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The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance [Paperback]

Bruce M. Metzger
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Book Description

10 April 1997 Its Origin, Development, and Significance
This book provides information from Church history concerning the recognition of the canonical status of the several books of the New Testament. Canonization was a long and gradual process of sifting among scores of gospels, epistles, and other books that enjoyed local and temporary authority - some of which have only recently come to light among the discoveries of Nag Hammadi.

After discussing the external pressures that led to the fixing of the limits of the canon, the author gives sustained attention to Patristic evidence that bears on the development of the canon not only in the West but also among the Eastern Churches, including the Syrian, Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, and Ethiopian. Besides considering differences as to the sequence of the books in the New Testament, Dr Metzger takes up such questions as which form of text is to be regarded as canonical; whether the canon is open or closed; to what extent a canon should be sought within the canon; and whether the canon is a collection of authoritative books or an authoritative collection of books.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press; New Ed edition (10 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198269544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198269540
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 13.8 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 615,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Metzger's opinions throughout are judicious and moderate... The richly detailed factual information carefully organized here, and the bibliographical footnotes will make this a volume of continuing benefit and lasting value. (Journal of Theological Studies)

this book is of great value, not only as a careful survey of the issues historically but also as a contribution to the current scene. (American Historical Review)

this volume, along with [Metzger's] earlier books on the text and early versions, is destined to become the standard in this field. (Restoration Quarterly)

About the Author

Bruce M. Metzger is at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THROUGHOUT the Middle Ages questions were seldom raised as to the number and identity of the books comprising the canon of the New Testament. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential NT reference work 27 Jan 2008
By Origen
This is an essential work for anyone working on the history of the New Testament writings and their transmission. The author deals very comprehensively with the transmission of the texts in the patristic authors and his discussion is very carefully and clearly organised. It is a classic and should be on every serious student's shelf.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and careful study, though rather dry 3 Nov 2008
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
A thorough and careful study of how the New Testament (NT) became the collection of writings it is today. Still the standard work on the topic, it analyses how various communities in the early church began to grant authority to scriptures other than the Old Testament, as indicated in writings such as the late first-century work known as the second epistle of Clement. Other factors stimulating the creation of an acknowledged core of works deemed vital to the new faith included the rise of Gnosticism and Montanism, the work of the second-century scholar Marcion (who created his own, much shorter, version of the NT), and persecution. Metzger analyses the developments in the eastern and western churches and, in his most interesting chapter, shows how other books, now not 'officially' recognised, were granted authority in particular local areas: these included various apocryphal Acts and Gospels. Attempts at closing the Canon (that is, fixing the list of writings that `made it' into the NT) reveal just how disputed the process was, especially in respect of the epistle of James, the second epistle of Peter, and Revelation. What determined the canon ultimately was not, surprisingly, `inspiration' (a slippery concept, in Metzger's view). It was more a matter of how particular works earned a measure of authority in widely differing areas of the ancient world by reflecting accurately - as the churches saw it - traditions about Jesus and the earliest apostles that were held to be important.

Shortcomings with this otherwise sound work are its tendency to become just a rather dry series of lists at times; and its lack of analysis of how issues of worldy power and rivalry tended to get in the way of a supposedly objective and studiously deliberative process. For much better accounts of the latter, see Bart Ehrman's excellent `Whose Word Is It ?' and David Dungan's `Constantine's Bible'.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
134 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great analysis on a difficult issue 10 Jun 2000
By Timotheos Josephus - Published on
This book was written by Bruce Metzger; one of the most respected Greek scholars of our modern day. While coming from a conservative viewpoint, Metzger is respected by scholars from all theological backgrounds. After reading "The Canon of the New Testament" I can understand why this man is so admired for his work. He devotes a very small portion of the book giving his opinion. Instead, he lays all of the facts on the table in such a compelling way as to almost force the reader to his conclusion before he even gives it.
The first section contains a brief overview of other literature that has been written on the topic of the New Testament (NT) canon.
The second section is where we are given all of the information regarding the development of the NT canon. Metzger examines the authority given by the apostolic fathers to the various NT books. He then proceeds to what I consider to be the most interesting part of the book - the influence of "heretics" on the development of the NT. Metzger demonstrates the fact that some NT books were already recognized as authoritative early in the second century because the orthodox and heretical writers of this time tried using passages of certain books to support their arguments.
This book goes a long way toward refuting those who think the NT canon was arbitrarily selected by church councils of the fourth century. Metzger clearly shows how nearly all of the NT books were recognized as authoritative from as early as can be historically detected.
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to Subject 21 Sep 2005
By Reader From Aurora - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bruce Metzger's "The Cannon of the New Testament" is an introductory-level overview of the development of the New Testament. Metzger is one of the best-known and most-respected contemporary writers in this area.

