27 NT Books - How do you know?

In respects to answering the question of "How does one know that the 27 NT books are all inclusive (nothing left out and nothing falsely included), non-Catholics often cite the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius (367 AD), which we all know is the earliest citing of all 27 books. While this document alone is not the end of the evidence trail for most, I’m confused by what seems to me a conditional trust in the source of the document (Athanasius and more generally the Church to which he belonged). In other words, non-Catholics will trust Athanasius in respects to this document, but they do not trust him in respects to beliefs that he held, such as the Eucharist.

This brings to mind the question: If the Holy Spirit guided Athanasius to accurately represent the NT canon, is it logically coherent to hold that the Holy Spirit did not guide Athanasius in respects to his beliefs on the Eucharist?

One non-Catholic response that I have been able to think of is that we unconditionally trust God, but conditionally trust men. However, I don’t see this answer convincing, because I struggle to see it any different from simply responding to the ‘how do you know question’ by avoiding history and saying ‘God’.

I do see the general consensus of the Church Fathers’ documents/beliefs a plausible response to know that the 27 NT books are all-inclusive, and but at the same time, this seems to be a plausible argument for the Eucharist as well.

Would like to hear some different perspectives on this thought process - Thanks!

I’m curious as to whether Roman Catholics endorse the whole letter, including its seventh and final paragraph:

  1. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.

Why wouldn’t we also endorse that part? He mentions a few of the books that Catholics also include in the Old Testament, that many Protestant Bibles leave out. He even states that apocryphal writings are not included because they were the inventions of heretics. Protestants refer to the the books that they do not consider to be part of their canon as “apocryphal”, but they use that term incorrectly. Catholics refer to them as Deutero-Canonical, and they are not considered to be apocryphal, at all. I had never heard of the [Teaching of the Apostles](“the Teaching of the Apostles”), but you might want to check it out in that link to New Advent, like I did. I found it to be a very interesting read.

Athanasius has already set out his canon. The deuterocanon here looks like it’s being counted as the “merely read” section alongside the Shepherd and the Didache. Admittedly this translation is ambiguous; I’ll have to find the Greek at some point.

Well, he is but one person.

The Church as a whole fixes these type of problems :slight_smile:

Perhaps. But the original argument put forth was, “If they accept some of what he says then why not all.” Which neither Catholics nor Protestants can claim to do.

It’s much more deeper than that, my friend.

The Catholic context is within the Church, not without the Church.

We know Tobit is the Word of God because Raphael says something that doesn’t come up again until Revelation.

He says these are not included in the main Canon that he mentioned, that’s why he sets them apart. But, most of them are part of the Deutero-Canonical books, and he clearly says they are also included and being used by the early Church. When he says the ‘former’ he may mean those included in the first part of his previous sentence, which are Deutero-Canonical books. When he says the ‘latter’, he may mean, “and that which is called the ‘Teaching of the Apostles’, and the ‘Shepherd’”, as those that were just to be read, and not to be included in the Bible Canon or among the Deutero-Canonical books. I’m not sure it’s really all that clear.

Either way, Athanasius didn’t make the final decision on which books were to be included in the Bible. This letter is his summary of what was being used in the churches at that time, and which ones were firmly considered to be scripture. This last part is concerning ‘other writings’ that didn’t carry as much weight as those mentioned in the first part of his letter. This is merely an early guide that shows how all of those writings were viewed by the leaders of the Church, that’s why they were all seriously considered before assembling the final version. There was much debate amongst the leaders of the Church about all of the writings that were considered, before making any of the final choices.

Nicea would be 100 years later, Athanasius is just one Church Father.

I’m not sure I understand your post at all.

Nieca was the council where the books of the Bible were chosen to be complied into one book, and the canon would be closed after that but that happened 100 years after Saint athanasius lived and he is only one of the Church fathers, Catholics aren’t bound to believe what he says. However, When a council is convened and all the Bishops along with the Holy Father are all in agreement they are infallible. It is why we can say with certainty, we know what books belong in the Bible.

Isn’t it more about trusting the church to decide on this matter than knowing for ourselves the exact contents of scripture? God has never given a defined list for us.


The term “Monday morning quarterback” comes to mind… :slight_smile:

Yes, and I think the problem is that people will trust the Church in respects to the table of contents but not the Church’s interpretation of that table of contents. It seems to me a conditional trust, and doesn’t Jesus ask for more than conditional trust?

I don’t understand what’s wrong with simply going with the consensus of the early church in the matter?

If it was that convincing wouldn’t everyone be Catholic? :slight_smile:

It’s convincing for me am I’m not Catholic.

The Prodigal son knew where the money came from. He still went his way. In time, he returned. :slight_smile:

Because it wasn’t done by consensus. Some authority declared the canon of Scripture to be “opened”. That authority declared these specific 27 books to be Scripture, and those hundreds of other potential bible books to be non-Scriptural. Then that authority declared the canon to be “closed”(!)
This probably wasn’t the majority view. Many Christian scholars held other books to be inspired. Many Christian communities used other books in their worship. You might argue that groups like the Gnostics don’t count, because they were heretics. But the Gnostics didn’t call themselves heretics, they called themselves Christians, and by their canons, the Gospel of Mark, or Athanasius, or you and me, would all be heretics.

A list of books that Athanasius considered inspired in a letter, proves nothing, because other people wrote letters calling different books inspired, and others had councils “proving” different canons. So it wasn’t so much Athanasius himself, or the 2 councils that are usually credited as identifying what we (after the fact) consider the right canon. There was an authority that chose to rely on this scholar and these councils rather than that other scholar, and those other councils. If the canon was chosen by “consensus”, the NT canon would be 270 books, not 27. Think about the church committees you have served on. Can you imagine a consensus narrowing down to a shockingly small NT canon that we have? Can you imagine consensus closing the canon, forever?

If “consensus” is the key, then some might say consensus now can reopen the canon, today. In fact, some people** are ** saying and doing exactly that. Some groups are quietly introducing some new gospels, epistles, etc - all by consensus.

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