This comes to you courtesy of Anabaptists, even though these aren't all Anabaptist writings.
This is a collection of selected "pieces" from a variety of
books which give us somewhat of a glimpse of how the Bible came into its
present form of 66 accepted books.
For a summary of some of my personal views on the Bible,
click here (of course!).
This is a collection of selected "pieces" from a variety of books which give us somewhat of a glimpse of how the Bible came into its present form of 66 accepted books.
For a summary of some of my personal views on the Bible, click here (of course!).
Published by The Bible Institute Colportage Association, Chicago
© Copyright 1902
In classical Greek the world "canon" signifies properly, "a straight rod," or "a carpenter's rule." In the early ages of the Christian religion it was used with considerable indefiniteness of meaning, though generally denoting a standard of opinion and practice. Later it came to be used as a testing rule in art, logic, grammar, and ethics. Still later the sacred writings received the name of the "Canon of the Scriptures." When, therefore, we use the term we may mean one of two things, or, indeed, both:
1. The Canon of Truth--referring to the restriction of the number of books that compose the sacred volume. As such it was first used in the year A.D. 367.The sense in which we use the word in this chapter is that those books are canonical which Christians have regarded as authentic, genuine, and of divine authority and inspiration. These books are to be found in the Bible; in the Authorized Version of 1611, the Revised Version of 1881 and 1885, and in the American Revised Version of 1901.
2. The Rule of Faith and Life--referring to the application of the sacred Scriptures as a rule of our lives. In this sense it is used in Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16.
By uncanonical books we mean those that are not included in the canon, such as the Apocrypha, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas.
So long as the living voice of prophets and apostles was to be heard, there was no pressing need of a canon of Scripture. Under the inspiration of God they knew what was inspired, and what was not. But as soon as these men were dead--and with them inspiration ceased--it became necessary that their writings be gathered together to know what were their messages to the churches, and to preserve those writings from corruption.
Another reason why a canon was necessary was to preclude the possibility of additions to the number of inspired works. Already numerous writings were extant purporting to be inspired. Hence the question arose, Which of these are really inspired? What is the extent of inspired literature?
Still another and potent reason for the formation of the canon lay in the fact that the Emperor Diocletian issued in A.D. 302 an edict that all the sacred books should be destroyed by fire. hence the question arose as to which books rightly deserved the name of inspired and sacred.
a. The formation of the Old Testament Canon.
The formation of the Old Testament canon was gradual, and was composed of the writings which spread over many centuries.
Moses commanded that the books of the law be placed in the ark. This--with the addition of the book of Joshua--was done, and the sacred books were kept there during the wilderness journey, and also were in the ark during its permanent residence in Jerusalem. (Deuteronomy 31:9,26, cf. 2 Kings 22:8; Joshua 24:26; 1 Samuel 10:25.)
Then were gathered and placed in the temple the historical and prophetical books from Joshua to David's time. On the construction of the temple Solomon deposited in it the earlier books (2 Kings 22:8, Isaiah 34:16), and enriched the collection with inspired writings from his own pen, and also some prophetic writings. So we find Daniel (9:2, R.V.) referring to "the books," Isaiah to "the book of the Lord" (29:18, 34:16).
After Solomon's day a succession of prophets arose, Jonah, Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, and Habakkuk. These all flourished before the destruction of the temple, and enlarged the collection of existing sacred books by valuable additions.
After the Babylonian capture, when the temple was rebuilt and worship re-established, then doubtless were added the writings of Haggai and Zechariah.
About fifty years after the temple was rebuilt Ezra made a collection of the sacred writings (Neh. 8:2,3,14). To this collection were added the writings of Nehemiah, Malachi, and Ezra. It is a fact of history that Nehemiah gathered the "Acts of the Kings and the Prophets, and those of David," when founding a library for the second temple, 432 B.C. (See 2 Maccabees 2:13).
