Who Wrote the New Testament Books? Who Authorized them as Scripture Canon?
All the Koine Greek Scriptures were written in the 1st century after the time of Christ. Here’s a list of the authors God used to write the New Testament Scriptures, followed by the texts they wrote, 27 books in total (the number following each book is the year it was written AD):
- Matthew: Matthew (67)
- Mark: Mark (66)
- Luke: Luke (63) and Acts (64)
- John: John (85), 1 John (90-95), 2 John (90-95), 3 John (90-95) and Revelation (94-96)
- James (this was likely Jesus’ brother; see Galatians 1:19): James (50)
- Peter: 1 Peter (67-68) and 2 Peter (68)
- Jude: Jude (68)
- Paul: Romans (57-58), 1 Corinthians (57), 2 Corinthians (57), Galatians (55), Ephesians (62-63),Philippians (62-63), Colossians (62-63), 1 Thessalonians (52-53), 2 Thessalonians (52-53), 1 Timothy (65), 2 Timothy (66), Titus (65), Philemon (62-63)
- The author of Hebrews (67) is undetermined, but Paul is the top candidate with Apollos, Barnabas and Luke being other possibilities.
As you can see, Paul was the vessel most used by God to write the New Testament Scriptures, at least as far as totality of books is concerned. He wrote 23% of the New Testament, but 28% if he was the writer of Hebrews. Either way, Paul wrote roughly ¼ of the New Testament. Luke only wrote two books, but they constitute 27% of the New Testament. John’s output came to 20%.
Who Authorized the New Testament Books as Scripture?
As far as who verified these books as Scripture, the immediate answer is God since the writers of these books “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). In regards to what human authorities confirmed these books as Scripture and when, here’s a list:
- Various New Testament texts were spread between the assemblies (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27 & 2 Thessalonians 3:14).
- Peter plainly referred to Paul’s epistles as Scripture, which basically confirms all of Paul’s letters to the churches as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
- Paul put some writings by Luke on the same level of Old Testament Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18, Deuteronomy 25:4 & Luke 10:7).
- In AD 95 Clement of Rome noted a minimum of 8 New Testament books.
- In 108 AD Polycarp, a student of the apostle John, recognized 15 books.
- In 115 AD Ignatius of Antioch recognized roughly 7.
- In 185 AD Irenaeus noted 21.
- Hippolytus (170-235 AD) acknowledged 22.
The Earliest Known Canon of New Testament Scripture
The word ‘canon’ comes from the Greek kanónas (can-ON-as), which means “rule” or “measuring stick” (literally “straight rod”). It refers to the set of texts that a group acknowledges as authoritative. ‘Canon’ isn’t just used in religious circles, of course; Star Trek novels, for instance, are considered non-canon in the fictional Star Trek universe.
After the Marcionite canon, which listed nine of Paul’s New Testament epistles, the Muratorian Canon circa 170 AD, aka the Muratorian Fragment, was the earliest known canon of New Testament Scripture. This catalog featured all of what became the New Testament except the epistles Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 2 Peter while the mini-epistles 2 John and 3 John were considered possibilities. This indicates that the essential texts that would ultimately be accepted as New Testament canon were already acknowledged by early believers 143-146 years after Christ’s crucifixion. These scriptural writings offered a consistent statement on the nature of Christ, the Messiah’s substitutionary death and repentance/faith being the keys to spiritual rebirth, reconciliation with God and receiving eternal life. All of which embodied true Christian orthodoxy in the early decades of the Church.*
* ‘Orthodox,’ by the way, literally means “correct view” – aka the genuinely biblical view – and shouldn’t be confused with what some groups call “orthodox,” which to them is a code word for agreeing with their sect’s official doctrines, whether they’re biblical or not. For details see this article. For details on the inherent problems of sectarianism see this article.
For example, the books cited in the Muratorian Fragment establish fourteen fundamental truths of Christianity:
- Christ is Lord (Acts 2:36, 16:31, Romans 10:6-13, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 2 Corinthians 4:5, Ephesians 3:11, Philippians 2: 9-11, 3:8 & Jude 1:17). In the Romans passage the Lord Christ is paralleled with YHWH — the Tetragrammaton — used in the Old Testament Scriptures.
- Jesus is God (Matthew 1:23, 28:16-17, John 1:1–3, 8:58-59, 10:30-33, 14:9, 17:22, 20:27-29 & Philippians 2:6–8, Colossians 2:9 & Titus 2:13).
- God is Father/Son/Holy Spirit.
