Open your Bible to the table of contents and take a look at the list of books in the New Testament. There, you’ll find the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John leading the list. But did this quartet of early Christians actually have any connection with the books that bear their names? Were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really the ones who wrote the Gospels? If so, how do we know?
“The more I probed the Bible,” Reza Aslan declares in the introduction to his bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, “the more distance I discovered between the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of history” (xix).
The result of this discovery—at least in Aslan’s estimation—is that the New Testament Gospels should be treated as texts that convey something other than “history.” Continue reading.
The claim has been repeated over and over that the first person to list the same twenty-seven books that we find in our New Testament today was Athanasius of Alexandria, in the year 367. When this claim comes from the lips of a skeptical scholar, it’s typically followed by a long leap to the conclusion that the New Testament canon was in flux until sometime in the late fourth century A.D. Such a supposition is, however, problematic at multiple levels.Continue reading.
The Canon of the New Testament and the Categories of Eusebius
The suggestion continues to be made by popular skeptics that the New Testament canon was in flux for hundreds of years. One scholar claims that no one came up with “a definitive list of books to be included in the canon that matched our list today” until “the famous Athanasian letter of 367 C.E. Even the powerful Athanasius could not settle the issue once and for all.” It’s true that, in the year 367, Athanasius of Alexandria did write a letter in which he listed the same twenty-seven books that appear in the New Testament today.
But that doesn’t mean that the canon of the New Testament was in complete flux until the end of the fourth century or later!Continue reading.
Recently, I had a conversation with Jonathan Petersen at Bible Gateway about the origin and meaning of the word “canon.” Here’s an excerpt from our discussion:
Jonathan: What is the definition of “canon”?
TPJ: The meaning of the word canon as we know it today can be traced back to how the Greeks used a certain reed, known as a kanon. The Greeks cut these reeds into specific lengths and used them as measuring sticks.Continue reading.