New Testament Canon

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New Testament Books

The New Testament Books were written by various authors, to various geographic regions, spread across time.

Book Date Audience
James ~45 AD Outside Palestine
Galatians ~48 AD Galatia
1 Thessalonians ~50 AD Thessalonica
2 Thessalonians ~50 AD Thessalonica
Mark ~53 AD Gentile believers
1 Corinthians ~55 AD Corinth
2 Corinthians ~56 AD Corinth
Romans ~57 AD Rome
Matthew ~60 AD Jewish Christians, likely in Syria
Ephesians ~62 AD Ephesus
Luke ~62 AD Theophilus (unknown person)
Acts ~62 AD Theophilus (unknown person)
Philippians ~62 AD Philippi
Colossians ~62 AD Colossae
Philemon ~62 AD Philemon in Colossae
1 Peter ~63 AD Asia Minor
Titus ~64 AD Titus at Island of Crete
1 Timothy ~64 AD Timothy in Ephesus
Hebrews ~65 AD Jewish Christians
2 Peter ~65 AD Asia Minor
Jude ~66 AD Jewish Christians
2 Timothy ~67 AD Timothy in Ephesus
1 John ~85 AD Likely Gentile Christians
2 John ~87 AD The elect lady and her children (unknown person)
John ~90 AD Asia Minor?
3 John ~92 AD Gaius (unknown person)
Revelation ~95 AD Christians suffering persecution

Note: The above dates are taken from the ESV's New Testament Timeline. Their exact accuracy isn't important - the sole point we're trying to make is that the New Testament books were written across time, and spread out geographically.

Development of New Testament Canon

The 27 books of the New Testament were not delivered to the door one day of the church in Jerusalem. Rather, they were written to various groups, spread across both the world and across time.

If a church father did not mention a book from the new testament, the typical reason was simply that he hadn’t seen it yet!

Also keep in mind that a document could speak only truths, and be beneficial to read, but not be part of canon.

Let us now examine what documents the church fathers called scripture over time, resulting in the formation of the New Testament canon.

Here's a great external resource for quotations of NT over time.

~155 AD: Justin Martyr

Refers to the gospels.

For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone.
- The First Apology, Chapter 66. Of the Eucharist.

~170 AD: Muratorian fragment

Includes 22 of the 27 books of the new testament.

  • Does not mention James, 1 & 2 Peter, Hebrews, and 3 John.
  • Includes Book of Wisdom.
  • Notes some accept Apocalypse of Peter, and The Shepherd of Hermas should be read but not on same level as other scripture.
  • Explicitly rejects several Apocrypha. which nevertheless he was present, and so he placed [them in his narrative]. The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John. The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, 'Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.' In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it. And so, though various elements may be taught in the individual books of the Gospels, nevertheless this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since by the one sovereign Spirit all things have been declared in all [the Gospels]: concerning the nativity, concerning the passion, concerning the resurrection, concerning life with his disciples, and concerning his twofold coming; the first in lowliness when he was despised, which has taken place, the second glorious in royal power, which is still in the future. What marvel is it then, if John so consistently mentions these particular points also in his Epistles, saying about himself, 'What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things we have written to you? For in this way he professes [himself] to be not only an eye-witness and hearer, but also a writer of all the marvelous deeds of the Lord, in their order. Moreover, the acts of all the apostles were written in one book. For 'most excellent Theophilus' Luke compiled the individual events that took place in his presence — as he plainly shows by omitting the martyrdom of Peter as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain. As for the Epistles of Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; 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). It is necessary for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans seventh. It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth. For John also in the Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, 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 in the esteem of the Church catholic for the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There is current also [an epistle] to the Laodiceans, [and] another to the Alexandrians, [both] forged in Paul's name to [further] the heresy of Marcion, and several others which cannot be received into the catholic Church - for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey. 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]; and [the book of] Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour. We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church. But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] 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. But we accept nothing whatever of Arsinous or Valentinus or Miltiades, who also composed a new book of psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides, the Asian founder of the Cataphrygians...
- The Muratorian Fragment

~180 AD: Irenaeus

  • Quotes from 21 of the 27 books of the New Testament.
  • Of the 6 remaining, he may refer to Hebrews, James, and 2 Peter.
  • He does not quote from Philemon, 3 John or Jude.
  • Identifies The Shepherd of Hermas as Scripture.
  • Identifies letter of 1 Clement as authoritative.
  • Condemns the Gospel of Judas.

