Keith Hunt - The Canonization of the New Testament #9 - Page Nine   Restitution of All Things

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The Canonization of the New Testament #9

John and his Helpers complete the Canon


by Ernest Martin

Published 1984


     The apostle Peter said there were two people who had the
authority from Christ to canonize the New Testament. They were
himself and the apostle John. They were the only ones remaining
alive who had witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, in
his second epistle, said this majestic event gave them a special
authorization to receive and to record inspired teachings from
God. They had "the word of prophecy more confirmed" (2 Pet.
1:19). This gave them the right to compose or to select any
documents they saw fit in order to leave the Christian church
with official documents which would last them "until the day
dawn" (2 Pet.1:19). This, in summary, was the teaching of Peter
in the first chapter of his second epistle.
     The one who carried Peter's selected documents to the
apostle John was probably John Mark. When he left Rome, Paul was
dead and Peter was near death, if not already dead. Certainly, by
late A.D.67, John was the only apostle remaining who had
witnessed the Transfiguration. The responsibility for putting the
finishing touches to the canon of the New Testament fell to him.
This was in accord with Christ's prophecy that Peter was to die a
martyr but that John would continue to live "until I am coming"
(John 21:22,23). This did not mean that John himself would not
die, as some began to imagine, because Christ made it clear that
the two Sons of Thunder (John and his brother James) would be
killed for their faith (Matt.20:23). John's brother was the first
of the apostles to be slain (Acts 12:1,2), and history informs us
that John also met his death through martyrdom (Eusebius, Eccl.
Hist.IV.31). John, however, was to tarry on earth until the
coming of Christ. As explained in a previous chapter, this was a
reference to John being shown in a series of visions the Book of
Revelation! That book was among the last of the canon to be
written and its essential theme was that of the second advent of
Christ. The historical evidence is very good that Revelation was
written sometime in the last decade of the first century.
     Irenaeus who was a native of Asia Minor and one who knew
Polycarp, who in turn was a personal acquaintance of the apostle
John, said that the Book of Revelation "was seen no such long
time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the
reign of Domitian" (Adv. haer.5.30.3). This reference is powerful
evidence that John received those visions while he was a very old
man. Indeed, Irenaeus said that John lived in the city of Ephesus
until the time of the emperor Trajan (A.D.98-117) (ibid. 2.22).
     According to Papias, who was Bishop of Hierapolis near
Ephesus and a contemporary of John, he was martyred by the Jews.
The fact that John had a long history of living and working in
the region of Ephesus is well attested and need not be seriously
doubted. Irenaeus also stated that John composed his Gospel while
at Ephesus (ibid. 3.1.1.). And since the Book of Revelation was
written late in his life, and directed to seven churches in
Western Asia Minor, it can be reasonably believed that the center
of apostolic activity and authority gravitated to this region of
the world. In A.D.70 Jerusalem was gone as a headquarters area
(indeed, for Christians, Jerusalem ceased to be important even as
early as the death of James in A.D.62, and certainly after the
Pentecost sign of A.D.66 which indicated to Jewish people that
even God himself was "leaving" the Temple). Rome was peripherally
important in matters of authority, but after A.D.67 Rome was left
destitute of the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. As far as
can be determined, only the apostle John remained alive of the
original apostles for the full period from A.D.67 to A.D.98 - and
John lived in and around Ephesus, not at Jerusalem, Antioch,
Alexandria, or Rome! Without doubt, Ephesus (and the adjacent
regions in Western Asia Minor) had become the center of apostolic
Christianity! And this is the very region in which the New
Testament canon arose!

(Yes, undoubtedly Asia Minor did  become the center of true
Christianity. Polycarp of the seconf century was a disciple of
John, and after him there was Polycrates in the latter half of
the second century, both men travelled to Rome to debate the
truths of God with the Roman Bishop, especially concerning the
observance of Passover and not Easter [for remembering the death
of Christ] as was now the custom in the Roman church. Polycarp
and Polycrates represented the Church of God in the East, and
especially Asia Minor - Keith Hunt)

