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

Don Stewart :: How Do the Earliest Complete Greek Manuscripts Help Us Understand the Extent of the New Testament Canon?

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Question 13

How Do the Earliest Complete Greek Manuscripts Help Us Understand the Extent of the New Testament Canon?

Another factor that can help us with our understanding of the extent of the New Testament canon concerns the ancient Greek manuscripts that still exist. There are three early manuscripts of the New Testament that are complete or nearly complete. They can provide further help in the quest for the exact contents of the New Testament canon. We can summarize what we find as follows:

Codex Vaticanus

Codex Vaticanus, or “B” as it is also called, is an ancient uncial manuscript of the New Testament that was copied in the early part of the fourth century A.D. An uncial manuscript was written with large, clearly formed letters, on parchment or animal skins. Copied in about A.D. 325, Vaticanus originally contained the entire New Testament. However, today, Hebrews 9:15 through the Book of Revelation is missing.

The order of the books in Vaticanus is as follows: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude; Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews.

It will be noted that the only books missing are the four letters Paul wrote to individuals: First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Philemon as well as the Book of Revelation. Hebrews was placed between the letters Paul wrote to the churches and those to which he wrote to individuals. The universal letters follow the Book of Acts instead of the letters of Paul.

The rest of the Book of Hebrews, as well as the Book of Revelation, were added to Codex Vaticanus by a scribe in the fifteenth century.

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus was probably copied a few years later than Codex Vaticanus (about A.D. 350). Unlike Vaticanus, it is a complete manuscript of the New Testament; the oldest complete Greek manuscript of the New Testament that exists. It contains all of the books of the New Testament.

The order of books in Sinaiticus is as follows: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Acts, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

We can observe that Sinaiticus has a different order of books than Vaticanus. The letters of Paul are placed after the four gospels, but before the Book of Acts. Hebrews is listed after the letters of Paul to the various churches.

There is something else. Sinaiticus also contains two books of the New Testament Apocrypha: the Letter of Barnabas and part of the Shepherd of Hermas. These are placed after the New Testament in Codex Sinaiticus.

Codex Alexandrinus

Codex Alexandrinus is a fifth century Greek manuscript that contains all of the books of the New Testament. However, parts are missing. The order of books, and their contents, is as follows:

Matthew 25:6-28:20, Mark, Luke, John (John 6:50-8:52 are missing), Acts, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians (4:13-12:6 is missing), Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and finally the Book of Revelation. After the New Testament, 1 Clement, and 2 Clement 1:1-12:5 are also included in Codex Alexandrinus.

Observations on These Manuscripts

From these ancient Greek manuscripts, we can make a number of important observations. First, the books that were part of the New Testament are the same in each list. No books are deleted and none are added. The number of writings that belonged in the New Testament was fixed long before this time. This shows that there was a standard list of books.

The fact that other books were copied and placed after the New Testament books is consistent with the practice of the church at that time. These other writings were read in the church, along with the New Testament, but they were not considered to be divinely inspired. They were read for instruction in godly living, but not for doctrine.

We also find that the writings had a natural ordering. The four gospels are always placed first and are found together in the same order; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Paul’s writings are always together as a unit though Hebrews is placed between his letters to the churches and those which he wrote to individuals.

The universal letters are also grouped together and found in the same order. The Book of Revelation, written by John, is always placed last. Again, this testifies to a fixed number of writings, as well as a fixed grouping within the writings. This is another indication that the extent of the canon of the New Testament was settled.

Summary - Question 13
How Do the Earliest Complete Greek Manuscripts Help Us Understand the Extent of the New Testament Canon?

The three oldest complete, or nearly complete, uncial manuscripts of the New Testament give us further insight as to the extent of the canon at that period in the history of the church. Among other things, they give further confirmation that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were the only writings that the church received as New Testament Scripture. No books were added to these twenty-seven and none of the books were deleted.

How Does Constantine’s Fifty Copies of Scripture Help Us Understand the Extent of the New Testament Canon? ← Prior Section
Why Should the Present New Testament Books Be Accepted as Authoritative Writings? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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