John, the apostle, to the 7 churches in Asia and to all believers of all time. Written around 95AD from the island of Patmos.
Introduction from the Glossa Ordinaria
John the apostle and evangelist, chosen and loved by the Lord Christ, was held in such great affectionate love by him, that he leaned on Christ’s chest at the Last Supper, and that, while he was standing alone by the cross1, Jesus entrusted him his own mother, so that to him whom he had made embrace virginity while he wished to get married, he also gave the Virgin to guard. So, when exile in the island of Patmos befell him on account of the Word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Apocalypse was foreshown to him and written down by him there, so that in the same way as in the beginning of the canon, i.e. of the book of Genesis, the incorruptible beginning is written out, so was the incorruptible end also rendered by the virgin in the Apocalypse of the one who says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”. This is the John who, knowing that the day of his going out of his body had come, after having summoned together his disciples in Ephesus, went down into the place dug for his grave, and, when he had finished saying a prayer, passed away, having been made as free from pain2 as he is known to be free from decay of the flesh (See Apocryphal Acts of John, 111). The disposition of this scripture or the arrangement of the book, however, is not explained here by us in detail so that those who do not know may be given a desire to investigate, and that the fruit of their effort may be kept for those who seek, and the teaching of mastership for God3.
THE EARLY NEW TESTAMENT CANONIZATION ASSESSMENTS
81THE MURATORIAN CANON (170-200AD)
Third, the book of the Gospel according to Luke. This Luke was a doctor. After the ascension of Christ, Paul taking him as a colleague because of his knowledge of the law, he wrote with his assent what he considered good. Yet neither did he see the Lord in the flesh. And therefore, according to what he had been able to ascertain, he began to describe it from the nativity of John. The fourth Gospel is of John, one of the disciples. As these peers and his bishops exhorted him, he said to them, “Fast with me from today for three days, and we will tell each other what has been revealed to us. The same night it was revealed to Andrew, that John was to write everything in his own name with the endorsement of all. And therefore, although each book of the Gospels teaches the first facts differently, the faith of the believers makes no difference, since it is the same sovereign Spirit that exposes everything in each of them, on the nativity, the passion the resurrection, the conversation with his disciples, and his double advent, despised that he was the first in a state of baseness, clothed with royal power in the second, glorious, yet awaited. What is so surprising that John so firmly affirms everything in his epistles, saying in speaking of him: “What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears, and that our hands touched, that’s what we wrote you?” For in this way he gives himself not only as having seen and heard, but also having written all the admirable acts of the Lord according to their order.
But the Acts of the Apostles was written in one book. Luke makes it clear to the excellent Theophilus that all things had happened in his day, and he evidently shows it, leaving Peter’s passion and also Paul’s departure leaving the city for Spain aside.
As for Paul’s epistles, what they are, from what place or why they have been addressed, they themselves make it known to those who are willing to hear it. First of all, to the Corinthians to forbid them the schism of heresy, and afterwards to the Galatians circumcision. He has written longer to the Romans to teach in them what is the rank of the Scriptures, and how Christ is the principle.
From each of these epistles we have to discuss, since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the manner of his predecessor John, wrote under their own name only to seven churches, according to this order: the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, the third to the Philippians, the fourth to the Colossians, the fifth to the Galatians, the sixth to the Thessalonians, the seventh to the Romans. Although, for correction, he repeats to the Corinthians and Thessalonians.
Yet only one church spread throughout the earth can be discerned. John, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes to seven churches, yet speaks to all. Then there is one epistle to Philemon and one to Titus and two to Timothy by attachment and affection, yet because they tended to the honor of the catholic church by the good order of ecclesiastical discipline, they were composed with a sacred character.
It also circulates one epistle to the Laodiceans and another to the Alexandrians who falsely take the name of Paul to support the heresy of Marcion and many other pieces that cannot be received in the catholic church, because it is not appropriate to mix the gall with honey.
On the other hand, the letter of Jude and two letters signed by John must be retained in the catholic church, as well as the Wisdom written by Solomon’s friends in honor of him.
We only receive the Apocalypses of John and Peter; this one, to tell the truth, some of ours do not want it to be read in the Church.
But as for The Shepherd, Hermas wrote it recently in our time in the city of Rome, while Bishop Pius, his brother, sat on the pulpit of the city of Rome. And therefore it is necessary to read it, but it can not be presented officially in the Church to the people, nor among the prophets whose number is complete, nor among the Apostles in the end of time.
ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA (185-254AD)
Origen’s Review of the Canonical Scriptures. In Origen’s first book on Matthew’s Gospel, maintaining the Canon of the Church, he testifies that he knows only four Gospels, writing as follows: Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language. The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’ (1 Pet. 5:13) And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.
In the fifth book of his Expositions of John’s Gospel, Origen speaks thus concerning the epistles of the apostles: But he who was ‘made sufficient to be a minister of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit,’ (2 Cor. 3:6) that is, Paul, who ‘fully preached the Gospel from Jerusalem and round about even unto Illyricum,’ (Rom. 15:19) did not write to all the churches which he had instructed and to those to which he wrote he sent but few lines.
And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,’ (Matt. 16:18) has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful.
Why need we speak of him who reclined upon the bosom of Jesus, John, who has left us one Gospel, though he confessed that he might write so many that the world could not contain them? And he wrote also the Apocalypse, but was commanded to keep silence and not to write the words of the seven thunders. He has left also an epistle of very few lines; perhaps also a second and third; but not all consider them genuine, and together they do not contain hundred lines.
In addition Origen makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech’ (2 Cor. 11:6) that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.’ Farther on he adds: If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it. But let this suffice on these matters. 40[Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, 6.25.3-14]
EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA (263-339AD)
The Epistles of the Apostles. One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures.
The so-called Acts of Peter, however, and the Gospel which bears his name, and the Preaching and the Apocalypse, as they are called, we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them.
But in the course of my history I shall be careful to show, in addition to the official succession, what ecclesiastical writers have from time to time made use of any of the disputed works, and what they have said in regard to the canonical and accepted writings, as well as in regard to those which are not of this class. Such are the writings that bear the name of Peter, only one of which I know to be genuine and acknowledged by the ancient elders.
Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul. But what has been said concerning this epistle by those who lived before our time I shall quote in the proper place. In regard to the so-called Acts of Paul, I have not found them among the undisputed writings.
But as the same apostle, in the salutations at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, has made mention among others of Hermas, to whom the book called The Shepherd is ascribed, it should be observed that this too has been disputed by some, and on their account cannot be placed among the acknowledged books; while by others it is considered quite indispensable, especially to those who need instruction in the elements of the faith. Hence, as we know, it has been publicly read in churches, and I have found that some of the most ancient writers used it.
This will serve to show the divine writings that are undisputed as well as those that are not universally acknowledged.
The Order of the Gospels… And in the first place his Gospel, which is known to all the churches under heaven, must be acknowledged as genuine. That it has with good reason been put by the ancients in the fourth place, after the other three Gospels, may be made evident in the following way.
Those great and truly divine men, I mean the apostles of Christ, were purified in their life, and were adorned with every virtue of the soul, but were uncultivated in speech. They were confident indeed in their trust in the divine and wonder-working power which was granted unto them by the Savior, but they did not know how, nor did they attempt to proclaim the doctrines of their teacher in studied and artistic language, but employing only the demonstration of the divine Spirit, which worked with them, and the wonder-working power of Christ, which was displayed through them, they published the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven throughout the whole world, paying little attention to the composition of written works.
And this they did because they were assisted in their ministry by one greater than man. Paul, for instance, who surpassed them all in vigor of expression and in richness of thought, committed to writing no more than the briefest epistles, although he had innumerable mysterious matters to communicate, for he had attained even unto the sights of the third heaven, had been carried to the very paradise of God, and had been deemed worthy to hear unspeakable utterances there.
And the rest of the followers of our Savior, the twelve apostles, the seventy disciples, and countless others besides, were not ignorant of these things. Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity.
For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.
And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry. And this indeed is true. For it is evident that the three evangelists recorded only the deeds done by the Savior for one year after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, and indicated this in the beginning of their account.
For Matthew, after the forty days’ fast and the temptation which followed it, indicates the chronology of his work when he says: Now when he heard that John was delivered up he withdrew from Judea into Galilee. (Matt. 4:12)
Mark likewise says: Now after that John was delivered up Jesus came into Galilee. (Mark 1:14) And Luke, before commencing his account of the deeds of Jesus, similarly marks the time, when he says that Herod, adding to all the evil deeds which he had done, shut up John in prison. (Luke 3:20)
They say, therefore, that the apostle John, being asked to do it for this reason, gave in his Gospel an account of the period which had been omitted by the earlier evangelists, and of the deeds done by the Savior during that period; that is, of those which were done before the imprisonment of the Baptist. And this is indicated by him, they say, in the following words: This beginning of miracles did Jesus; and again when he refers to the Baptist, in the midst of the deeds of Jesus, as still baptizing in Ænon near Salim; (Jn. 3:23) where he states the matter clearly in the words: For John was not yet cast into prison.
