't just vaguely familiar with the New Testament canon. They themselves had copies of it. Some of them accepted all of the New Testament canon and simply interpreting it falsely. Others, however, sought to remove some books from the canon in order to make way for their false teachings. And they edited other books. All of these facts require that the New Testament canon had been collected and was well known by Christians and heretics alike by the final quarter of the second century.

Wherefore also Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened. In another work,(1) however, I shall, God granting [me strength], refute them out of these which they still retain. But all the rest, inflated with the false name of "knowledge," do certainly recognise the Scriptures; but they pervert the interpretations, as I have shown in the first book…Ignorance of the Scriptures and of the dispensation of God has brought all these things upon them. And in the course of this work I shall touch upon the cause of the difference of the covenants on the one hand, and, on the other hand, of their unity and harmony. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. XII. --DOCTRINE OF THE REST OF THE APOSTLES.

In the following quotes, Irenaeus provides an example of the heretic's tampering with the New Testament writings, which he plainly calls scripture.

4. And they state that it was clearly on this account that Paul said, "And He Himself is all things;"(1) and again, "All things are to Him, and of Him are all things;"(2) and further, "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead;"(3) and yet again, "All things are gathered together by God in Christ."(4) Thus do they interpret these and any like passages to be found in Scripture. - Irenaeus, Book I, CHAP. III.--TEXTS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE USED BY THESE HERETICS TO SUPPORT THEIR OPINIONS.

And others(13) of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. - Irenaeus, Book I, CHAP. III.-- TEXTS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE USED BY THESE HERETICS TO SUPPORT THEIR OPINIONS.

1. Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures;(4) and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. - Irenaeus, Book I, CHAP. VIII.--HOW THE VALENTINIANS PERVERT THE SCRIPTURES TO SUPPORT THEIR OWN PIOUS OPINIONS.

2. Then, again, as to those things outside of their Pleroma, the following are some specimens of what they attempt to accommodate out of the Scriptures to their opinions. They affirm that the Lord came in the last times of the world to endure suffering, for this end, that He might indicate the passion which occurred to the last of the AEons, and might by His own end announce the cessation of that disturbance which had risen among the AEons. They maintain, further, that that girl of twelve years old, the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue,(1) to whom the Lord approached and raised her from the dead, was a type of Achamoth, to whom their Christ, by extending himself, imparted shape, and whom he led anew to the perception of that light which had forsaken her. And that the Saviour appeared to her when she lay outside of the Pleroma as a kind of abortion, they affirm Paul to have declared in his Epistle to the Corinthians [in these words], "And last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one born out of due time."(2) Again, the coming of the Saviour with His attendants to Achamoth is declared in like manner by him in the same Epistle, when he says, "A woman ought to have a veil upon her head, because of the angels."(3) Now, that Achamoth, when the Saviour came to her, drew a veil over herself through modesty, Moses rendered manifest when he put a veil upon his face. Then, also, they say that the passions which she endured were indicated by the Lord upon the cross. Thus, when He said, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"(4) He simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward. Her anguish, again, was indicated when He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;"(5) her fear by the words, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me;"(6) and her perplexity, too, when He said, "And what I shall say, I know not."(7) - Irenaeus, Book I, CHAP. VIII.--HOW THE VALENTINIANS PERVERT THE SCRIPTURES TO SUPPORT THEIR OWN PIOUS OPINIONS.

1. You see, my friend, the method which these men employ to deceive themselves, while they abuse the Scriptures by endeavouring to support their own system out of them….2. The fallacy, then, of this exposition is manifest. For when John, proclaiming one God, the Almighty, and one Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten, by whom all things were made, declares that this was the Son of God, this the Only-begotten, this the Former of all things, this the true Light who enlighteneth every man this the Creator of the world, this He that came to His own, this He that became flesh and dwelt among us,--these men, by a plausible kind of exposition, perverting these statements, maintain that there was another Monogenes, according to production, whom they also style Arche. - Irenaeus, Book I, CHAP. IX.--REFUTATION OF THE IMPIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF THESE HERETICS.

1. When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but viva voce:… 2. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. II.--THE HERETICS FOLLOW NEITHER SCRIPTURE NOR TRADITION.

In the following quote Irenaeus testifies to the universal availability of the New Testament canon during his time.

2. Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; - Irenaeus, Book II, CHAP. XXVII.--PROPER MODE OF INTERPRETING PARABLES AND OBSCURE PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE.

2. …It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden (paradisus) in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, "Thou mayest freely eat from every tree of the garden,"(6) that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord; but ye shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor touch any heretical discord. - Irenaeus, Book V, CHAP. XX.--THOSE PASTORS ARE TO BE HEARD TO WHOM THE APOSTLES COMMITTED THE CHURCHES, POSSESSING ONE AND THE SAME DOCTRINE OF SALVATION; THE HERETICS, ON THE OTHER HAND, ARE TO BE AVOIDED. WE MUST THINK SOBERLY WITH REGARD TO THE MYSTERIES OF THE FAITH.

As we can see Irenaeus is quite informative as to the state of the New Testament canon in his time. He attests that by 180 AD the New Testament canon had already been collected and was universally known and recognized by the church (who reckoned it as scripture) and by heretics (who had taken to editing their collections of it).

If the Muratorian fragment is compared to the books quoted by Irenaeus (effectively adding these two lists together) only 4 books are not mentioned (James' epistle, John's third epistle, Peter's second epistle, and Hebrews). From these historical documents, we gain a clear picture that by 170-180 AD, at least 23 of the New Testament texts were universally known and collected, recognized as scripture, and used as a canon against false teaching. And as we said earlier, the fact that a few of the New Testament books aren't mentioned by these two sources doesn't necessarily mean that they weren't part of the canon at that time. All we know is that these four books aren't mentioned by these two authors. We do not know why they are not mentioned.

In addition, Irenaues also informs us why it is that later councils needed to affirm the works of the New Testament canon. By the late second century, heretical groups had begun disputing the inclusion of some New Testament books, editing others, and even attempting to introduce their own new texts which they had authored. By the time of the fourth century, it was necessary for the church to clarify and reaffirm the canon of the New Testament that the church had indeed held in earlier times. This clarification from Athanasius and the councils of Hippo and Carthage was not the first time the church recognized or collected the New Testament canon. Instead, it was (as apologists have faithfully and accurately contended) merely a recognition of what was held in the church from earlier times. From Irenaeus and the Muratorian canon we can see that over two centuries earlier the church already had a complete (or nearly complete) New Testament canon. Thus, the fourth century church did not create the New Testament. They merely recognized and affirmed the books that heretical groups had falsely discarded and continued to exclude the books that heretical groups had forged.