Asia Minor and the New Testament Books

     The final New Testament did not have its origin in Jerusalem
or in Rome! History makes it clear that it had its formation
where the apostle John made his abode for the last 35 years of
his life. It came directly out of Ephesus! In the first place,
well over 80 percent of the writings which make up the New
Testament were either directed to an area within 500 miles of
Ephesus or written from that region. When James wrote his epistle
to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, it must be recognized
that he was not directing his message to the Jews in Palestine,
or even to the multitudes in Mesopotamia. In the first century
the Palestine/Mesopotamian Jews were acknowledged as a part of
the "homeland" of the Jews. James was writing primarily to Jews
scattered around the Roman Empire, and the greatest concentration
of Jews outside Syria and Egypt was in Asia Minor (Philo, Embassy
to Gaius, 245,256,281,282).
     The apostle Peter was even more specific and wrote his two
epistles to the resident aliens throughout Asia Minor (I Pet.1;1;
2 Pet.3:1). Jude covered the same subject as Peter, so it is
sensible that he directed his epistle to the same people. John,
of course, wrote his five books in the canon either to or from
the region around Ephesus.
     And look at Paul. Other than the Book of Romans (which Paul
wrote from Corinth which was within the 500 mile radius of
Ephesus), the letters to the Corinthians were written from
Ephesus and Macedonia (also within the 500 mile zone). The
churches of Galatia were located east of Ephesus and well within
the radius mentioned above. The prison books of Ephesians,
Colossians and Philemon were written from Ephesus and to regions
around Ephesus. Those to Philippi and Thessalonica were also
within the 500 mile area. The Book of Hebrews went to the same
people to whom Peter wrote and its actual destination was no
doubt Galatia. In fact, in a few manuscripts, Hebrews is placed
(erroneously) next to the Book of Galatians. Though this is not
proper to do in the actual manuscript order of the books, it does
show that some Christians recognized that the Book of Hebrews was
written to people in the central area of Asia Minor - again
within the 500 mile zone of Ephesus. The epistles of Paul to
Timothy have long been understood to have been written to Timothy
while he was in or near Ephesus. Titus got his letter while he
was in the island of Crete, again within the central region.
     But what about the Gospels? That of the apostle John was
written from Ephesus. Luke was the close assistant of Paul and
the main area for Paul's ministry in the latter years of his life
was Ephesus. John Mark wrote his Gospel under Peter's direction,
and since Peter wrote his epistle concerning the canonization to
those in Asia Minor (1 Pet.l:l; 2 Pet.3:1), it is reasonable to
suppose that John Mark transcribed Peter's Gospel and took it to
the apostle John in Ephesus for final canonization.
     The only book in the entirety of the New Testament that does
not seem to have any connection with Ephesus (or the 500 mile
radius around it) was the Gospel of Matthew. That Gospel seems to
have been written to the Jews in Jerusalem and Palestine.
     However, the principle "to the Jew first" makes it
reasonable that such a Gospel (and notably the first one) had to
go to the Jews of Judaea.
     Yet with all other books in the New Testament, the focus is
directly upon Ephesus, or within the Ephesian zone. We feel it
was no accident that the apostle John decided to spend the final
35 years of his life in that region.
     Scholars have seen the importance of this centralized area
around Ephesus for the history of the New Testament church at the
conclusion of the first century. Professor Thiersch said: "The
Church's centre of gravity was no longer at Jerusalem; it was not
yet at Rome; it was at Ephesus" (quoted by Godet, Com. on John,
vol.I, p.45). And indeed, Ephesus was the new center of
Christianity! It is to that region that one must look regarding
all matters of authority and canonization within the Christian
church between the years A.D.67 and A.D.98! There is no doubt
that this is proper.

The Canonization by the Apostle John

     John did not create the New Testament on his own. He had
helpers. If one will read the writings of John carefully, these
assistants can be recognized, and they played a very important
part in the overall canonization. References to them are found
from time to time cropping up within the contexts of John's
     The best place to start in order to observe this circle of
John's helpers is at the very end of John's Gospel. Throughout
his twenty-one chapters we find the apostle recording what Christ
taught along with the apostle's own comments. But when one
reaches John 21:24 (just before the end of the Gospel) there is a
remark in the text that interjects what others besides John had
to say about the Gospel of John. Notice the verse.

"This is the disciple [John] who bears witness about these things
(and WE know that the witness he gives is true)."

