Between AD 65–180, early church writers cited and extensively refer to the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (cf. Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, et cetera). As ancient commentaries and witnesses of Christ’s witnesses, these early writers delivered the Christian Scriptures with named authors without any opponents rejecting their authorship. Not to exclude the historical evidence of early church writers and beyond, the New Testament Scriptures establish the canonicity of the New Testament Scriptures. The Scriptures reveal that the early churches collected the Scriptures under the oversight of Christ’s Apostles in the first century.

Look attentively that the Apostle John wrote “And these things we write to you.” John said “we write” in the present tense in reference to the Apostles who were writing. John said “we” within the context of stating, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, the formation of the New Testamentconcerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness” (1 John 1:1–4). Apparently, John noted that the Apostles were writing their accounts of the Word, Jesus Christ, for which John recorded that Jesus said the Spirit would guide the Apostles unto all Truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12–-13).

Next, Peter said that “all” of Paul’s writings are scripture being a part of “the other scriptures” (2 Pet 3:15-–16). In the same epistle, Peter also spoke of “the prophecy of scripture” guided by the Holy Spirit, which must include Paul’s writings (2 Pet 3:15-–16). Look carefully at Peter’s words. Peter is not simply speaking of Paul’s writings and all other prophetic writings of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Pet 1:10-–11). Peter was speaking of the prophetic guidance of John and himself, who did not follow myths, because they were eyewitnesses to Christ and God’s voice from Heaven. Consider Peter’s words when he said that Christ’s Spirit guided “us,” the Apostles, as past prophets. Peter included the written New Testament as he spoke of John and himself having “the prophetic words confirmed […] for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:19, 21). Therefore, Peter exhorted the nations of the Anatolia that they remember “of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Pet 3:2).

In addition to John and Peter, consider Paul’s words about New Testament scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quoted “Scripture” including Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7. Paul equated the New Testament text’s origin with the divine origin of the Old Testament Scriptures. Knowing this, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-–17 that every Scripture is God’s breath and profitable to make a person complete unto every good work.

Luke’s Gospel also referred to previously written apostolic narratives of Jesus’s life. Luke said that he intended to write “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:1–-3, ASV). As indicated by 1 John 1:1–-4, these witnessing ministers were the Apostles, who wrote the narratives that Luke mentioned. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and possibly even John were these apostolic narratives. Add to the Gospels that Luke wrote Acts and referred to his own gospel as “the former account” and a continuation of his gospel (Acts 1:1).

From here, the New Testament canon consisted of the apostolic writings of the Gospels, Acts, all of Paul’s writings, John’s writings, and Peter’s epistles. Only two writings are lacking a specific reference, which are James and Jude. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote an epistle as an Apostle of Christ with the Apostles in Acts 15. James also wrote his epistle about this time while being in direct fellowship with Peter, John, and Paul (cf. Gal 1:19–2:10). Jude, who is also Jesus’ brother and a close associate of the Apostles, confirmed the fulfillment of 2 Peter 2 (cf. Acts 1:14). Both James and Jude’s writings were in agreement and fellowship with the Apostles as the early churches accepted these writings.

Yet, the Apostles did not provide a list of canonized books for Christian Scripture, but they did expect their readers to know what were Christian Scriptures. According to Peter, all of Paul’s letters were also written to the nations of Asia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Bithynia. Yet, Paul did not write specifically to Pontus, Cappadocia, or Bithynia, but early Christians spread Paul’s writings to all as intended for all in the first century (2 Pet 3:15; cf. 1 Pet 1:1; 2 Pet 3:1). 

The apostle Paul wrote to more than those to whom his writings were specifically addressed. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians and addressed to “all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:2; cf. 2 Cor 1:1). Paul urged the Church at Colossi to exchange writings (Col 4:16). Paul addressed his writings to those he wrote and to everyone who received them. There is no reason to think that any of Paul’s inspired writings were lost. The Colossians were to receive a letter from Laodicea while the Laodiceans would have received Scriptures that were not nominally addressed to them. Although some presume another 1 Corinthians, Paul referred to the letter that he was presently writing in 1 Corinthians 5. The word “write” appears twice where both are in the undefined aorist tense (1 Cor 5:9, 11). In summary, the New Testament writings formed a canon within its texts under the oversight of the Apostles. Prophetic and priestly oversight formed the Old Testament throughout the time of the Old Covenant. The Apostles and prophets’ oversight formed the New Testament in the first century.

Relying on the providence of God to preserve His written Word, New Testament Christians do not doubt the infallibility and preservation of Jesus’ words. Jesus said that He would send scribes, and He did (Matt 13:52; 23:34). In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus said, “My words will not pass away,” and these have not (Matt 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Those words are found and confirmed by witnesses in no other place than in the New Testament Scriptures. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus gave the words of God the Father to the Apostles (John 15:20; 17:8; Acts 1:2), and prayed for all who would hear the Word by the Apostles (John 17:20-–21). Christ told His Apostles that they were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:12–13; cf. 6.63; 12:47-–48; 15:20). The Apostles and prophets wrote the New Testament Scriptures, and their acceptance as Scripture was known by the early churches of Christ.

The Christian Scriptures testify and confirm every writer of the Christian Scriptures. In summary, John noted the writings of the Apostles, and Peter noted “Scripture” including his own writings, John’s, and Paul’s writings. Paul referred to Luke’s Gospel, and Luke referred to the other Gospels of the Apostles. Luke also noted his writing of Luke in his continuation in the Acts of the Apostles. Add the letters of James’s apostleship and fellowship with the Apostles, and then add Jude’s echo of 2 Peter 2 to these writings. Now, the Apostles’ oversight confirmed all twenty-seven writings of the New Testament in the first century. If anyone wants to follow Christ, they can. They can find Christ’s Church by His words.

By Scott Shifferd Jr.