Have you ever given much thought to these two questions?
There is quite a bit of confusion out there on the internet today about the origin of the four gospels.
The four gospels are essentially “biographies” of Jesus that describe the events of His life and ministry, and yet most people (including most Christians) do not know who wrote them or when they were written.
These are very important questions. It is vitally important to know if we can rely on these documents to be accurate sources of information about the historical Jesus.
The Christians Apologetics & Research Ministry has a really good article that contains some excellent background information for anyone who is just starting to research this topic:
Who Decided What Books Were Going To Get Into The New Testament?
Even though there has been a relentless assault on the Bible in movies, television, books and other media, most American Christians still stick their heads in the sand and won’t think about where the Bible originally came from.
Rather than being able to defend the Bible, we have noticed in our interactions with America’s pastors and spiritual leaders that most of them have NO IDEA where the Bible came from.
In particular, we have noticed that there is substantial confusion even among America’s Christian leaders regarding the development of the New Testament.
Even most pastors have fallen for the misconception that a bunch of people sat around a big table during some grand “council” (such as the Council of Nicaea) called by Rome and picked out which books would go into the New Testament.
Hopefully after enough people read this article this question will be settled once and for all.
First of all, the canon of the New Testament was not even remotely on the agenda at the Council of Nicaea:
But that fact hasn’t stopped Dan Brown, the author of the Davinci Code, and many others from trying to promote the claim that that New Testament books were not decided upon until the 4th century during the Roman Catholic councils.
So does this ridiculous claim have any merit whatsoever?
Well, for starters, Dan Brown is not a religious expert in the least. In fact, Dan Brown admitted in court that his wife did most of the research for the Davinci Code:
The truth of the matter is that the Davinci Code is interesting fiction, but the facts about the development of the New Testament tell us an entirely different story:
Fact #1) Paul’s letters were already considered scripture in the mid 1st century. Take a look at how the apostle Peter himself called Paul’s letters Scripture:
2 Peter 3:14-16
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Fact #2) The apostle Paul, writing between A.D. 62 and A.D. 65, quoted Luke 10:7 and called it Scripture:
Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.
Now look at how Paul quoted Luke 10:7 as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18….
For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
This clearly establishes that the apostle Paul himself considered the gospel of Luke to be Scripture in the middle of the 1st century. It is not surprising that the apostle Paul had access to the gospel of Luke since it was written by his traveling companion Luke.
Fact #3) Irenaeus, writing about 170 A.D., tells us that the four-fold gospel was already a rock solid fact by then:
But it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church has been scattered throughout the world, and since the “pillar and ground” of the church is the Gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing incorruption on every side, and vivifying human afresh. From this fact, it is evident that the Logos, the fashioner [demiourgos] of all, he that sits on the cherubim and holds all things together, when he was manifested to humanity, gave us the gospel under four forms but bound together by one spirit. (Against Heresies 3.11.8)
If the four gospels had already been well established by 170 A.D., then how in the world can anyone claim that the four gospels were picked out in the 4th century?
Fact #4) The fact of the four-fold gospel is also reflected in the “Muratorian Fragment” which was written about the same time (around 170 A.D.) that Irenaeus was writing. The Muratorian Fragment lists for us almost the entire New Testament canon. The document may have indeed been a complete list of New Testament books, but we only have a portion of the ancient document. While we do not have the very beginning of the document or the very end of the document, the portion of the document that we do have tells us that there are FOUR (and only four) gospels.
Fact #5) We have approximately 50 manuscripts of the New Testament that PRE-DATE the Roman takeover of the established church in the 4th century. So there WAS a New Testament before Rome ever called a “council”.
Fact #6) We have more than 32 THOUSAND New Testament quotations from the early church writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. In fact, we could recreate virtually the entire New Testament just from the quotes of the early church writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. We can be QUITE certain that the New Testament we have today has come down to us just as it was from the earliest days, and we can be QUITE certain what the early Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries considered to be Scripture.
Yes, the Roman government came along in the 4th century and corrupted and paganized the institutional church. There were many Christians who resisted this, and they were persecuted brutally. However, Christianity and the Bible were doing JUST FINE before Rome ever came on the scene. Anyone who says that the books of the New Testament were selected in the 4th century simply does not know their history.