     Notice the abrupt change from the third person singular to
the first person plural. The last part of this verse is
introducing further witnesses, other than John (identified only
by the pronoun "WE"). Who were these men? In the Gospel they are
not identified, but it can reasonably be assumed that the first
readers of John's Gospel must have been aware of their
identities. They must have represented an officially recognized
body of men since they boldly gave their witness to John's
written word! "And WE know that the witness he [John] gives is

     But there is more! The "WE" passages don't stop with the
single verse at the end of John's Gospel. They occur elsewhere in
John's writings. Notice the short epistle called Third John. John
began to speak to a man called Gaius in the first person
singular: "I pray that in all things you may be prospering and
having good health" (verse 2). Then we find a long string of "I
rejoiced" (verse 3), "I am thankful" (verse 4), "I wrote" (verse
9), and "I will call to remembrance" (verse 10). But then, and
out of the blue, John introduces a plural intrusion into the
text. It says: "In fact, WE also are bearing witness, and you
know that the witness WE give is true" (verse 12). Then
immediately the context of Third John returns to: "I had many
things to write you, yet I do not wish to go on writing you with
ink and pen. But I am hoping to see you directly" (verses 13,14).
     It is clear that a body of men, other than John himself,
were telling the readers of John's third epistle that they too
were able to witness to the truth that John was stating. These
assistants or editors of John must have been well known to John's
readers. All they say is "you know that the witness WE GIVE is
true." Certainly, these men could reasonably be considered a
group of John's right-hand men, known by all, because the editors
said "you know our witness is true."

     There is even more! In John's first epistle we find the
insertion of another "WE section." Notice I John 4:11. After John
told his readers that "I am writing" (I John 2:1), followed by
further references to "I am writing" or "I write" in verses 7, 8,
12,13 (three times), 14 (twice) as well as "I write" in verses 21
and 26, there is then interjected into the context:

"In addition, WE ourselves have beheld and are bearing witness
that the Father has sent forth his Son as Savior of the world" (I
John 4:14).

     This shows, once again, an intrusion into the text. This was
a deliberate attempt to interpose the witness of a body of men
other than the apostle John! And after these men had their chance
to include, once again, their witness we find John returning to
his "I write you" motif (I John 5:13). These references indicate
that there were other men, no doubt known by the original readers
of John's Gospel and his first and third epistles, who wanted to
make sure that they also were giving their testimonies to the
truth of what John was saying.

Who Were These Other Witnesses?

     Thankfully, it is possible to identify these men in a
general way, but we have not been told their names. Since the "WE
sections" in John's Gospel and his first and third epistles are
very similar in content and purpose, it can be reasonably
believed that they all represented the same group of men who were
assistants (or editors) of John. If this is the case, then we can
know more about them because in the first chapter of John's first
epistle these men are further identified. In fact, the whole of
the first chapter gives a rundown of the authority that they had,
along with John, in the Christian church. They must have been
associated with John during his Ephesian sojourn sometime between
the years of A.D.67 and A.D.98. Note carefully the first chapter
of First John so that the authority of these men can come into
better view. The whole of the chapter needs to be mentioned.

"That which was from the beginning, which WE have heard, which WE
have seen with OUR eyes, which WE have viewed and OUR hands felt,
concerning the word of life (and the life was made manifest, and
WE have seen and are bearing witness and reporting to you the
everlasting life which was with the Father and was made manifest
to US), that which WE have seen and heard WE are reporting unto
you, that you may be sharing with US. Furthermore, this sharing
of OURS is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ. And so
WE are writing these things that OUR joy may be in full measure"
(I John 1:1-4).

     The "WE section" continues on through the first chapter of
First John. But, abruptly, in chapter two, there is a change to
the first person singular: "My little children, I write unto you"
(verse 1). This continues until 4:14 is reached, and then there
is the single verse which again records a "WE section." Once
their final witness is recorded, John closes with the usual: "I
write you these things" (5:13).

     Whoever these men were, they figured very prominently in the
writing of John's three epistles. But more than that, they were
men from Palestine who had been personal acquaintances of Christ
and they were witnesses of his resurrection from the dead! This
put them into a relatively high position of authority. After all,
how many people in the first century could claim such
distinction? Even the apostle Paul knew of only about 500 who
were so honored. And these men were a part of that group. They
may even have been of more esteem in the eyes of Christians at
the time. Indeed, if one will look at the very beginning of the
Gospel of John, these same men gave their own witness (along with
John) to the glory of Christ which they had seen with their own
eyes! In John's first chapter there is a prominent (and even
glaring) "WE section." But strangely, most people pass right over
it as though it is not even there! It is time that people begin
to pay attention to what the text actually says, rather than
hurrying over it in a haphazard fashion to get to the next
section. If people would slow down and read what John says, many
would be in for some real surprises! Notice an important "WE
section" at the very start of John's Gospel.

