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The Canon

Thoughts on the First-Generation Christian Literature

By Stephen Broyles


I express my thanks to Justin Hester and Tim Loescher, at whose invitation this material was presented to students at a Navigator summer program at the University of Vermont, and to Tim and his wife, Christa, for their hospitality while I was in Burlington.


The aim of the pages listed in the column to the right is to give some thought to the Christian canon—the collection of writings which are the church’s primary source for understanding what God has done in the events announced in the gospel.

The Christian movement had a body of scripture from the beginning: the Old Testament. Within seventy years it also had a New Testament—as long as we are content to say that the four Gospels and Acts and most of the letters of Paul and the Book of Revelation are enough to constitute a New Testament, and as long as we are content to allow a little fuzziness at the borders, for even to the present day there is no global consensus among all Christian groups about some of the details.

With this body of literature Christians served one another as pastors and guides, fought temptations and cultivated virtues, found words for prayer and worship, understood what had happened in Israel, and understood what had happened in Jesus Christ.

In the second century, people came forth to say either that the literature was too large (Marcion) or too small (Montanus). The wide church, however, concluded that it was neither. The church concluded that in the prophets and evangelists and apostles we have what we need to be proficient and fully equipped for all kinds of good and beautiful deeds.



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          Table of Contents


1. Why We Call It the Canon

2. What They Called It before They Called it Canon

3. How the Canonical Literature Serves the Church

4. The Canon of the Earliest Church

          4a. The Oral Gospel

          4b. The Old Testament 

5. The Literature That Appeared in the First Century

6. The Literature as Collected and Transmitted

7. Marcion and the Canon

8. Montanus and the Canon

9. Into the Third and Fourth Centuries

            9a. Gospel of Peter

            9b. Acknowledged and


10. The Canon from Above and Below




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