CANONIZATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT #2
by the late Ernest L. Martin
The Canonization by Peter
The apostle Paul could survey the historical environment
within the Christian community of late A.D.66 and what he saw
disturbed him very much! It was nothing like the relatively
stable condition that existed up to the time of James' death in
AD.62. Not only was it apparent that Christ was not returning to
earth in that generation (Paul and Peter's life time would be
more accurate - Keith Hunt) but the Christian church was now
being bombarded from within by many people teaching a variety of
false doctrines. These ranged the gamut from being actively
rebellious against all constituted authority (both religious and
secular) that Peter prophesied about in 2 Peter 2, to the
statements of the apostle John that many antichrists had arisen
among Christians who were changing the fabric of Christian
teachings about the nature and mission of Christ. The apostle
Paul appraised the chaotic situation that had come on the scene
since the death of James in A.D.62. "All the men of Asia have
turned away from me" (2 Tim.1:15). The prospects for the future
were no brighter.
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some
shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and
doctrines of devils. Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their
conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Tim.4:1,2).
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers,
having itching aura; and they shall turn away their ears, from
the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim.4:3,4).
There was by A.D.66 a corruption of the Christian faith
occurring on all sides and the immediate and future out-look was
even more dismal! At least, this is what the apostles thought.
And worse yet, Peter knew by the time he wrote his second epistle
that he was soon to die, that Paul's fate was already set, and
that an insurrection against apostolic authority was underway on
a large scale, and still there were many years (even centuries)
ahead for the Christian church!
With such a prospect in front of him, it became essential to
provide that future church with the purity of the truth of Jesus
Christ as Peter and the rest of the original apostles understood
it. It would seem a dereliction of duty for the apostles to
abandon any attempt to secure the true teaching which they had
the responsibility to preach. Some standard reference document or
book (or a canon of Scripture) was needed that could be reckoned
by all as an official statement of the real truth of
Christianity. This was especially important for the future, for
if the original apostles themselves could not stem the tide of
false doctrine and rebellion to Christ while they were yet alive,
what would happen in the generations ahead without them? Would it
not seem reasonable to any rational person that some document of
an official character be produced by the apostles before their
deaths so that later people could have in their midst the basic
(and pure) truth of Christ if they wanted it? The apostles were
well aware by A.D.66 at the latest, that Christ was not returning
to earth in their generation (The NT does not say this
specifically and John did not mention that he did not think Jesus
was not going to return in his life time. John lived to very near
the end of the century - Keith Hunt). Does it seem sensible that
the apostles would simply die and let others (whom they knew
nothing about) formulate an official set of standard scriptures?
If they couldn't trust the doctrines of many (probably most)
in their midst, how could they depend on those of later times
whom they didn't know at all - and with the prophecies informing
them that heretical teachings were going to get more out of hand?
"But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving,
and being deceived" (2 Tim.3:13).
Clearly, the apostles were aware of the situation and they
were not going to be negligent in answering the need. Indeed, the
last few months of Peter and Paul's lives were devoted to the
very project of leaving to those of the future (which includes
you and me) an official standard of written works which would
secure, for all who wanted it, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In short, it was the apostles themselves who saw the need
for a New Testament canon of Scriptures, and it was they who
produced it! When Christians finally came to the realization that
Christ was not returning to earth in the first century (They
never said or wrote that they did not believe Christ was not
returning in the first century, but they knew it was not going to
be in the lifetime of many of them, like Paul and Peter, who
about to die for the faith - Keith Hunt) they began to write
accounts of Christ's life and his teachings for posterity, and
they were doing it in the manner they thought best. Luke referred
to this and said that "many" were composing such Gospels (Luke
1:1). While this might appear a good thing at first sight, it
must be remembered that these written Gospels were being produced
within an environment of religious and political insurrection.
How could one be certain they were presenting an accurate
account? This is when Peter and John began to show concern about
the matter. If any was fully aware of what Christ did and taught,
and if anyone was able to sanction the accuracy of any written
history of Christ's life, it was the apostles. Something had to
be done to provide a shining light of truth to those of the
It was within this background that Peter wrote what we call
today his second epistle. Let us see what Peter did to secure for
those of the succeeding centuries the purity of Christian
The principle subject of Peter's second epistle was "the
precious and exceeding great promises" of Christ (2 Peter 1:12).
