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

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Don Stewart

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 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 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.

Summary

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 in the two earliest translations.

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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