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and WE beheld
his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full
of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

     Scholars are aware that this interjection is the separate
witness of John's assistants or editors (Hastings, Dict. of
Christ and the Gospels, vol.I, pp.880,881), but the vast majority
of readers of the New Testament simply pass over this reference
so quickly that they don't even notice the relevance of it!
     People today are prone to thoroughly avoid the witness that
these men gave. It is time to restore their testimony to its
proper place - because it is important to do so!
     Who were these men who interposed their own testimonies at
crucial points in the texts of John? One thing is assured. They
were almost certainly Jewish because they were witnesses of
Christ in the flesh before His crucifixion and after His
resurrection as well. Both the references in John 1:14 and I John
1:1-4 reveal this. The apostle Paul said that more than 500
people saw Christ after His resurrection (I Cor.15:6), and we can
be certain that the majority of them (if not all) were of Jewish
ancestry! Were some of these witnesses with the apostle John near
the end of the first century? 
     An early Christian called Quadratus wrote a short letter to
the Emperor Hadrian in A.D.117 saying that he (no doubt in his
youth) had talked to some people whom Christ had raised from the
dead (Eusebius, Eccl.Hist IV. 3). This would mean that about the
90's A.D. there were still some witnesses of Christ's ministry in
the flesh still living. They may well have been in Ephesus with
John and helping him in the writing of his Gospel and his three
epistles. They may even have added a few remarks to John's works
after John's death (if they thought it was necessary to do so).
After all, the official scribes of the Jews even added
genealogical matters to the Temple scrolls down to the time of
Alexander the Great (some 100 years after the close of the Old
Testament canon). There would be nothing wrong in adding a few
editorial remarks to the divine library of New Testament books if
the "Elders" who supported the apostle John were still alive
after John's death!
     These suggestions can make sense. The fact is, there appear
to be a number of editorial remarks in John's Gospel, either in
relation to the "WE sections" or distinct from them. The King
James Version shows some of them by placing their occurrences
within parentheses. For example, John 3:13 states: "And no man
hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven
(even the Son of man which is in heaven)." Obviously, the
italicized words represent a later editorial remark because
Christ was certainly on earth when He uttered the first part of
the verse, but only after His resurrection was He actually in
heaven. There is John 4:2.3. Christ said to the Samaritan woman:
"But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall
worship the Father in spirit and in truth." Christ was telling
her that the Temple at Jerusalem, which was the official place in
the Old Covenant period where people ought to assemble at special
times to worship God, was no longer to be important. Of course,
at the time Christ mentioned His teaching to the Samaritan woman
the Temple was still the proper site for assembly. But the
editors (at the time the Gospel was canonized) put in the
reference "and now is" to show that what Christ had predicted had
come true! Another is John 5:25. "Verily, verily, I say unto you,
The hour is coming (and now is) when the dead shall hear the
voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." The
italicized words are a later insertion which could only have been
stating the truth after the resurrection of Lazarus and those who
were made alive after Christ's resurrection (John 11:1-46;
Matt.27:52,53). Another verse is John 13:3: "Jesus knowing that
the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was
come from God (and went to God)." The italicized words, again,
are a later editorial remark. There is also John 17:3. Jesus was
talking and said: "And this is life eternal, that they may know
thee the only true God (and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent)."
And lastly, let us note John 19:35: "And he that saw it bare
record (and his record is true and he knoweth that he saith is
true, that ye might believe)."

