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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are the Right Books in the New Testament?

Don Stewart :: What Do Early Bible Translations Tell Us about the Extent of the New Testament Canon?

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What Do Early Bible Translations Tell Us about the Extent of the New Testament Canon?

Are the Right Books in the New Testament? – Question 11

One of the ways in which the early Christians affirmed which books belonged in the New Testament was by translating them into other languages. Before a translation of Scripture can be made, one must determine exactly which books were to be translated.

There were a number of early translations of the New Testament from the Greek; the language in which the New Testament was originally written. The two earliest translations were the Syriac and the Old Latin. Each of these translations was completed by the year A.D. 170.

The Syriac Peshitta

The Syriac churches were located in the Eastern Roman Empire. A translation of the books of the New Testament, known as the Peshitta, was made into Syriac at an early date. This translation included all of the present books of the New Testament except 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

The books omitted in the Peshitta were originally sent to destinations in the Western part of the Roman Empire. This explains their omission in the Eastern part of the empire. Eventually, all of these books were accepted in the East.

The Old Latin

The New Testament was also translated into Latin in the second century. The Old Latin New Testament contains every book except Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter. These writings were originally sent to the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. Eventually, the churches in the West accepted these books as Scripture.

Therefore, since A.D. 170, there has been consensus on nineteen of the twenty-seven books. Only Hebrews, James, 1,2 Peter, 2,3, John, Jude and Revelation were not universally attested.

All of the Present New Testament Is in These Two Translations (With One Exception)

We also find that when the two collections are put together, they make up our present New Testament (with the exception of 2 Peter). Therefore, from the two earliest translations, we find that no other books were translated and considered to be Holy Scripture except the books that we now possess. This gives us further assurance that our present New Testament consists of exactly the right number of books which God gave to humanity as part of a new revelation of Himself.

Summary – Question 11
What Do Early Bible Translations Tell Us about the Extent of the New Testament Canon?

The two earliest translations of the New Testament, into languages other than Greek, are quite instructive. The Syriac Peshitta and the Old Latin were each done around A.D. 170. Nineteen out of the twenty-seven books are found in both the Syriac Peshitta and Old Latin. Seven of them are found in one of the other translations. Only Second Peter is missing from both.

Thus, twenty-six out of the twenty-seven New Testament books were translated at this early date. In addition, no other books were translated along with these twenty-six books in these two earliest translations.

This is another indication that the correct books are indeed in the New Testament.

What Minimal Factors Should Be Expected of a Book That Is to Be Included in the New Testament Canon? ← Prior Section
How Does Constantine’s Fifty Copies of Scripture Help Us Understand the Extent of the New Testament Canon? Next Section →
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