The 4 Gospels

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews 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.
- Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1

Quoted NT Books

Scripture Quoted In
Matthew 1:1 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 16, Section 2
Mark 16:19 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 10, Section 5
Luke 1:2 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 14, Section 2
John 1:1 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 11, Section 1
Acts 20:5-6 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 14, Section 1
Acts 20:5-6 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 14, Section 1
Romans 1:1-4 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 16, Section 3
1 Corinthians 1:18 Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 3, Section 5
2 Corinthians 4:4 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 7, Section 1
Galatians 4:4 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 22, Section 1
Ephesians 5:30 Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 2, Section 3
Philippians 4:18 Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 18, Section 4
Colossians 3:11 Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 3, Section 4
1 Thessalonians 5:23 Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 6, Section 1
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 25, Section 3
1 Timothy 1:4 Against Heresies, Book I, Preface, Section 1
2 Timothy 4:10-11 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 14, Section 1
Titus 3:10 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, Section 4
1 Peter 1:8 Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 9, Section 2
1 John 5:1 Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 16, Section 8
2 John 1:11 Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 16, Section 3
Revelation 3:7 Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 2

Scripture Possible Quote (???)
Hebrews 1:3 Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 30, Section 9
James 2:23 Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 16, Section 2
2 Peter 3:8 Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 28, Section 3

Unquoted Scripture
3 John

Apocryphal Books

The Shepherd of Hermas identified as scripture:

Truly, then, the Scripture declared, which says, "First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence: He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one." [The Shepherd of Hermas, Book 2, First Commandment] Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets: "Is it not one God who has established us? Have we not all one Father?" [Malachi 2:10] In accordance with this, too, does the apostle say, "There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all." [Ephesians 4:6] Likewise does the Lord also say: "All things are delivered to Me by My Father" [Matthew 11:27]
- Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 2

Letter of 1 Clement identified as authoritative:

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things.
- Against Heresies Book III, Chapter 3, Section 3

Gospel of Judas condemned:

Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas...For it is now in your power, and in the power of all your associates, to familiarize yourselves with what has been said, to overthrow their wicked and undigested doctrines, and to set forth doctrines agreeable to the truth.
- Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 31, Section 1 + Section 4

~250 AD: Origen

  • Includes 26 of the 27 NT books in his list.
  • Excludes Revelation (though some manuscripts include it in his list)
  • Does quote from Revelation as scripture elsewhere in his writings.
  • Attributes 14 letters to Paul (thus counts Hebrews as a letter from Paul)
But when our Lord Jesus Christ comes, whose arrival that prior son of Nun designated, he sends priests, his apostles, bearing “trumpets hammered thin,” the magnificent and heavenly instruction of proclamation. Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel; Mark also; Luke and John each played their own priestly trumpets. Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles; also James and Jude. In addition, John also sounds the trumpet through his epistles [and Revelation], and Luke, as he describes the Acts of the Apostles. And now that last one comes, the one who said, “I think God displays us apostles last,” and in fourteen of his epistles, thundering with trumpets, he casts down the walls of Jericho and all the devices of idolatry and dogmas of philosophers, all the way to the foundations.
- Homilies on Joshua, 7.1
The one who reclined on Jesus' breast, John, who left behind one gospel while admitting that he could produce so many that the world would not be able to contain them [John 21:25]. He also wrote the Apocalypse, after being ordered to be silent and not to write what the seven thunders said [Rev 10:3-4]... 
- Expositions on the Gospel of John

