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The New Testament is comprised of the Gospels, the Acts and sayings of Christ, the Epistles and the letters of Paul and the Apostles. It contains 27 books and 260 chapters. Most of it was written down in late A.D. 1st century and early 2nd century, in Greek. The authoritative New Testament was not canonized until the 4th century.

In 1862, Dr. Thomas Hartwell announced that the New Testament contained 7,959 Verses, 181,253 words and 838,380 letters. There are 4,800 different words in the New Testament. In comparison, Hugo used 38,000 different words; Shakespeare 24,000; Homer 8,500. The Old Testament has 5,800 different words.

In A.D. 367, Athanasis of Alexandria was the first to list the 27 books of the New Testament. The oldest Greek manuscript containing New Testament scripture, the Codex Sinaitcus, was written in the A.D. 4th century, and ends with Barnabas and The Shepherd, which are generally not include in modern versions of the Bible. See Above

According to the BBC: “The New Testament has 27 books, written between about 50 and 100 AD, and falling naturally into two sections: the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); and the Letters (or epistles) - written by various Christian leaders to provide guidance for the earliest church communities. [Source: John Drane, July 12, 2011 BBC |::|]

“The first three Gospels are effectively different editions of the same materials, and for that reason are known as the 'synoptic gospels'. The writer of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of how Christianity spread from being a small group of Jewish believers in the time of Jesus to becoming a worldwide faith in less than a generation. |The New Testament concludes with the book of Revelation, which begins with a series of letters to seven churches in the area of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), but then offers a visionary presentation of the meaning of all things, from creation to the end of the world. |::|

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website ; Sacred Texts website ; Gnostic Society Library ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians ; Guide to Early Church Documents; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ

Early History of the New Testament

Gospel of Peter, one the rejected Gospels
In the early days of the Christian Church the Bible was the Old Testament. What is now regarded as the New Testament were simply chronicles of the life of Christ and various observations, insights and inquiries. Sometimes these writing were use in services, with each church using different ones. Over time early Christian scholars’such as Marcion (A.D. 159), Eusebius of Caesarea (4th century) and St. Augustine---codified, edited, threw out and organized writings that came after Christ’s death into what became the New Testament.

Scholars weeded through a huge number of texts and carefully selected the text that became the New Testament. Some scholars attributes only 20 percent of the sayings and deeds ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament are actually to have been made by him.

St. Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop from Lyon, is regarded by some as the first great theologian. He affirmed the authority of the four Gospels and dismissed other texts as heretical, calling some “evil exegesis,” and eliminated them from the Christian canon because many threatened to undermine basic doctrines. The religious scholar Elaine Pagels that by doing this he provided “the basic architecture of what would become the Orthodox Christian faith.”

In the year A.D. 180, St. Irenaeus released a summary of many of the texts he rejected in a treatise called Against Heresies . His interpretation of the texts were often quite prejudicial. Versions of the text discovered were often quite different from the summaries in the St. Irenaeus treatise. St. Irenaeus was particularly harsh on Gnostic texts because many of his followers had been lured away by a Gnostic preacher.

Letters and Paul

According to the BBC: “Letters were the natural way for itinerant church leaders to communicate with their converts, and the earliest ones were written before the Gospels. With some exceptions (Romans, Hebrews), they were not meant to be formal presentations of Christian belief, but offered advice to people who were working out how to express their commitment to Jesus in ways that would be relevant to the many different cultural contexts in which they found themselves throughout the Roman empire. Reading them can be like listening to one half of a conversation, as the writers give answers to questions sent to them either verbally or in writing. Paul was the most prolific writer of such letters, though he was not the only one. [Source: John Drane, July 12, 2011 BBC |::|]

The Epistles (Letters) of Paul, including Thessalonians and Corinthians, are the earliest known Christian documents. The earliest were written around A.D. 50. They were written before the Gospels and make up a considerable part of the New Testament. These letters were written over the years to his friends and to churches. The Book of Acts describes the early history of the Christian Church and Paul’s life and works. “Carrying the 'good news' of Jesus Christ to non-Jews, Paul's letters to his fledgling congregations reveal their internal tension and conflict.”

