Formation of the New Testament Canon - Lesson 10

Practical Advice

In this lesson, you will develop a comprehensive understanding of Eusebius' classification of books in the canon. The four categories are accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical books. Accepted books were well-known and undisputed, while disputed books initially faced resistance but were later recognized. Rejected books had uses despite not being canonical, and heretical books contained problematic doctrines. These categories shape the core and fringe of the canon, offering insights into early Christianity. Additionally, you will explore the content and context of disputed books, considering factors like size, frequency of usage, and suspicions of forgery. Revelation had a unique acceptance pattern. Ultimately, the foundational canon, including the four Gospels, remained stable since the beginning of Christianity.

Michael J Kruger
Formation of the New Testament Canon
Lesson 10
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Practical Advice


A. Pastors: inform your people so they will be ready when challenges come

B. Lay person: recognize that there are answers to these questions

C. These objections are not new


A. If we found the letter, would it be put into the canon?

B. No, because God gave the books in the canon as foundational to build his church.

C. No, because they would be too hard to authenticate


A. They are the books we possess

B. All of them have the attributes of canonicity

C. These are the books that the Church has been reading for 2,000 years

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Class Resources
  • Through this lesson, you are gaining an in-depth understanding of the challenges and debates surrounding the canonicity of the Bible, learning about its misconceptions, and exploring the various definitions and theories that underline its recognition and authority.
  • You'll gain insight into the community, historical-critical, and Roman Catholic models of determining a book's canonicity, and grapple with debates surrounding 'self-authenticating authority' and the role of the Council of Trent in formalizing the Canon.
  • You gain an understanding of the historically-determined model and how it differs from the community-determined model, learning that the historical context of a book is pivotal in determining its canonicity. You explore two sub-categories of this model, reflecting on the problem of preconceived worldviews influencing canon selection and questioning the origins of canon authenticity criteria. The lesson prompts you to consider the lack of neutrality in historical investigations due to interpretive bias.
  • By engaging with this lesson, you gain a profound understanding of the Self-Authenticating Model, where the canon is authenticated by its own contents, ultimately providing its authority and maintaining the principles of Sola Scriptura. This model involves a proper epistemic environment, divine qualities, apostolic origins, and the Holy Spirit's operations. You also learn to address potential criticisms and differentiate this model from others, such as the Mormon argument. Finally, you come to perceive canon formation as a dynamic process rather than a fixed event.
  • From this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the concept of 'defeaters' and their role in questioning our knowledge of the Bible. You will learn about the attributes that indicate a book is from God and how these are susceptible to 'defeaters'. You will be introduced to the divine quality of 'unity and harmony' and the challenges posed by 'defeaters' that question this unity. You will also understand the harmony between the Old and New Testaments, including the shared narrative structure and symbolism. Lastly, this lesson will help you recognize the importance of personal perception in understanding the Bible's divine qualities.
  • You'll grasp the significance of the covenant concept in the New Testament, understand the Apostles' roles as agents of the New Covenant, recognize their authoritative teachings in both oral and written forms, and appreciate the reasons behind the shift from oral teachings to written documents.
  • Gaining knowledge from this lesson, you understand the concept of Canonical Core and Corporate Reception, noting the early establishment and widespread agreement on most New Testament books, learn about disputed canonical status of some texts, and differentiate between orthodox and canonical books.
  • In this lesson, you explore the formation of the early Christian canon, examining patristic citations, the role of Christian manuscripts, and the adoption of the codex, which shaped the Christian textual culture and pointed towards an early formation of the canon.
  • This lesson provides an in-depth understanding of the four-fold division of the canon in early Christianity and the content and reasons for the disputed books, underlining the fact that the core of the canon was firmly established from Christianity's inception.
  • You will learn about Eusebius's four-fold division of the canon, the content and context of disputed books, and the stability of the foundational canon in early Christianity.