- The Lord was incarnated (John 1:14, 18:37, Galatians 4:4, Philippians 2:6–8 & Colossians 2:9).
- The Messiah perished in place of fallen humanity and was raised to life for our justification (Acts 2:22-24, Romans 4:25, 5:6, 5:8, 8:32, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 5:21, Ephesians 5:2 & Titus 2:13-14).
- The Anointed One was bodily resurrected from the dead (Luke 24:36-43, Acts 1:3, 2:24-35 & 1 Corinthians 15:2-4).
- Spiritual regeneration is necessary for eternal salvation (John 3:3, 3:5-6, 2 Corinthians 5:17 & Titus 3:5).
- The message of Christ is about reconciling with God (John 14:6 & 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
- Immortality and eternal life are only available through the gospel (John 3:16, 3:36, 6:47, Romans 2:7 & 2 Timothy 1:10).
- Salvation is by God’s graciousness thru faith, which naturally results in works (Ephesians 2:8-10, Acts 15:11, Romans 3:24, 9:16 & Ephesians 2:5
- Believers are not under the Law of Moses, but under God’s grace via the law of Christ, which is the law of love (Romans 6:14, 7:6, Galatians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Galatians 6:2 & Matthew 22:36-40).
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit and the benefits that go with it (shhh, no one wants to talk about this today).
- The eternal habitation of the redeemed is the new heavens and new earth whereupon the New Jerusalem will “come down out of heaven from God” to be established in the physical realm (Revelation 3:12, 21:10 & Revelation 21-22; this is supported by 2 Peter 3:13 which wasn’t yet verified as Scripture in this particular catalog).
- Human damnation in Gehenna/the lake of fire results in literal everlasting destruction (Matthew 7:13-14, 10:28, 13:40, Luke 19:27, John 3:16, 3:36, 12:25, Romans 6:23, 8:13, Galatians 6:8, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:10 & Revelation 20:11-15).
All the texts verified by the Muratorian Canon support what the book of Hebrews calls the six basic doctrines of Christianity, which is essentially the biblical “statement of faith” of genuine Christianity.
This shows that well prior to the official recognition of the complete New Testament canon, the Muratorian Fragment established that believers in the early Church possessed copies of texts with apostolic verification. It was from these scriptural writings that Christians in the early years corroborated their core doctrines concerning the nature and work of the Mighty Christ, how to escape eternal death, how to reconcile and commune with God, how to apprehend eternal life and how to walk in newness of life, free of the flesh.
Later Canons of New Testament Scripture
The Council of Laodicea in 363 AD specified all the books of the New Testament as Scripture, except for Revelation. Two later Councils – the Council of Hippo (393 AD) and the Council of Carthage (397 AD) – also affirmed the same 26 books as authoritative along with the book of Revelation, for a total of 27 New Testament books. Revelation was, of course, already established as canon over 220 years earlier in the Muratorian Canon. You can compare the various canons here (scroll down to the colored diagram).
What questions did church leaders ask to verify which scrolls should be part of the New Testament canon? Obviously questions like: Can the cited author be verified? Was the author a Christ-ordained apostle or closely linked to them? Does the doctrinal content correspond to already-acknowledged Scripture? Does the ethical standards comply with established Judeo-Christian morality? Was the text accepted by the body of Christ at large?
Keep in mind that the LORD had already determined the books of the New Testament in the 1st century because the Holy Spirit moved upon the various authors to write them (2 Peter 1:21). It was simply a matter of Church leaders recognizing these God-breathed Scriptures and assembling them into a unit, which we know as the New Testament.
The New Testament Scriptures did Not come through the Catholic Church
Someone wrote me with this point:
You trust the New Testament canon to be the Word of God even though these Scriptures came through the hands of the Church Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church.
This argument is based on the erroneous premise of validation through physical lineage, which didn’t wash in the 1st century when the Pharisees & Sadducees relied on the same argument to support their authority (Matthew 3:7-10 & John 8:39-44). It’s spiritual lineage that counts (Galatians 5:6 & 6:15). And anyone spiritually regenerated by the Holy Spirit thru Jesus Christ can trace their lineal descent to the 1st century Church because those early believers were born-again of the same Spirit thru the same Lord (John 3:3,6 & Titus 3:5).
But, to answer the question, did the New Testament Scriptures come through the church fathers of Catholicism? Absolutely not because the Roman Catholic Church didn’t even exist yet since its origins were forged at the Council of Nicaea in Asia Minor (Turkey) in 325 AD. At this council the dubiously-converted Roman Emperor Constantine, who mixed Christianity with paganism, attempted to unite Christendom because he envisioned Christianity uniting the deteriorating Roman Empire. While some good things came out of this historic council, like upholding the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, it mixed Christianity with politics and the temptations of power and corruption thereof. Later in that century Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, which is essentially when Catholicism was born.
