In the last few weeks we have been looking at how the Old Testament of the Bible came together. This week we are going to examine how we can know that the New Testament is the very word of God. The process of canonizing (measuring) the New Testament started during the early years of the church, as the apostles’ writings were recognized as inspired and were continually read at church gatherings. Believers knew that the apostles were divinely appointed by God and gifted to communicate His message to the church.
Each manuscript was handwritten (the literal meaning of manuscript)and very precious to the early believers. There were several reasons that a New Testament canon needed to be established. One reason was the persecution of the church. As believers faced torture, imprisonment or death for possessing the Scriptures, they needed to establish which books were sacred and worth risking their lives in order to preserve.
Also, there were spurious writings attributed to the apostles in widespread circulation throughout the first few centuries, so it was important for the early church leaders to determine which ones were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and should be recognized as Holy Scriptures. Although most of the books we now know as our New Testament were already being revered as Scripture, there were a few books that still needed to be examined. All along, we can see God’s hand in leading the divine process of revealing Himself through the written word of the New Testament.
In AD 393 at the Synod of Hippo and in AD 397 at the Synod of Carthage, Christian leaders came together to confirm the 27 books of the New Testament. The word synod refers to a council or meeting of church leaders. The confirmation was not taken lightly. There were at least four general tests which were carefully used and applied to help determine the books to be canonized. They were:
- Apostolicity: Was the book’s author a true apostle or closely connected to one or more of the apostles?
- Universality: Does the body of Christ at large accept the book as inspired and authoritative? Was the book universally received by the church and not just by a faction?
- Consistency: Does the book tell the truth about God as it is already known by previous revelation? Is the book consistent with accepted Christian doctrine?
- Inspiration: Does the book’s content reflect the high moral and spiritual principles that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit? Does the book give evidence of being divinely inspired? This was the ultimate test.
The Synod at Carthage only confirmed what the church had already recognized—that these 27 books were the divinely inspired Word of God.
Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce wrote,
One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect…What the synods of Hippo and Carthage did, was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities, but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.1
Join me next week as we answer the question, “Is what we have now, what they had then?”
 F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Books: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981) p. 22.
This series is an excerpt from my book, Becoming a Woman of the Word – Knowing, Loving and Living the Bible. For the next few weeks I am offering the book as our $5 special for the month. Click Here for more details.