Jones talks about books excluded from New Testament canon

Communications Staff — June 28, 2012

Following his previous First Person article at Baptist Press, Timothy Paul Jones, associate professor of leadership and church ministry at Southern Seminary, takes another look at how the church determined the writings that make up the New Testament, this time examining books excluded from the canon.

In his most recently published article, “Why baptized lions & talking crosses didn’t make it into your Bible,” Jones establishes the early church’s standard of accepting as authoritative only writings that came from those who had eyewitness encounters with Jesus (or those closely associated with them). He writes:

From the first century forward, Christians viewed testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus as uniquely authoritative. The logic of this standard was simple: The people most likely to know the truth about Jesus were either eyewitnesses who had encountered Jesus personally or close associates of these witnesses.

So, although Christians wrangled for some time about the authority of certain writings, it was something far greater than political machinations that drove these decisions. Their goal was to determine which books could be clearly connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus.

Jones specifically discusses the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Paul as examples of books that the church did not recognize as authoritative because they seemed not to represent eyewitness testimony of the life and ministry of Jesus. He concludes:

So what do these texts tell us about why certain ancient texts became authoritative among Christians? Even among the earliest Christians, testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of the risen Lord was uniquely authoritative. That’s why the supposed “lost Scriptures” were lost – or, more precisely, why they were not preserved with the writings that appear in your New Testament today.

In the article, Jones also notes that from the second century onward, Christians never questioned 19 of the books that constitute what became the official New Testament canon. They debated about the inclusion of several books – such as the letters of Peter, John’s second and third letters, the letters of James and Jude and the Book of Revelation – beyond the second century, but by the end of the fourth century, Jones explains, Christians were almost in universal agreement about the 27 books.

Jones’ entire article is available at the Baptist Press website, where his previous article – “How were the books of the New Testament chosen?” – is also available.

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