The Development of the Canon of the New Testament

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This survey covers a small part of the huge body of New Testament studies --- how the Church selected certain writings as authoritative and separated them from a larger body of early Christian literature. In view of the central importance that the New Testament has within Christianity, it is amazing that there is an absence of detailed accounts of such a significant process. My goal is to collect and organize the information that is available, and make it easily accessible in the form of hypertext (see the Hypertext Conventions). I especially hope this site will be useful to persons who cherish the New Testament, but are unfamiliar with the history of its development. For this development 'at a glance', see the Cross Reference Table: Writings and Authorities.

The history, as covered in this survey, spans the first four centuries of Christianity, and was a long continuous process. It was not only a task of collecting, but also of sifting and rejecting. It was not the result of a deliberate decree by an individual or a council near the beginning of the Christian era. The collection of New Testament books took place gradually over many years by the pressure of various kinds of circumstances and influences, some external and others internal to the life of congregations. Different factors operated at different times and in different places. Some of the influences were constant, others were periodic; some were local, and others were operative where the Church had been planted.

This subject is an avocation of mine. I am not a scholar and cannot read any ancient languages. There is no original research here; I have freely copied from professional historians, especially from these books:

Metzger, Bruce M.
The Canon of the New Testament:
Its Origin, Development, and Significance
Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1987.
ISBN: 0198269544
Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, ed.
New Testament Apocrypha, 6th edition. 2 Vols.
Westminster/John Knox Press. Louisville.1989.
ISBN: 0664218784 and ISBN: 0664218792

If you find my survey interesting, and want to explore this subject further, please go out and buy them. Both are available at Amazon Books, and Christian Book Distributors. I have also entered text from the Encyclopædia Britannica 15th ed. (1982).

My interest in the subject started with 2 classes on the Bible at De Anza College in Cupertino California. I want to thank my teachers, Don Buck and Jim Luotto.

Pages created by Glenn Davis, 1997-2010.
For additions, corrections, and comments send e-mail to

Last revised July 25, 2008.