In my past couple of posts I’ve talked about how the canon of the Hebrew Bible was formed.  That raises the obvious corollary of how the canon of the New Testament was formed.  Who decided we should have the twenty-seven books we do?  Why these books and not others?  Why were any books chosen at all?  When were these decisions made?  And what criteria were used to make the decisions?

To my surprise, I haven’t talked much about the process on the blog over the years.  So here I will devote two posts to the issue.   I have written at greater length about the matter in several of my books, especially Lost Christianities.  Here is the most direct and to the point discussion that I provide in my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.



We are much better informed about the formation of the canon of the New Testament, in no small part because we have the writings of later church fathers who explicitly discuss the matter. We do not have nearly as much information as we would like—as is true for almost every set of historical events from the ancient world—but we have enough to give us a good idea of what motivated Christians to come up with a list of canonical books, what criteria they followed in deciding which books should be included, and how the process or canonization proceeded over the course of time.

Motivating Factors

In considering the formation of the Christian canon, the first and most obvious point to make is that …

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