The canon of the Old Testament in the form we now have it, was the work of Ezra and the Great Synagogue. This fact is borne witness to in the most ancient Jewish writings. The Great Synagogue was composed of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. There is no doubt but that such a collection of books existed in the time of our Lord and the apostles (Luke 24:27,44).
b. The New Testament Canon
The New Testament canon was gradually added to that of the Old Testament. But it was some considerable time after our Lord's ascension before any of the books contained in it were actually written.
The first and most important work of the apostles was to deliver a personal testimony to the chief facts of the Gospel history (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:21,22). Their teaching was at first oral, and it was no part of their intention to create a permanent literature. A cycle of selected representative facts sufficed to form the groundwork of their oral Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-10).
But in the course of time many endeavored to commit to writing this oral Gospel (Luke 1:1-4). So long as the apostles were still living, the necessity for written records of the words and actions of our Lord was not so pressing. But when the time came for their removal from this world, it became extremely important the authoritative records should be put forth. Thus the Gospels came into existence, two by apostles themselves, and two by friends and close companions of the apostles.
But already had arisen another kind of composition. Founders of churches, often unable to visit them personally, desired to communicate with their converts for purposes of counsel, reproof, and instruction. Thus arose the Epistles, which were put forth from time to time to meet special needs and emergencies.
The persecution of Diocletian (302 A.D.) brought to the front the question of the sacred literature of the church. The persecutors demanded that the Scriptures should be given up. This the Christians refused to do. Hence the question became urgent--What books are apostolic? The answer lies in our New Testament. There were at that time many false and spurious gospels and epistles. Careful, prayerful, and deliberate examination, however, proved which were genuine and which were false. The genuine were received by the church as the inspired writings of the apostles and others whose names the books bear. Thus arose the New Testament canon.
In the study of canonics a word or two must be said regarding these terms, and what is meant by them.
At the time of the formation of the New Testament canon twenty out of the twenty-seven books were readily and universally accepted as genuine, and therefore called "Homologoumena" (i.e. acknowledged). These twenty books were the four Gospels, the Acts, the epistles of Paul (except that to the Hebrews), and the first epistles of John and Peter. The other seven books--Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, Revelation--were disputed for a time by particular churches, and were therefore styled "Antilegomena" (or disputed).
The question at issue with regard to the books called "Antilegomena," was not so much that of the canonicity of the writings, as whether they were really written by the men who were called their authors. Hebrews bore no name of its author, and differed in style from the acknowledged Pauline epistles; 2 Peter differed in style from 1 Peter; James and Jude styled themselves "servants," and not "apostles"; the write of 2 and 3 John called himself an "elder" or "presbyter," and not an "apostle"; Jude recorded apocryphal stories. For these reasons these books were not at once allowed their place in the canon. After a deliberate examination, however, they were at last received as genuine, the very delay proving the close scrutiny which their claims had undergone. At the beginning of the fourth century they were received by most of the churches, and at the end of that century they were received by all.
These books derive their name from a Greek word, apokruphos, which means "hidden." They are so called because they are,--(1) hidden; (2) of unknown authority; (3) spurious. They were not recognized as inspired books by the Jews, who regarded them, however as having high authority, and held them in high esteem as being a valuable history of their nation. Although they were carefully distinguished from the canonical Scriptures, their use was not only allowed, but many of them are quoted in Talmudical writings. They were given a place by themselves in the sacred volume, but with the distinct statement that they were not to be regarded as of equal authority with the books of the canon, their position being between the Old and New Testaments. We find them in some Bibles to-day--especially in Roman Catholic Bibles, since they are regarded by the roman church as inspired books.
