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

Don Stewart :: What Are Some of the Differences Between the Recognition of the Old Testament Canon and the Recognition of the New Testament Canon?

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Question 8

What Are Some of the Differences Between the Recognition of the Old Testament Canon and the Recognition of the New Testament Canon?

While both the Old Testament and the New Testament are the Word of God, their history of canonization is quite different. The New Testament canon was unlike the canon of the Old Testament in a number of important respects. They include the following:

  1. The New Testament Books Were Written in a Shorter Period of Time

    To begin with, the Old Testament was composed over a one thousand-year period by authors, for the most part, who did not know each other. On the other hand, the New Testament was composed in a relatively short period of time. Christ gave unique authority to His apostles. They, and their immediate associates, were the only ones who could compose a book that would have His authority behind it.

    Therefore, any books in the New Testament period that could be acknowledged as part of the canon could only have come from the apostolic era. No one, after the time of the apostles, had any right to add to their writings or to take away from them. This limited the potential writings that could be considered divinely authoritative.

  2. There Was No Authoritative Center for New Testament Believers

    There was no central place where all the books were collected or preserved. In the Old Testament period, the books were first kept in the tabernacle, and later in the official archive in the temple in Jerusalem. Christianity, on the other hand, was a missionary religion. Jesus told His followers to go out to the entire world. There was no single place where authoritative decisions were made, or where the sacred documents were kept.

  3. The Writings of the New Testament Had Different Destinations

    The books of the Old Testament were written to the people of the nation Israel. They lived in a limited geographic area. In contrast, the New Testament books were written to geographic destinations that were widely separated from one another. For example, Peter directed his letter to the people living in eastern Asia while John wrote to those in western Asia. Paul’s letter to Rome went to Europe.

    Consequently, no single church, or groups of churches, would immediately possess all the twenty-seven New Testament books.

  4. Most of the Books of the New Testament Were Written to Non-Jews

    While all the books of the Old Testament were written by Hebrews, and addressed to the nation Israel, many of the New Testament books were written to Gentiles (non-Jews). Paul’s letters were written to churches that mainly had Gentile members. These Gentiles would have had little, or no, familiarity with the Jews and their customs.

  5. Some of the New Testament Letters Were Written to Individuals

    The Old Testament books were addressed to Israel as a nation. However, the New Testament books had a number of different people in mind. Some were addressed to individuals while some were written to specific Gentile congregations.

  6. It Took a Long-Time for the Acceptance of the Entire New Testament

    Because of these factors, it took a long time before all the twenty-seven books were universally recognized as Scripture. The process was slow and gradual. It could not have been otherwise. It did not happen all at once and it did not occur with any authoritative pronouncement from any church council or religious body.

  7. The Old Testament Had a Special Relationship to the Nation Israel

    The Old Testament was a covenant document with the nation Israel. The various books were usually addressed to that nation. In the New Testament era, there was no such covenant relationship with any nation.

    To sum up, the New Testament had a shorter time of composition, but a wider geographic range. This was one of the reasons for the lack of instant recognition everywhere of each book, as well as the slowness to understand the exact extent of the canon. Since some of the recipients of the New Testament writings were isolated geographically, there would have been some uncertainty as to the exact limits of God-given Scripture - particularly when there was not a central place where authoritative decisions were made.

    Consequently, these are some of the basic differences between the recognition of the two canons; the Old Testament canon and the New Testament canon.

Summary - Question 8
What Are Some of the Differences Between the Recognition of the Old Testament Canon and the Recognition of the New Testament Canon?

There were a number of differences with respect to the recognition of the canon of the Old and the New Testament.

First, the New Testament books were all composed during the time of the apostles. This limited the potential writings that could be recognized as canonical. No one, after the time of the apostles, had any authority to compose Holy Scripture.

On the other hand, the Old Testament was written over a thousand-year period by writers who, for the most part, did not even know each other. The collection of these writings was an ongoing process.

While the Old Testament canon had Jerusalem as its authoritative center, there was no such place for the New Testament church.

For the most part, the Old Testament books were addressed to the nation Israel. The New Testament writings were distributed over a wider geographic area. The Old Testament documents were written to the descendants of Abraham—the nation of Israel, while the New Testament books were written to Gentiles (non-Jews).

While the Old Testament documents were written to a nation, the New Testament books were written to churches and individuals. Thus, the New Testament documents took much longer to be recognized by God’s people compared to the Old Testament Scriptures. This is understandable given all the facts.

Thus, the New Testament documents took much longer to be recognized by God’s people compared to the Old Testament Scriptures. This is understandable given all the facts.

Why Did It Take Three Hundred Years for the First New Testament List to Be Drawn Up? ← Prior Section
What Important Factors Caused the Early Church to Recognize the Present New Testament Canon? 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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