The Church Without The Bible?

Since the recorded words and actions of Jesus, with the writings and recorded words of His apostles, do not plainly call for the development of a [New Testament] canon, how or why did canonization arise?

People & Events Pressing Canonization…

The first known to establish a canon of New Testament Scripture was Marcion (whom the church has declared to be a heretic). [see appendix charts for various canon lists in comparative.] 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. The Christians refused to do this. Hence the question became urgent: What books are apostolic? Constantine, Roman Emperor from 306-337 AD, offered money to various Church leaders that they might agree upon a single canon to be used by all Christians as the word of God. In response, Church leaders gathered together at the First Council of Nicaea to agree by vote. The 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius (367 AD), bishop of Alexandria, listed 27 books. Additional fixing of the Canon was done at the council at Carthage in 387 A.D. During 1545-46, at the Council of Trent, the Catholic church pronounced the Canon to be closed/complete. Out of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther rejected Apostolic authorship for Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.

One Voice

From I Peter 4:11, there is given the admonition: Whoever speaks, let him speak the word/oracles/utterances of God. Why would Peter admonish all members of the Church to do what was anticipated in/through the 13 Apostles of Christ? And yet, being found in one accord [Acts 4:24; 5:12; 8:6] had swiftly become the expression and boundary of the Church. In oral Apostolic tradition (alongside the pre-Christian books of Law, Prophecy, History & Poetry), the Christian Church was founded and expanded for more than a century vis-à-vis the voice and discernment of God.
It is historically inaccurate to describe Christianity as "a religion of the book," that is, the Bible. Clearly Jesus founded a Church through the instrument of His Apostles. The Apostles faithfully transmitted the word of God that was given to them by Jesus. Eventually, a summation of this teaching was transmitted to the Church in written form, which we call the New Testament.
from Luther and the Canon of the Bible,
The historic Christian belief is that the Holy Spirit, who controlled the writing of the individual books, also controlled their selection and collection, thus continuing to fulfill our Lord's promise that He would guide His disciples into all the truth. This, however, is something that is to be discerned by spiritual insight, and not by historical research.
from The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, ch. 3; F.F. Bruce
John 16:13-14 tells, When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. If the Spirit of Truth no longer guides, speaks, glorifies, or discloses, except by/with the written word (canon), we ought daily confine our own speech to all of what that has formerly been disclosed by Him in order to be sincere and blameless(ref: I Peter 4:11, Philippians 1) An accurate, written record of the Apostolic oral tradition thereby becomes the material channel to cross 19 centuries; draw orthodoxy; refute heresy; aide veneration; impose unity.(?)


Adopting a (written) New Testament canon as the function of the Spirit of Truth to guide (us) evokes a series of depletive elements: It is written, The word of God is alive/living and powerful/active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [Hebrews 4:12] Rather than prevent division, the word of God does bring it forward and about. [Matthew 10:34-37; I Corinthians 11:17-19] There is a distance covered for us to receive God's own purpose [I John 2:18-20] while standing firm against temptation toward human division (for the sake of convenience or an attempt to reach temporal peace). And, there was/is more wrestling of our persuasion for a New Testament a canon…

Without a universal canon
  How do we effectively oppose hypocrisy or refute heresy?

We are obligated to do so, and in the same Spirit as within those who faced acute heretical notions before there was New Testament manuscript. [II Corinthians 6; Galatians 2:11-21; 6:1 Titus 2:15; II Peter 2, etc.]

Without a universal canon
  How do we establish a systematic and/or methodic outline in Christian faith?

Western (Greco-Roman) thought assigns wisdom via empiric, systematic methods. [ref: I Corinthians 18-25] The letter to the Romans (through Paul's heart) may come closest to touching systematic process. Yet, within New Testament (Apostolic) authorship (and for the honest reader), salvation is described in method and/or demonstration more than a dozen different ways -- not one citation in conflict with the others, nor one example independent of another. A profound arrogance has been fed in our confinement, distillation, specification, and delineation put to the word (logos) of God.

The Church Without The Bible? No. The reader will note that we have quoted from, and hold precious to, canonized texts. Be clear that no opposition to the letters and records of the New Testament should be drawn from here. Rather, by this writing we re-affirm great confidence in the speaking of the Holy Spirit through the brethren.

    A  P  P  E  N  D  I  X

New Testament Books regarded as Traditional Scripture by Early Writers:

(b. 296)

(b. 185)

(b. 130)

(b. 85)

1 Corinthians1 Corinthians1 Corinthians1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians2 Corinthians2 Corinthians2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians1 Thessalonians1 Thessalonians1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians2 Thessalonians2 Thessalonians2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy1 Timothy1 Timothy
2 Timothy2 Timothy2 Timothy
1 Peter1 Peter1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John1 John1 John
2 John
3 John
* The Revelation of John was first received and then rejected by many churches in Asia Minor.