~350 AD: Cyril of Jerusalem

  • Includes 26 of the 27 NT books in his list.
  • Excludes Revelation
  • Attributes 14 letters to Paul (thus counts Hebrews as a letter from Paul)
Then of the New Testament there are the four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are mischievous. The Manichæans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the last work of the disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul. But let all the rest be put aside in a secondary rank. And whatever books are not read in Churches, these read not even by yourself, as you have heard me say.
- Catechetical Lecture 4, #36

367 AD: Athanasius

  • Includes all 27 NT books in his list
  • Attributes 14 letters to Paul (thus counts Hebrews as a letter from Paul)
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.
- Letter 39

382 AD: Council of Rome

  • Includes all 27 New Testament texts (and Septuagint version of OT list)
Now indeed the issue of the divine scriptures must be discussed, which the universal Catholic church receives or which it is required to avoid.

THIS IS THE ORDER OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Kings four books, Chronicles two books, 150 Psalms, proverbs, ecclesiastes, song of songs, The same of Wisdom, ecclesiasticus

LIKEWISE THE ORDER OF THE PROPHETS: Isaiah, Jeremiah, with Cinoth i.e. his lamentations , Ezechiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

LIKEWISE THE ORDER OF THE HISTORIES: Job, Tobit, Esdras two books, Ester, Judith, Maccabees two books

LIKEWISE THE ORDER OF THE SCRIPTURES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT which the holy and catholic Roman church upholds and is venerated:

Four books of the Gospels: according to Mathew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John. Likewise the acts of the apostles. The letters of the apostle Paul in number fourteen: to the Romans, to the Corinthians two letters, to the Ephesians, to the Thesalonians two letters, to the Galatians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, to Timothy two letters, to Titus, to the Philemon, to the Hebrews. Likewise the apocalypse of John. Likewise the canonical [catholic] letters in number seven: of the apostle Peter two letters, of the apostle James one letter, of the apostle John one letter, of the other John the elder two letters, of the apostle Judas the Zealot one letter.

- Council of Rome [Simplified slightly due to formatting]

~390 AD: Gregory of Nazianzus

  • Includes 26 of the 27 NT books in his list.
  • Excludes Revelation
  • Attributes 14 letters to Paul (thus counts Hebrews as a letter from Paul)
Now count also those of the new mystery. Matthew wrote the miracles of Christ for the Hebrews, Mark for Italy, Luke for Greece; John for all, the great herald, who walked in the heavens. Then the acts of the wise apostles. Of Paul there are fourteen epistles. And the seven catholic, [which include] one of James, two of Peter, three of John also; and Jude is the seventh. You have them all. And if there are any beyond these, they are not genuine.
- Concerning the Genuine Books of Divinely Inspired Scripture (poem)

393 AD: Council of Hippo

  • Includes all 27 New Testament texts (and Septuagint version of OT list)
Item, that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture.

But the Canonical Scriptures are as follows: Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy. Joshua the Son of Nun. The Judges. Ruth. The Kings, iv. books. 

The Chronicles, ij. books. Job. The Psalter. The Five books of Solomon. The Twelve Books of the Prophets. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Ezechiel. Daniel. Tobit. Judith. Esther. Ezra, ij. books. Macchabees, ij. books.

The New Testament. The Gospels, iv. books. The Acts of the Apostles, j. book. The Epistles of Paul, xiv. The Epistles of Peter, the Apostle, ij. The Epistles of John the Apostle, iij. The Epistles of James the Apostle, j. The Epistle of Jude the Apostle, j. The Revelation of John, j. book.
- Council of Hippo [Simplified slightly due to formatting]

397 AD: Council of Carthage

  • Includes all 27 New Testament texts (and Septuagint version of OT list)
It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two books of Paraleipomena, Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon, the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John.
- Synod of 397