Course:  Church History (1)  

Course Title:  Church History and the Standard of the New Testament

Section Two: Final Authority – Scripture or the Church?


Lesson Six:  The Canon of Scripture, Bible Manuscripts and Bible Translation.

Text:  ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:’ (2 Timothy 3:16)



·        Evidence supporting the Canon of Scripture


Evidence from subjective experience

The greatest evidence that the Bible is God’s Word is the evidence of personal experience.

Those who have experienced salvation know that the Bible is the Word of God.


Subjective experience is confirmed by many others

Personal experience is confirmed by the testimony of multitudes throughout Church history.


Criteria for the Canon of Scripture (objective evidence)

The writings of the New Testament have been upheld as scripture since the time of the Early Church.  The Canon of Scripture was based upon strict criteria regarding who wrote it, the message of the book and acceptance by church leaders.


·        Why was the New Testament written?


The New Testament was written for a specific purpose

Luke – it seemed a good idea (Luke 1:3).

Epistles written to build up the believers and leaders (Pastoral epistles).

Paul wrote his epistle to Philemon concerning a runaway slave who he led to the Lord in Rome.


·        Scripture is written out of experience


New Testament scripture is the inspired word of God expressed through the experiences of the Apostles.

Scripture can never be separated from experience.

Doctrine without experience is dead

Experience that is not built upon doctrine is empty.





·        How is the New Testament the inspired word of God?



Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit (theopneustos - God breathed)

‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:’  (2 Timothy 3:16)


In what way is scripture inspired?

The Roman Catholic Council of Trent says scripture was dictated by God.






Celebrated on the eighth day of the month of April, in the year MDXLVI. (1546)




The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent,--lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the Same three legates of the Apostolic Sec presiding therein,--keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand;



Question:   Was scripture dictated by the Holy Spirit?

The style in which scripture is written shows that it could not be dictated by the Holy Spirit.


Dictation only uses another persons intellect to take down information.

Scripture is not written like that.

The epistles of Paul express the mind of Paul and are sent to people for a specific purpose.


The Holy Spirit moved upon the intellect of the writer but the writer is expressing his own thoughts.


Lesson Outline

  1. The Canon of Scripture

      Case Study: Didache

      Development of the New Testament Canon


  1. Bible Manuscripts




  1. Bible Translation

      Translated to Latin – Jerome

      Translated from Latin – Wycliffe

      Translated from Greek – Luther, Tyndale, King James Bible.


The Holy Spirit did not say there are only 27 books in the New Testament.

What would happen if Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans was found?

(Colossians 4:16)

How did the 27 books of the New Testament come to be accepted by the Church?

Why do we reject other writings such as the Didache from being Scripture?


Criteria for accepting writings as scripture

Was it written by an Apostle or someone associated closely with an Apostle? 

Is the message consistent with scripture?

Was it widely accepted by church leaders as scripture?


·        Case Study: 


Why is the The Didache not regarded as scripture? 

Didache – The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (2nd century)



Pocket version of the Didache

4th century copy.

Part of the find at Oxyrynchus, Egypt (1896-7)

Kept in the Sackler Library in Oxford.


Didache – The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles


Who wrote the Didache?  Unknown

When was it written? Exact date unknown - 1st or 2nd century. (50AD – 160AD)

Where was it written?  Possibly Egypt.

What is the Message?

Three sections

  1. The Two Ways – the way of life and the way of death
  2. Rituals – baptism, fastings and holy communion


The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,
Commonly Called the Didache

‘Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then "baptize" in running water, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

2 If you do not have running water, baptize in some other.

3 If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

4 Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.’



  1. The ministry

Concluding chapter is apocalyptic (Chapter 16)


"Let there be placed among the spurious works the Acts of Paul, the so-called Shepherd and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles, and also the Apocalypse of John, if this be thought proper; for as I wrote before, some reject it, and others place it in the canon.” 

(Historia Ecclesiastica III, 25):



Has the Didache been accepted as scripture by church leaders? 

Eusebius lists the Didache among the spurious books.


Authorship – not associated with the Apostles.

Message – not consistent with scripture

Acceptance – not accepted by Early Church as scripture.

Conclusion:  Didache is not to be regarded as scripture but interesting for the study of church history.


What about the Revelation (Apocalypse) of John?


Who wrote it:  The Apostle John

When?  About 90AD

What is the Message?  Revelation of Jesus Christ.



Why should it be regarded as scripture?

Author - John the Apostle.  Revelation mentions the name John four times (1.1, 4, 9; 22:8).

