Did the Catholic Church develope the New Testament, or did it merely adopt a cannon that had developed independently?


I’ve been confused on whether or not the Church formulated the New Testament, or if it simply adopted a New Testament that had already developed among Christian communities.


Where We Got The Bible: Our Debt To The Catholic Church, by Henry Graham




There really weren’t Christian communities separate from the Church in the first centuries, so the question is a little confusing. If someone made this claim to you, ask them to give you names. Also, the Church didn’t quite “formulate” the New Testament as much as discerned which texts the Spirit would have the Church assemble. Michuta’s book (referenced above) I find very useful because, although it emphasizes the story of the Old Testament canon, includes many quotes from Early Church Fathers by name and what they received as canonical where they were.


In the Crosshairs of the Canon
Protestants Find History Aimed against Them
By Jeffrey L. Morrow


In Larry Hurtado’s book “The Earliest Christian Artifacts” he does an excellent job of cataloguing the number and textual content of Christian writings through the 3rd century. Scroll versus codex, OT versus NT, religious versus secular and so on. The results of this analysis show that Christian communities were developing a certain affinity for certain texts. For example, the number of manuscript copies of the Gospels of John and Matthew heavily outnumber all other books. In fact, I believe there was one codex (2nd century), that gave strong proof of containing all four Gospels. Further proof of the compilation of Paul’s letters in the same timeframe all seem to indicate that the canon was slowly and surely developing.


Your question assumes a distinction between “the Catholic Church” and “Christian communities” that does not make a lot of sense to me.

On the one hand, it’s true that the Magisterium didn’t speak up on the matter of the canon for some time, and that congregations had been reading and circulating the Scriptures for centuries already. We must be careful not to speak as though Christians weren’t using the New Testament until the councils and papal pronouncements of the late 300s.

On the other hand, those Christian communities you speak of didn’t somehow spring up independently of “the Catholic Church.” By the testimony of the writers of the time, they were recognizably Catholic congregations united under their bishops, with priests who proclaimed and sermonized from the Scriptures at each liturgy.

So, the world wasn’t waiting around for the central authority of the Catholic Church to hand down the Scriptures, no. But the Scriptures were written by and for the Catholic Church in the broader sense. And even the rare pronouncements from popes or councils helped to weed out false “scriptures” (as in the times when Gnostic gospels were being churned out left and right) or preserve true ones against those who wished to eliminate them (as when an ecumenical council finally declared the canon after the Protestant Reformation got going). The key role the Magisterium played is in vouching for the reliability of the Bible’s “table of contents,” which for obvious reasons does not appear within the inspired writings themselves (seeing as they were composed over thousands of years by many different human authors).


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