It is highly significant that a complete (or nearly complete) New Testament canon existed, was available and well known in Christian and heretical circles, recognized as scripture, and used as a canon by 170-180 AD. Keep in mind that the canon of this period was only potentially lacking 3 small books and the longer book of Hebrews. If, for all intents and purposes, the New Testament scriptural collection existed by the last quarter of the second century, just how early was this collection gathered and who collected it?

Further information on this important question comes from the man who discipled Irenaeus. As we have already seen Irenaeus was discipled by Polycarp. Polycarp himself was discipled and appointed bishop of Smyrna by John the apostle.

"Polycarp, Saint - c.A.D. 70-A.D. 156?, Greek bishop of Smyrna, Father of the Church. He was a disciple of St. John, who appointed him bishop. Thus he linked the apostles and such 2d-century Christian expositors as St. Irenaeus. St. Polycarp was a close friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch. As a very old man, Polycarp went to Rome to discuss the problem of dating Easter. He died a martyr in Smyrna. His one surviving work, the Epistle to the Philippians, has been the subject of controversy. Some scholars have maintained that the letter is really two-one written c.115, enclosing St. Ignatius' epistles, and the other written c.135 to warn the Philippians against the teachings of Marcion. He was in his time the mainstay of Christianity in Asia Minor." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians (often simply called To the Philippians) composed around 110 to 140 AD - wikipedia.org, Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians

Polycarp's only surviving work is a short epistle to the Philippians. However, in the five pages that comprise this short letter, Polycarp himself quotes all but 3 New Testament books. (A complete version of Polycarp's letter to the Philippians with annotations of his New Testament quotations is included in the addendum to this study.) This letter, which was written between 110 and 135 AD, quotes from: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. It is possible, but not clear whether Polycarp quotes from Philemon or Jude.

Polycarp does not quote the Book of Revelation. However, we know that Polycarp was a bishop in the church community in Smyrna. This church was one of the churches to whom the Book of Revelation was sent.

Revelation 1:11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

The Book of Revelation was written near the end of the first century AD (at approximately 95-96 AD). Because of this, we know that Polycarp had a copy of Revelation which had been sent to his church by John himself. This would bring the total number of books that we know Polycarp had in his possession to 25 of the total 27 books of the New Testament. And we can easily understand why in such a short letter, he might not have quoted from the two short epistles of Philemon or Jude. (Though, as we have said, it is possible, but not completely clear, that Polycarp did in fact quote from these two epistles.)

Besides Polycarp we can take a look at the writings of another man from this same early period who was also discipled by John the apostle. That man is Ignatius. Ignatius wrote seven letters before his death by martyrdom in 107 AD.

"Ignatius of Antioch, Saint - d. c.107, bishop of Antioch and Christian martyr, called Theophorus [Gr.,= God-bearer]. He was probably a convert and a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. On his way to Rome to be martyred by the wild beasts of the amphitheater, he wrote the important letters to the churches in Rome and in Asia Minor, and to St. Polycarp. The seven epistles are an invaluable testimony to the beliefs and internal organization of the early Christians. St. Ignatius is the first writer to stress the virgin birth. He firmly denounced Docetism and viewed the mystery of the Trinity as an assumed doctrine of faith. The only guarantee against heresy, he taught, is the church united under a bishop. St. Ignatius is the first in Christian literature to use the word Catholic." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Introductory Note to the Epistles of Ignatius – [a.d. 30–107.] The seductive myth which represents this Father as the little child whom the Lord placed in the midst of his apostles (St. Matt. xviii. 2) indicates at least the period when he may be supposed to have been born. That he and Polycarp were fellow-disciples under St. John, is a tradition by no means inconsistent with anything in the Epistles of either. His subsequent history is sufficiently indicated in the Epistles which follow. – Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, Philip Schaff, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.i.html

A survey of (even the shorter versions of) Ignatius' letters can also be performed just as we did with Polycarp's letter to the Philippians. This survey reveals that Ignatius himself quotes from or alludes to at least 18 of the 27 books of the New Testament. The books he specifically attests to are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation. Ignatius possibly references an additional 5 books Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, Hebrews, and 2 John. (Though references to these books are unclear.) There is also some indication that Ignatius was familiar with all of Paul's epistles. One reason for this conclusion is Igatius’ mention of “all of Paul’s epistles” in the quote below.

Paul, the holy, the martyred, the deservedly most happy, at whose feet(4) may I be found, when I shall attain to God; who in all his Epistles makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.- Ignatius, Epistle to the Philippians, Shorter Version, CHAP. XII.--PRAISE OF THE EPHESIANS.

However, the only 4 books of the New Testament that Ignatius does not seem to provide a reference to are: 2 Thessalonians, Titus, 3 John, and Jude. (If we conclude, as the evidence may suggest, that Ignatius had all of Paul's epistles, then only 3 John and Jude remain without reference.)

So, we can see from the apostle John's two disciples that the early second century church possessed a collection of the New Testament books that for all intents and purposes was identical to what we have now. Again, we would not expect that these men would necessarily have quoted or referenced every single New Testament book in their writings. What we have, however, is exactly what we would expect to find if the church of their time possessed the New Testament canon. We have quotations and awareness of all (or almost all) of the New Testament books being quoted to promote Christian teaching and to refute false doctrine.

To strengthen the point from our survey so far, we must keep in mind that when taken together the four authors we've surveyed (the Muratorian fragment, Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Ignatius) quote and list every book in the New Testament. And to be even more clear, their attestation and usage of the New Testament books collectively as a canon occurs in the period immediately following the writing of the final book of the New Testament at the end of the first century AD.

To say that again, the church of the second century (between approximately 107 and 180 AD) had the collected books of the New Testament and used them as a canon. The information gained from these historical sources is significant. It informs us that the gathering of the canon was not a long, gradual process that didn't reach its completion until the councils of the fourth century. Instead, it took place much earlier and much more quickly than may be generally conceived.

(To be clear, the complete distribution of all the collected books to the churches around the known world may have taken longer. Nonetheless, the collection of these works seemed to already exist in the hands of the churches and leadership of Asian Minor by the first quarter of the second century. And it had spread as far as Lyons, France by the beginning of the third quarter of the second century.)