The Apocrypha contains fourteen books, namely, 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the rest of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Song of the Three Children, the Story of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. it is true that by some of the fathers of the Christian church a few of these books have been quoted as canonical, but they were not looked on in this light; nor were their titles included in any list of canonical writings during the first four centuries after the birth of our Lord. It was not, indeed, until the Council of Trent, in 1545, that they were definitely declared to be an integral portion of Holy Scripture as acknowledged by the Romish church. "Philo," says Angus, "never quotes them as he does the sacred Scriptures; and Josephus expressly excludes them. The Jewish church never received them as part of the canon, and they are never quoted either by our Lord or by His apostles; a fact the more striking as St. Paul twice quotes heathen poets. It is remarkable, too, that the last inspired prophet closes his predictions by recommending to his countrymen the books of Moses, and intimates that no other messenger is to be expected by them till the coming of the second Elijah (Mal. 4:4-6) * * * Internal evidence, moreover, is against their inspiration. Divine authority is claimed by none of the writers, and by some it is virtually disowned (2 Mac. 2:23; 15:38). The books contain statements at variance with history (Baruch 1:2, compared with Jer. 43:6,7), self-contradictory, and opposed to the doctrines and precepts of Scripture."
For what, then, can the Apocryphal books be esteemed useful? In the Church of England some parts of them are read "for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine." By no Protestant church are these writings held to be the rule of faith, and contrasted with the canonical books, they are utterly without authority. From a historical point of view they are of value in showing the condition of the Jewish people, and relating certain events that intervene between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the Christian era.
These facts sufficiently indicate the course of the argument by which the canonicity of the sacred Scriptures is proved. Let it be proven that these books were written by the men whose names they bear, and that these men wrote under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, and the canonicity of the Bible is a settled fact. We have, therefore, a right to believe that we have in our Bible a rule of faith and life--yea, the supreme and ultimate rule--by which we may govern our lives in order that they may be in accordance with the revealed will of God.
Published by Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis
© Copyright 1936, Twelfth printing April 1953
An abundance of evidence indicates that the various books of the Old Testament were written at different times throughout a period of about a thousand years prior to 400 B.C. in the case of the New Testament the books were written from about 50 A.D. to 100 A.D.
The writers of the books of the Bible were, of course, human beings. But it has always been the historic Christian belief that they wrote under an influence of the Holy Spirit which has been called "Inspiration."
This fact of inspiration makes the Bible qualitatively different from all other books in the world. It is different not merely in degree but in kind. It stands in a class by itself, unique and unparalleled. It is in very truth the Word of God.
There were many other books in Bible lands than those we find in our present Bible. This was true both in the Old and the New Testament times. How did it come about that just the books that we have were included in the Bible and not others?
The answer in brief is that the selection was made by the spiritual consciousness of godly people. In order to appreciate what this statement means, let us note the activity of the Holy Spirit in the affairs of men. Both Scripture and experience make it abundantly clear that in the lives that are surrendered to God there is definite light and guidance that come from the Holy Spirit. Men become wondrously wise spiritually when they permit Him to instruct them. Jesus spoke of this to His disciples when He assured them of the Spirit's help whenever they came into a difficult situation: "The Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to say" (Luke 12:12). And on another occasion he told them that the Holy Spirit "shall guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).
Many of us have been repeatedly amazed at the spiritual understanding and insight of people who may have had but a meager general education, but who have been in attendance in the school of the Holy Spirit.
This divinely guided consciousness of godly people in Bible times enabled them to judge what was spiritually true and what was false in the books that circulated among them and to detect the evidences of inspiration. There were, to be sure, certain specific standards set up as time went on, such as authorship, time of writing, language used, and the like. But the main fact to bear in mind is that as a result of the operation of the spiritual judgments of godly people there emerged out of the mass of writings certain books which by common agreement were regarded as divinely inspired. These books we call the Canon or the Canonical Books. "Canon" is a Greek word which means a rule or measuring line. A Canonical book, therefore, is one that conforms to the "Canon," that is, passes the test.
There is much evidence to indicate that the Canon of the Old Testament was fixed by the about the year 400 B.C. largely as a result of the work of Ezra and Nehemiah and a council of Jews known as the Great Synagogue, which met after the return from the Babylonian captivity. Long before that time, however, many of the books we now have in the Old Testament had been agreed upon as inspired.