Disputed Books of the New Testament

The table below shows which of the disputed New Testament books and other writings are included in catalogs of canonical books up to the eighth century.
Y indicates that the book is plainly listed as Holy Scripture
N indicates that the author lists it in a class of disputed books
M indicates that the list may be construed to include the book as Holy Scripture
X indicates that the book is expressly rejected by the author.
S indicates that the author does not mention the book at all, which implies its rejection.
Heb. - Epistle to the Hebrews
Jas. - Epistle of James
Jn. - Second and Third Epistle of John
Pet. - Second Epistle of Peter
Jude - Epistle of Jude
Rev. - Revelation of John
Shep. - Shepherd of Hermas
Apoc. - Apocalypse of Peter
Barn. - Epistle of Barnabas
Clem. - Epistle of Clement
 Greek & LatinDateHeb.Jas.Jn.Pet.JudeRev.Shep.Apoc.Barn.Clem.
Muratorian Fragment170SSMSYYXNSS
Eusebius of Caesarea324YNNNNNXXXS
Cyril of Jerusalem348YYYYYSSSSS
Cheltenham list360SSYYSYSSSS
Council of Laodicea363YYYYYSSSSS
Gregory of Nazianzus380YYYYYSSSSS
Amphilocius of Iconium380YNNNNNSSSS
Augustine397 YYYYYYSSSS
3rd Council of Carthage397YYYYYYSSSS
Codex Claromontanus400MYYYYYYYYS
Letter of Innocent I405YYYYYYSXSS
Decree of Gelasius550YYYYYYXSSS
Isadore of Seville625YYYYYYSSSS
John of Damascus730YYYYYYSSSS
Apostolic Canons380YYYYYSSSSY
Peshitta Version400YYSSSSSSSS
Report of Junilius550YNNNNNSSSS

Muratorian Fragment. The oldest known list of New Testament books, discovered by Muratori in a seventh century manuscript. The list itself is dated to about 170 because its author refers to the episcopate of Pius I of Rome (died 157) as recent. He mentions only two epistles of John, without describing them. The Apocalypse of Peter is mentioned as a book which "some of us will not allow to be read in church."
Origen. An influential teacher in Alexandria, the chief city of Egypt. His canon is known from the compilation made by Eusebius for his Church History (see below). He accepted Hebrews as Scripture while entertaining doubts about its author.
Eusebius of Caesarea. An early historian of the Church. His list was included in his Church History. He ascribed Hebrews to Paul.
Cyril of Jerusalem. Bishop of Jerusalem. The omission of Revelation from his list is likely due to a general reaction against this book in the east after excessive use was made of it by the Montanists.
Cheltenham list. A catalog of uncertain date contained in a tenth-century Latin manuscript of miscellaneous content, probably from Africa.
Council of Laodicea. The authenticity of this list of canonical books has been doubted by many scholars because it is absent from various manuscripts containing the decrees of the regional (Galatian) Council. The list may have been added later.
Athanasius. Bishop of Alexandria. His list was published as part of his Easter Letter in 367. After the list he declares, "these are the wells of salvation, so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the sayings in these. Let no one add to these. Let nothing be taken away."
Gregory of Nazianzus. Bishop of Constantinople from 378 to 382.
Amphilocius of Iconium. Bishop of Iconium in Galatia.
Rufinus. An elder in the church in Aquileia (northeast Italy), and a friend of Jerome.
Epiphanius. Bishop of Salamis (isle of Cyprus) from 367 to 402.
Jerome. Born near Aquileia, lived in Rome for a time, and spent most of his later life as a monk in Syria and Palestine. Possibly, the most learned churchman of his time; he was commissioned by the bishop of Rome to produce an authoritative Latin version (the Vulgate).
Augustine. Bishop of Hippo (in the Roman colony on the northern coast of western Africa).
Third Council of Carthage. Not a general council but a regional council of African bishops, much under the influence of Augustine.
Codex Claromontanus. A stichometric catalog from the third century is inserted between Philemon and Hebrews in this sixth century Greek-Latin manuscript of the epistles of Paul. The list does not have Hebrews, but neither does it have Philippians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and so many scholars have supposed that these four books dropped out by an error of transcription, the scribe's eye jumping from the end of the word ephesious (Ephesians) to the end of ebraious (Hebrews). Besides the books indicated on the table the list includes the apocryphal Acts of Paul.
Letter of Innocent I. A letter from the bishop of Rome to the bishop of Toulouse.
Decree of Gelasius. Traditionally ascribed to Gelasius, bishop of Rome from 492 to 496, and thought to be promulgated by him as president of a council of 70 bishops in Rome, but now regarded by most scholars as spurious; possibly composed by an Italian churchman in the sixth century.
Isadore of Seville. Archbishop of Seville (Spain), and founder of a school in that city. His list appears in an encyclopedia he compiled for his students.
John of Damascus. An eminent theologian of the Eastern Church, born in Damascus, but a monk in Jerusalem for most of his life. His list is derived from the writings of Epiphanius.
Apostolic Canons. One of many additions made by the final editor of an ancient Syrian book of church order called The Apostolic Constitutions. The whole document purports to be from the apostles, but this imposture is not taken seriously by any scholar today. Nevertheless, the work is useful as evidence for the opinions of a part of the Syrian churches towards the end of the fourth century. The list of canonical books was probably added about the year 380.
Peshitta Version. The old Syriac version did not include the four disputed books indicated on the table. These were not generally received as Scripture in the Syrian churches until the ninth century.
Report of Junilius. An African bishop of the sixth century. After visiting the Syrian churches he wrote a work describing their practices, in which his list is given.
The Shepherd of Hermas. A autobiographical tale about a certain Hermas who is visited by an angelic Pastor (Shepherd), who imparts teaching to him in the form of an allegory. Likely written in Rome around 100 A.D.
The Apocalypse of Peter. This work expands upon the Olivet discourse (Mat. 24-25) with descriptions of the last judgment and vivid scenes of heaven and hell. Written probably about 130 A.D.
The Epistle of Barnabas. A discourse on Christian life ascribed to Barnabas, the missionary companion of Paul. Written probably about 120 A.D. in Italy.
The Epistle of Clement. A letter written about 100 A.D. to the church in Corinth from the church in Rome, and traditionally ascribed to Clement of Rome. The author has heard that the disorderly Corinthians have now ousted their elders, and in this letter he urges them to repent of the action.