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on June 10, 2000
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.
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on September 20, 2005
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.
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on April 10, 2003
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.
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on September 10, 2004
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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on August 21, 2001
The breadth and depth of Metzger's scholarship is little short of amazing. In this book he has gathered together nearly all the early patristic references which relate to the formation of the NT canon. If you have any questions about how the Church's canon came to be formed, this book will answer it for you. He covers the apostolic fathers, traces separately the growth of the canon in the eastern and western churches, and provides a detailed analysis of the earliest lists (such as the Muratorian canon, Athanasius' Festal Letter of 367, and so forth). Some of the details he provided about the "flexibility" of the canon with respect to certain "antilegoumena" well into the post-Reformation period were entirely new to me. (Prior to Luther, every German edition of the Bible had included the spurious "Epistle to the Laodiceans", for instance.)
My only critique is that the first two chapters of the book, while providing an excellent bibliography, are rather poorly written. In these chapters, Metzger tries to survey the post-Reformation and 20th century theological literature relating to the canon. Some of the information is valuable, but by the time he gets to 20th century authors, it degenerates into, "So-and-so said this; and then so-and-so said this." Unless you've read these authors, the description is so short as to be meaningless; and if you *have* read them, why do you need Metzger's one sentence summary? Scholars tend to do things like this, and I've never understood why: my theory is that they're showing off, but you may have your own.
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on March 11, 2004
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.
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on March 21, 2002
This is an excellent book. The book demonstrates that the majority of the current canon of the New Testament has been standard from the start while at the same time telling about books which were strongly considered and rejected by the early church (as well as why) along with books in the current canon which were questioned by the early church. Great read for anyone who has an interest in early Christianity or any interest at all in the Bible.
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on April 17, 2010
Metzger begins by introducing six "firmly established landmarks" around which his work will focus (1-8). He then devotes 25 pages to survey literature on the NT canon that alone makes the book an indispensable tool for bibliographic reference. Of note is the skeptical tone used to describe B. S. Childs' 1983 work The New Testament as Canon (35-6).

Metzger devotes 34 pages to the Apostolic Fathers (39-73). He judges Clement of Rome never to have referred to the NT writings as authoritative 'Scripture' (43). Likewise in regard to Ignatius, "There is no evidence that he regarded any of these Gospels or Epistles as 'Scripture'" (49). Papias's primary significance for the history of the NT canon is in showing how some valued oral tradition over written documents (56). Polycarp is the greatest early witness to the apostolic authority of NT writings (although not using scripture-quoting formulas), distinguishing them from other writings even in his own age in the early 2nd century (63). As a whole, the Apostolic Fathers sensed an implicit authority in NT documents but not exclusively in those documents (73). With such statements Metzger lays the framework for one of his three criteria for canonicity: apostolicity. The other two are the 'rule of faith' and continuous acceptance (251-4).

Metzger discusses six external pressures that led the early Church to ascertain what books were canonical, namely, (1) Gnosticism (including Basilides, Carpocrates, Valentinus and his followers, the Nag Hammadi tractates), (2) Marcion (including his ideas, so-called prologues, and influence), (3) Montanism, (4) persecution, (5) ancient book-making, and (6) collections and lists of authoritative books (75-112). Metzger takes a mediating position on Marcion, that he merely accelerated the Church's canonizing process that had already begun; in other words, he admits neither that Marcion was the first to propagate a canon nor that he merely accepted and rejected books from an already-established more comprehensive Church canon (98-9). Metzger affirms that the codex played no part in the selection of the books in the canon, but only in the relative fixing of their sequence (109). He furthermore expresses uncertainty whether the ancient Alexandrian tradition of drawing up canon lists of classical Greek works (ca. 250 BC - AD 150) influenced the development of the Christian canon (111).