In the case of the New Testament the fixing of the Canon was done mainly at the council at Carthage in 387 A.D., although the evidence points to the selection of the books as early as about the year 100 A.D.
Certain books known as Apocryphal Books were by some regarded as on a par with the Canonical books, but they were not admitted to the Canon by those who were in the best position to pass on their merits.
There are no original manuscripts of any of the Bible books known to be in existence today. Perhaps God's wisdom is evident in this, for if any of them did exist, some people might be tempted to worship them as idols.
Humanly speaking, the absence of any originals or even of the earliest copies is explainable on the ground of the perishableness of the materials and the Jewish custom not to tolerate any soiled or worn-out copies of their Scriptures. These were either burned or buried.
Since there were no printing presses in Bible times, the various books had to be reproduced by hand. They were written on baked clay tablets, on parchment (sheepskin), on paper made of the papyrus reed, and later on vellum (calfskin). The copying was done with extreme and conscientious care.
In spite of the extreme care exercised in copying the Bible books, minor errors inevitably crept in through the course of the centuries. Hence there arose what are known as variations in the manuscripts. A great many of these have been listed, but scholars are of the opinion that not a single variation vitally affects any basic Christian truth.
In order to determine as nearly as possible what the original text was, a vast amount of scholarship has been expended in the study of old manuscripts, early translations, quotations from and references to the Bible in other ancient writings.
As a result of able, extensive, and painstaking textual scholarship it may be confidently affirmed that we possess today the Bible books essentially as they came from the inspired writers.
an article reprinted from the Sword and Trumpet magazine
© Copyright 1969
Today we know of no writings of Jesus. The only evidence there is that He ever wrote anything is found in the story in John 8:1-11, where he wrote a few words on the ground with His finger. Since this is true, how can His Word be identified with the Scriptures, and particularly with the twenty-seven-book-New-Testament canon? At first sight it might appear that to attempt to construct a relation between the historical events and the New Testament canon is an a posteriori matter. The first person to list the twenty-seven books now canonized into the New Testament was Athanasius (c. 293-373), a bishop of Alexandria. And it was not until the fifth century that disputes about what books compose the canon generally ceased. Thus it would appear that the New Testament canonization took place after the historical redemptive events and therefore should be judged as a matter of church history, not a part of the events. This is true. The formation of the canon as a closed collection of twenty-seven books belongs to church history. Yet there is another point to be considered; that is, what makes the twenty-seven New Testament books the Word of God revealed to man and thus the authority in religious areas? The answer to this lies in the historical events and in the attitude of the early church toward the twenty-seven books. Let us explore this further.
Jesus Christ established the means by which His Word would be communicated to distant areas and in future times. he called the apostles to follow Him and "come away" from their other interests and learn from Him. These apostles were commissioned to preach and were given "power against unclean spirits..., to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, " or to share in some of the things Christ Himself did (Matt. 10, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16). Christ promised them help in doing this after he would leave the earth. He promised a "Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name; he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you" (John 14:26, ASV). This promise is most significant. It promised the apostles guidance in their teaching and writing, to enable them to recall and teach all things He had taught them. This promise was again made before His ascension (Acts 1:8).
The apostles knew of this "power of attorney" to represent Christ and of the Holy Spirit's guidance in carrying out the task. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13). To the Corinthians he wrote that, "We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God... And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:12-13, RSV). Since he received it from Christ, he could tell his readers to "take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37, also 7:10, ASV), or that "if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him; that he may be ashamed: (2 Thess. 3:14). Paul also gave many other indications that he received his message from Christ (Gal. 1:12, Eph. 3:3, 1 Cor. 15:8, Acts 9:3-6), and that "it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:5). The writer of Hebrews also knew of the same Holy Spirit guidance of the apostles; "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation" which, having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will" (Heb. 2:3-4, ASV). John also knew of the same Holy Spirit guidance; he said, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John; who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:1-2, ASV; 1:10-11, 19; 2:1ff; 4:2; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). These Scriptures show that they apostles knew of the guidance that enabled them to write with Christ's authority. This was the method Christ established to communicate His Word to distant areas and to future times.