Message is consistent with the rest of scripture.

Widely accepted by church leaders as authentic.

Eusebius places it with the spurious books but acknowledges that many accept it as canonical.


Development of the Canon of Scripture


·        Peter recognised the writings of Paul to be scripture.

·        Marcion – Gnostic Canon (c.150)

·        The Muratorian Canon (c.170)

·        Ireneaus (c.180)

·        Tertullian (wrote between 196-212)

·        Papias (wrote 2nd century) Quoted by Eusebius (c.263-c.339)

·        Athaniasias (367)

·        Council of Carthage (397)






The Apostle Peter recognised Paul’s Epistles as Scripture


The Second Epistle of Peter affirms that the epistles of Paul were recognised as Scripture in the days of the Apostles.  Although the New Testament canon was not firmly fixed until the 4th century the writings of the Apostles were recognised as scripture from the time they were written.


‘…even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;  As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.’ (2 Peter 3:14b-15)


·        Marcion's Gnostic Canon  (c.150)


Marcion (c.85-160)

First canon made by the Gnostic Marcion.

Formed his own canon of scripture to support his doctrine.

He rejected the Old Testament and regarded the god of the Old Testament as evil.

         Luke's gospel (with Old Testament quotes removed that linked Jesus with the Old Testament)

         10 letters of Paul but with the removal of Old Testament quotations.  Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians (he called it the Epistle to the Laodiceans), Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.

         He did not accept Hebrews or I & II Timothy and Titus


Marcion’s canon forced church to form a canon of scripture


·        The Muratorian Canon (possibly from c.170)


Discovered by Ludovico Antonio Muratori in 1740 in the Ambrosian Library in Milan

Codex copied c. 7th or 8th century - lists all books of New Testament.

Original list from which this was copied is dated as early as 2nd century but some say it is 4th century.


Beginning and ending of the parchment is missing. 

Starts with the words

´…the third book of the gospel is that according to Luke.`


·        Ireneaus (c. 180)


Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)


Maintained that there could only be four Gospels as there are four principal winds and four zones of the earth.

P45 Papyrus shows that the Four Gospels and Acts were read together (200-250AD)


·        Tertullian (wrote between 196 – 212) 


He was the first to refer to the Old and New Testament (Against Marcion Book 4 Chapter 6).

Tertullian became a Montanist c.206.

Tertullian says that Marcion mutilated the New Testament and Valentinus misinterpreted it.

Tertullian does not quote a list of books accepted as scriptures but he upholds the following books as scripture:  Four gospels, Acts, 13 epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, Jude and Revelation.

Tertullian regarded Hebrews to be the work of Barnabas.



·        Papias (2nd century)


Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygis c.125. 

Quoted by the historian Eusebius (c.263 – c.339).

Mentions many of the New Testament books


·        Athanasius (367)


First listed the 27 books of New Testament (Festal Letter 39)


·        Council of Carthage (397)


Council of Carthage recognised 27 books of New Testament (397)





Most ancient New Testament manuscripts were found in Egypt. 

Kept in good condition by the dry heat.




Early Christian Greek manuscripts

           John Rylands papyrus – Fragment of John's Gospel (c.125)

           Chester Beatty papyrus – Epistle's of Paul (c.200)

           Bodmer papyrus – Luke, John, Acts, General Epistles, I & II Peter, Jude (c.200).



·        John Rylands papyrus – P52  


Fragment of John's Gospel (c.125) 

P52 is the oldest known manuscript fragment of the New Testament.
Egypt in 1920

Dated: c.125 –150.


Front side: Fragments from John 18:31-33

Reverse: Fragments from John 18:37-38


Kept: John Rylands University Library of Manchester.



·        Chester Beatty Collection, Dublin


Papyrus 45, 46 and 47

Dated between 200-250AD

Bought in Egypt

Location where it was found is unknown.


P45 Four Gospels and Acts

P46 The Epistles of Paul

P47 Revelation


Chester Beatty papyrus


Papyrus 45  

(Dated between 200 -250).

Contains parts of all the Gospels and Acts

P45 shows that the Four Gospels and Acts were combined from an early date.


Papyrus 46

Dated between 200-250.

Earliest substantial New Testament manuscript.

Papyrus codex of Paul's epistles.

Purchased in Egypt.


From the second century the epistles of Paul were put together in a papyrus codex and read together.

The Chester Beatty papyrus is the oldest codex of Paul’s epistles.