To preserve these for posterity he explained what he was about to
"Wherefore, I shell be ready, always, to remind you of these
things [the promises of Christ], though you know and were firmly
fixed in the present truth [the truth that Peter was presently
giving them]. And I think it right, as long as I am in this
tabernacle [this mortal body], to stir you up by reminder,
knowing the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as
our Jesus Christ showed has shown me. But I will also give
diligence that at each time [notice this phrase 'at each time']
you may be able after my death to recall these things to
remembrance. For not by following cunningly devised fables, made
we known to you the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitness to His majesty. For He received from God
the Father honor glory, when such a voice was borne to Him by the
Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well
pleased.' And this voice we heard home out of heaven, when we
were together Him in the Holy Mount. And we [who were with him on
the mount of Transfiguration] have the prophetic word more
confirmed [than these fablers[; whereunto you do well to take
heed [to our sayings], as to a lamp shining in a murky place,
until which time the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your
hearts. Knowing first that no prophecy of scripture is of its own
evolvement. For no prophecy was ever borne by man's will; but men
spake from God, being borne on by the Holy Spirit"
It is important to realize that Peter was aware of his
impending death (John 21:18,19). But even though death was
imminent he assured his readers that "I shall be ready, always,
to remind you of these great and precious promises." How was it
possible for such ready reminders to always be in their midst if
he was going to die in a matter of days or weeks? Any verbal type
of admonition that he might give them would perish with him at
death! But Peter said he would make sure that Christians would
always have the truth with them. The only way this could
rationally be accomplished is for Peter to leave them with some
authorized written record. "But I will also give diligence that
at each time you may be able after my death to recall these
things to remembrance."
The phrase "at each time" gives us an interesting bit of
information. It means that his readers could return again and
again to consult the document after his death in order to be
assured of what those great and precious promises of christ
really were. Clearly, he is speaking about a written document.
The "Expositor's greek Testament" says that Peter is about to
leave "some systematic body of instruction" (vol.V.p.129). The
"International Critical Commentary" is even more specific in its
realization that written records were being left!
"It seems clear that what is promised is a document, to which his
disciples would be able to turn and confirm their belief.... The
apostle does not say that the document of which he is speaking
should be written after his death, but that it should be written
so to be of use after his death" (vol. "Peter" p.265).
"The whole clause signifies that there shall be left behind, when
Peter is dead, some record to which at each occasion, when the
need arises, they may appeal for a reminder of his lessons, which
they would probably not have always in remembrance" (The
"Speaker's Commentary," NT vol.IV.pp.244,245).
We have in this account of Peter a record of his task in
canonizing some part (or parts) of the New Testament.
The "Speaker's Commentary" continues:
"I will not be wanting on my part says Peter, to supply you with
the means for your guidance and encouragement when I am taken
from you" (p.245).
Peter, moreover, was not the only one involved in this
canonization. When one reads Peter's account carefully, it says
"we" (plural) will not be leaving you "fables" (plural) but the
truth inspired by God's Holy Spirit. The description of this
document as given by Peter shows that it would contain not just
one "count, but that "we" would not be giving the church
cunningly devised "fables" (plural). It is important to recognize
that it was not only Peter who was leaving these documents to
serve as a standard for Christian teaching! Someone else was
behind the effort. The person was the apostle John! Peter makes
this clear in the context of Second Peter. "For by following
cunningly devised fables, made WE known to you the power and
presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but WE were eyewitnesses of
his majesty.... And the voice WE heard borne out of heaven, when
WE were together with him in the Holy Mount. And WE have the
prophetic word more confirmed."
There were three human beings with Christ on the Mount
Transfiguration. They were Peter and the two sons of Zebedee
(John and his brother James). James, however, was the first of
the apostle to be killed (Acts 12:1,2). When Peter wrote his
second epistle, only John and he were the remaining apostles who
had been given the opportunity of being in the Mount of
Transfiguration and to hear the voice of God Himself. To Peter,
this unique and majestic experience was proof positive that he
and John had been given the word of prophecy in a "more
confirmed" While many persons might have taken it in hand to
write several accounts of Christ's life and teachings, Peter was
making it clear that only he and John had the proper authority to
do so in an inspired way! This is why he reminded his readers
that "we [Peter and John] have the prophetic word more confirmed"
- more than any others who might write Gospels in the future or
who had written them in the past! Indeed, they were the ones who
had been graced with the power of the Holy Spirit to do such
things: "no prophecy was ever borne by man's will; but men spake
from God, being borne on by the Holy Spirit." Peter did not
believe that this kind of prophetic responsibility originated
within the mind of man. "Knowing this first that no prophecy of
scripture is of its own evolvement [or, private origination]."