There are basically two different forms of communication, oral and written. The apostles used both in exercising their "power of attorney" to present Christ's Word. The oral form is by far the earliest form used and dates back to the their first commission to "preach" (Matt. 10, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16). Apostolic preaching was for many years the only form used and held a place of high importance throughout the Apostolic era. Since this such an important form of communication, authorized by Christ for use by the apostles, we should understand it and be acquainted with the New Testament concept of it.
In the New Testament there are many references to this oral form. Luke wrote that his writings "were delivered . . . unto us (Luke and his contemporaries) which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Luke 1:1-4). Jude also wrote that when he was eager 'to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Paul wrote, "stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15).
As time passed, the apostles increasingly put their communications into a written form. This can be concluded from the Scriptures cited in the last section, in which there is evidence of an increase in the use writing as the church spread. This was an expected and natural development. As the apostles opened work in more distant areas, they could keep in contact with churches by writing. Also it was inevitable that the apostles would die one by one. These two factors made the certainty of the apostles' oral traditions doubtful, thus placing greater importance on the written word. The written word quickly received a place of high significance. It was placed on the same level as the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul's letters were read in church gatherings on the same level as Old Testament Scriptures (1 Thess. 5:27, Col. 4:16). Peter classed Paul's letter with the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15). John presupposed that his Book of the Revelation would be read as other Scriptures (Rev. 1:3).
It is clear from the above that the written word was given great significance, and as time passed it was given greater priority over the oral form of transmission. Actually the written word was a fixation of the oral form.
Thus far we have established a relationship between the apostles' written word and Christ's historical redemptive events. The question now arising is, "How did the apostles' writings come together to form the New Testament canon--the collection of books which are received as genuine and inspired Holy Scripture?" The answer to this question is simple. The Christians and the church simply acknowledged the apostles' authority and accepted their writings, and writings of those intimately associated with them (as Mark and Luke), as part of the Holy Scripture. The church did not put together a canon that made books authoritative because they were included in it. The church only acknowledged what was given by the apostles, and included books in the canon because of this apostolical authority. They never regarded these books as anything else than canonical.
The actual canonization process took a long time. At first each of the apostle/s writings were acknowledged individually as authoritative. There was no canon of them that gave them authority because they were in it. But as time passed the need for a canon increased. False teachers arose and questioned the authority of certain of the writings that did not agree with their ideas. This forced the Christian brotherhood to gather together the individual apostle/s writings and assemble them into a canon. The church gathered together the writings that were accepted as the apostles' from the very beginning. This was no real problem for the church since she as a whole generally acknowledged the same writings. The writings that were questioned were small in number and then generally questioned only in late times by obviously false teachers and in small local areas.
Today we accept the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as authoritative and can do so without the slightest doubt. We depend on the early Christians' decisions that each of the twenty-seven books has apostolic authorship. We do this since there were in a much better position to judge. The reason for this lies in the concept of apostolicity, which limits it to a certain place and time. Those at the correct place and time, the recipients of each writing, are in the best position to say where the writings came from. Thus we accept their decision and can do so with confidence since the Holy Spirit was at work guiding the decision.
In summary, the New Testament is our authority in religious matters because it is tied to the historical redemptive events. Christ established the means by which it was written. He called apostles to give His Word and gave the Holy Spirit as a guide. The early Christians accepted their word as Christ's Word because of this call. The early church gathered together the apostles' writings, and by acknowledging their authority from Christ, completed the last step in the recording of the final revelation of God to man, the New Testament.