Durer's Paul

The following are texts in the New Testament related to Paul and the Pauline Churches
Missionary Activity: Acts of the Apostles [
Failure in Athens, Acts 17:16-34:
Success in Corinth, Acts 18:1-11
Foolishness of Faith, I Corinthians 1:17-2:8
Resurrection of Christ and the Saints, I Corinthians 15:1-55
Faith and Law, Romans 1:13-17, Galatians 3:15-29
Predestination, Romans 8:18-31, 9:14-22
Body and Spirit, Romans 7:22-8:17
Radical Equality, Galatians 3:27-29
Love, I Corinthians 13:1-13
Men and Women
Undisputed Letters:

I Corinthians
II Corinthians
Disputed Letters:
II Thessalonians
Post-Pauline Epistles:
I Timothy
II Timothy
2ND Darrell J. Doughty: Pauline Paradigms and Pauline Authenticity JHC 1 (Fall 1994), 95-128. [At Drew] [Source:]

P52 from John: the Oldest New Testament Fragment

P52 — a fragment of the Gospel of John (a.k.a. John Rylands P457) — is the oldest known manuscript fragment of the New Testament. Written in Greek on a 3.5- inch- long and 2.5-inch wide piece of papyrus, it consists of seven lines on each side written between A.D. 125 and –150. P52 was discovered in Egypt in 1920 by Bernard P. Grenfell and is currently located in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. [Source:]



Translation: Therefore Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." The Judeans said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death." This was to fulfill the word which Jesus had spoken to show by what death he would die. Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the king of the Judeans?" [Source: translation by K. C. Hanson]


Translation: Therefore Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into society: to witness to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Judeans again, and he told them, "I find no crime in him." [Source: translation by K. C. Hanson]

Additional Books in the Ancient New Testament

Glenn Davis wrote: The history of the compilation of the canon of the early New Testament “spans the first four centuries of Christianity, and was a long continuous process. It was not only a task of collecting, but also of sifting and rejecting. It was not the result of a deliberate decree by an individual or a council near the beginning of the Christian era. The collection of New Testament books took place gradually over many years by the pressure of various kinds of circumstances and influences, some external and others internal to the life of congregations. Different factors operated at different times and in different places. Some of the influences were constant, others were periodic; some were local, and others were operative where the Church had been planted. [Source:, |:|]

Early Lists of the Books of the New Testament: Catalogue inserted in codex Claromontanus” 1) The Canon of Cyril of Jerusalem; 2) The Cheltenham Canon; 3) The Canon approved by the Synod of Laodicea; 4) The Canon approved by the 'Apostolic Canons'; 5) The Canon of Gregory of Nazianus; 6) The Canon of Amphilochius of Iconium; 7) The Canon approved by the third Synod of Carthage; 8) The Decretum Gelasianum; 9) Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books; 10) The Stichometery of Nicephorus. |:|

Early Lists of the Books of the New Testament: from Metzger and Schneemelcher: 1) Catalogue inserted in codex Claromontanus (4th century?); 2) The Canon of Cyril of Jerusalem (~350 CE); 3) The Cheltenham Canon (~360 CE); 4) The Canon approved by the Synod of Laodicea (~363 CE ?); 5) The Canon approved by the 'Apostolic Canons' (~385 CE); 6) The canon of Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 CE); 7) The canon of Amphilochius of Iconium (died after 394 CE); 8) The Canon approved by the Third Synod of Carthage (~397 CE); 9) The Decretum Gelasianum (6th century); 10) Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books (7th century); 11) The Stichometry of Nicephorus (9th century ?). |:|

Myth of Origins, Non-Canon Heretics and Gnostics

Gnostic text, the Apocalypse of Peter

Karen King at Harvard Divinity School is a critic of what she calls the “master story” of Christianity: a narrative that casts the New Testament as divine revelation that passed through Jesus in “an unbroken chain” to the apostles and their successors—church fathers, ministers, priests and bishops who carried its truths into the present day. Owen Jarus wrote in Live Science: According to this “myth of origins,” as she has called it, followers of Jesus who accepted the New Testament canon—chiefly the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written roughly between A.D. 65 and A.D. 95, or at least 35 years after Jesus’ death—were true Christians. Followers inspired by noncanonical gospels were heretics hornswoggled by the devil. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, October 5, 2015 /~/]

“Until the last century, virtually everything scholars knew about these other gospels came from broadsides against them by early Church leaders. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, France, pilloried them in A.D. 180 as “an abyss of madness and of blasphemy”—a “wicked art” practiced by people bent on “adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.” A challenge to Christianity’s master story surfaced in December 1945, when an Arab farmer digging near the town of Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt, stumbled on a cache of manuscripts. Inside a meter-tall clay jar containing 13 leatherbound papyrus codices were 52 texts that didn’t make it into the canon, including the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip and the Secret Revelation of John. /~/

“As scholars translated the texts from Coptic, early Christians whose views had fallen out of favor—or were silenced—began speaking again, across the ages, in their own voices. A picture began to take shape of long-ago Christians, scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean, who derived sometimes contradictory teachings from the life of Jesus Christ. Was it possible that Judas was not a turncoat but a favored disciple? Did Christ’s body really rise, or just his soul? Was the crucifixion—and human suffering, more broadly—a prerequisite for salvation? /~/

“Only later did an organized Church sort the answers to those questions into the categories of orthodoxy and heresy. (Some scholars prefer the term “Gnostic” to heretical; King rejects both, arguing in a 2003 book that “Gnosticism” is a construct “invented in the early modern period to aid in defining the boundaries of normative Christianity.”)” /~/

