LIBERTY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DIVINITY
The New Testament Canon:
Manmade or Divine?
Submitted to Dr. John M. Landers, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course
CHHI 520 DO6
History of Christianity 1
Table of Contents
The New Testament is Real…………..……4
The Archeological Voice……………….…….4
The Announcement of a New Covenant….5
Where do we Look First? ……………………7
Apostolic Authority and Antiquity…………..8
The Rule of Faith……………………………….12
There is much argument as to the validity of the Canon in regards to whether or not it was man-made or divinely inspired. There has also been, among the catholic community, a horrendous degree of heresy with a foundation of contradictions in regards to the Canon.
Though much of the debates over this topic may end in emotional battles or webs of fallacies, the main intent for this paper is to establish that the canon of the New Testament is not a man-made activity, but indeed a divine one. Skeptics and Catholics alike embrace a man-made approach to the Canon while disregarding basic criterion. Even as this paper is addressing the skeptics by making an effort to establish an apologetic argument concerning the authenticity of the New Testament, an effort is also made to do apologetics from within. This paper will make an effort to show that God is not only the fountain of inspiration for the Scriptures, but also the force behind the establishment of his own Word.
The New Testament is Real
The Archeological Voice
Without necessarily dealing with which books should or should not be in the Bible, archeology gives us overwhelming evidence that a manuscript called the New Testament existed in antiquity. Skeptics may argue that they’re more or less books, that some books were left out, that there are secret books still out there or whatever the new argument is. However, any person with some basic common sense cannot intelligently argue against the reality of the New Testament. So before we enter into the canonical discussion, lets listen to the archeological voice.
Discoveries ranging from evidence for the Tower of Babel, to Exodus, to the Walls of Jericho, all the way to the tombs of contemporaries of St. Paul, have greatly enhanced the believability of the Bible.
The Institute for Creation Research reports that the evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament is far greater than any other document of antiquity. For example,
The New Testament was written in first century A.D. There are some 20,000 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 100 years after the original. In contrast:
- Caesar’s Gallic Wars was written in the first century B.C. There are only 10 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 1,000 years after the original.
- Aristotle’s Poetics was written in the fourth century B.C. There are only 5 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 1,400 years after the original.
The following table gives us an impressive look at how solid the archeological evidence of the New Testament is compared to other ancient writings. Pay attention to when the book was written, the earliest copy from the original date and the time span and how many manuscripts were written during that time.
Manuscript Evidence for Ancient Writings
|Author||Written||Earliest Copy||Time Span||# Mss.|
|Caesar||100-44 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,000 yrs||10|
|Plato||427-347 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,200 yrs||7|
|Thucydides||460-400 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,300 yrs||8|
|Tacitus||100 A.D.||1100 A.D.||1,000 yrs||20|
|Suetonius||75-160 A.D.||950 A.D.||800 yrs||8|
|Homer (Iliad)||900 B.C.||400 B.C.||500 yrs||643|
|New Testament||40-100 A.D.||125 A.D.||25-50 yrs||24,000|
There is no other document written in antiquity that can come close to the New Testament in terms of authenticity. Notice that the New Testament not only has the shortest time span between the original manuscripts and the first copy, but there were also far more copies made in that time period. The more copies made in the shortest period of time, especially with the fact that the printing press wasn’t invented yet, the greater the validity and accuracy.
The number of New Testament copies is over thirty times the number of all the documents of antiquity combined. It is astonishing how some skeptics can completely refute any possibility as to the validity of the New Testament, and yet accept the validity of other writings with far less archeological evidence. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, for we know that Satan is the god of this world’s system!
The Announcement of a New Covenant
The New Testament did not appear out of nowhere. The Old Testament clearly announces the establishment of the New Testament. Jeremiah 31:31 states,
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (NKJV)
The most important aspect of these verses to gather, as far as the Canon of the New Testament is concern, is a very distinct link between the Covenants. Though often times the New and Old Testaments are seen as two different books, the Old Testament prophesies unify the texts. Jesus is the ultimate link between the Old and New Testament, as He is fulfilling the climax of the New Testament by quoting the Old. The Old Testament prophesies of the New Testament are set at approximately 600 years before the New Testament manuscript was written through the Prophet Jeremiah!
Every single word from Genesis to Revelation was already in existence. This is not just a book; the Bible represents the very essence of the character of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 (KJV) The Logos, we can say, is beyond our time and beyond our space.
The reality is that many Christians do not know the first thing about the canon of Scripture; however they don’t need to know to believe, they know it by the witness of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are so overwhelmingly true for the believer because it’s far beyond any other book; it is the heart of God, the Creator of heaven and earth. This will never be enough explanation for any skeptic, but we must also remember that God has made his existence obvious to every human being according to Romans 1:18-20. In reality we are not dealing with skeptics and atheists, we are dealing with suppressors of God’s truth.