Metzger discusses the development of the NT canon in the east with regard to Syria (Tatian, Theophilus), Asia Minor (Polycarp, Melito), Greece (Dionysius, Athenagoras, Aristides), and Egypt (Pantaenus, Clement, Origen) (113-41). He affirms that Tatian's Diatessaron "supplies proof that all four Gospels were regarded as authoritative" (115). While Serapion (ca. 200) rejected pseudonymous works, Metzger appears to grant that his testimony may indicate early acceptance of the General Epistles in Antioch (120). He further judges Melito's expressions (ca. 170) 'the old books' (TA PALAIA BIBLIA) and 'the books of the Old Covenant' (TA THS PALAIAS DIAQHKHS BIBLIA) "to imply the recognition of 'the books of the New Covenant' as a written antitype to the Old" (123). While Clement of Alexandria evidences an "open" canon, Metzger apparently upholds the authenticity and significance of the Latin translation of Origen's Homilies on Joshua (ca. 240), where all 27 books of the NT, and no more, are described (139-40). He furthermore suggests Origen's more closed views on the canon may be related to his move away from Alexandria in 230 (141).

Discussing the development of the NT canon in the West, Metzger includes the three geographical areas of Rome (Justin Martyr, Hippolytus), Gaul (Epistle of Lyons and Vienne, Irenaeus), and North Africa (Scillitan Martyrs, Tertullian, Cyprian, Against Dice-Players) (143-64). He affirms that Justin not only referred to but was heavily influenced by the Fourth Gospel (146-7) and considered Revelation "apostolic" (148).

Chapter 7 is devoted to apocryphal literature that "in certain parts of the Church enjoyed temporary canonicity" (165-89). Among apocryphal gospels, Metzger comments on the Egerton Papyrus 2, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Egyptians, and the Gospel of Peter, noting their "inferior" nature and how "one can appreciate the difference between the character of the canonical Gospels and the near banality of most of the gospels dating from the second and third centuries" (173). Among apocryphal acts, Metzger discusses the Acts of Paul, the Acts of John, and the Acts of Peter, noting their historical importance at least in showing the insatiable appetite among ancient Christians for sensational entertainment (179). Among the few apocryphal epistles that were popularized, Meztger comments on the Epistle of the Apostles, 3 Corinthians, Laodiceans, and the Correspondence between Paul and Seneca, the first of which (ca. 180) is significant for the author's vast acquaintance with all four canonical Gospels (181), while Laodiceans represents "one of the most feeble" attempts at writing spurious literature (183). Metzger then discusses the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul, along with other more orthodox miscellaneous writings (e.g., the Didache, 1 and 2 Clement, Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas). Metzger apparently holds all to be pseudonymous.

The Muratorian Canon and Eusebius's classification system receive attention in Chapter 8 (191-207). Metzger affirms a 2nd-century Roman (or near vicinity) origin for the Muratorian list, calling Sundberg's arguments for a 4th-century date "inconclusive at best" (191) and "not to say demolished" by E. Ferguson (193). Metzger admits the possibility that the fragment might mention all three Johannine Epistles, but appears to favor it mentioning just 1 and 2 John (197). As to Eusebius's "fair and practical" account (206), Metzger affirms that Eusebius most likely included Hebrews among the Pauline Epistles; otherwise his lack of comment on it is inexplicable (205). Metzger, citing a different text-type from that which became dominant in the east, doubts that codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were among the 50 manuscripts that Eusebius had made for Constantine (207).

Chapter 9 discusses attempts to close the canon in the East by certain people (Cyril, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzus, Amphilochius, Didymus the Blind, Epiphanius, etc.) and churches (Syrian, Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, and Ethiopian) (209-228). Metzger's historical discussion presents an overwhelming lack of consensus on which books were to be considered canonical by influential people and churches in the east, leaving one with the impression that "uncertainty and vacillation" reigned supreme with regard to the NT canon in that region (216).

The Latin Church in the west, on the other hand, sought to make "a sharp delineation with regard to the canon" (229). Metzger discusses first in Chapter 10 the Clermont and Mommsen lists, Hilary, Lucifer, Philaster, Rufinus, Jerome, Augustine, and then the middle ages, Reformers, and the Council of Trent (229-47). Metzger relates that Jerome felt he could not change the 27-book NT canon (236), while Augustine used his great influence with the effect of closing the NT canon with 27 books (238). He also notes that manuscripts in use and being copied were not immediately updated after the pronouncements, with the effect that copies of manuscripts with or without Hebrews, for example, continued to be made (238).