Papyrus 46:  Contains 86 leaves (originally c.104)

Contains the writings of Paul including Hebrews but not the pastoral epistles.

Part is kept by Chester Beatty, Dublin (56 leaves) 

Romans (last 8 chapters), Hebrews, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians (2 chapters).



Part by Univ. Of Michigan (30 leaves).

1 and 2 Corinthians


·        The Bodmer Papyrus (3rd century)


Bought by Martin Bodmer 1955-6

Kept in Cologny, near Geneva, Switzerland


Thought to have been found at Pabau (near Dishna) Egypt.

The Headquarters of the Pachomian monks. 

(Pachomius c.290-c.346)

Manuscripts in Greek and Coptic.



P66 (John)

P72 (1 & 2 Peter and Jude)

P74 (Acts and General Epistles)

P75 (Luke and John)



P8 given to Pope Paul VI in 1969 and is now in the Vatican Library


Papyrus Bodmer XV (p75)

(Geneva, Switzerland)

Gospels of Luke and John

Dated c.175-225

Discovered in Egypt

Content: Luke 3:18-22; 3:33 - 4:2; 4:34 - 5:10; 5:37 - 6:4; 6:10 - 7:32, 35-39, 41-43; 7:46 - 9:2; 9:4 - 17:15; 17:19 - 18:18; 22:4 - 24:53;

John 1:1 - 11:45, 48-57; 12:3 - 13:1, 8-9; 14:8-29; 15:7-8.

Story of the Woman in Adultery not included -John 7:53 – 8:11


Papyrus VIII

3rd – 4th century


1 and 2 Peter

Final part of codex


Kept in the Vatican Library


·        Oxyrynchus, Egypt


Papyrus (3rd –5th century)

Discovered by Grenfell and Hunt 1896-7.

Oxyrynchus is 300km south of Alexandria

44 registered New Testament papyrii are from Oxyrynchus.


More than 100,000 papyrii have been found at Oxyrynchus but only two thousand papyrii have been read so far. 

P1  (c.250 AD)


Other Greek New Testament Fragments


·        The Magdalen Fragments


Dated c.200

Gospel of Matthew 26:23, 31

Magdalen College,



Prof. Dr. Carsten Peter Thiede (1952-2004)

Redated Magdalen papyrus as late 1st century.


p67 (part of same codex) contains Matthew 3:9, 15; 5:20-22, 25-28


Kept at Fundacion San Lucas



·        The Fustât Manuscript


MS 113 Christian Community at Fustât (Cairo) in Egypt

Romans 4 – 5 (Dated c. 3rd century)




The Martin Shřyen Collection, Oslo, Norway.

Romans 4:23 – 5:3; 5:8 – 13




Parchment codex


Greek texts - Codex replaced the use of the scroll and

Vellum (parchment) replaced the use of papyrus.



In 332 Constantine ordered 50 vellum (parchment) Bibles from Eusebius of Caesarea.

None of these are known today but three codices from the 4th and 5th century exist today:


Codex Sinaiticus which is in the British Museum


Codex Alexandrinus which is in the British Museum

Codex Vaticanus which is in the Vatican Library


·        Codex Sinaiticus


Mid 4th century

Discovered in 1859 by Constantin von Tischendorf at the monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai.


Constantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874)

Tischendorf visited the monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai in 1844.

129 pages from a Codex were in the library waste paper bin ready to be burnt.  Some pages had already been burnt. 

In 1859 he again visited the monastery and was shown the Codex Sinaiticus.

The Codex was taken to St. Petersburg.

1933 sold to the British Museum.


·        Codex Vaticanus



4th century codex

Brought from Constantinople to Vatican in 14th century.

Kept in the Vatican Library


·        Codex Alexandrinus


5th century

Origin unknown.

Two notes link the codex to Alexandria – a 13th century Arabic note and a 17th century Latin note,

Brought to Constantinople in 1621.  Presented to Charles I of England in 1627.

Contains the complete Septuagint and all the New Testament books plus some apocryphal books.



Kept in the British Museum





  • Codex Bezae 


(Dated 5th or 6th century from Southern France)

Repaired in Lyon in 9th century and kept in the St. Ireneaus library at the monastery in Lyon.

Taken from Lyon in 1562 and presented to Theodore Beza (1519-1605) who gave it to Cambridge University in 1581 where it still remains.


It contains the four Gospels in this order: Matthew John Luke and Mark;  3 John and the Acts (only Luke is complete).




Kept in the Cambridge University Library.