It is clear that Christ and the Apostles treated Scripture as authoritative and as constituting truth. The question that now needs answering is, "Are the Scriptures we possess today worthy to be treated as Christ treated them?" We know that through the historical redemptive events Scripture was "breathed of God." This applies to the originals and not to copies of them. The original was made by men moved by the Holy Spirit. The copies were made by ordinary men. But does this fact mean a great loss to us? Are our present-day copies so poor that they are not trustworthy? When one realizes that God revealed His plan of redemption to men through historical events, and that we know about these events only through Scripture, one will also realize that these Scriptures must be trustworthy. Otherwise we would not know of His plan of redemption. It is beyond one's imagination that an infallible and loving God would let His plan of redemption be lost through untrustworthy copies of the Scriptures. Also, when one realizes that God prevented errors from entering the originals by guiding the writers by the Holy Spirit, one will realize that God would also have prevented significant errors from entering through copying.
One's confidence in our Scriptures is also supported by the attitude of Christ and the Apostles toward them. They did not hesitate to trust the Old Testament Scriptures. These too were not originals. If they had faith in the adequacy of their copies and never questioned them, we should have even more faith in our New Testament copies as being trustworthy.
Many of the copies we possess are bound to contain errors due to the numerous copyings and recopyings they have gone through. Although the copying process did introduce a few errors, it also increased the means for finding errors. By careful study and comparison of the many old manuscripts, it is possible to obtain a sound proximity of the originals. The errors that were introduced here and there in some of the copies are found by comparing the many manuscripts, making it possible to approximate the original. This approximation of the original can be considered as inerrant and infallible; that is, it can be held as a reliable authority (never deceiving or misleading) and is free from error (always giving the thought of the original). This does not necessarily mean that we have a slavish verbatim copy of the original down to every small word. There might be trifling variations in wording. But these are so minor that there is no doubt about the authors' thoughts not being known to us, and in most cases there is little doubt about now knowing the words they used to communicate the thoughts.
It is not within the realm of this paper to discuss the alleged discrepancies in Scripture. But some comments will be made. First, it should be said that many of the alleged discrepancies are the result of an eager search for them and from a conviction that they exist. They are not necessarily the result of an honest and scientific inquiry. Too often the desire to find discrepancies has resulted in passages being cited as discrepancies when they could be harmonized. Scientific methods do not treat a difficulty as an example of a discrepancy immediately, without seriously studying first to see if it can be reasonably and naturally explained. This does not mean that all apparent discrepancies can be harmonized. But this is not serious. In all probability, if more was known about the events surrounding such difficulties, we could readily understand them. our difficulties are often the result of a lack of knowledge. Actually it is difficult to prove a discrepancy. Because if any reasonable explanation can be found, a discrepancy can not necessarily be claimed.
Questions have been raised about the above view. Some say it should be admitted that discrepancies exist. But before this is admitted, one should examine the implications of such a move. The implication would be that God has presented a faulty revelation of His plan of salvation, but how could an all-knowing God "breathe" words that contain errors or faulty information? Man could do it, but not God. Also, if God allowed errors to arise in Scripture, can we trust any part of it? Logic would say that if errors exist in minor points, the major points could not be trusted. In light of these considerations one may well take the view point that there are no errors in our Scriptures. This can be done honestly. As said before, if alleged errors are closely examined, most can be explained. The few which cannot in all probability could, if all the details surrounding the events were known. It is honest to admit we lack understanding rather than hastily to proclaim that errors exist.
Published by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania
© Copyright 1968 -- second printing
We may begin this discussion by reminding ourselves that it is true, both that the Bible contains God's Word, and also, because of its Holy Spirit inspiration, that it is God's Word. And since the entire corpus of Scripture may be recognized as God's Word, there is an ultimate unity to the Book which is dependent upon God Himself. In other words, the canons of the Old and New Testament Scriptures are a divine intention. It is agreed on all hands--by both Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars--that when Christ and the apostles refer to the Scriptures they mean the twenty-four books of the Jewish canon, our thirty-nine books. And there is no dispute within Catholic or Protestant circles on the twenty-seven New Testament books. The authority of these New Testament books--just like the twenty-four of the Old--does not rest on ecclesiastical decree or pronouncement. They are in the canon of the church because they were inspired; they are not inspired because of any conciliar action. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament have an authority which the church recognized as the voice of God. This voice was heard basically in apostolic books, either written or dictated by apostles, or resting on their witness. (Thus Mark wrote down the preaching of Peter, while Paul was Luke's spiritual father.) The ancient Christian Church had a lively tradition as to which books could be depended on to present apostolic truth. (A sort of skeleton canon emerged first, evidently within the second century, while a number of the smaller books were added to the canon later. As early as A.D. 367 Athanasius listed our twenty-seven New Testament books and designated them as canonical.)