So, far we have discovered good evidence for the very early existence of New Testament canon. The recognition and usage of the New Testament books in the pervasive manner exhibited by Polycarp and Ignatius requires that we look for the canonization at a very early time in church history. Indeed, we have worked our way back to the end of the very period when the New Testament books themselves were written. The historical necessity of a canonization at this early date invites the hypothesis that it was the apostles themselves who accomplished this important task. In fact, in his writings, Irenaeus himself attributes the origin of the New Testament canon to the apostles themselves.

8. True knowledge(4) is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution(5) of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body(6) of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved(7) without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system(8) of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love,(9) which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]. - Irenaeus, Book V, CHAP. XXXIII.--WHOSOEVER CONFESSES THAT ONE GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF BOTH TESTAMENTS, AND DILIGENTLY READS THE SCRIPTURES IN COMPANY WITH THE PRESBYTERS OF THE CHURCH, IS A TRUE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLE; AND HE WILL RIGHTLY UNDERSTAND AND INTERPRET ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE DECLARED RESPECTING CHRIST AND THE LIBERTY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.

In the above quote, Irenaeus contrasts to the heretics who rejected some New Testament books and edited others with the church who had received the full system of doctrine without leaving out or forging any of the scriptures. In the following quotes, Irenaeus makes similar claims. He continues to indicate that it was the apostles themselves who collected the New Testament books and passed them on to the churches as scripture and as a canon.

1. WE have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.(2) - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. I.--THE APOSTLES DID NOT COMMENCE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, OR TO PLACE ANYTHING ON RECORD, UNTIL THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH THE GIFTS AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY PREACHED ONE GOD ALONE, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.

In the following quote Irenaeus first states that the apostles deposited the truth in the churches. After this, he goes on to declare that the apostles left their writings in the church. Irenaeus then states that these writings (as well as oral traditions preserved by the church leadership) were used as a canon for judging other religious ideas.

1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life.(1) For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question(2) among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? - Irenaues, Book III, CHAP. IV.--THE TRUTH IS TO BE FOUND NOWHERE ELSE BUT IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, THE SOLE DEPOSITORY OF APOSTOLICAL DOCTRINE. HERESIES ARE OF RECENT FORMATION, AND CANNOT TRACE THEIR ORIGIN UP TO THE APOSTLES.

In the quote below, in refutation of the heretics, Irenaeus states that the apostles handed down the truth of Christ in the written documents that they left in the churches.

1. When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but viva voce: wherefore also Paul declared, "But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world."(1) And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent,(2) who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. II.--THE HERETICS FOLLOW NEITHER SCRIPTURE NOR TRADITION.

From these quotes we can see that Irenaeus more than implies that, as he understood it, it was the apostles themselves who collected the New Testament writings and gave them to the future generations of the church to be used as a measure for truth (as a "canon"). And we have also seen evidence from Polycarp and Ignatius that the New Testament canon existed very soon after the final books were written. Because of these facts, we are lead to consider Irenaeus' claim that the apostles canonized the books of the New Testament before the close of the first century.

A crucial question in examining this hypothesis is whether the New Testament documents themselves provide any indication that the apostles were undertaking such a task. It is obvious that the New Testament writers knew they were writing for the purposes of educating the church communities in Christian teaching and for refuting heretical ideas (i.e., they were canonical in purpose). What we are trying to determine are two related points. First, did the New Testament writers know and indicate that what they were writing was scripture on par with the Old Testament? Second, did the New Testament writers specifically endeavor to collect, preserve, and pass on a specific body of their texts to the church in the form of the New Testament canon?

The first New Testament passage to turn to in answering these questions comes from Peter's second epistle. In the opening chapter of his final epistle, Peter makes several important points that are relevant to our study.

First, in verse 12, Peter refers to his intention to always put the church in remembrance of the truth. In verse 13, Peter explains that as long as he lives he will (by his presence among them) continue to put them in remembrance of the truth. However, in verse 14 Peter indicates that he was aware that he would soon die. In verse 15, Peter clearly states that he endeavored to continue to remind the church of the truth even after he died.

2 Peter 1: 12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. 13 Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. 15 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.

But how would Peter continue to remind the church of Christian teaching even after he died? One obvious, potential answer is that Peter was working to collect the teachings of Christ that the apostles had proclaimed over the course of their lives. As we proceed, we will see that Peter's remarks indicate that this is exactly what he was referring to.

In verse 16, Peter states that "we" who proclaimed Jesus to the churches did not follow cunningly devised fables. Peter then identifies who he meant by the "we" who "made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" and who "did not follow cunningly devised fables." The "we" Peter was referring to were those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus' majesty. In verses 17 and 18, Peter is even more specific. He refers specifically to the transfiguration of Christ recorded in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:1-9, Luke 9:28-36. This transfiguration of Jesus occurred on a mountain and included a voice from heaven declaring Christ to be God's Son with whom God was well pleased.

2 Peter 1: 16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

Peter wrote this epistle near the very end of his life sometime in the mid to late 60's AD. There were only three men who had seen the transfiguration of Christ: Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (the apostles James and John). John's brother James was martyred early in the Book of Acts (Acts 12:2) sometime near the year 44 AD. So, when Peter wrote his second epistle the only people who had witnessed Christ's transfiguration that were still alive were himself and the apostle John. So, in this passage Peter is specifically referring to himself and John and an effort to continue to remind the church of the truth even after he died. Peter's reference to their having witnessed the transfiguration of Christ is a declaration of his and John's credibility and authority. He makes this declaration as an explanation of his previous statement that he endeavored so that after his death the church could still remember the truth.

In light of the date of this Peter's epistle (near the end of Peter's life), it is very possible, that he and John were the only apostles still alive at that time. This would include Paul who died shortly before Peter. If Peter knew his own death was soon to come, it is not unreasonable to assume that his mention of only himself and John indicates that Paul had already passed.

There are a few additional, important points to note about Peter's reference to Christ's transfiguration. First, at that important event, Peter (James, and John) saw Moses and Elijah with Christ on the mount.

Matthew 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. 17:1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them:and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. 7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. 8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. 9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

Luke 9:27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. 28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. 29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. 30 And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: 31 Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. 33 And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. 34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. 35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

It was common for Jews of this period to refer to the written books of the Old Testament canon by the designation "the Law and the Prophets." This fact is attested to in the following New Testament passages.

Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Luke 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

Luke 24:44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

John 1:45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

Acts 13:15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.

Acts 24:14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:

Acts 28:23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

Notice that Matthew 11:13 states that the Law and the Prophets "prophesied." In this verse Matthew is equating what was written in these Old Testament scriptural texts as a work of prophecy.

So, when Peter was on the mount of transfiguration with Christ he saw Moses (who wrote down the Law) and Elijah (one of the chief prophets). Both men were discussing Christ's coming death in Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31). And in Luke 24:44 and John 5:39, Jesus states that the Old Testament scriptures ("the law and the prophets") pointed to him. And there on the mount of transfiguration, Peter saw a representation of the Old Testament scripture (the Law and Prophets) as he beheld Christ glorified before him.

It is this experience that Peter points to when explaining that he endeavored to make sure the church could remember Christ's teaching even after he died. In doing so, Peter seems to very clearly be equating his witnessing Christ's glory on the mount of transfiguration with Moses experience in Exodus 33:18-34:10, 34:27-29. In these passages, Moses asks the Lord to show him His glory. The next day, Moses went up onto Mount Sinai and the Lord showed him his glory. Then Moses and the Lord record (for the second time) the Covenant of the Law there on the mount. In this respect, Peter and Moses had a similar experience. Both had seen the glory of the Lord on the mount. Moses then wrote the Laws of the Mosaic Covenant. In speaking of reminding the church of the truth even after his death, Peter himself at least alludes to the idea that he was participating in the writing down of the truth of the New Covenant.

(NOTE: Moses had broken the first two tablets of stone after coming down from Mount Sinai 32:19. So, in Exodus 34, a replacement set of the written text of the Mosaic Covenant is provided.)

We should also note that in Exodus 34:29 the writing of the Law on the tables of stone is referred to as "the testimony." (In the Greek Septuagint, the words for "testimony" in the passages below are not only related in the Greek but they are related to words used in New Testament passages that we will cover later. The New Testament Strong's numbers for these Greek words are 3141 and 3142.) In this passage, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, a great deal of importance is placed upon these written testimonies (the two tablets of stone) upon which the Law was WRITTEN which had come from God himself as he appeared to Moses on the mountain. In fact, the ark of the covenant was in part specifically made to house this written record of the covenant that God instituted with Moses on the mountain.

Exodus 25:16 And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony (3141) which I shall give thee.

Exodus 31:18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony (3142), tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

Exodus 32:15 And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony (3142) were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.

Deuteronomy 31:25 That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, 26 Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness (3142) against thee.

As we continue through Peter's epistle, keep in mind that Peter has specifically stated that he was endeavoring to keep the church in remembrance of Christ's teaching even after his death. He then pointed to his and John's authority to do so because of their having witnessed Christ's transfiguration on the mountain. Peter also said that what he and John taught was not a myth that they had invented. In the following verses, Peter continues by contrasting the invention of a religious myth with the divinely inspired scripture of the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets).

2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

In verses 19-20, Peter claims that they (he and John) had a more sure word of prophecy. In doing so, Peter identifies what he and John taught the churches with the "word of prophecy." We have already seen that Matthew 11:13 stated that the Law and the Prophets were considered to be prophetic work. Matthew 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

In verse 20, Peter explains what he means by the "word of prophecy" that he claimed that he and John had. He explains that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation. Here Peter is contrasting what he and John taught with "cunningly devised fables" (verse 16) by equating it with Old Testament scripture (verse 20-21). Peter goes even further and declares that the Old Testament scriptures (and by extension his and John's work) were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Let us take note of what Peter has stated in this important passage that he wrote just before he died. First, Peter is aware that he would soon die and would not be able to continue to remind the church of Christ's teaching in person. Second, Peter stated that he labored so that he could continue to remind the church of Christian teaching even after he died. Third, Peter equates his (and John's) work with the Old Testament scripture saying that it was not of their own invention, but was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Fourth, Peter's justification for his and John's authority to undertake this effort (which he compared to the Old Testament scripture) came from their having witnessed Jesus' transfiguration. This event has strong references to the written texts of the Old Testament canon. Moses and Elijah who appeared with Christ on the mount were representatives of the Old Testament scripture (the Law and the Prophets). And Moses' experience was similar to that of Peter and John in that he too witnessed the glory of the Word of God on a mountain. And fifth, as we have already stated, Peter specifically includes himself and John the apostle in this work.

The clear result of this passage is that Peter has identified his and John's work as scripture. The Greek word for scripture that he uses in this passage ("graphe") occurs 51 times in the New Testament. A survey of its occurrence in the New Testament reveals that it is exclusively used to refer to Old Testament texts.

In the third chapter of this epistle, Peter speaks similarly of Paul's letters using this same Greek word for scripture.

2 Peter 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

In this passage, Peter makes several additional points that we should take note of.

First, Peter's identification of Paul's letters as scripture is a second indication that Paul had passed away by that time. In chapter one, Peter has already singled out himself and John and equated their work with scripture. In that passage, Peter did not include Paul, but only John, in this scriptural endeavor to remind the church of Jesus' teaching. However, in chapter 3, it is clear that Peter did consider Paul's writings as scripture (just as he did his* and John's work in chapter one). Therefore, Peter's omission of Paul in chapter one is not because Peter did not consider Paul's work as scripture. Rather the reason Paul was not included in chapter one is because there Peter was discussing an ongoing effort. Paul was not involved in that effort because he had already passed away. However, though Paul had passed away, his writings were being included by Peter as scripture.

Second, as we have seen, Peter indicates in verse 16 that he had ALL of Paul's epistles. Peter's assertion here may indicate that he knew Paul would not be writing any additional letters. This lends additional support to the conclusion that Paul was already dead at the writing of 2 Peter.

From this we can see that Peter has now identified his work, John's work, and Paul's work as equal to Old Testament scripture and inspired by the Holy Spirit. In connection with his identification of apostolic writing with scripture we make a third point from Peter's writings. This time we turn to 1 Peter 2.

1 Peter 2:6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

The importance of this passage from his first epistle is that Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8.

Isaiah 8:13 Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

The significance of Peter's quotation of Isaiah 8 comes from the verses that follow verse 15.

Isaiah 8:16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17 And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. 19 And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? 20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. 21 And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward. 22 And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.

