Eusebius on the NT Canon

We often don't realize how tenuous the formation of the NT Canon was. The topic is relevant because of several recent posts on this blog about the Didache and 1 Clement, both of which were in wide use and respected. Also, the authorship of Hebrews was in dispute (as it us now). Here is an important section from Eusebius, and notice that he classifies Revelation as spurious (!):

It will be well, at this point, to classify the New Testament writings already referred to. We must, of course, put first the holy quartet of gospels, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. The next place in the list goes to Paul's epistles, and after them we must recognize the epistle called I John; likewise I Peter. To these may be added, if it is thought proper, the Revelation of John, the arguments about which I shall set out when the time comes. These are classed as Recognized Books. Those that are disputed, yet familiar to most, include the epistles known as James, Jude, and II Peter, and those called II and III John, the work either of the evangelist or of someone else with the same name.

Among Spurious Books must be placed the `Acts' of Paul, the `Shepherd', and the `Revelation of Peter'; also the alleged `Epistle of Barnabas', and the `Teaching of the Apostles' [Didache], together with the Revelation of John, if this seems the right place for it; as I said before, some reject it, others included it among the Recognized Books. Moreover, some have found a place in the list for the `Gospel of Hebrews', a book which has a special appeal for those Hebrews who have accepted Christ. These would all be classed with the Disputed Books, but I have been obliged to list the latter separately, distinguishing those writings which according to the teaching of the Church are true, genuine, and recognized, from those in a different category, not canonical but disputed, yet familiar to most churchmen; for we must not confuse these with the writings published by heretics under the name of the apostles, as containing either Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Matthias, and several others besides these, or Acts of Andrew, John, and other apostles. To none of these has any churchman of any generation ever seen fit to refer to his writings. Again, nothing could be farther from apostolic usage than the type of phraseology employed, while the ideas and implications of their contents are so irreconcilable with true orthodoxy that they stand revealed as forgeries of heretics. It follows that so far from being classed even among Spurious Books, they must be thrown out as impious and beyond the pale.

Note that in the last paragraph the teaching of the church (orthodoxy) helps to determine the canonicity of the disputed books! So much for sola scriptura :-)


JohnG. said…
I thought orthopraxy (liturgy) was also an important element of the transmission of the faith (CF. mystagogic catechesis of the early church)
FrGregACCA said…
There are three "canons" or "rules" that develop in the early Church. They are interrelated and each influences the others. The first is the "rule of faith". Its final expression is the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople. The second is the "rule of prayer" to which John alludes. This consists of norms for the conduct of public worship and the celebration of the Holy Mysteries or sacraments. The third is the canon of Scripture, particularly with regard to the New Testament, since the Early Church pretty much received the canon of the Septuagint intact. So yes, "orthodoxy" was a determining factor in discerning the canon of the New Testament. However, it seems to have worked to exclude rather to include. IOW, not all available orthodox works (such as Clement) found their way into the canon.
Rob said…
Thanks for these posts. They are very informative.

I was rethinking what you (Abu Daoud) said about Mark and Luke not being apostles, just as Clement wasn't an apostle. ANd it occurred to me that Mark was considered to be writing Peter's viewpoint (I heard that somewhere) and Luke writing Paul's. So, though Mark and Luke were not apostle's, they were apparently writing at the behest of these apostles, whereas Clement was writing his own letter, from his own 'generation', which wasn't the apostolic generation, no matter how close. Also, the fact that Mark's and Luke's works were gospels, and not their own reflections or commands sent to other churches, could have something to do with their inclusion while Clement was excluded. I note that 1 Clement isn't even considered by Eusebius, thogh Barbabas' alleged epistle is at least mentioned.

Anyway, more pointless but enjoyable speculation! :-) Thanks! I do like your point about the church's view of the work also being a major factor.

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