Chapter 10 covers problems confronting the early church concerning the canon (251-66). Metzger lists three criteria the early church used to determine canonicity: the 'rule of faith' (regula fidei); apostolicity; and continuous acceptance (251-3). Inspiration, on the other hand, was not regarded by the early fathers as the ground of the Bible's uniqueness (255), although later the concepts of inspiration and canonicity became somewhat synonymous by logical (= theological) necessity (257). On the question of which part of the NT was first considered authoritative, Metzger suggests the Gospels received canonical status before the Pauline corpus on the grounds of their overwhelmingly more frequent quotation among all early fathers, even, of course, after taking into account the differing lengths of the books (262). The plurality of the Gospels was attacked early on by the apparent need of some for one non-conflicting account (e.g., Marcion's Luke, Tatian's Diatessaron, exclusive use of Matthew or John, etc.), but the manifold witness of a fourfold Gospel, to use Cullmann's words, was required by the faith (263-4). Metzger also admits the particularity of the Pauline Epistles caused certain scribal changes to make them more universal, such as the omission of 'in Rome' in Romans 1:7, the lack of a destination in Ephesians 1:1, the possible addition of 'together with all' (SUN PASIN) in 1 Corinthians 1:2, etc. (265).

Metzger turns his attention to interesting questions in Chapter 11 (267-88). First, he relates that there is no specific canonical form of the text of NT books (270). Second, he shows that while books theoretically could be added to or subtracted from the canon, such remains a practical impossibility (275). Third, he criticizes setting up a 'canon within the canon,' noting that tensions within the NT do not jeopardize its homogeneity (280). Last, he argues emphatically that the NT canon is indeed a collection of self-authenticating authoritative books and not simply an authoritative collection of books (282-8).

Metzger concludes his book with four helpful appendices: (1) the history of the word canon (KANWN); (2) variations in the sequence of NT books; (3) the titles of NT books; and (4) early lists of books in the NT (289-315). He affirms there was virtually no early standardization of the sequence of NT books (300), that the NT books must have had titles added to them after being brought together in collections, and that the titles of the Gospels were likely added by the same individual (302).

To conclude, Metzger's book provides an interesting and flowing narrative of the history of the NT canon. It not only stands as an outstanding bibliographic tool, but also provides critical analysis of many of the most important works in the field. The Canon of the New Testament can certainly be described as multum in parvo, a phrase Metzger uses to describe another's work (36). In terms of comprehensiveness not divorced from concision, Metzger's book so far is yet unsurpassed.
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on July 10, 2006
I was both impressed and relieved by the author's obvious efforts to be impartial and examine the evidence that is available. I also deeply appreciated his respect for the oblique nature of the little data that is actually available at this point, and how uncomfortable it is to not know what is not known.

The book paints a picture of the New Testament canon evolving organically over generations of discussants within a large and diverse network of Christian communities. First, there was a need to forge a concensus on whether there would be a canon or not, and then a process to forge a concensus regarding which popularly used documents were credible and adequately consistent.

This depiction seems reasonable and plausible, and as presented, does not preclude other influences shaping what ended up in the bible and what didn't -- in my mind, at least. It was certainly fascinating! ... and added welcome context to what I had been reading in other books.

I really enjoyed this book and was sad when I came to its end. I intend to read more books by this author.
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on February 24, 2002
Metzger is one of the most (if not THEE most) knowledgable men in his field.
If you're interested in which books were almost immediately recognized as canonical, and which books kind of hung around on the fringe for the first three centuries, this will be a good book to read.
He also covers some good info on books that did not make it in the canon (i.e. epistle of Barnabus, Diadache, Shepard of Hermas, among others...) Two of the above mentioned were found in Aleph (4th century complete NT mss discovered in the mid 1800's).....very interesting!!
You definitly don't have to question this author's credentials, he's top of the line!!!
He's got some very thought provoking questions at the end of the book on whether or not the Canon is closed or open:
"One may speculate what the Church should do if a hitherto unknown document were to turn up, than on unimpeachable external and internal grounds, could be proved to have been written, let us say, by the Apostle Paul."
This is a good buy! I still pull it off the shelf from time to time and reread parts of it.
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