Where Do We Look First
The Bible states in Revelation 22:19, “and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (NKJV) Paul declares in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (NKJV)
Changing, twisting, adding and taking away from God’s truth are satanic strategies that can be clearly seen through church history. Satan has done a remarkable job in planting seeds of doubt concerning the reliability of God’s Word. Satan told Eve “…You will not surely die,” a statement that totally contradicted God’s instructions. The Catholic Church and its traditions is not the place we should be looking first for canonical answers. As a matter of fact we should not be looking at the catholic Church for any Biblical answer; that is because they have not only added to the Scriptures itself, they have also taken the liberty of establishing other divinely inspired elements.
Roman Catholicism denies the ultimate authority of Scriptures alone (sola scriptura) and has consequently adopted the well-known trifold authority structure that includes Scripture, tradition and magisterium (The church’s teaching authority). The key component in this trifold authority is the Magisterium itself, which authority teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church, primarily manifested in the popes and his bishops.
The idea that something else outside of Scripture is divine is in fact the greatest obstacle against good theology and sound doctrine. Traditions and the teachings of the church should not be ignored; they are extremely important; however those traditions and teachings must be based on God’s Word. God’s Word represents the absolute truth. These liberties taking by the Catholic Church is what led to so many lies added to God’s Word; purgatory, the praying to dead saints, praying and the veneration of Virgin Mary and the list goes on and on. There is no telling what Pope Francis will come up with next.
In a society that increasingly rejects absolutes, where everybody is free to have their own version of truth, it is vital that the Word of God be defended as the document that carries the acceptable dogmas for life given by God through the teachings of what is righteous according to God’s standard, not in accordance to an open and never ending idea of what is right and what is wrong according to liberalism.
Looking at the Catholic Church’s definitions of their own Canon, it is easy to see their lack of respect for sound doctrine, their theological blindness and an arrogance that precipitated their falling away from the basic truths of Scriptures. In the Catholic Church’s arrogant attempt to define the canon, “the canon has so much become the church’s book that it is unable to be God’s book.”
In a serious study concerning the canon, the Catholic Church should not be taken seriously. In finding any answer to the canon we must find true orthodoxy. That orthodoxy can only be found through the original apostles.
Apostolic Authority and Antiquity
The canon of the New Testament seems to be a complicated thing; after all, there were many books that claimed canonicity. However, when looking deeply at the matter, it was not a hard task. The focus of the canon is found in the apostles, not in the church’s fathers, not in Marcion’s sickly ideas of the canon, and not in the arrogance of the Catholic or any other church. To be able to identify the canon of the New Testament, we must look first at who did the writing. Ephesians 2:20 tell us, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,” (NKJV).
Antiquity gave us a strong tool to begin to identify the authenticity of the New Testament canon. This meant that in order for any writing to be considered a part of the canon, it needed to have been written by an apostle or by a direct associate of an apostle. Any writings after 100 AD were automatically rejected.
As we will see, authority and antiquity are not the only criterion to determine the canon of the New Testament; but they must be the first ones. There were apostolic fathers and disciples of the original apostles that were indeed men of integrity and whose contributions were phenomenal. Nevertheless, if we engage in trying to confirm the canon based on what the fathers of the church quoted, then some will pick and chose who they consider fathers of the church; after all, Second Timothy 4:3 gives us a very human characteristic, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;” (NKJV) Very clearly this means that we can get lost in quoting men with the objective of feeding confirmation for our selfish agendas.
Did the apostles know they were writing the heart of God? Kruger speaks of Apostolic Self-Awareness. Scriptures such as, 2 Peter 3:15-16, “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” (NKJV)
Notice that Peter was aware that Paul was writing Scripture. Also notice the uniformity of Scripture, “…in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things…” The Scripture has no contradictions! Lastly, notice at the end of this portion of Scripture that the twisting of God’s Word is not new. Skeptics continue to present suppose contradictions of Scripture that when looked at further are clearly not.
First Thessalonians 2:13 tells us, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” (NKJV)
People still have the choice today to look at this book as words from men or words from God. God has given us that choice. Nevertheless there is a promise on this verse that this book will effectively work in the lives of he who believes.
There are other verses that are able to demonstrate that Apostolic Self- Awareness that Kruger is telling us about, I want to end this portion with these verses out of First Corinthians 14:37-38, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.” (NKJV)
Again, expanding from some of the points I made earlier; Paul made it very obvious that if somebody is to be considered a true prophet or a spiritual person (Born Again Believer), they would have no problem recognizing God’s Word. Not recognizing God’s Word as true is indeed a sign that we are dealing with unbelievers who are blinded to God’s truth according to 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.
Catholicity has nothing to do with the Catholic Church, as we know it: this term simply means universal. However, we must also remember that even the Catholic Church recognizes the same 27 books of the New Testament as the Protestants recognize.
Obviously, as we stated before, the Catholic Church has gone beyond the Scriptures and continue to make claims of other sources for divinely inspired material. F. F. Bruce made the point, concerning the book of Hebrews that, “…the Roman Church ultimately consented to receive Hebrews as canonical so as not to be out of step with the rest of the orthodox Christendom.”
