How Did We Get The New Testament?
How did we get the New Testament (NT)? Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code fame) and others have long speculated that church councils conspired to throw out certain books of the Bible that would give us a story of Jesus different than ones we are familiar with now. Was there such a conspiracy, or did Christians basically recognize what was authentic and authoritative early on in the history of the faith? How did Christianity come up with the current 27 books of the New Testament?
Thankfully, we do have records from the early church that give us much of the information we need. We have the testimony of early church theologians (usually called "the church fathers"), manuscript evidence, and other historical records from the first four centuries of Christianity that tell us how the New Testament was collected and agreed upon by the faithful.
1. Testimony of the church fathers.
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 35-107) provided one of the earliest testimonies outside of the original apostles to tell us what was going on in the early church. He quoted the following books as divinely inspired: Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, Jude, and Revelation.
Here is a video from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary about the early church fathers:
Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) mentioned "the memoirs of the apostles" and spoke of them as on the same level as "the writings of the prophets." He used the formula "it is written" when quoting the four Gospels, thus putting Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John on the same plane as the Old Testament (OT).
Polycarp (A.D. 69-155) and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) refer to the OT and NT books with the same phrase "as it is said in these Scriptures." They obviously revered many of these NT books from the outset with the same reverence they had for books of the OT.
Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202) listed all four Gospels, Acts, all of Paul's epistles, plus the letter to the Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, Jude, and Revelation. Why weren't all 27 books of the NT immediately recognized as scripture? We must remember several things that were going on during these tumultuous times.
First, Christianity spread over the Roman Empire (and beyond) at lightning speed. Christian "colonies" were planted across incredibly vast territories. By the end of the first century, there were Christian communities from modern-day Spain and Britain to India (the Apostle Thomas took the Gospel to India and died a martyr's death there).