The Assistants of John

     The one thing that becomes evident about the "WE sections"
of John is that most of the men who composed that special and
select group around John had been Christians from the very
beginning! Their remarks in the Gospel indicate that they had
seen the glory of Christ firsthand (John 1:14) and in John's
first epistle they emphasized their seeing, their handling and
their hearing Christ (I John 1:1-4). This may mean that some of
them were other apostles or certainly a part of the 500 who
witnessed Christ alive after his resurrection (I Cor.15:6). It
can almost be certain that they were all Jews. and that they
later lived near John in Ephesus.
     It is essential that it be kept in mind that Ephesus and the
area of the province of Asia was, from A.D.67 to A.D.98, the
headquarters for apostolic authority within the Christian church.
Professor Bartlet, in "Hasting's Dict. of Christ and the
Gospels," summed up the historical evidences for this:

"There is little doubt that after the destruction of Jerusalem
and its Temple in A.D.70, if not before, the Roman province of
Asia was the chief centre of Christian tradition outside
Palestine. The foundation for this had been laid by Paul, with
Ephesus as a base of influence; and hither were attracted not a
few of the leading personal disciples of Jesus, including,
perhaps, several of the original Apostles. Chief of all, we must
reckon John, the son of Zebedee, whose presence at Ephesus for a
period of years cannot be explained away by any confusion with
another John" (vol.II, p.309).

     With the deaths of Peter and Paul in Rome, and Jerusalem in
ruins after A.D.70, the principal region for all significant
developments within the Christian church was that around Ephesus.
Many Jews, as we have shown in a previous chapter, had already
gravitated to the region after the death of James in A.D.62 and
before the Jewish/ Roman War. It became the new "Jerusalem" for
Christians, especially Jewish Christians! This can account for
the reason that John gathered around him a body of men from
Palestine who helped him preach the Gospel and write his works.
     A further record of these men is found in the writings of
Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, who lived in the end of the
first century and the beginning of the second. Irenaeus spoke of
him as "a hearer of John and a comrade of Polycarp." Apollinaris,
a Bishop of the same city as Papias, but about 50 years after his
time, called Papias "the disciple of John." The city of
Hierapolis was east of Ephesus but located in the same Roman
province of Asia. If Papias was one who personally talked with
John (though some later Christian writers thought Papias only saw
the immediate disciples of John), then it makes his testimony a
valuable one in evaluating what was happening in Ephesus during
and just after the 30 years' transition period from the deaths of
Peter and Paul to that of John.
     Papias makes an interesting comment about the Elders who
were the disciples of John and who succeeded him at Ephesus.
Since Papias was in contact with these Elders and was interested
in their testimonies concerning the early truths taught by Christ
and the apostles, his comments are valuable. Note what he said.

"But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my
interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned from
the Elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth.
For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that
speak much, but in those that speak the truth; not in those that
relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the
commandments given by the Lord to faith and springing from the
truth itself. If, then, anyone came who had been a follower of
the Elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the Elders
- what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or
by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any
other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Ariston and
the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord say. For I did not
think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me
as much as what came from the living and abiding voice."

     This account makes it clear that the apostles were dead by
the time Papias made this remark about A.D.115. But, there was
still a body of Elders in Western Asia Minor that had firsthand
knowledge of what many of the apostles had taught. Papias said he
even preferred to speak with them about the teachings they
presented about Christ than to resort "to the books" which also
recorded such things. This seems to make it clear that there
already was, within a very few years of the apostle John's death,
a set of books which were regularly being consulted concerning
the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Indeed, at the same
time Papias was making his statements, Polycarp (a disciple of
the apostle John who had certainly heard him speak) was
collecting the seven letters of Ignatius which Ignatius wrote
while on his way to Rome to be martyred (To the Philippians
13:1,2). If the seven letters of Ignatius were so important and
precious to Polycarp (and to be preserved for posterity and
distributed to other churches), then it would seem odd that
Polycarp did not possess a complete canon of New Testament books
which he would have considered infinitely more sacred. Indeed,
Polycarp said in the same letter that the Philippians were "well
trained in the sacred writings" (which he called "the
Scriptures") and then he quoted from Paul's letter to the
Ephesians ("To the Philippians" 12:1).

     The "Elders" that Papias referred to as being alive just
after the death of John might have been the ones who helped John
in the final canonization of the New Testament. Were they part of
John's select group mentioned in the "WE sections" of John's
writings? This seems to be the case! And indeed, some of them may
have been a few of the very apostles themselves (and other
Palestinian Christians) who came to Ephesus to be with John after
the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70. After all, the first chapter of
First John says that those designated by the pronoun "WE" were
those who had seen and handled Christ as well as being witnesses
of his resurrection.