1 Peter 2:6-8 shows Peter's awareness of Isaiah 8:13-22. In the very passage that Peter quotes just one verse after the verses Peter quotes, Isaiah makes the statement "bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples" (verse 16). Peter clearly had knowledge of this passage and had identified the Lord as the rock of offense. Who then would the "disciples" be in verse 16?* They would be the disciples of the Lord. This would have included Peter and John. And what are the disciples of the Lord to do? According to Isaiah they will "bind up the testimony" and "seal up the law." Peter quotes this passage from Isaiah in his first epistle. Then in his second epistle, Peter equates his, and John's (and Paul's) works as equal to Old Testament scripture even calling it "a more sure word of prophecy."

From Peter's appeal to the mount of transfiguration and his quote of Isaiah, we have ample reason to understand why Peter felt that his, John, and Paul's works were scripture. And we have a good idea where Peter got this idea that they (the Lord's apostles) were to produce a written canon of the Lord's teaching. It is clear that Peter knew Isaiah 8 (as well as Exodus 25, 31, 32, and 32 and Deuteronomy 31). And Peter knew the importance of the tables of testimony and the reference of the Old Testament scripture as the Law and the Prophets. Peter himself identified Christ with Isaiah's Rock of Offense.

Because of this identification, it is easy to see that Peter may likely have identified himself, John, and Paul with Isaiah's mention of "the Lord's disciples" who would "bind up the testimony" and "seal the law." These phrases from Isaiah and Peter's own experience on the mount of transfiguration are clearly connected by Peter. And, as he himself indicates, he (and John) had the authority and responsibility to create a set of scriptural writings to preserve the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. And this collection of texts would be on par with the Old Testament texts (the Law and the Prophets).

But Peter was not alone in this assessment. In his writings, the apostle John distinctly refers to his writings as a testimony. In these verses John uses the same Greek word for "testimony" that is used in the Septuagint to refer to the tablets of stone which had the Law of Moses written on them. (The Greek word is "marturia," Strong's number 3141.)

John 21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? 24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony (3141) is true. 25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony (3141) of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony (3141) of Jesus Christ.

Given John's identification of his work as the testimony of Jesus Christ, it seems very likely that he too understood Isaiah 8 just as Peter's epistles indicate. It seems reasonable to consider that Peter and John both understood themselves to be involved in providing a written record (witness or testimony) for the church that was equal to the writings of the Law of Moses and the Prophets which made up the Old Testament canon.

The final verse in the New Testament to use this Greek word "marturia" (Strong's number 3141) is Revelation 19:10.

Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony (3141) of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony (3141) of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

The important point from Revelation 19:10 is the angels statement that the "testimony (marturia) of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy." Earlier, we noted that Matthew 11:13 stated that "the Law and the Prophets prophesied." And we have seen Peter in 2 Peter 1:19-21 speaking of his and John's (and later Paul's, 2 Peter 3:15-16) work along with the Old Testament scriptural texts as prophecy.

2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Here in Revelation 19:10, the angel tells John that the "testimony" of Jesus Christ (which John was to write, Revelation 1:2 and 9) is the spirit of prophecy. This verse helps connect two important concepts that the New Testament writers understood about the idea of written scripture.

First, to the apostles, written scripture was an act of prophecy in that it was guided by the Holy Spirit. Second, written scripture was a testimony of God's teaching both in the Old Testament (through the writings of Moses and also of the Prophets) and in the New Testament work of men who had been witnesses to Christ's New Covenant (the Law of Christ). Of these witnesses, Peter has singled out himself and John as being involved in an effort to ensure that the church could always remember the teachings of Christ even after the apostles had died.

Before we leave 2 Peter, we should remember that in verse 15 of chapter 3, Peter refers to ALL of Paul's letters. This is strong evidence that by the mid 60's AD, Paul's writings had already been collected and that Peter himself at least had a copy of this collection. In fact, Peter's words imply that a collection of Paul's writings was at least widespread enough for even heretics to have copies to twist and distort.

Finally, Peter's identification of Paul's writings as scripture is an important indicator of what exactly Peter himself had in mind as a sufficient means of reminding the church of Christ's teachings after he had passed away. Peter has given us three indicators that a body of written material is what he had in mind as the means to be an ongoing reminder to the church. The first is Peter's use of the Greek word "graphe" in 2 Peter 1. This Greek word is used exclusively in the New Testament to speak of the Old Testament texts. This means that Peter had written documents in mind. Second is Peter's comparison of his and John's work as equal to the Old Testament texts while stating his intention to remind the church of Christ's teachings even after his death. The third is Peter's similar comparison of documents written by Paul as scripture (using the same Greek word for sacred, "writings."

From all this we can clearly see that the apostles viewed their own writings as sacred scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit and on par with the Old Testament texts.

The key question of our study was who collected and authorized the New Testament canon and when. Peter's second epistle, affirms indications from the second century church that this canonization was, in fact, accomplished by the apostles in the first century. More specifically, we know that Peter himself identifies his work, John's work, and Paul's works as scripture. And Peter does so while explaining his intention to ensure that the church would always have remembrance of the truth (even after the apostles had died). And we know that Peter seems to already have possessed a collection of all of Paul's epistles.

These facts, when put together, strongly indicate that Peter was involved in the authorizing and collecting of a particular body of apostolic writings for the purposes of reminding the church of the truth (after the apostles died). This collection at least included Peter's work, John's work, and Paul's work. And in effect, by laboring to give the church something to remind them always of the truth even after his death, Peter was, involved in authorizing a scriptural canon. This is even more evident when one takes a look at the material contained in the writings Peter was referring to. All of these texts have a strong emphasis on proclaiming correct Christian teaching and refuting false teaching. The inclusion of Paul's epistles is just another example demonstrating that the formation of a doctrinal canon was the key intent of this collection.

Before we proceed to consider the question of whether or not (and how) Peter received a collection of Paul's writings, we should first take some time to consider the amount of New Testament books that these three men (Peter, Paul, and John) were responsible for.

Paul authored at least 13 epistles. He wrote 9 epistles to seven different church communities (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians). And Paul also wrote four personal or pastoral epistles (two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon.) Additionally, there is good reason to conclude that the Book of Hebrews was also written by Paul.

The apostle Peter wrote two epistles. John the apostle authored the Gospel of John, three epistles, and the Book of Revelation.