John accordingly, in his Gospel, records the deeds of Christ which were performed before the Baptist was cast into prison, but the other three evangelists mention the events which happened after that time.
One who understands this can no longer think that the Gospels are at variance with one another, inasmuch as the Gospel according to John contains the first acts of Christ, while the others give an account of the latter part of his life. And the genealogy of our Savior according to the flesh John quite naturally omitted, because it had been already given by Matthew and Luke, and began with the doctrine of his divinity, which had, as it were, been reserved for him, as their superior, by the divine Spirit.
These things may suffice, which we have said concerning the Gospel of John. The cause which led to the composition of the Gospel of Mark has been already stated by us.
But as for Luke, in the beginning of his Gospel, he states himself the reasons which led him to write it. He states that since many others had more rashly undertaken to compose a narrative of the events of which he had acquired perfect knowledge, he himself, feeling the necessity of freeing us from their uncertain opinions, delivered in his own Gospel an accurate account of those events in regard to which he had learned the full truth, being aided by his intimacy and his stay with Paul and by his acquaintance with the rest of the apostles.
So much for our own account of these things. But in a more fitting place we shall attempt to show by quotations from the ancients, what others have said concerning them.
But of the writings of John, not only his Gospel, but also the former of his epistles, has been accepted without dispute both now and in ancient times. But the other two are disputed.
In regard to the Apocalypse, the opinions of most men are still divided. But at the proper time this question likewise shall be decided from the testimony of the ancients.
The Divine Scriptures that are accepted and those that are not. Since we are dealing with this subject it is proper to sum up the writings of the New Testament which have been already mentioned. First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles.
After this must be reckoned the epistles of Paul; next in order the extant former epistle of John, and likewise the epistle of Peter, must be maintained. After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings.
Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.
Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books.
And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews, with which those of the Hebrews that have accepted Christ are especially delighted. And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books.
But we have nevertheless felt compelled to give a catalogue of these also, distinguishing those works which according to ecclesiastical tradition are true and genuine and commonly accepted, from those others which, although not canonical but disputed, are yet at the same time known to most ecclesiastical writers — we have felt compelled to give this catalogue in order that we might be able to know both these works and those that are cited by the heretics under the name of the apostles, including, for instance, such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles, which no one belonging to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has deemed worthy of mention in his writings.
And further, the character of the style is at variance with apostolic usage, and both the thoughts and the purpose of the things that are related in them are so completely out of accord with true orthodoxy that they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious. 40[Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, Book 3.3.1-7; 3.24-25]
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (313-386AD)
Then of the New Testament there are the four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are mischievous. The Manicheans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the last work of the disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul. But let all the rest be put aside in a secondary rank. And whatever books are not read in Churches, these read not even by yourself, as you have heard me say. Thus much of these subjects. 36[Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture, 4.36]
SYNOD OF LAODICEA (4th Century)
And these are the books of the New Testament: Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; The Acts of the Apostles; Seven Catholic Epistles, to wit, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; Fourteen Epistles of Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Hebrews, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon. 80[Synod of Laodicea, Canon 60]
ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA (293-373AD)
Again it is not tedious to speak of the books of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John. 5[Athanasius of Alexandria (293-373AD), Letter 39.5]
GREGORY NAZIANZEN (329-390AD)
Then Matthew wrote for the Hebrews about the wonders of Christ; Mark for Italy; Luke for Achaia; but John for everyone; he, this great herald of arms who has traveled the heavens. Then, the Acts of the Apostles and the fourteen letters of Paul and the seven Catholic Epistles: one of James, two of Peter, and again three of John; that of Jude being the seventh. You have them all; and if we propose to you some other, it is not among the legitimate ones. 46[Gregory Nazianzen, Dogmatic Chants, 1.1.12]
But our sacred books, that is, those of the New Covenant, are these: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you the bishops by me Clement, in eight books; which it is not fit to publish before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us the Apostles. Let these canonical rules be established by us for you, O you bishops; and if you continue to observe them, you shall be saved, and shall have peace; but if you be disobedient, you shall be punished, and have everlasting war one with another, and undergo a penalty suitable to your disobedience. 29[Apostolic Constitutions (375- 390AD), 8.85]
EPIPHANIUS OF SALAMIS (315-403AD)
If you were begotten of the Holy Spirit and taught by the prophets and apostles, you would have had to go from the origins of creation to the time of Esther, you read the twenty-seven books of the Old Testament (that the Hebrews count for twenty-two), and the four holy Gospels, and the fourteen epistles of the holy Apostle Paul, with the Acts of the Apostles (Acts written previously or at the same time), and also the Catholic Epistles of James, of Peter, of John, and Jude, and the Apocalypse of John, and also the two Wisdoms, that of Solomon and that of the son of Sirach; in a word, all the divine Scriptures. 75[Epiphanius of Salamis, Against Heresies, 86.5]
RUFINUS OF AQUILEIA (345–410AD)
Of the New there are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke; fourteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, two of the Apostle Peter, one of James, brother of the Lord and Apostle, one of Jude, three of John, the Revelation of John. These are the books which the Fathers have comprised within the Canon, and from which they would have us deduce the proofs of our faith.