The Roman Church fell into increasing error. Christ & the apostles warned of this in the Scriptures (Matthew 7:15-23, Acts 20:28–32, 2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Peter 2:1 & Jude 1:4). The acceptance of Augustine’s false doctrines in 431 AD at the Council of Ephesus was the prologue to a thousand year dark age where all kinds of absurd unbiblical doctrines & practices were embraced by the Roman Church and accumulated. These amassing corruptions are what prompted the great Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
As noted above, the Muratorian Canon circa 170 AD already listed all the books of what is known as the New Testament except for Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 2 Peter, plus the mini-epistles 2 John and 3 John. This was 155 years before the Council of Nicaea.
I realize that the Roman Catholic Church claims it began with Peter, whom they say was the first pope — that is, bishop of Rome — but the proof is in the pudding of Scripture, which is God’s established pattern for authentic Christianity. And nowhere in the God-breathed Scriptures will you find support for doctrines & practices like these:
- The papacy, a supreme human leader of Christianity on earth. Actually Christ is the head of the church and fivefold ministers, e.g. pastors and teachers, are under-shepherds who lead in a servant-like fashion (Acts 15:1-23, Galatians 2:1-14, Ephesians 2:19-20, 4:11-13 & 1 Peter 5:1-5).
- Apostolic succession, the idea that the (supposed) supreme earthly authority of the papacy is transferred from pope to pope (ditto).
- Papal infallibility, which is easily refuted (1 John 1:8-9). It’s the God-breathed Scriptures that are infallible, not a particular human leader in the Church (Isaiah 8:20 & 40:8, Matthew 5:18, John 10:35, Acts 17:10-12, 20:32 & 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
- Equating extrabiblical traditions with the authority of Scripture (Mark 7:8).
- Mary worship. Whilst Mary was highly favored of God and rightly considered blessed by all generations (Luke 1:28 & 1:48), she’s not to be worshipped, which both the apostles and holy angels utterly rejected (Acts 10:25–26, 14:13–15, Revelation 19:10 & 22:9). Worship is for God Alone.
- Praying to dead saints or Mary (Matthew 6:9, Romans 8:26-27, 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 4:16, 7:25). Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to pray to someone who physically died; in fact, we are commanded not to do this (Leviticus 20:27 & Deuteronomy 18:10-13). Nowhere does the Bible suggest that believers who have passed away are praying for people on earth. This article details the believer’s intermediate state in heaven and the activities thereof. Only the omnipotent, omniscient LORD can hear all the millions of prayers on earth and address them accordingly and adequately.
- Obsession with religious statues in worship, which smacks of idolatry, even though the Bible forbids the use of images in worship (Exodus 20:4–5). Interestingly, the Catholic Church summarizes the second of the Ten Commandments as “you shall not have other gods beside me,” but they outrageously omit “you shall not make for yourself a carved image” and “you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Why? Obviously because the Catholic Church has a long history of borderline idolatry with its use of statues and iconography in worship, so they just cut out the part of the Scripture passage they didn’t like!
- Confession to priests. Actually all believers are priests of God (1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:6 & 5:10) and we are to confess directly to the LORD (1 John 1:8-9 & Hebrews 4:16) and other believers in general as led of the Spirit (James 5:16). Of course you have to be wise in the latter because false believers or carnal believers will use negative data against you, e.g. gossip/slander.
- Infant baptism, which isn’t taught anywhere in the New Testament because a person has to willingly choose Christ (Romans 10:9-13) and of course infants are incapable of doing this.
- Celibacy mandated for Church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2).
- Transubstantiation, the curious claim that the bread & wine at the Lord’s Supper celebration literally morphs into the body and blood of Christ.
- The absurd selling of indulgences, which were aggressively marketed prior to the Reformation to fund the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Rome. To Reformers, it smacked of the purchase and sale of salvation.
All of these extra-biblical errors were made up as they went along and became “tradition,” which Catholics consider equal with Scripture.
Christendom tends to give Catholicism a pass on these unbiblical items because the Roman Church is so huge and goes back to the approximate time of Augustine, but imagine if any non-Catholic group adopted these kinds of doctrines/practices today; it would be scandalous because they’re so outrageously unscriptural.