Based just on this information, Peter's remarks in 2 Peter would include a very significant portion of the books of the New Testament. The only books that Peter's comments do not specifically include are the epistles of James and Jude along with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and Luke's sequel, the Book of Acts. This means that Peter's remarks authorized the canonization of at least 21 of the 27 books of the New Testament. This is an important biblical and historic point that goes a long way in explaining how Polycarp and Ignatius, in the early decades of the second century possessed and quoted from a large segment of the New Testament and used it to remind the church of Christian teaching.

But, beyond these 21 books that specifically bear their names and direct authorship, all but 3 of the remaining books of the New Testament are also attributable to Peter and Paul.

In the New Testament, Luke (who authored a Gospel and the book of Acts) is referred to as an associate and travelling companion of Paul's.

Colossians 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me.

Philemon 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

The early church identified Luke's Gospel and the Book of Acts as works that were sourced from Paul's preaching and Luke's time with Paul. Irenaeus himself, writing at about 180 AD, makes it clear that this was the early church's understanding of the historical developments that led to Luke's Gospel (and Acts).

Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. I.--THE APOSTLES DID NOT COMMENCE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, OR TO PLACE ANYTHING ON RECORD, UNTIL THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH THE GIFTS AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY PREACHED ONE GOD ALONE, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.

Similarly, Irenaeus notes that Mark's Gospel was actually Peter's account.

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews(3) in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. I.--THE APOSTLES DID NOT COMMENCE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, OR TO PLACE ANYTHING ON RECORD, UNTIL THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH THE GIFTS AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY PREACHED ONE GOD ALONE, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.

Papias, writing in about 130 AD, confirms the historical record provided by Irenaeus that Mark's Gospel is actually Peter's account of the teachings of Jesus' Christ.

"Papias - fl. A.D. 130, early Christian theologian said to have been bishop of Hieropolis and a friend of St. Polycarp. Papias' five-volume work, Oracles; or, Explanations of the Sayings of the Lord, survives only in fragments quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea and St. Irenaeus. These are valuable sources for the history of the church." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

[Papias] has given in the following words]: And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. [This is what is related by Papias regarding Mark; but with regard to Matthew he has made the following statements]: Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could. - VI.(10) - Papias

From these historical references, we can see that the material contained in Luke's Gospel came from the apostle Paul and that the Book of Mark contained Peter's account of the gospel. Because of this, we can reasonably add these men's works to those we have already included in Peter's identification of New Testament scripture. (We will see further justification for the inclusion of Luke and Mark's works momentarily.)

At this point, the only books that are not specifically included by Peter's remarks would be Matthew's Gospel and the epistles of James and Jude. That's only 3 of the 27 books of the New Testament. Of course, we are not intending to exclude these three books. We are only pointing out that Peter has specifically identified at least 24 of the 27 books of the New Testament as scripture. And we have also noted that Peter provided this identification while informing the church of an effort he was involved in to ensure that the church would be able to remember Christ's teaching even after he had passed away.

These facts are important as we return to the question of how Peter himself may have come to possess all of Paul's letters. And they are important for our larger question concerning whether the apostles themselves may have collected and canonized the books of the New Testament.

To understand what may have been happening in the final years of Paul and Peter's lives and their collection of written material for the purposes of a New Testament canon, we turn to Paul's writings. In his second epistle, Peter wrote of his pending death alongside his efforts to remind the church of Christ's teaching even after he died. He then went on to justify his authority to do so and to compare his efforts to the written texts of the Old Testament. Turning to 2 Timothy 4, we can see that Paul makes some remarks which are quite similar to Peter's comments in 2 Peter 1.

The first thing to note from Paul's statements in 2 Timothy 4 is that, like Peter, Paul expresses that he knew that he would soon die.

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Beyond the similarity that both men were writing shortly before their deaths, Paul makes several additional points that are closely related to Peter's words in 2 Peter.

2 Timothy 4:9 Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. 12 And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. 13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments….21 Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.

In verses 9-13 and 21, Paul repeatedly told Timothy to come to him (at Rome) before he died. Second, note that in verse 11, Paul indicates that Luke is already with him. This is important because we have already seen that Luke accompanied Paul and assisted him in his work in the church. But it is also important because we have also learned that Luke's Gospel (along with Acts) is Luke account of Paul's life and mission. So, here before he dies, Paul is with Luke, who authors a gospel of Paul's account of Jesus' teaching.

We must also keep in mind that Paul's death is dated to the mid to late 60's AD. In the Book of Acts, Luke continues to chronicle the history of the Christian church. As the book proceeds, Luke's focus turns to Paul. Though Luke records Paul's arrival in Rome and his teaching there under house arrest, Luke does not record Paul's trial or death. This is strong evidence that Acts (as well as Luke's Gospel which preceded it) were written before Paul's death. This is significant because here in 2 Timothy 4, Paul (before he dies) attests that Luke was there with him. Because of this information, we can be fairly certain that Luke had already written Paul's account of the Gospel and the Book of Acts when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.

We should also notice that after Paul mentions Luke in verse 11, he then tells Timothy to bring Mark with him when he came to Rome. We have already seen that Mark was Peter's assistant in his work similar to Luke's work with Paul. Papias and Irenaeus identify Mark's Gospel as Peter's account of Jesus' life and teaching. But why does Paul want Timothy to bring Mark with him? In verse 11, Paul states his purpose saying that Mark was of some use to Paul in "the ministry." But what did Paul specifically need Mark for? He already had Luke with him and Timothy was going to come to him soon. We will return to the question of Mark's involvement in a moment. In the meantime, let's continue with Paul's remarks in 2 Timothy 4.

After telling Timothy to bring Mark with him, Paul goes on to tell Timothy to bring with him the books and especially the parchments (verse 13). Now this is a very interesting remark which is highly relevant to our study. Paul, like Peter, writes knowing he is soon to pass on. With him is Luke who, by this time, had probably finished the Book of Acts as well as his Gospel. (Both books record Paul's account of the Gospel of Christ.) Paul then tells Timothy to bring Mark (Peter's assistant) who wrote Peter's account of the Gospel. According to most scholars, Mark's was the earliest of the Gospels to be written. Since it is likely that Luke's gospel and Acts were already finished at this point, this would mean that Mark's Gospel was also already completed. We also know from Peter's epistles, that Mark was with him near the end of his life.

1 Peter 5:13 The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.

And we have seen that Peter most likely had a collection of all of Paul's letters. At the time we wondered how Peter would have gotten such a collection of Paul's letters. Here in 2 Timothy 4, Paul has provided an explanation.