Notice the phrase "prophecy of Scripture." Peter had just
said that both John and he were commissioned with a more
confirmed "word of prophecy." He then interpreted what this
signified by equating it with the "prophecy of SCRIPTURE" which
was not of man's origination! In a word, Peter is saying that the
documents he and John were leaving to the church were to be
considered like any "prophecy of Scripture." The use of the word
"Scripture" brings the matter of inspired writing into the
In simple language, Peter was saying that the two remaining
apostles to the Transfiguration were collecting a set of official
works which would have their apostolic approbation and that these
documents were to be considered by Christians as "more confirmed"
than any others in circulation! And besides that, they were to
remain in their presence to be consulted "at each time" they had
occasion in order to learn the truth of "the great and precious
promises" of Christ! These were to last until the second advent
of Christ and esteemed as being on an equal basis with the Old
"I stir up your sincere mind by reminder; that you remember the
words spoken before by the Holy Prophets, AND the commandment of
the Lord and Savior THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES" (2 Peter 3:1,2).
PETER CANONIZED PAUL'S WRITINGS
Peter was aware that there were many people during his time
(especially conservative Jewish Christians) who were highly
suspect of Paul and his teachings. It seems that even Peter
himself may have raised his eyebrows on occasion. But by A.D.66,
things had changed! In the Spring of that year the miraculous
signs associated with the Temple at Jerusalem had taken place
(with sure evidence that God had abandoned the Temple) so the
teachings of Paul began to be understood by the outer apostles in
a better light. This is one of the main reasons, if not the only
one, why Peter journeyed to Rome in the Summer of A.D.66 to see
the apostle Paul before he met his death as a martyr. The
discussions between the two apostles were no doubt very
productive, because we have Peter informing his readers that Paul
had also provided some basic spiritual information on what the
Gospel of Jesus Christ really was. Peter and John finally
sanctioned the insertion of Paul's letters into the body of
divine literature to last until the second advent of Christ.
Peter felt it was necessary to mention that Paul's epistles were
Peter knew that some people of his time were doubting
inspiration of Paul's teachings, and that in the future some
might even moreso question their legitimate standing. For one
thing, he was not an original apostle of Christ. This prompted
Peter, who knew when he wrote Second Peter that he was soon to be
executed, that many years of history yet remained before the
return of Christ, to be reminding his readers that Paul's letters
were also reckoned as divine Scripture. Peter informed them:
"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation;
even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom
given him wrote you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them
of things hard to understand which the unlearned and unsteadfast
wrest, as also THE OTHER SCRIPTURES, unto their own destruction"
(2 Peter 3:15,16).
This reference of Peter is a clear indication that he
recognized the letters of Paul (no doubt a particular set of
letters) as being as inspired as the Scriptures of the Old
Testament. the "Expositor's greek Testament" was assured that an
equal rank was being accorded:
"The examination of the whole passage [of Peter) ... leads to the
conclusion that the Epistles St.Paul are regarded as in the same
rank with the Old Testament Scriptures" (vol.V, p.101).
It seems as if the apostle Paul was then dead when Peter
wrote his second epistle. Note that Peter referred to Paul's
activity as being in the past. "Paul ... wrote you, as in all his
letters" (2 Pet.3:15). Furthermore, the fact that Paul's letters
were being twisted out of context indicates that Paul was no
longer alive to counter the charges or to write additional
letters clarifying the difficulties that Peter and the others
found hard to understand.
"The reference to Paul, to be found in the Second Epistle of
Peter, is favourable to the supposition that the apostle of the
Gentiles was now dead; as, had he been still living to correct
such misinterpretations, it would scarcely have been said that in
all his epistles were things 'hard to be understood' which 'the
unlearned end unstable' wrested 'unto their own destruction'"
(Killen, "The Ancient Church," p.159).
The second epistle of Peter is actually the key to the first
canonization of the New Testament. It is an official statement to
show how he and John (not long before Peter's death) gathered
together some written records which the apostles themselves
either wrote, had authorized to be written, or sanctioned already
existing works into a position of canonicity.
If one would simply believe what Peter said about this
matter, it would have to be reckoned that Peter's second epistle
was written, among other things, for the express purpose of
showing that the apostle John and himself were the ones ordained
of God to leave Christians with the canon of the New Testament.
This means that it is not the later church who, in some unknown
and haphazard way, collected the 27 books of the New Testament to
be attached to the 22 of the Old and formed what we call the Holy
Bible. I no way! The Biblical evidence points solidly to the
apostles themselves as the ones who canonized the New Testament
books. It was they who saw in their own generation the urgency,
just before their deaths, of securing such a canon.
With false doctrines and rebellion (even to apostolic
authority) on all sides, and with future prospects looking even
worse, they completed their task of preaching the Gospel to the
world by starting and finishing the canonization of the New
Testament. I have not the slightest doubt that this is the case.
The next chapters of this book will help to show the rationality
of this belief.
Entered on this Website April 2008