The Importance of John's Elders

     There is another historical reference to the Elders who
helped John write his Gospel and his three epistles. It is what
we today call the Muratorian Canon named after L.A.Muratori who
discovered the document in A.D.1740. It is an account of how some
of the books of the New Testament came to be. Though it is
written in barbarous Latin, and scholars have argued about its
intrinsic worth for years, there are some interesting matters
mentioned by the document that refer to the "WE" passages of the
apostle John's writings. And because it can be dated very early
(to about A.D.180), it provides a reasonable witness of what
people believed about the origin of the Gospel of John, and other
books, in the last part of the second century. It will pay us to
quote an extensive part of the Muratorian Canon. In the section
we will transcribe, the main topic was the Gospel of John.

"The fourth Gospel is by John, one of the disciples. When his
fellow-disciples and overseers of the churches exhorted him he
said: 'Today fast with me for three days, and let us recount to
each other whatever may be revealed to each of us.' That same
night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John
should write down all things in John's name, as they ALL RECALLED
THEM TO MIND (or could certify to John). So although various
points are taught in the several books of the gospels, yet it
makes no difference to the faith of believers, since all things
in them are declared by one supreme Spirit, concerning [Christ's]
nativity, His sufferings, His resurrection, His talking with His
disciples, and His double advent (i.e. His two separate advents),
the first in despised lowliness, which has taken place, and the
second glorious with the power of a king, which is yet to come.
What wonder then if John so boldly presents each point, saying of
himself in his epistle, 'What we have seen with our eyes and
heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, these things
have we written?' For so he swears as a witness not only one who
saw Christ and a hearer of him, but he was also a writer of all
the wonderful works of the Lord in order" (emphasis mine).

     There can be no doubt that the writer of this early work
believed that the Gospel of John, though written under the name
of the "beloved disciple" (John), was really a cooperative effort
in which several of the apostles took part! And in effect, this
is exactly what the "WE" sections of the Gospel of John and
John's epistles demand! This makes "the Elders" of John take on
an importance that many people have not realized. It indicates
that John became the writer for the remaining witnesses of Christ
who were still alive at the end of the first century. John's
circle of friends included some of the most illustrious
luminaries who accompanied Christ in His preaching tours of
Galilee and Judaea!

     These "Elders" of John were also mentioned by Clement of
Alexandria (early third century) when he discussed the method
that John used in writing his Gospel. He said:

"But last of all, John, perceiving that the observable facts had
been made plain in the Gospel [those formerly written], being
urged on by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a
spiritual Gospel" (quoted by Eusebius, Eccl.Hist VI.14.7).

     This means that sometime between A.D.70 and his death about
A.D.98 (or thereabouts, since John lived to the time of the
emperor Trajan), John was asked by his friends to write a
spiritual Gospel, and in this case they were those who had, with
him, seen and heard Christ and had been witnesses of Christ's
resurrection. John accomplished the task! And, as it proved to
be, it was not the work of John alone but a cooperative effort
involving the remaining witnesses who had personally observed
Christ and His teachings. Though Peter and Paul had died in Rome
(and they had made the first preliminary canonization of the New
Testament), it remained for John and his eyewitness "Elders" to
complete the final written testimony to the teachings of Christ.
And this was accomplished in the last decade of the first

     There are many reasons to show that the Gospel of John was
written last of all the Gospels, and that it was no doubt
composed just before John's death. One of the main things to show
this is John's appeal that the Holy Spirit that Christ had
promised would recall to mind all the essential teachings of

"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father
will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, AND BRING TO
REMEMBRANCE, whatsoever things I have said unto you" (John

     Since John was a very old man when his Gospel was written,
there were people who were accusing him of not being able to
remember the real teachings of Christ. This is why John invoked
the witness of the Holy Spirit to counter this. But John was
also, in his Gospel and epistles, constantly appealing to the
truth provided by competent witnesses from Palestine! In his
Gospel alone, John stressed the word "witness" (or its cognates)
47 times! This was a most unusual emphasis! Why did John resort
to such an appeal? No other writer of the New Testament had to
constantly remind his readers that he had many kinds of
"witnesses" to the truth of what he was writing! But no other
writer was being accused of being too old to remember the truths
of earlier times. The fact is, when John wrote his Gospel, there
were many people in the world who began to question the accuracy
of it, and of the competence of John himself. This is one of the
main reasons that John emphasized the fact that the Holy Spirit
was promised by Christ to bring back a remembrance of "all the
truth" to His apostles (John 16:13), and if that were not enough,
John also called on a group of his select friends who were also
eyewitnesses to all that he was saying, and they also vouched for
the truth of his statements!

