The New Testament contains all the books of scripture that were written after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ which occurred around 33 AD. Since the writing of scripture primarily occurs in connection with God’s great acts in redemptive history, it is understandable then, that after the coming of the Messiah whose arrival was highly anticipated in the last book of the Old Testament (Mic 3:1-4, 4:1-6), we also see the writing of more scripture.
Apostolic New Testament Authors
These books were written primarily by the apostles, to whom Jesus had promised the ability to accurately recall his words and deeds (Jhn 14:26). Along with these recollections, the apostles were given the authority to write God’s own words, equal in truth and authority to the words of the Old Testament scriptures. This was done to record, interpret, and apply the great truths about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ to the lives of the believers.
Within the writings themselves we do see instances where other New Testament writings are referred to as scripture. For example in 2 Peter 3:15-16, it is written that “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
The word translated “scripture” here is the Greek word graphe which appears a total of 51 times throughout the New Testament, and in every one of those appearances, it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures. Thus, it is safe to say that the word was only used to describe those writings that were thought to be God’s word and therefore part of the canon of scripture. But interestingly, in this passage, Peter also includes Paul’s letters along with the “scriptures” (The Old Testament). Paul’s writings are considered by Peter to also be worthy of the title “scripture” and are therefore worthy to be included in the canon.
Another example is from 1 Timothy 5:17-18 where Paul says “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘;You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.’” The first quote from scripture is from Deuteronomy 25:4, but the second is from the gospel of Luke 10:7. So here we have Paul quoting a part of Luke’s Gospel and calling it scripture, which is to be included as part of the canon.
Non-Apostolic New Testament Authors
Since the apostles had the authority to write God’s own words that were revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, their authentic written teachings were accepted by the early church as part of the canon of scripture. If we accept this traditional argument for the authorship of the New Testament canon, we have nearly all the books accounted for. This includes Matthew, John, Romans to Philemon (Pauline epistles), James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation.
With the above list, we only have five New Testament books remaining which were not written by any of Jesus’ apostles. These are Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude. Of these five, Mark, Luke and Acts were widely acknowledged early on, probably because of the close relationship of Mark with the apostle Peter, and of Luke to the apostle Paul, both of whom could have personally testified to the divine authority of the writings. Along the same lines, Jude was apparently accepted due to the author’s connection with James who was the brother of Jesus.
The Author of Hebrews
Hebrews on the other hand is difficult to figure out because its author is unknown. While many hold that it was written by Paul, the early Christian theologian Origen (185-254 AD) stated that “only God knows” who actually penned the words. Thus, the acceptance of the Hebrews into the New Testament canon cannot be due to a belief in Pauline authorship. However, it is believed that the natural qualities of the book itself must have convinced early readers, much as they do today, that whoever its human author was, its ultimate author must have been God himself.
This is what is known as self-attesting, where the church simply had to decide whether or not they heard the voice of God himself speaking in the words of the writing. Meaning that the words would have borne witness to their own divine authorship. But since Christ shines through so strongly from its pages, no believer who reads it seriously should ever want to question its place in the canon.
In addition, it should not surprise us that the early church was able to recognize Hebrews and other writings which were not written by the apostles, as God’s own words. Besides, it was Jesus who said, “My sheep hear my voice” (Jhn 10:27).
A Completed Collection
In 367 AD, the Thirty-ninth Paschal Letter of Athanasius was published which contained an exact list of the twenty-seven New Testament books we have today. This was the list of books accepted by the churches in the eastern part of the Mediterranean world. Thirty years later in 397 AD, the Council of Carthage, which represented the churches of the western part of the Mediterranean world, agreed in full with the eastern church on the same exact list. These are the earliest final lists of our present-day canon.
Given the combination of apostolic endorsement, consistency with the rest of scripture, and the perception of the writings being ‘;God-breathed’ among an overwhelming majority of believers, we can rest assured that only the books currently contained in the New Testament canon belong right where they are, and everywhere else we look.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 60-69