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Question on How We Got the Canon of the New Testament


I just read Jesus, Interrupted … and have now seen that you have written quite a few books and articles. I am particularly interested in how the books of the New Testament were chosen and why/how the others were not. Can you recommend a good read for this?



Ah, this is one of the BIG questions of early Christian studies! I have been interested in it for over 35 years. My first PhD seminar in graduate school was devoted to just this question, and I started thinking about it years even before that!

I do address the question in several of my books. As you know from having just read Jesus Interrupted, I devote a good chunk of chapter 6 to it; in particular it is the overarching subject of Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (that book is my long version of the answer!).

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Question: Would I Be Personally Devastated if the Mythicists Were Right?
Did the Gospels Originally Contain Miracle Stories?



  1. Avatar
    SJB  May 25, 2012

    Prof Ehrman

    1. Is there any evidence of “crosswalk” between the gospels? For example, Matthew and Luke depend on Mark but is there any evidence that Mark was subsequently modified as a response to the appearance of Matthew/Luke? Or that the synoptics were subsequently modified as a response to the appearance of John?

    2. Is there any textual evidence that the gospels were collaborations? I don’t simply mean additions (end of Mark) or interpolations (woman taken in adultery) but something along the lines of the book of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah where large portions of the text are clearly from different hands. I’ve read where the gospel of John shows evidence of different authors.


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 25, 2012

      Good quesitons! I think I’d like to answer them via posts on the blog, rather than here, if that’s OK.

      • Avatar
        SJB  May 25, 2012

        Surely! Looking forward to it.

      • Avatar
        jasha  May 30, 2012

        Dr Ehrman,

        I’m interested in this topic as well. If you could talk about Luke/Acts in this context this would be helpful as well. I think most scholars think these were at least mostly written together by one author? But on the other hand there are some odd narrative qualities, especially how Acts switches in and out of first person which look to me like multiple works stitched together.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 30, 2012

          Yes, the general thought is that Luke and Acts had the same author, that they were two volumes of one long work. I deal at length with the “we” passages (first person plural in four passages of Acts) in my forthcoming book on Forgery and Counterforgery, where I argue (contrary to what I used to think) that this is not evidence of the incorporation of an earlier source (a travel itinerary of some kind; it can’t be that: the passages are stylistically too close to all the other passages of Acts) but is the intentional work of the author who wants his readers to *think* that for a while he was a traveling companion of Paul, and therefore an eyewitness to what he reports. But he could not have been that. In other words, it’s a deceptive claim by the author to be someone other than who he really was. That’s why I think we’re justified in calling Acts a “forgery.”

  2. Avatar
    AlyLeytham  September 19, 2012

    I also recommend Dr. Ehrman’s lectures on The Making of the New Testament Canon, available on CD and DVD from http://www.thegreatcourses.com

    • Avatar
      Cephas  November 17, 2012

      Thanks so much for the link, Aly. I’ve noticed a few comments about the DVD courses, but I haven’t gone a-hunting yet. Much appreciated!

  3. Avatar
    Zboilen  April 11, 2017

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, when Matthew and Luke use Mark as their source do you think they intend to replace Mark? If they do, why do you think Mark made it into the canon? Why didn’t it die out as churches used the revised versions (Matthew and Luke)?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2017

      Yes, I think Luke indicates as much in 1:1-4. I think Mark continued to be cherished because it was thought to be Peter’s own perspective.

  4. Avatar
    HawksJ  September 11, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, when you were a Fundy, how did you envision that the NT came to be?

    My sense is that most Fundamentalists don’t really think about it, but kind of imagine it as always (since at least the latest years of Paul) existing in essentially it’s present form, and that first century churches had access to it much like we do today.

    When it comes to inerrancy, the go-to line is 2 Tim 3:16, except of course, that the NT wasn’t formally part of ‘scripture’ until many decades later.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 12, 2017

      I knew that there was a historical process involved, but I thought that it was ultimately directed by the Holy Spirit.

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