- The New Testament is written in “koine” (i.e. common) Greek which was the language of the day when the authors wrote.
- See Why is the New Testament in Greek?
- The individual writes show diversity and individuality in their writing styles.
- Greek alphabet and transliteration
- No original autographs exist (i.e. the original document written by the original author).
- We possess approximately 5000 Greek manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament of various.
- The most famous manuscript is the Codex Sinaiticus (in the British museum in London).
- New Testament papyri
- parchment unicals (capital letters)
- parchment miniscules (cursive)
- Lectionaries which are arrangements of New Testament passages in accordance with the church’s calender.
- Versions: early translations from Greek to other languages (e.g. Latin, Syriac and Coptic)
Stephen Neill: “We have a far better and more reliable text of the New Testament than of any other ancient work whatever.”
Formation of the New Testament
- The formation of the NT was a gradual process, not a distinct event.
- The OT was already accepted. Jesus and His words became the new norm.
- Oral Stage: words of Jesus and stories about Jesus were told and retold
- Written Stage: Most of the NT documents were written between 50-100 AD.
- The NT documents were circulated and collected.
- Heresies begin to arise (see Early Church heresies).
Consensus grows of what ought to be consider authoritative (180-300 AD)
- Melito of Sardis refers to the “books of old covenant” and to “books of new covenant” (c. 180 AD), marking the idea of a two-part canon or what we call the Old and New Testaments.
- Justin Martyr refers to “memoirs of apostles” and to multiple “gospels” being used by Christians during worship on Sundays (c 180 AD).
- Tertuillian speaks of “the law and the prophets” (OT) and “the Gospels and the apostolic writings” (NT) and calls the gospels “Scripture.”
- Irenaeus (the most well-travelled early figure, acquainted with church practices over an enormous geographical area) quotes all the NT books except five shorter ones (and he may have recognized those five, too, but he didn’t quote them). Importance: There is nearly universal acceptance and use of the four gospels by around 180 AD.
- Origen of Alexandria (died 254 AD) distinguishes three classes of Scripture: acknowledged (or uncontested), disputed (or doubtful) and false. He also says: “The church has four gospels; the heretics have many more.”
- Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in Egypt (367 AD) – A letter from Athansius lists all 27 books of the New Testament for the first time, calling them “canonical” (first use of “canon” in our sense) and rejecting other books he called “apocryphal”. He writes: “these are fountains of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed. Let no one add to these, let nothing be taken away from them…”
- The Synod of Carthage (397 AD) ratifies Athanasius’s list. Their decree: nothing should be read in the church under the name of the divine Scriptures except the canonical writings.
- Gradual conformity with the NT canon and very little dispute until modern times.
- The Greek word “kanon” means “rule or measure” (i.e. a measuring rod or standard of evaluation). It came to refer to a list of books that are accepted by the churches as the measuring rod of Christian faith.
- Content of the canon: 27 books (agreed upon by Protestants, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox
Criteria for canonicity
- Apostolic pedigree (i.e. written by an apostle or for an apostle; e.g. Mark wrote from Peter’s teachings; Luke wrote Acts from Paul’s teachings)
- Orthodox doctrine (i.e. content conforms to the “rule of faith”)
- Church consensus
- Inspiration is not a criterion, but a basic assumption. Inspiration was not seen as a unique feature of canonical writings (e.g. Augustine thought Jerome was inspired).
- The NT books was recognized as authoritative on their own. No authority figure put them on the list.