"Heretics" Defined in Response to Persecution


Professor Elaine H. Pagels told PBS: “As far as we can tell, the earliest Christian communities had an enormous variety of viewpoints and attitudes and approach, as we've said. But by the end of the second century, you begin to see hierarchies of bishops, priests and deacons emerge in various communities and claim to speak for the majority. And with that development, there's probably an assertion of leadership against viewpoints that those leaders considered dangerous and heretical. One of the issues that polarized those communities, perhaps the most urgent and pressing issue, was persecution. That is, these people, all Christians, belonged to an illegal movement. It was dangerous to belong to this movement. You could be arrested, if you were charged with being a Christian, you could be put on trial, you could be tortured and executed if you refused to recant. And with that pressure, many said, "We want to know when a person joins this movement if that person is going to stand with us or is going to pretend they're not with us. So let's clarify who belongs to us...." [Source: Elaine H. Pagels, The Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion Princeton University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“The Bishop Irenaeus was about 18 to 20 years old when his little community was absolutely decimated by a devastating persecution. They say that 50 to 70 people in two small towns were tortured and executed. That must have meant hundreds were rounded up and put in prison. But 50 to 70 people in two small towns executed in public is a devastating destruction of that beleaguered community. And Irenaeus was trying to unify those who were left. What frustrating him is that they didn't all believe the same thing. They didn't all gather under one kind of leadership. And he, like others, was deeply aware of the dangers of fragmentation, that one community could be lost. And so it is out of that deep concern, I think, that Irenaeus and others began to try to unify the church, and, and create criteria like, you know, these are the four gospels. These are what we believe, these are the rituals, which you first do. You're baptized and then you're a member of this community. It would be absurd to suggest that the leaders of the church were out to protect their power. <>

“Because to become bishop in a church in which the 92 year old bishop had just died in prison, which is what Irenaeus did as a very young man, he had the courage to become bishop, is to become a target for the next persecution. This is not a position of power, it's a position of danger and courage. And those people were concerned to try to unify the church. So it would be ridiculous to tell the story of the early Christian movement as though the orthodox were, you know, power mad, and trying to destroy all diversity in the church. It's much more complicated than that. The sociologist Max Weber has shown that a religious movement, if it doesn't develop a certain institutional structure within a generation of its founder's death, will not survive. So it's likely, I think, that we owe the survival of the Christian movement to those forms that Irenaeus and others developed. You know, the list of acceptable books, the list of acceptable teachings, the rituals.” <>

Codex Siniaticus

Codex Siniaticus

The A.D. 4th century Codex Siniaticus is the oldest Codex of the New Testament [but not the oldest written fragment. According to The “Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.”

The Codex Sinaiticus, or "Sinai Bible", is one of the four great uncial codices, ancient, handwritten copies of the Greek Bible. A celebrated historical treasure, the codex is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript written in the 4th century in uncial letters on parchment. Scholarship considers the Codex Sinaiticus to be one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament,, along with the Codex Vaticanus. Until the discovery by Constantin von Tischendorf of the Sinaiticus text, the Codex Vaticanus was unrivaled. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Codex Sinaiticus came to the attention of scholars in the 19th century at Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, with further material discovered in the 20th and 21st centuries. Although parts of the codex are scattered across four libraries around the world, most of the manuscript is today vested in the British Library in London, where it is on public display. [4][5] Since its discovery, study of the Codex Sinaiticus has proven to be useful to scholars for critical studies of biblical text.

While large portions of the Old Testament are missing, it is assumed that the codex originally contained the whole of both Testaments. [6] About half of the Greek Old Testament (or Septuagint) survived, along with a complete New Testament, the entire Deuterocanonical books, the Epistle of Barnabas and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas. [2]

British Library buys $14.3 Million of an Ancient Gospel

St Cuthbert Gospel of John

In 2012, The British Library has paid $14.3 million for the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably well-preserved seventh-century manuscript described by the library as the oldest European book to survive fully intact. Associated Press reported: “The palm-sized book, a manuscript copy of the Gospel of John in Latin, was bought from the British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the library said Tuesday. The book measures 96 mm (3.8 inches) by 136 mm (5.4 inches) and has an elaborately tooled red leather cover. It comes from the time of St. Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin when it was opened in 1104 at Durham Cathedral. [Source: Associated Press, April 16, 2012 +++]

“The British Library said the artifact is one of the world's most important books. "To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the seventh century would have seen it," said the library's chief executive, Lynne Brindley. "The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago," she added. +++

“Cuthbert's coffin arrived in Durham after monks had removed it from the island of Lindisfarne, 330 miles (530 kilometers) north of London, to protect the remains from Viking raiders in the ninth and 10th centuries.” The book has been displayed at the British Library in London and in Durham, northeast England.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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