     It should be recalled that there were many "Gospels" of
Christ already circulating by the time John wrote his works (Luke
1:1), and that both Peter and Paul had warned of the fables that
were destined to be put forth as the truth (2 Pet.1:16; 2
Tim.4:4). John (even in his old age) felt that it was incumbent
upon him to clear the air with the truth. He thus asked the
witnesses of Christ's earthly life who were still living to
cooperate with him in the production of the final Gospel. This
was accomplished just before John's death (about the time he
wrote the Book of Revelation). It is for this reason that many
features of John's Gospel can be satisfactorily explained. This
is why he could record the incident of Lazarus being resurrected
from the dead while the other three Gospel accounts did not wish
to do so. Since Lazarus was now dead, and this would prevent any
harassment from his admirers or his foes, John could tell the
story in detail. But John left out things too! There is no
mention of Christ's prophecies about the destruction of
Jerusalem, to which the other three Gospels paid considerable
attention. It would have been unwise to mention matters that had
already taken place (and record them as "future" prophecies).
And, after all, the Olivet Prophecies had already been adequately
covered by the other three Gospels written before the destruction
of Jerusalem. John was simply giving a summary of doctrinal and
spiritual matters taught by Christ that the other apostles had
left out or did not feel necessary to record!

The Transition Period

     The time between the deaths of Peter and Paul (which
happened about A.D.67 in Rome) and that of John (soon after
A.D.98 in Ephesus) was most significant in the history of the
canonization. Some of the differences in the contents of later
manuscripts can be attributed to this 30 year period. For
example, it must be acknowledged that Peter and Paul left with
the church at Rome a partial canon of New Testament Scriptures,
though Peter directed the actual (and final) canonization to his
readers in Asia Minor, and most particularly to the apostle John
himself. The whole of Peter's second epistle is devoted to this
subject. It was to Asia Minor and the apostle John that one must
look (according to Peter) for the final canonization, and not to
Jerusalem (which was soon to be destroyed), and not to Antioch in
Syria, not to Alexandria, not to Carthage, not to Athens, and not
even to Rome!
     This did not mean that the church at Rome was not important.
The Christians there needed the Gospel in its purity as much as
any other Christians. This is why it is reasonable to suppose
that Peter and Paul left a partial canon with them (the same one
they sent to John) which would last them until John would include
his own books and complete the divine library. Since John's
Gospel, his three epistles and the Book of Revelation were not
canonized for almost another 30 years or so, it meant that the
Christian church did not have in its possession a complete New
Testament until the last decade of the first century. This period
when no full canon was yet available can explain a great deal of
the minor (and even major) differences that arose in a few of the
early manuscripts. For instance, the original Gospel of Mark
which Peter dictated to John Mark in Rome (and that Mark left
with the Roman church) probably did not contain the long
conclusion (16:9-20) or even a short conclusion of one verse
which followed Mark 16:8. Thus, for a 30 or 35 year period some
manuscripts were circulating without the long conclusion. Yet
when John and his assistants finally canonized the New Testament,
twelve verses were added to the Gospel of Mark in order to
complete it. Even the Book of Acts has come down to us in two
distinct types of manuscript versions - one which is more replete
with historical and geographical information adding about 10
percent more material to the text. The additions to Acts could
also have been made when the final canon was published in Ephesus
at the end of the century.

     There is also the question of the exact times John wrote his
Gospel and three epistles. They were certainly composed during
John's residence at Ephesus, but at the beginning, the middle or
at the very end? The Gospel seems to be a late production, though
John's mention of five porches as seemingly in existence in
Jerusalem (5:3) and the reference that Peter "will" be martyred
(21:19) might indicate the basic writing of the Gospel was early,
even before the destruction of Jerusalem. Prof. J. A. T.
Robinson, in his excellent book, "The Redating of the New
Testament," thought this to be the case. John's mention that it
was the "last hour" (I John 2:18) would tend to put the original
writing quite early - before the apostles came to see that Christ
was not coming back in that generation.
     While all of this may show an early "first draft" to John's
Gospel and epistles, the inclusion of the "WE sections" into
their texts makes it probable that their final positioning among
the canonical books only became a reality when the Book of
Revelation was given to the apostle John not long before his
death. Actually, the "WE sections" seem to be editorial remarks
which were added by John's assistants (either to buttress the
reliability of what John was writing in his old age or to support
John's testimony after his death). From our present state of
knowledge we cannot know what part of that 30 or 35 years when
John was near Ephesus that his Gospel and the three epistles were
first written. Certainly, though, they were not canonized as
official parts of the New Testament until the last book
(Revelation) was composed near the end of John's life.