But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not Canonical but Ecclesiastical… In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas, and that which is called The Two Ways, or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine. The other writings they have named Apocrypha. These they would not have read in the Churches.
These are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken. 74[Rufinus of Aquileia (345–410AD), Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 37-38]
JEROME OF STRIDON (347-420AD)
The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Lord’s team of four, the true cherubim or store of knowledge. With them the whole body is full of eyes, they glitter as sparks, (Ezek. 1:7) they run and return like lightning, (Ezek. 1:14) their feet are straight feet, (Ezek. 1:7) and lifted up, their backs also are winged, ready to fly in all directions. They hold together each by each and are interwoven one with another: (Ezek. 1:11) like wheels within wheels they roll along (Ezek. 1:16) and go wherever the breath of the Holy Spirit wafts them. (Ezek. 1:20) The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle — that to the Hebrews — is not generally counted in with the others). He instructs Timothy and Titus; he intercedes with Philemon for his runaway slave. Of him I think it better to say nothing than to write inadequately. The Acts of the Apostles seem to relate a mere unvarnished narrative descriptive of the infancy of the newly born church; but when once we realize that their author is Luke the physician whose praise is in the gospel, we shall see that all his words are medicine for the sick soul. The apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude, have published seven epistles at once spiritual and to the point, short and long, short that is in words but lengthy in substance so that there are few indeed who do not find themselves in the dark when they read them. The apocalypse of John has as many mysteries as words. In saying this I have said less than the book deserves. All praise of it is inadequate; manifold meanings lie hidden in its every word. 51[Jerome of Stridon, Letter 83.9]
PHILASTER OF BRESCIA (380AD)
It was established, says he, by the apostles and their successors, that nothing else was to be read in the Church except the Law and the Prophets, and that the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, and the thirteen Epistles of Paul and seven others, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude, and one of James; which seven are appended to the Acts of the Apostles. As for the hidden Scriptures, that is to say, the apocrypha, although they may be read by the perfect for their sanctification, they should not be read at all, because unintelligent heretics have added to it or taken away many things. 86[Philaster of Brescia, De Hæresibus, 40-41]
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354-430AD)
That of the New Testament, again, is contained within the following:— Four books of the Gospel, according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John; fourteen epistles of the Apostle Paul— one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews: two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and one of James; one book of the Acts of the Apostles; and one of the Revelation of John. 8[Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD), On Christian Doctrine, 2.8]
All our Scripture, to us Christians, is it said, is God-given. It is not composed of indefinite books, but rather of definite and recognized books for canonical purposes… then, here are the determined and canonized books of the New Testament: the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, all the seven Catholic Epistles of the various Apostles, counting for one book (he enumerates them in their normal order ….); the fourteen Epistles of Paul, counting for one book (he enumerates them also in the order received); and, in addition to these books, there is also the Apocalypse of John the theologian, received as from him and admitted by the Fathers, who were holy men and inspired by God. Such are the books of the New Testament, canonized books, and, in a sense, the first fruits, anchors, and supports of our faith, so far as they were written and left in deposit by the very apostles of Christ. 87[Synopsis on the Sacred Scripture, PG 28 col. 283-438]
JOHN OF DAMASCUS (676-749AD)
The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John: the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist: seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude: fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul: the Revelation of John the Evangelist: the Canons of the holy apostles , by Clement. 57[John of Damascus (676-749AD), Orthodox Faith, 4.17]