One of the questions I get most often is about the canon of the New Testament. I got the question yesterday, after a lecture (on some other topic). The question is actually a series of related questions: We have twenty-seven books in it. Who decided? On what grounds? And when?
I’ve dealt with these matters on the blog before. Maybe it’s time to do it again!
The first thing to emphasize is that the most common answer one hears to these questions is completely wrong. My sense is that people have this answer because they read it someplace, or heard it from someone who had read it someplace, and that someplace was one place in particular: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code! (If you don’t know, I wrote a book explaining the historical mistakes in Brown’s book, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code. It was a particularly fun book to write. Some of the mistakes were real howlers…) Contrary to what Brown says (and claims is a historical fact, and NOT part of his fiction!), the canon of the New Testament was decidedly not decided at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. It was not even discussed there. We have records of what they discussed. This was not on the agenda.
Relatedly, the matter was not decided by the Emperor Constantine, who,…
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