After telling Timothy to bring Mark with him for some specific purpose (verse 13), Paul specifically tells Timothy to bring the books and especially the parchments. We must be very clear here, Paul has just identified a COLLECTION of written documents (both books and parchments). This is critical. What can we assume these books and parchments were? It is completely reasonable to conclude that they at least included letters from Paul which were in Timothy's possession. Given the parties involved here this conclusion seems almost certain. There is a very reasonable expectation that between Luke and Timothy, all of Paul's letters were present at this important meeting. Because of this, we can safely conclude that Paul's 13-14 letters as well as Luke's Gospel, the Book of Acts, and most likely Mark's Gospel were all present at this gathering of Paul, Luke, Timothy, and Mark.

So, in 2 Timothy 4, Paul tells Timothy to bring Mark and the books and parchments to him (and Luke) in Rome. In 1 Peter, Mark is with Peter. And in 2 Peter 3, we see that Peter seems to have ALL of Paul's letters. The obvious explanation for Peter's knowledge of all of Paul's letters is that Peter got a copy of Paul's letters from Mark who had gone to Rome with Timothy slightly before Paul's death.

From these scriptural facts, we can see that the New Testament itself indicates that both Paul and Peter were directing efforts to collect a body of written documents for the purposes of passing on their teaching to the church after their deaths. This endeavor by Peter and Paul also involved Luke, Mark, Timothy, and John. As we have already said, the written materials possessed and authored by these men at this time would, at the very least, have included all but 3 of the 27 New Testament books (Matthew's gospel and the epistles of James and Jude).

Now, we must keep in mind that Paul and Peter's writings (as well as that of Luke and Mark) were all completed prior to the middle to late of the 60's AD. This is nearly three decades before John the apostle writes the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament canon. Likewise, John's gospel and his three epistles were not written until late in his life, perhaps just prior to John's receiving the apocalyptic vision.

In fact, Revelation 1 may indicate that John had already written his gospel account. At the very beginning of the book, before he even explains the vision or mentions that Christ commanded him to record it, John identifies himself. He states that he bore record of the Word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ. By identifying himself in this way, John may be indicating that he had already authored a record (or testimony) of Jesus in his Gospel account.

Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record (3140) of the word of God, and of the testimony (3141) of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

In any case, it is generally accepted that John's gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written. The other three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are considered the synoptic gospels because their accounts coincide fairly strongly with one another. However, John's gospel is different from the earlier gospels and fills in additional material that is not presented in the other three.

So, there is a gap of some two and a half decades between the writing and collection of Paul and Peter's final works and the writing of John's final books. But as we have seen, before his death Peter specifically identifies John in association with Peter's endeavor to provide the church with a written reminder of Christ's teachings after Peter's death. Because Peter and Paul died so much earlier and collected their works so much earlier (along with Mark's and Luke's), this means that the final work of canonizing the New Testament canon fell to John.

In fact, John's writings bear some evidence of John's awareness of his role in completing this apostolic undertaking. The final verses of John's gospel specifically speak about John's written work in the context of the writing of books for the purposes of providing a record and testimony of Jesus Christ.

John 21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

Even John's remarks in his first epistle (and third epistle) seem to echo Peter's remarks in 2 Peter 3. Both men emphasize that they were reporting what they themselves were eyewitnesses of (1 John 1:1-3, 1 John 4:14, 3 John 1:12, 2 Peter 1:16-18). In Peter's epistle, Peter's remarks about he and John being eyewitnesses is in specific reference to their seeing Jesus' transfiguration and hearing the voice of God declare that Jesus was his Son (2 Peter 1:16-18). John may have had in mind this same specific event. In 1 John 1:1 and 5, he uses similar language speaking of what they had seen with their own eyes and heard. In verse 3, John says "with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." This may parallel Peter's reference to the transfiguration and the voice which both he and John heard, which said "This is my Son…." Lastly, both men indicate their intention to preserve their testimony of Christ in written form for the church (2 Peter 1:15-21, 2 Peter 3:15-16, 1 John 1:4, John 21:24-25).

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. 5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:…

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

3 John 1:12 Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. 13 I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:

2 Peter 1:12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. 13 Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. 15 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. 16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. 19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

We should note that John's writings alternate at times between a personal testimony of John using first person singular pronouns and a testimony using first person plural pronouns. This alternating fits with the Muratorian canon's assertion that John's Gospel and epistles involved a collaboration with the apostle Andrew, Peter's brother, and other eyewitnesses of Christ. Acts 1:15, 20-23 indicate that there were 120 disciples gathered in the upper room and that a certain number of them had been with Jesus and the disciples from the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry. We also know that Paul informs us in 1 Corinthians 15:5-9 that there were over 500 eyewitnesses. Some of these men could still have been alive when John wrote and could have assisted John in his work.

In any case, the final collection of the books of the New Testament fell to the apostle John and those who were with him. In considering this, it is important to remember that both Timothy and John spent their final years in the city of Ephesus.

Saint John the Apostle - John's subsequent history is obscure and passes into the uncertain mists of legend. At the end of the 2nd century, Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, claims that John's tomb is at Ephesus, identifies him with the beloved disciple, and adds that he "was a priest, wearing the sacerdotal plate, both martyr and teacher." That John died in Ephesus is also stated by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon c. ad 180, who says John wrote his Gospel and letters at Ephesus and Revelation at Patmos. - britannica.com

Saint Timothy - bishop of Ephesus; born , Lystra, Lycaonia; died ad 97, Ephesus [now in Turkey];… In the Pastoral Epistles he is solely in charge of the Christians at Ephesus, possibly the site of his release from prison as chronicled in Hebrews 13:23. - britannica.com

Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. I.--THE APOSTLES DID NOT COMMENCE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, OR TO PLACE ANYTHING ON RECORD, UNTIL THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH THE GIFTS AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY PREACHED ONE GOD ALONE, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.

Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. III.--A REFUTATION OF THE HERETICS, FROM THE FACT THAT, IN THE VARIOUS CHURCHES, A PERPETUAL SUCCESSION OF BISHOPS WAS KEPT UP.

We have seen from 2 Timothy 4, that Timothy was among those present when Paul (along with Luke and Mark) collected Paul's (and Luke's) written documents. (Mark's gospel is likely also to have been collected at this time since it had already been written.) And now, we learn that the apostle John was with Timothy in Ephesus until the times of emperor Trajan whose reign began in 98 AD.

