New Testament Canon, Transmission, and Translation

Answers to common questions asked about the canonicity, transmission, and translation of the New Testament.

New Testament Canon, Transmission, and Translation
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1. What is the traditional evangelical position regarding the canon?

The traditional evangelical position affirms God's activity in the formation of the canon. God, by inspiration through the agency of His Spirit, brought forth Holy Scripture. "The church's task was not the creation of the canon but merely the recognition of the Scriptures God had chosen to inspire."[1]

2. To what date does Albert C. Sundberg Jr. point for the closing of the canon?

Challenging the 2nd century dating of the Muratorian Fragment, Sundberg argued that the closing of the canon to only emerge in the third and fourth centuries.[2]

3. What is David Trobisch's theory of the origins of the biblical canon?

In his book The First Edition of the New Testament, Trobisch argued for a "canonical edition" of the NT around the middle of the second century. Trobisch notes five manuscript phenomena that support this theory.[3]

  1. Most biblical manuscripts display the nomina sacra which is the abbreviations of the divine names (theos, Iesous, pneuma) with lines above them to indicate that abbreviations are used. Trobisch believe the nomina sacra were the result of an editorial decision in the "canonical edition."
  2. The codex format adopted by early Christians can be explained if they were influenced by the codex format had been chosen by the editors of the "canonical edition."
  3. There is amazing conformity of the manuscripts up until the seventh century in matters of content and order.
  4. The titles of the books in the collections are also uniform.
  5. The title of the entire collection is "The New Covenant." This title is used by Irenaeus (AD 130–200), Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215), Tertullian (AD 160–225), and Origen (AD 185–254).

4. According to Sundberg, what was the status of the OT canon in the first century?

Sundberg argues that the OT canon had not closed in the first two centuries. He believed that the OT canon was not completed until at least the fourth century. He also maintained that the early church received the OT canon before Judaism determined the canonical boundaries of the Hebrew Bible.[4]

5. What physical evidence points to an early reception of the four-Gospel canon?

Irenaeus is a strong witness to the fourfold Gospel in Against Heresies 3.11.8. There is ample manuscript evidence of a fourfold Gospel collection from the third century onward. Since these manuscripts have different ancestors, it suggests the four-Gospel canon had an origin in the mid-second century. 𝔓75 contains large portions of Luke and John including the page where Luke ends and John begins. T.C. Skeat argued that 𝔓4, 𝔓64, and 𝔓67 originate from the same codex dated around AD 200 which also supports a fourfold Gospel codex.[5]

6. Did an apocryphal Gospel ever circulate with a canonical Gospel?

"No non-canoincal Gospel appears bound with a canonical one, so there is no evidence for Matthew-Thomas or Luke-Peter, for example."[6]

7. When was the NT canon closed from a divine perspective?

From a divine perspective, the NT canon was closed at the moment the last NT book was written.

8. Which NT books were slow to be universally received?

Books slow to be universally received included James, 2 Peter, 2–3 John, Jude, and Revelation.[7]

Four Criteria Used by the Early Church[8]

  1. Apostolicity: the written work must have direct or indirect association with an apostle.
  2. Orthodoxy: the written work must conform to the church's "rule of faith" (Lat. regula fidei).
  3. Antiquity: the written work was produced during the apostolic era.
  4. Ecclesiastical usage: the written work was widely used in the early church.

9. Which books in the present NT canon were universally rejected in the second century?

No book in the present canon had previously been universally rejected by the early churches. There is no second-century epiphany concerning a book in the NT that lacked ancient support. No book was ever received into the NT canon that was believed to be pseudonymous.[9]

10. Which NT books are called "Scripture" in the NT?

Peter affirmed Paul's writings as being on a par with Scripture. Likewise, Paul affirmed the Gospel of Luke as Scripture on the same level as Deuteronomy.

11. What is "formal equivalence"?

"Formal equivalence" refers to the method of translating the Bible using a word-for-word approach. The translators using this approach will seek to maintain a one-to-one correlation between the two languages. English Bible translations that are often categorized as "formal equivalence" include the KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, CSB, and LSB.

12. What is "dynamic equivalence"?

"Dynamic equivalence" or functional equivalence refers to the method of translating the Bible using a phrase-for-phrase approach. The NIV and NLT are often categorized as a "dynamic equivalent" translation.

13. What is an "autograph"?

The "autographs" of Scripture refer to the literal original manuscripts of the Bible as penned by the actual human author. No original autographs exist of any biblical text; only copies are available.

14. What is one advantage resulting from the loss of the scriptural autographs?

The lack of autographs helps to direct attention where it properly belongs: on the contents of Scripture rather than the physical objects on which it was first recorded.[10]

15. Who was the first to translate the complete Bible into English?

John Wycliffe (1330–1384), a British priest and Oxford scholar, was the first to translate in manuscript the entire Bible into English. His translation was based on the Latin Vulgate. William Tyndale published the first English NT based on the Greek text in 1526. Miles Coverdale and John Rogers followed and built on Tyndale's work to complete and print the entire Bible in the English language with the Coverdale Bible (1535) and Matthew's Bible (1537). The Geneva Bible (1560) provided a translation of the BIble entirely from the original languages.

  1. Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2016), 5. ↩︎

  2. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 14. ↩︎

  3. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 21–23. ↩︎

  4. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 14. ↩︎

  5. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 19–24. ↩︎

  6. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 23. ↩︎

  7. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 5. ↩︎

  8. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 9–10. ↩︎

  9. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 13. ↩︎

  10. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 35. ↩︎