Bible Statistics and History
New Testament

What issues did the early church have to confront as it developed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament?


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The impetus to define a New Testament for what had become the major branch of Christianity came after the 'heretic' Marcion defined a canon for his branch of Christianity. Until this firm decision was made, various churches within the proto-Catholic-Orthodox Church used whatever books they felt appropriate.

Many of the early gospels were too different theologically from the doctrines of the branch of the Church, so these were easy to reject. Other gospels, although somewhat contrary to the Church's viewpoint, were so popular that they were difficult to reject. This group includes the Gospel of St Thomas, sometimes called the fifth gospel because of the early case for its inclusion. Eventually, the influential bishop, Irenaeus, declared that there were four gospels, just as there are four winds, and that the four gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Another important issue was establishing which books were authentic and which were not. The Book of Hebrews would probably have been excluded and then forgotten, except that some thought it to have been written by the apostle Paul. Similarly, the Book of Revelation was only saved because it was signed by a person called 'John', whom some thought to have been the disciple John.

By the time of Eusebius (260-340 CE) a consensus was emerging, similar to the New Testament we have today. He listed the books of the New Testament under four headings:


Matthew, Mark, Luke and John



1 and 2 Corinthians,

Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians,

1 and 2 Thessalonians,

1 and 2 Timothy,

Titus, Philemon,


[Not Colossians]

1 John

1 Peter




2 Peter

2 and 3 John


The Acts of Paul

Tbe Sbepherd of Hermas

The Apocalypse of Peter

The Epistle of Barnabas

The Gospel of the Hebrews

The Didache



The Gospel of Peter

The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Matthias

The Acts of Andrew

The Acts of John