This course explores the complexities and debates related to the recognition, authority, and understanding of the biblical canon, including modern controversies fueled by discoveries of apocryphal materials and the influence of fictional works like the Da Vinci Code. It emphasizes the critical differentiation between a book becoming canonical and its recognition as such, introduces various canonical models, offers insights into the concept of a "proper epistemic environment," probes the development of the early Christian canon, and provides a comprehensive analysis of Eusebius' four-fold division - all with the aim of deepening the understanding of the biblical canon's formation, its diverse interpretations, and ongoing debates.

Recommended Books

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

I. Practical Advice

One of the interesting things about the canon debate is that it has reached a layman’s level unlike a lot of other Biblical Studies issues. People almost target laypeople with these issues. They will read an article in Newsweek or read a blog post. I tell pastors all the time that their congregation is hearing this. They come up at Christmas and Easter where people question the Bible where it is canon related. I tell pastors that they need to make sure they are addressing these issues. They should not be late in doing this. They need to give their congregations understanding of Biblical origins that is solid and foundational, so that when they come across things like Dan Brown and DaVinci Code or a book by Bart Ehrman, they are not bothered to the core. We need to inoculate our church against these challenges. You don’t wait until they are affected by these things and then do something about it; they need to do something now. To the layperson, not just the pastor, there are answers to these questions that people are asking. People are often confused in not having an answer and others with there not being an answer. That is understandable, if they don’t have an answer, there must not be one. Solid Biblical Scholars have dealt with these points for generations. There are good answers out there. You can find them; you can go to people who can help you find them. There are good books that can explain the answers to these questions. Another thing that I would tell the layperson when they hear these things, that is to recognize that they are not new; I can’t tell you how many times that people present these challenges to the Bible as if they are some new discovery. You hear things like, ‘now we know this or that’ or ‘it’s clear now that.’ You realize that Augustus was dealing with these same issues in the 5th century. We look at the 2nd century and realize that people were raising the arguments even then against Christianity and where they were being answered by Biblical Scholars. These issues are not new and the church has gone around and around on them. I tell people to take solace in the fact that they are not the first ones that have to deal with these issues.

II. What about the lost letter to the Corinthians, if found, would it be put into the canon now?

The question about lost letters are very common and indeed it is very complicated. There is a lot dispute about what we would do with that letter. In essence, my answer would be that it would not be part of the canon. I think I made the argument that the canon by definition is a foundational document. These books that God gave the church are what the church was built on. They are foundational books and providentially speaking God did not use those other letters. God did not intend for the church to use them as a foundational document. Nevertheless, I could see why someone would go the opposite direction. I think it would be difficult to authenticate given that part of authentication is time. At this point, I would say that it would not be part of the canon.

III. Why are these 27 books of the New Testament, the right 27 books?

I think it would help to walk through the model. A preliminary reason would be that they are the books we process. If God wanted you to have books, he would have preserved them for the church. The fact that we have them is a starting point in saying that they are the books that were intended for us to have. The second reason I think we have the right twenty-seven books is because all of them have the attributes of canonicity. You do see in them the divine qualities, amazing harmony, and an amazing unity; theological congruity, fitting in with the Old Testament and finishing the Old Testament story. You see the beauty of Christ in these books; you see his Excellency and wonder. These books teach us and give us wisdom; they convict us and challenge us. These books are alive, they are applications, and they are powerful. We see the power of God in these twenty-seven books at work. These books are all apostolic books; they have been vetted, we have traced them back to the 1st century. We have every reason to think that they are linked to the apostles who are God’s authoritative spokesman. If they are linked to the apostles, that gives us reason to think that their words are distinctive and they are to be listened to. Thirdly, and I think more powerfully, these are the books that the church has been reading for two thousand years. These books are the books that the church has rallied around and by the Holy Spirit, the church has recognized and affirmed and have said that these books are from God. That history has weight and power and meaning. That consensus of the church is noticeable. When you put all these things together and join it with the testimony of the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately, what I conclude is that Christians have every reason to be confident that we can know that these are the right twenty-seven books.