The authority of scripture

The authority of scripture is not affected by minor copyist errors.

There is one consistent central message of scripture that stands as a framework for understanding scripture.

A person who has a personal relationship with Jesus will understand the real meaning of scripture better than scholars who understand the original languages. 


The inspiration of translations

Scholarship alone cannot produce a good translation.

Translations must always remain within the guidelines of the one central message of scripture. The Bible must be translated in the light of the salvation message.

Individual scriptures can never be interpreted in isolation from other scriptures.

A literal translation may not convey the true meaning.

Example: Philippians 2:7

Literally - Emptied Himself

Translated – Made Himself of no reputation. 



·        The Latin Vulgate


Jerome c.340-420)

Translated Latin Vulgate from the Greek text.

Commissioned by Pope Damasus to make a new Latin translation of the Bible from the original texts. It included the Apocrypha.

Jerome began the work sometime after 382 when he became papal secretary in Rome. He completed the work in Bethlehem c.405.

His translation became known as the Latin Vulgate

It was the only translation authorised by the Roman Catholic Church for over 1000 years.


Latin – scholarly language

Latin not understood by the laity – language of the clergy and scholars.

Roman Catholic Church sought to protect Church from error by keeping the scriptures away from the laity.

Translation of scripture into the common language was prohibited to keep the scriptures from the laity because this would promote heresy.

The Reformers sought to give the scriptures to the common people




·        Waldensians




Peter Waldo of Lyons c.1182-1217

Followers first called the 'Poor men of Lyons' later called Waldensians.

Sought to preach in the common language to ordinary people. Forbidden to do so by the Third Lateran Council in Rome.

Translated portions of the scripture and preached to the poor around the region of the Alps.



·        Wycliffe Bible



John Wycliffe (c.1329-1384)

The Morning Star of the Reformation

Wycliffe translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English.

The Wycliffe Bible had to be handwritten. Printing had not yet invented in the West.

Printing was invented in Europe about 1438 by Johannes Gutenberg.

William Caxton began printing in England in 1476.


·        Greek New Testament


Erasmus (1466/9-1536)

Greek New Testament.  Erasmus published the Novum instrumentum in 1516 (Basel: Froben). Greek text with notes and a new Latin translation differing from the Vulgate of Jerome.

Revised edition of the Greek New Testament were published in 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535.


Complutensian Polyglot (1514)

The Greek New Testament had been printed before Erasmus as part of the New Testament volume of the Complutensian Polyglot in Spain in 1514.

But it was not published until 1522 when the complete work in 4 volumes was completed. 

This work needed the approval of the Pope.

Erasmus wrote satire against the Pope and had no need for his approval.


·        Luther's German New Testament (1522)


Martin Luther (1483-1546) translated the New Testament from Erasmus' Greek New Testament (1519) to German while hiding in Wartburg Castle.

(May 1521 – March 1522)

Luther's one main criteria for scripture:  the message - scripture always preaches Christ.


Luther translated the 27 books.

The last 4 books being Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation

Luther called James an 'epistle of straw', but he accepted it as part of the New Testament canon.


·        William Tyndale (c.1494-1536)


Published English New Testament (1525)

Revised (1534)

Tyndale also placed Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation last.


·        King James Version


King James Version 1611


Hampton Court Conference held January 1604 – King, moderate Puritans and Anglican Bishops.

Puritan demands rejected but decision made to produce new edition of the Bible.

The King James Version was published in 1611.




Greek text

Greek (Textus Receptus)

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) published a revised edition of the Erasmus' Greek text (Textus Receptus). 


Beza's 1598 edition of the TR was the primary source for the KJV's Greek text.




Hebrew Text


The Old Testament is based upon the Masoretic Text.




The KJV New Testament retained over 80% of Tyndale's translation (1534).



·        Old Testament Hebrew Manuscripts



The Masoretic text (7th – 10th centuries)

The Dead Sea Scrolls (1st century BC)


The Masoretic text was written and distributed by Jewish scribes known as Masoretes between the 7th – 10th centuries.


The word Masoretic refers to the marginal notes that characterise this  text. 


The Masoretic text was the oldest Hebrew text available until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


The Aleppo Codex associated with Rabbi Aaron Ben Asher.

Codex - Written by Masoretic scholars 10th century in Tiberius.

Contains vowels and grammar points.


Comparing the Masoretic text with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Scroll of Isaiah found in Cave 1 dates 1000 years earlier than the Masoretic text but the textual differences are of minor importance.