In the name of “scholarship,” critical academics conjecture that fourth-century Christian councils formed the Christian Scriptures — the New Testament Scriptures. With the Scriptures as historical documents from early Christians, the Christian Scriptures refute the myth that later councils formed the Christian Scriptures. The Christian Scriptures as historical documents testify that Jesus’s apostles and prophets collected the holy writings in the first century.
The Early Spreading of Scripture among the Nations
Distributing doctrinal letters between Christians was an early practice (Acts 15:22–25, 30). Paul’s missionary journeys covered large areas across the known world, so the spreading of these writings covered a vast area. The early Christians spread the message of Jesus throughout the world in the first century. This occurred before Paul completed Romans in AD 57–58 (Rom 1:8; 10:18–20; 16:25–26) and before the writer of Colossians finished the epistle to the Colossians in AD 61–63 (Col 1:5–6, 23). All of the epistles accredited to Paul show that his letters went to many places throughout the nations.
Paul did not intend for his writings to be only to those explicitly addressed. According to the apostle Peter, Paul wrote all of his letters to Peter’s audience of Asia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Bithynia, but Paul only explicitly wrote to congregations in Galatia and two cities in Asia (2 Pet 3:15; cf. 1 Pet 1:1). Paul’s letters to the Corinthians were also addressed to “all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:2) and “all the saints who are in all Achaia” (2 Cor 1:1). In writing to Christians throughout the world, the letter to the Colossians encouraged them to exchange writings with other Christians in Laodicea (Col 4:16). Evidently, Christians received Paul’s epistles throughout the nations.
Second Peter presents the apostle Peter writing in the imminence of his coming death to encourage Christians to endure persecution throughout Asia, Galatia, Pontus, Bithynia, and Cappadocia and to continue in faith and virtue over worldly lusts. Peter encouraged their pure minds,
[T]hat you all should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles: knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts (2 Pet 3:2–3)
Second Peter reported that Paul wrote “unto you.” Paul wrote directly to the Ephesians and Colossians in Asia and to the Galatians, but his letters were neither specifically addressed to all of Asia nor to any in Pontus, Cappadocia, or Bithynia. However, Paul’s letters were for everyone; although, addressed to specific congregations. Second Peter referenced Paul’s epistles as among “the other Scriptures” showing that early Christians accepted Paul’s letters into a broader collection. The locations of Paul’s writings also show not only the collection but also the distribution of the Christian Scriptures in the first century.
The New Testament presents Jesus’s apostles overseeing the collection of the New Testament in the first century. All twenty-seven writings of the New Testament are uniquely apostolic and originated in the first century, unlike other counterfeit writings that came later. Twenty-seven books plus one are the only books to come out of the first century. This additional book was a letter from a church elder, named Clement, in the church of Rome. Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians about the current activities of the Temple as though the Romans had not yet destroyed Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70 (41:2). Clement’s letter is important for his verification of the Christian Scriptures in the time of the Apostles. Clement’s letter refers to the New Testament Scriptures as authoritative to the early church. Significant to the New Testament, Clement affirmed the second epistle attributed to Peter as “the scripture” (Clement 23:3; cf. 2 Peter 3:3–4). In AD 180, another early church writer named Irenaeus also alluded to 2 Peter along with citing all twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Origen listed all twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
Scripture from John and Eyewitnesses of Jesus
In 1 John 1:1–4, the epistle referred to “we” as witnesses of Jesus by hearing and sight of “the word of life.” First John is referring to the apostles’ writings revealing, “And these things we are writing to you that your joy may be full” (1:4). The early Christians accepted John’s epistle and other Christian writings as 1 John explained that “we are writing these things” referring to the apostles writing presently writing along with him. John’s epistle is an addition to His Gospel. First John reported that these eyewitnesses were writing about their experience of Jesus’s life (1 John 1:1–3).
Scripture Came from Paul, Peter, and John
Second Peter 3:15–16 confirmed that the early Christians who followed the apostles’ teachings accepted “all” of Paul’s writings as among “the other Scriptures.” The collection of Paul’s writings came before the completion of the apostolic writings, and early churches received these writings in addition to the Jewish Scriptures. “All” was not referring to every uninspired letter that Paul ever wrote but to Paul’s writings sent and received as Scripture. The practice of collecting prophetic writings and adding these to the collection of the Old Testament set a precedent for the church receiving New Testament Scriptures into a collection.