But what evidence do we have of how the New Testament was formulated? We have sufficient to be able to construct a picture of the position at the close of the 2nd century. By this time our four Gospels, and no others, were in official use. Irenaeus, an early-church father who had contacts with both eastern and western churches, leaves us in no doubt about the 'fourfold' Gospels. Tertullian and other church fathers of the same time confirm this. Much spurious literature circulated (some of it the work of heretics) and this included 'Gospels'. But there is no evidence that any Gospel other than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was received as Scripture within the orthodox church. By the end of the 2nd century the four Gospels and Acts were indisputably 'accepted' writings. There is also no doubt that the thirteen epistles of Paul were by this time accepted on the same level as the Gospels.
There is less evidence about the remaining books apart from 1 Peter and 1 John. Indeed the history of the canon in the 3rd and 4th centuries revolves around the position of these remaining books. the book of Revelation was certainly used in the 2nd century, but it is not until the 3rd century that evidence for its use becomes widespread. The Epistle to the Hebrews was known and used at an early date (it is quoted by Clement of Rome, in about AD 95), but there was later more reluctance to receive it in the west than in the east. Origen did not believe it was written by Paul, but he did not reject it as an apostolic writing. It was not until the 4th century that it was generally received in the western church. many churches regarded it as Paul's, but some church fathers (Augustine among them) adopted the same view as Origen. In modern times this view has been almost universally accepted.
The 'general' epistles--2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James and Jude--encountered resistance in some of the churches, but no reason is given. It would seem to have been doubt about the suitability of their contents, rather than doubt about their origin. The choice of 'approved' books was largely influenced by their suitability for public reading in church, and it is easy to see why these short letters were not much used for this purpose.
So far nothing has been said about church councils. The reason is that no church council made any pronouncement about the canon until longer after it had been established and was in use in the individual churches. The books listed by the Council of Laodicea (AD 363) and the similar list agreed at the council at Carthage (AD 397) are identical with our New Testament, except that the former omitted the book of Revelation. It is clear that the New Testament canon was not the result of ecclesiastical pronouncements, but grew in accordance with the needs of the church. The major factor governing selection was 'apostolicity'--the conviction that the books represented the position of the apostolic age.
The first Christians followed Christ's example and used the Old Testament with reverence. The multiplying Christian churches continued to read and study the Scriptures just as the Jews in the synagogues did. The earliest Christians, of course, were Jews who had accepted Jesus' claim to be the Savior of whom the Old Testament spoke.
Need for a new witness. By itself, however, the Old Testament said only that the Savior would come, not that He had come. The world needed a permanent, completely trustworthy testament (witness) to the actual events of the birth, life, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, especially as the eyewitnesses passed from the scene.
The language used. The original books of the New Testament were most likely written in Greek. The New Testament employed koine, the most common form of the Greek language. Koine was spoken as a second language throughout most of the Roman Empire. Translations into other languages also appeared, but because so many people in the first century A.D. understood Greek, the New Testament books in their original language immediately enjoyed a vast circulation.
By the end of the second century, and possibly by A.D. 125 or even earlier, most Christians had accepted the books of the New Testament as the Word of God.
That's all for now, folks! Halley's Bible Handbook has much material I would like to use. I very likely won't bother typing it all in; I recommend you check it out, though.