I have had the opportunity to lead the Builders Sunday Morning Small Group for three weeks studying the gospel according to Mark. This question was shared during our time together.
The question of how these particular four gospels were chosen among the various compilations and writings of the stories of Jesus that were circulating among the early church. It is a multi-layered story and first want to give you some links for your own research.
- Development of the New Testament canon at Wikipedia
- How the Biblical Canon Was Chosenat umc.org
- We Rely on the Bibleat umc.org
- Bible at Wikipedia
Now I’ll give you my best take on the question. One of the reasons that other gospels were not chosen is that others were determined to be Christian heresy – for example asserting that Jesus did not really die, was not human, was not divine, etc. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John provide a rich portrait of Jesus life, teaching, death and resurrection. This portrait is one which the early church found was nuanced in a way that did not paint Jesus in black and white and also clear enough that there were some boundaries to what was to be understood as orthodox.
What do you think? How would you respond to this question?
5 replies on “How were books of the Bible chosen?”
The other major consideration was, of course, apostolic authorship or attribution. Amazingly there continues to be wide consensus that Matthew was in fact the Apostle Matthew, Mark was a sort of chief of staff to Peter, Luke was closely related to both the apostles and traveled heavily with paul, and that John was in fact the apostle John. The early dating of both the synoptics and John also were a major consideration – as most of the psudopygrapha (sic) are dated much later than the Gospels. I would say that it was the Gospels themsleves and the early church writtings of paul and others that in fact ruled out other Gospels. In other words these four established the “Orthodoxy” by which other writtings were judged by the wider community.
Oh – forgot one very important thing – As Christians paramount in our understanding of this process was the inspiration and Guiding of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said as he returned to the Father that the spirit would “Lead Us Into All Truth” Clearly this is not a scientific argument on the rational process by which they were chosen, but It is an important component of how we as people of faith believe that the process was guided.
I would think that Apostolic origin, Church usage and inspiration of the Holy Spirit were the main criteria.
I’ve always thought cannon formation was a fascinating subject – I particularly like where it lines up with the Gospel of John. With prominent Bishops like Polycarp being aligned with the author. I’ve always wondered where we would be if Irenaeus hadn’t spoken his words about the four pillars.
Would we just have the synoptics?
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