Scripture from Peter and John
In 2 Peter 1:20–21, the writing reported about the Scriptures, “knowing this first, that every prophecy of Scripture comes not from one’s own interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke by the Holy Spirit moving them.” By referring to Scripture, the writer recognized that Paul’s writings were Scripture (3:15–16). Peter had more than Paul’s writings in mind too. Peter grouped the teachings of Christ through the apostles with the predictions of past prophets (3:2). The context of 2 Peter 1:20–21 revealed that 2 Peter included John and himself as witnesses who fully confirmed “the prophetic word.” In 2 Peter 1:16–19, Peter referred to John, James, and himself witnessing the Transfiguration of Christ, and Peter stated that “we” “have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” that “you” do well to heed. By “we,” 2 Peter referred to John and himself without James, John’s brother, who had already died (cf. Acts 12:1–2). Peter was including the writings of Paul (3:15–16). Did Peter include the writings of John and himself? Peter expected these churches among these nations to have received all of these “Scriptures” from the apostles. Eventually, this collection of Scripture would come to also include John’s Revelation. Both John and Peter affirmed their supervision and recognition of the Christian Scriptures as received and addressed to all in the first century.
Scripture from Luke
In 1 Timothy 5:18, this epistle quoted Luke 10:7 as “Scripture” demonstrating these early churches knew of Luke’s Gospel as Scripture. With the Gospel of Luke in the collection, then Acts would have also been added being a continuance of Luke according to Acts 1:1. The “Scripture” of 1 Timothy 5:18 referred to both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7. First Timothy’s record of Paul noted the first-century church had already accepted Luke’s Gospel as “Scripture” along with the Law of Moses. Therefore, the Petrine reference to Scripture in 2 Peter 1:20 and “the other scriptures” in 2 Peter 3:16 included Luke’s writings with the scriptures of Paul. Luke’s Gospel would have been included as the “Scripture” that Paul instructed the young Timothy to give heed “to reading” (1 Tim 4:12–13). These Scriptures were already being read openly and read in assemblies just as Paul instructed churches to read his epistles (Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27). The early church recognized that Paul included the Gospel of Luke in his reference to “every Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16–17. This affirms that the first-century churches recognized these apostolic Scriptures as originating from God’s breath — “the inspiration of God.”
Scripture from Matthew and Mark
The Gospel of Luke records previously written narratives of Jesus’s life by eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word from the beginning (Luke 1:2). Luke 1:1–3 refers to “many” who desired a declaration of the order of Jesus’s life by hand. The ASV 1901 literally translates Luke 1:1, “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us.” In Luke 1:2, Luke presents that many wanted to put in order a narrative by hand just as the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word had already delivered. The reference to those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” is a description for the apostles throughout the Christian Scriptures (1 John 1:1–4; cf. John 15:27; 16:4; Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39, 41; 13:31–32; 14:3–4; 22:15, 26:16; Heb 2:3–4; 1 Pet 5:1; Rev 1:1–2).
In Luke 1:3, Luke reported that he “also” thought that it would be good “to write” like the apostles. The Greek adverb behind “just as” in verse 2 describes the mode of delivery that is in writing. This adds to the fact that the narrative taken in hand was the intention to write just as the apostles had already done. What were the written narratives of the life of Christ that were already written by the apostles? Scholars identify that Luke shared portions from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark confirming these Gospels as the previous narratives. The Gospel of Luke like John’s Gospel supply additional material that the previously written Gospels of Matthew and Mark did not record. This all adds to the acceptance of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark into the apostolic collection of the Scriptures.
Scripture from James and Jude
Given the apostles’ supervision and the early Christian acceptance of Scripture, the epistle of James would have been included since James was an apostle and the brother of Christ. Paul noted that James is as much an “apostle” as Peter according to Galatians 1:18–19. James’s writing would have been as much included among the apostolic writings as John mentioned in 1 John 1:1–4. Furthermore, the writing attributed to Christ’s brother, Jude, would have been included under the apostles’ oversight (Matt 13:53; Mark 6:3; Jude 1). Jude appears to have converted to Jesus as the Christ soon after Jesus resurrected from the dead. Jude cites and makes great use of 2 Peter. The writings of James and Jude are first-century apostolic writings
There are only twenty-seven apostolic writings. There are only twenty-seven Christian writings in addition to one that came out of the first century. The fact that there are only twenty-seven books in the Scriptures written under the oversight of the Apostles excludes all other writings and establishes with certainty the collection of the New Testament canon in the first century. The additional writing was the epistle of Clement of Rome who gives an excellent commentary and acts as a cap to the Christians Scriptures. The early Christian writers of the second century had no intention of including themselves among the apostles and prophets in the first century. Clement of Rome neither claimed the Spirit’s guidance in writing nor to have been writing Scripture, and so no one added his writing as Scripture. Clement did quote apostolic Scripture as “Scripture.”