As Catholicity is used as criterion, the idea of secret and lost books is thrown out the window. The Scripture was not to be in the dark, but out in the open. “A work which enjoyed only local recognition was not likely to be acknowledged as part of the canon of the Catholic Scripture.” It is said, that if all of the copies of the New Testament were burned, we will still be able reconstruct the New Testament almost in its entirety, based on the many quotes of the first and second century apostolic fathers and Christian writers.
The Rule of Faith
Each of the early churches had a Rule of Faith. This was a set of basic doctrines learned and confessed at baptism, somewhat centered around a confession of the Trinity (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 11).
The point that I want to make here, and it is perhaps the strongest point I would like to make, is that after we deal with the antiquity of a book written during the apostolic age, the best way to determine if that book was part of the canon is by simply assessing what that book teaches. The fact that the original apostles were fighting Gnosticism, in part, made it relatively easy to get rid of heresy. Heresy was actually made obvious to pinpoint!
Gnosticism comes from the Greek word Gnosis, meaning knowledge. They claim that Salvation is gained not through Jesus Christ, but through special knowledge. From the pulpits of many churches during the times of the original apostles, the Gnostics presented their heresy by teaching that there is a god outside of the Old Testament God who was so pure and so perfect that he viewed all matter as evil; therefore, they presented the God who created the Universe as an evil god.
“The danger of Gnosticism is easily apparent. It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. In so doing, it denies the true efficacy of the atonement since, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind, and we would still be lost in our sins.”
So after apostolic antiquity and catholicity was established, the deal could only be sealed by the Orthodoxy brought forth by the apostles. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 allowed us to see that there was indeed an orthodox apostolic tradition, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (NKJV). “They had had to defend the Apostolic Teaching, summed up in the rule of faith, against the docetic and gnostic presentations which were so attractive to many in the climate of opinion at the time.” This statement of faith expanded as heresies expanded, but it always came straight out of Scripture. We can learn so much from the work of Irenaeus.
“The tradition that carried authority with the apostolic churches—the churches the apostles started themselves—was the body of tradition given to them by the apostles. Those churches believed it was their job—and, more specifically, the job of the elders—to preserve that tradition unchanged. Irenaeus, a noted bishop of the late 2nd century, explains the process as an answer to gnostic heresies:
That orthodoxy includes the following nonnegotiable truths of Scripture: 1) God is the Creator of the universe. 2) God is good. 3) Because of Adam’s sins there is a need for redemption. 4) Redemption can only be found through Jesus Christ. 5) Jesus was all human and all divine. 6) Jesus’ death and resurrection was real and the foundation of our faith.
You will be able to find a Scripture to support every single one of these and many other points.
In conclusion, through the various subjects presented, it is clear that the canon of the New Testament is not a subject that can be ignored by the skeptics and twisters of the word. Archeology and the curious instances of prophesy are voices speaking to the skeptics. The Apostles are a voice to the Catholics. The canon of the New Testament is not a man-made tradition. No word from a man that is considered half of the world and half with God can challenge the true canon. No skeptic can dismiss the archeological foundation of the canon. There are firm grounds as to why the 27 books agreed upon by the Protestant Church are the true canon of the New Testament. These books have no contradictions and are verified through the apostles, who were tasked with ensuring that Jesus’ pure gospel would be released, unchanged and unaltered by the many enemies of the faith and their personal agendas.
Oh, how much we need to go back to the rule of faith! How much we need to go back to the teachings of the apostles, to our core beliefs, to our dogmas and to the smell of blood shed by our Lord, by the prophets and by the apostles as they gave us the gift of what is right, what is perfect, what is beneficial, what is powerful, what is pure and what is… the canon of the New Testament!
Archeological Evidence, http://bibleevidences.com/archeology.htm
Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1988.
Deem, Rich. Is Our Copy of the Bible a Reliable Copy of the Original. http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/bibleorg.html
New King James Bible
Kruger, Michael J. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
Slick, Matt. Gnosticism, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, https://carm.org/gnosticism
The Manuscripts. http://www.icr.org/bible-manuscripts/
The Council of Nicea, Part II, The Rule of Faith, http://www.christian-history.org/rule-of-faith.html
 2 Timothy 3:16
 Rich Deem, Is Our Copy of the Bible a Reliable Copy of the Original, http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/bibleorg.html
 Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited, 166-170
 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” Romans 1:18-20 (NKJV)
 Genesis 3:4
 Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 39
 Ibid., 66.
 Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 259
 Kruger, Canon Revisited, 184
 “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
 Ibid., 263
 Ibid., 262
 The Council of Nicea, Part II, The Rule of Faith, http://www.christian-history.org/rule-of-faith.html
 F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 260
 The Council of Nicea, Part II, The Rule of Faith, http://www.christian-history.org/rule-of-faith.html