     It is sometimes thought that because the New Testament has
come down to us in Greek, that the Gentiles from Greek speaking
areas were the ones who had authority to preserve the new canon.
There is no Scriptural warrant to sustain this belief. Indeed, of
the apostles themselves only Peter and John had "the prophetic
word more confirmed" (2 Pet.1:19). These two apostles along with
James the Lord's brother were the "pillar" apostles in the
Christian church and even the apostle Paul found it necessary to
gain an approbation from them for his work among the Gentiles

(No, Paul did not have to get any approbation from any human man,
the context of Galatians 2 does not suggest what Martin here
suggests. Paul was taught directly by Christ [Gal.1] and needed
no approbation from fleshly men - Keith Hunt)

     In a particular sense, they were the only apostles
specifically commissioned to go to the circumcised (Gal.2:7-9).
As far as holy Scripture was concerned, it was a well known
principle among the Jews that it was they who had been authorized
to preserve and protect (and to teach) the Word of God. Paul
acknowledged this.

"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of
circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because unto them were
committed the oracles of God" (Rom.3:1,2).

The word "committed" signifies an entrustment - an official
commission. The apostle Paul reckoned that his own ministry among
the Gentiles was the same type of authority, and the same word
was used in Greek to describe it (I Cor.9:17; Gal.2:7; I
Tim.1:11; Titus 1:3). Since the Old Testament had been placed
into the hands of the Temple priests for its teaching and
preservation (Deut.31:9-11), the apostles must have looked on
safeguarding the New Testament in a similar way. There were even
early beliefs that the apostle John and his brother James were of
priestly descent (Eusebius, Eccl.Hist. V.24; Epiphanius, Haer.
XXVII.14), but how this could be is not known.

(It matters not. The apostles new they were inspired by the power
of the Holy Spirit, which was manifested mightily in the lives of
many of the apostles, with signs and miracles. They needed no
"Jewish" anything to establish an inspired canon of New Testament
writings - Keith Hunt)

     At any rate, Peter told the Jewish exiles in Asia Minor that
he and John were going to leave them with a New Testament canon
and that only these two apostles had "the word of prophecy more
confirmed" (2 Pet. 1:19). To accomplish his role in canonization,
the apostle John gathered around him in Ephesus a body of Jewish
elders who helped him in writing (and no doubt preserving) that
canon. No one knows how long the original group of men assisted
John, but at the time John wrote his Gospel and his three
epistles, those men were still giving witness to the accuracy of
John's teaching.

     The point that needs to be emphasized is that the center of
canonization for the 30 odd years after A.D.67 was Ephesus, and
the people who performed the task of completing the canon were
Jewish Christians under the direction of the apostle John! It is
certain that the New Testament did not have its origin in
Jerusalem, in Antioch of Syria, in Alexandria, in Greece, in
Carthage, or in Italy! Those areas had to be supplied with the
final New Testament (when the Book of Revelation came into
existence) from the central area of Ephesus! It is from this area
that we should look for the original New Testament! In the next
chapter we will see how the Christians at Rome and other areas
came to look on the authority of this region of Asia Minor.


To be continued

Entered on this Website June 2008


It is indeed true, from recorded "church history" that after 70
A.D. Asia Minor was the center of TRUE apostolic Christianity. It
was from Asia Minor, the "churches of the East" as so called in
church history of the second century, that Polycarp and
Polycrates came from, travelling to Rome, to debate certain
truths of the Gospel of Christ with the Bishops of Rome. The
church in the West (Rome) was starting to adopt customs and
practices and teachings that the churches of the East thought
were erronious and contrary to sound apostolic teaching. It is
also worth noting that at this time in the second century, the
churches of the East still looked upon the churches of the West
as "brothers in Christ" which answers the question from some as
to why Polycarp and Polycrates would bother to debate doctrine
with the Bishops of Rome. It took some time and effort to travel
from Asia Minor to the city of Rome, there were no cars, trains,
or planes in those days.

Keith Hunt

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