Attributed to Eyewitnesses
Only the New Testament writings contain eyewitness accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The authenticity of the authors of the New Testament is uncontested by early church writer, early manuscripts, and evangelical scholars. Names attributed to written works are a conclusive mark of authenticity without primary sources to charge otherwise. The names of New Testament writers was open for examination by all including historians, geographers, statesmen, and lawyers in the first century. In the early third century, Origen noted how the second-century opponent Celsus could read the Scriptures for himself. Origin stated, “For it is not in any secret writings, perused only by a few wise men, but in such as are most widely diffused and most commonly known among the people, that these words are written” (Contra Celsus 7.37).
No Doubts in the First Centuries
The New Testament writings were open to criticism, yet neither opponent nor apostate rejected the authorship of the Christian Scriptures. Opponents such as Celsus, Trypho, Lucian of Samosata, Porphyry of Tyre, Hierocles of the Proconsul of Bithynia, Julian the Apostate, and Peregrinus Proteus did not question the authenticity of the Christian Scriptures. Christians before the fourth century accepted these Scriptures confirming the early acceptance of authorship throughout the world. Such men consist of Clement in Rome, Ignatius in Antioch, Polycarp in Smyrna, Justin Martyr in Syria, Irenaeus in France, Tertullian in Carthage, Origin in Egypt, and Eusebius in Caesarea. All of antiquity does not present a trace of any contradicting testimony against any author of the Christian Scriptures.
Confidence for Today’s Christian
The Christian Scriptures as historical documents serve to show apostolic churches under the apostles’ oversight collected the Christian Scripture in the first century. The apostolic Scriptures are not open to any additional writings. Through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, Christians can confidently claim God’s divine power has granted “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” in the first century (2 Pet 1:3). Christians can stand upon the all-sufficient Spirit-guided Scriptures that offer every person of God to be completely equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16–17). The apostle Paul instructed Christians not to go beyond what is written by judging of others (1 Cor 4:6). Paul also observed that no one adds to a covenant or makes it void after it is made (Gal 3:15). John instructed that no one go ahead of the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). In Revelation, John revealed that anyone who adds or takes away from that revelation, then the curses of the book would be added to them (Rev 22:18–19). The ancient proverb stands that no one adds or takes away from God’s Word (Prov 30:5–6).
Jesus’s Promises about the Word
What did Jesus promise about His words and the Scriptures? Jesus revealed that He will send scribes with prophets and wise men (Matt 13:52; 23:34). Christians should expect to have scriptures from Jesus’s closest disciples. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed for all who would hear the Word by the apostles (John 17:20–21). The early church accepted that the Apostles and prophets wrote the Christian Scriptures. In John’s Gospel, Jesus addressed the “Father” in prayer declaring that He had given the words of the Father to the apostles (John 17:8; Acts 1:2). Jesus also declared that those who kept His word would keep those of His apostles in John 15:20, “If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” With confidence in Jesus’s words to the apostles and God’s providential grace, Christians do not find it difficult to accept the New Testament Scriptures as God-breathed.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus professed that the words He spoke are spirit and life (John 6:63). Jesus revealed that He would not judge the world but that His words will (John 12:47–48). In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus declared, “My words will not pass away” (Matt 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Those words are in no other place than in the Scriptures.
Jesus promised to send the Spirit to guide the apostles unto all truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12–13). As one among the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection, Paul reported, “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches; combining spiritual things with spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:13). Paul wrote, “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11–12).
Followers of Christ are confident in following the New Testament scriptures as being the words of Christ. Looking to Jesus, He accepted the Old Testament collection as was delivered to Him and to the Jews of the first century. Jesus did not doubt God or that the Old Testament collection was guided by God’s providence. Therefore, there is no reason to reject the New Testament writings as delivered now. The Scriptures affirm that God providentially formed the New Testament Scriptures by the Spirit guiding Jesus’s Apostles and prophets in the first century.
[See also, “How the Old Testament Came Together“.]