These blatant problems with Catholicism shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that someone who identifies as a Catholic cannot be a genuine believer. I’ve met several Catholics over the decades who struck me as sincere believers. God is not interested in the tag people go by, but with what’s going on in their hearts. For instance, if you put a label of corn on a can of beans, it wouldn’t make the beans a can of corn.
That said, the LORD is concerned about what people believe because belief corresponds to faith, which determines their salvation and quality of spiritual growth, depending on the specific data the person believes, whether it’s true or false, scriptural or unscriptural. Obviously if what a Christian believes is unbiblical, it will naturally have a negative impact on his/her relationship with God and spiritual growth. This is why the above twelve issues with Catholicism (and more) need to be exposed and purged from a Christian’s belief system, whatever tag s/he goes by. This is why I’m exposing them here, not to be mean to Catholics.
Getting back to the New Testament canon, the Church authorities noted above recognized which books from the 1st century belonged to New Testament Scripture. God bless ’em, but none of these leaders had to be spiritual Einsteins to do this. And it certainly doesn’t validate the gross errors of the Roman Catholic Church noted.
The Scriptures from the Early Church to the Present
In the early Church the apostles had actually walked with the Lord as his disciples while Paul later encountered the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Their accounts of Christ & the early Church (i.e. the four Gospels and Acts) and letters (Epistles), not to mention John’s prophecy of the Apocalypse, were passed from assembly to assembly – usually houses – and copied and spread. Church leaders had access to copied scrolls of Scripture, but actual books of the Bible – as we know them – didn’t exist until after the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century.
Here’s an interesting article on this point which you mind find of interest: Bible — You Own One at a Huge Price!
Meeting at the Blueprint for Christianity
All Christians — whatever sectarian tag they choose to go by — have to meet at the blueprint for Christianity, which is God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16) and what it clearly & consistently teaches from a New Covenant perspective based on sound hermeneutics.
Anyone who is of God will love the Living Word – Jesus Christ – who came from the Father, as well as love the written Word because the Living Word and the written Word are in agreement. Both are “truth” (John 14:6 & 17:17). This explains a rule that Paul & Apollos had in their ministries: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
This wise principle corresponds to something Jesus stressed:
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32 (NRSV)
Knowing the truth – that is, reality, the way it really is – is dependent upon devotion to God’s Word and “continuing” in it (which means not giving up after a season and not settling into an arrogant know-it-all rut). This explains why the noble Bereans went directly to the Scriptures to verify if Paul’s message was true or not (Acts 17:10-12). They didn’t go to their sect’s doctrinal hand-scroll, but to the God-breathed Scriptures. They understood that the Scriptures are the LORD’s blueprint for authentic Christianity.*
* You can read more about the Berean spirit here.
By contrast, those who go beyond God’s Word will not know the truth and therefore will not be set free by it. Such people will find themselves in bondage in one form or another, including religious bondage. This is always the case with those who go beyond what is written and add this or that to the Holy Scriptures, which is blatantly denounced in God’s word (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6 & Revelation 22:18-19). It’s something the Pharisees regularly did (Matthew 23:16-22, Mark 7:1–23, & Luke 11:42).
If you want clear proof that the Scriptures are God’s established pattern for authentic Christianity look no further than this passage where Paul instructs his protégé Timothy:
and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:15-17
According to this text, what is it that that’s going to make Timothy — and, by extension, any believer — wise? The Holy Scriptures! It goes on to explain why this is so: Because “all Scripture is God-breathed,” which simply means that the writers whom the LORD chose to chronicle Scripture “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). As such, Scripture is “useful” for several things: “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It’s through the rightly divided instruction of Scripture and the corrections & training thereof that we are “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Of course we understand that the Holy Spirit within the believer helps in accomplishing this (John 16:13 & 1 John 2:27). But notice that nothing is said about an infallible pope or an elaborate religious hierarchy being necessary to make you wise through teaching you, correcting you and training you. Yes, fivefold ministers (that is, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers) are instrumental in the healthy spiritual growth of disciples (Ephesians 4:11-13), but only according to their Spirit-led faithfulness to the God-breathed Scriptures in their loving teachings, exhortations, corrections and example!
Anyone who deviates from the God-breathed Scriptures by either adding unbiblical doctrines & practices or omitting vital material is not a genuine man or woman of God, no matter how authentic they claim to be. Whether or not their lineage can be traced back to the 1st century Church is irrelevant. This applies to groups as well. If a sect boasts of being the “one true Church,” but their doctrines & practices are grossly unbiblical, it tells you everything you need to know — head to the hills! Christ said: “LEAVE THEM; they are blind guides” (Matthew 15:14).
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