Trajan - Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus, commonly known as Trajan ( 18 September 52 - 9 August 117 ), was a Roman Emperor who reigned from 98 A. D. until his death in 117 A. D. - wikipedia.org,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan

So, both John and Timothy died in Ephesus at or around 97-98 AD. Timothy had previously been with Paul and personally brought a collection of writings to Rome as Paul, Luke, Mark, and himself likely gathered their materials for the New Testament canon before Paul's death. Scripturally and historically speaking, it is very likely that John finished the compilation of the New Testament canon in Ephesus at about 97 AD in accordance with Peter and Paul's intentions and efforts and assisted by some of the remaining eyewitnesses and Christian leaders there. Those there who could have helped John in this task may have included Timothy and even the apostle Andrew (Peter's brother). Through the work of these men we can see that even 70 years later, the Holy Spirit continued to bring the apostles into remembrance of everything Jesus taught them just as Jesus had said he would.

John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

This New Testament information (along with additional historical information) is very helpful in determining when and where the New Testament canon was put together. We know that the fourth century councils of Hippo and Carthage affirmed the list of New Testament books. From Irenaeus, we can see that this fourth century conciliar affirmation may have been necessitated by Gnostic heretical activities of the second century. Beginning at that time various Gnostics sought to remove some of the New Testament books, edit others, and introduce novel Gnostic writings of their own.

But we have also seen from Irenaeus and the Muratorian canon that by the start of the final quarter of the second century the New Testament canon existed. It was so universally known that Christian apologists simply appealed to the authoritative texts in refutation of false doctrine. (In fact, the New Testament must have been well known by this time because even the heretics had copies of it which they sought to alter.)

However, the New Testament was not an accomplishment of either the fourth century church councils or of the second century church. Ignatius (who wrote before his death 107 AD) and Polycarp (writing before 135 AD) quote all (or nearly all) of the New Testament books. This informs us that the collection of the New Testament canon must have taken place at the very close of the first century. Like Irenaeus after them, these men cite New Testament verses expecting that they would be well known and recognized by their readers. And just as Peter himself had said in his second epistle, these men used the New Testament quotes to remind the church of Christ's teaching as it was transmitted by the apostles and early witnesses before they died.

Information from the New Testament itself provides the necessarily explanation for the existence of the New Testament canon in the writings of Christian leaders in the early decades of second century. The writings of these men provide clear evidence of the existence of the New Testament canon at that time. And they demonstrate that is collected canon resulted from the efforts of the apostles themselves beginning in the mid 60's AD.

An early part of this canonization began with Paul, Luke, Mark, and Timothy. These men collected the works they had among them and which they had written. Peter may then have added his epistles to this collection.

It is also possible that Peter had a copy of Matthew's Gospel as well as James and Jude's epistles at that time. Peter himself had remained in Jerusalem many years until the end of his life. James and Jude were both leaders of the Jerusalem church along with Peter. Both of their works had been written before Peter and Paul's deaths in the mid to late 60's AD. (James died in 62 AD. Jude died around 65 AD.)

Irenaeus reports that Matthew wrote his gospel before Peter and Paul died.

1. WE have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.(2) For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews(3) in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. - Irenaeus, Book III, CHAP. I.--THE APOSTLES DID NOT COMMENCE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, OR TO PLACE ANYTHING ON RECORD, UNTIL THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH THE GIFTS AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY PREACHED ONE GOD ALONE, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.

It is quite possible then that Peter possessed copies of Matthew's Gospel as well as James and Jude's epistles. If that is the case then these additional documents may even have been collected when Mark met Paul, Luke, and Timothy in Rome. But it is also possible that John was the one to add Matthew, James, and Jude's work to the collection. He too remained in Jerusalem for a long time with the other apostles. He may have collected their works while there and added them to the others later in Ephesus.

In any case, we know these remaining three books (Matthew, James, and Jude) were part of the canon through our surveys of Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and the Muratorian fragment. John the apostle would certainly have had all these works available to him in Ephesus as he finished the canonization of the New Testament somewhere in the mid 90's AD. He was perhaps assisted by other eyewitnesses including perhaps Timothy and the apostle Andrew. Just before this time, John's Gospel, his three epistles, and the Book of Revelation were written. These books would then have been added to the collection accomplished by Peter, Paul, Mark, Luke, and Timothy two and a half decades earlier.

After this, the collection of New Testament books must have been passed on and distributed to the churches starting in the region of Asia Minor. This conclusion is supported by the fact that very early in the second century both Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch seem to have possessed a complete collection of the New Testament texts which they speak of and quote as if these texts were known to their readers. Both men (Ignatius and Polycarp) were disciples of the apostle John. And both men oversaw churches in Asia Minor. This fact explains how both men would have had a collection of the New Testament at such an early period. Since the New Testament canon would have been completed by John (and others) in Ephesus by 97 AD, Polycarp and Ignatius who had been John's disciples and who lived in the nearby communities of Smyrna and Antioch can be expected to have had an early edition of this collection. Likewise, this explains why Polycarp's disciple, Irenaeus, himself possessed a collection of the New Testament canon.

All of these facts demonstrate the that an apostolic canonization of the New Testament texts is reasonable historically and biblically. Without an apostolic collection and canonization it is difficult to explain the pervasive usage of the New Testament books in the works of individual authors just decades into the second century. The apostolic canonization of the New Testament is also helpful in explaining the fact that almost all of the New Testament can be re-constructed from the quotations provided in the Christian writings dating before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

In addition, the fact that Paul and Peter collected their works along with those of Mark and Luke (and perhaps Matthew, James, and Jude) some two and a half decades before John completed the task may explain some additional biblical and historical details. It would have taken at least some amount of time for the collection of the New Testament books by Paul and Peter (and later by John) to circulate to the church communities. The gap between the circulation of these two collections may explain the occurrence of some textual variation in the surviving manuscript traditions. For instance, it may perhaps be the case that John and those who assisted him were responsible for the additional material such as the final verses at the end of Mark's gospel.

In closing this short study, it is important to note that the conclusions that we have put forward are not original, but were first presented by others (including Dr. Ernest L. Martin). What we sought to do in this study is to connect the key information in the relevant biblical information with the information found in the earliest post-canonical writers like Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus. In doing so, it seems that the acceptance of an apostolic canonization of the New Testament is not only biblically and historically reasonable, but it is warranted in order to explain certain historical realities. The chief historical reality that apostolic canonization explains is how it is that by the first quarter of the second century the church already possessed and was using the New Testament canon.