The author approaches the subject from a conservative academic perspective - his comments are reflective of mainstream New Testament scholarship. Given the text's introductory nature it does not advocate for any particular historical school of thought, but rather provides a relatively neutral starting point for readers. For readers new to serious New Testament study it does offer a reasoned antidote to some of the silliness that periodically pops at the popular level (e.g. components of Christian Cannon were arbitrarily selected under Roman state direction, many equally valid historic Gospels were suppressed, etc.). Metzger rightly notes that there are no compelling reasons for doubting the traditional view of cannon development - i.e. books were canonized because of their wide spread use and acceptance by the early church.

Some earlier reviewers have criticised Metzger as being biased. I must say that I am a strong supporter of open and honest discourse - my concern with these specific comments is that they appear to be largely based on Metzger being a Christian rather than his work (their comments on the handling of Thomas and Mark are misleading - Metzger actually offers comparatively liberal comments on both points). This type of argument based on a writer's supposed religious beliefs are not helpful - it is prejudice. I appreciate that at times personal attacks can be tempting and even have some short-term success. In the long-run, however, they inhibit civil discourse and contribute to intolerance toward those who do not share our views.

Overall, the book is an excellent starting point for all readers interested in the development of the New Testament. I highly recommended it to all students of religious studies or ancient history as well as the general reader. For readers seeking further, F.F. Bruce also has done some good introductory level work in this area.
49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Source on the Formation of the Canon 11 April 2003
By Jack Lamont - Published on
Bruce Meztger seems to be the reigning scholar as far as early New Testament books are concerned. He's writen over ten books on that subject alone. From all information about the "Q" document to different textual versions of the gospels, he's your man.
This book, however, is not specifically about where the individual books of the New Testament Canon came from. Meztger does talk about who wrote them, to be sure, but he is more concerned with how they actually came to be canonized. He discuses the outside elements that brought the church to seperate certain books as authoritative(canonize), and investigates various books that were eventually rejected. One thing Meztger seems to stress is that the decision to include books in the canon was not done over night in one council; but gradually over roughly 300 years of various(though similar) 'lists' of books. Eventually he concludes with the excellent illustration:"If, for example, all the academies of music in the world were to unite in declaring Bach and Beethoven to be great musicians, we should reply, 'Thank you for nothing; we knew that already.'" Same thing with the canon.
I found this book to be extremly boring in places; I'm not very proficient in scholarly works. This book seems to be meant for college students. Its very helpful, though, for those who want to know how the New Testament came to be labeled as authoritative, hence the five stars. Don't miss the concluding essays on modern questions concerning the canon. I recomend this to budding Bible scholars or mature Christians.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Church Father citations and book summaries are valuable 12 Mar 2004
By R. W. Brannan - Published on
Some critical reviews associated with this title mention Metzger's approach to Mark on "page 92" of this book. However, page 92 of this book is part of the section discussing the heretic Marcion -- and has nothing to do at all with the Gospel of Mark. Perhaps these reviewers have confused this title (Canon of the New Testament) with another title from Metzger (Text of the New Testament). With that out of the way, the strengths of this book from Metzger are in the tracing of authoritative citations used by church fathers from the New Testament books prior to canonization. This information alone is valuable. In addition, Metzger's survey of the works of NT Apocrypha (books that weren't canonized, but were in circulation, at least amongst some groups) along with his clear and concise summaries of the contents of these books is quite valuable. These two items alone make the book a handy reference guide. The information on the process of canonization is good -- typical of Metzger's work, bringing the technical down to a level that is accessible by the non-expert.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clarification 10 Sep 2004
By Eric C. Rowe - Published on
This book is not a Christian apology. It is a discussion of the process in the early Church that resulted in the definition of the New Testament canon as the 27 books that are commonly known to comprise it. Metzger does not diverge much at all from the standard scholarly views on this issue. He mainly approaches it as a matter of Church history, as do most inquiries into the topic, placing great weight on the words of Church fathers and documents that have bearing on early beliefs about the books belonging to the New Testament. As do most scholars, Metzger contends that the New Testament canon developed via a lengthy process, finally becoming relatively settled after about four-hundred years. This faulty conclusion is a natural result of limtting the scope of evidence used to explicit statements about the canon extant from the early church. See the works of David Trobisch for a powerful challenge to this outdated paradigm.

Two previous reviewers mentioned Metzger's view on the long ending of Mark as an example proving this work to be a believer's apology. The only place in this book that discusses the long ending of Mark is on pp. 267-70. In that section, Metzger asserts quite clearly that the long ending is not genuine. He does not say anything at all about Mark's original intention for the end of his book (nothing about a death or a fire--strange that two "independant" reviewers both brought up the same false charge). Metzger's point in even bringing up the ending of Mark is to ask which ending should be considered "canonical," the short and genuine one, or the long one that has the support of the early church in its favor deeming it canonical (though not genuine). While it's true that believers are the ones who would be most interested in this question, Metzger's view can hardly be thought of as a buttress to the faith (contra the opinion of the previously mentioned reviewers).

For a lay person, this book is a relatively easy-to-read introduction. For something more thorough, that tows the same basic line, but with more erudition, try to get your hands on Westcott's work on the Canon of the NT (now out of print).
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