In the one-hundred-year period extending roughly from AD 50 to 150, a number of documents began to circulate among the churches, including epistles, gospels, memoirs, apocalypses, homilies, and collections of teachings. While some of these documents were apostolic in origin, others drew upon the tradition the apostles and ministers of the word had utilized in their individual missions.
For more than 300 years of Christianity, there was no definitive compilation yet into a single book of these ancient documents like what is known to the world at present. From the beginning it was expected that certain of these documents would be read in the public gatherings of the church, though there were disputes and questions over the authenticity of certain documents like the Letter to the Hebrews, Letter of James, Second Letter of Peter, Second and Third Letters of John, Letter of Jude and the Revelation, known as the Antilegomena. At that time, these materials were accepted by some local churches and others did not. However, because of the increase in the amount of documents being circulated (whether authentic or not), the Church found it necessary to discern and choose which of these materials are inspired by the Holy Spirit. How was it done? Below is the timeline of the compilation of the Holy Bible:
70 BC: The translation of the Old Testament books from Hebrew to Greek known as Septuagint (LXX) by the 70 Jewish scholars for the Jews in Diaspora in Alexandria. This is the Old Testament version used by the apostles and early Christians.
50-150 AD: The writing of the New Testament books and the circulation of other apocryphal documents.
96 AD: Some letters of Paul were known to Clement I, bishop of Rome, together with some form of the “words of Jesus”; but while Clement valued these highly, he did not regard them as “Scripture” (“graphe”), a term he reserved for the Septuagint.
100 AD: The Council of Jamnia, held in Yavneh, was a Jewish council at which the canon of the Hebrew Bible had been finalized. It excluded the seven books of the Old Testament which are part of its Greek version, the Septuagint. These books are regarded by the Church as inspired and are known as the deuterocanonical.
130-140 AD: Marcion of Sinope, a bishop of Asia Minor who went to Rome and was later excommunicated for his views, was the first of record to propose a definitive, exclusive, unique canon of Christian scriptures. He taught that there were two Gods: Yahweh, the cruel God of the Old Testament, and Abba, the kind father of the New Testament. Marcion eliminated the Old Testament as scriptures and, since he was anti-Semitic, kept from the New Testament only 10 letters of Paul and 2/3 of Luke’s gospel (he deleted references to Jesus’ Jewishness). His gospel is called the Gospel of the Lord.
145-163 AD: Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist, mentioned the “memoirs of the apostles”, which Christians called “gospels” and which were regarded as on par with the Old Testament. In his works, distinct references are found to Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, and possible ones to Philippians, Titus, and 1 Timothy.
160 AD: Tatian the Assyrian, an early Christian theologian, composed a single harmonized “Gospel” by weaving the contents of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together along with events present in none of these texts. The narrative mainly follows the chronology of John. This is called the Diatessaron [“(Harmony) Through Four”] and it became the official Gospel text of the Syriac church, centered in Edessa. He rejected Paul’s Letters and Acts of the Apostles.
185 AD: Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, in his Adversus Haereses, denounced various early Christian groups that used only one gospel, such as Marcionism which used only Marcion’s version of Luke, or the Ebionites which seem to have used an Aramaic version of Matthew, as well as groups that used more than four gospels, such as the Valentinians (A.H. 1.11). Irenaeus declared that there can’t be either more or fewer than four, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds (3.11.8).
ca. 200 AD: Origen Adamantius, early Christian theologian, accepted 22 canonical books of the Hebrews plus Maccabees plus the four Gospels but Paul “did not so much as write to all the churches that he taught; and even to those to which he wrote he sent but a few lines.”
ca. 200 AD: The periphery of the canon was not yet determined as of this time. According to one list, the Muratorian Canon (named after Fr. Ludovico Antonio Muratori who discovered it at the Ambrosian Library in Milan in the 18th century), which was compiled at Rome, the New Testament was comprised of the 4 gospels; Acts; 13 letters of Paul (Hebrews is not included); 3 of the 7 General Epistles (1-2 John and Jude); and also the Apocalypse of Peter. Each “city-church” (region) still has its own Canon, which is a list of books approved for reading at Mass (Liturgy).
ca. 215 AD: Titus Flavius Clemens (Clement of Alexandria), an early Christian theologian, made use of an open canon. In addition to books that did not make it into the final 27-book New Testament but which had local canonicity (Barnabas, Didache, I Clement, Revelation of Peter, the Shepherd, the Gospel according to the Hebrews), he also used the Gospel of the Egyptians, Preaching of Peter, Traditions of Matthias, Sibylline Oracles, and the Oral Gospel. He did, however, prefer the four church gospels to all others, although he supplemented them freely with apocryphal gospels. He was the first to treat non-Pauline letters of the apostles (other than II Peter) as scripture-he accepted I Peter, I and II John, and Jude as scripture.
ca. 300 AD: The Alogi, an early Christian group, rejected the Gospel of John (and possibly also Revelation and the Epistles of John) as either not apostolic or as written by the Gnostic Cerinthus or as not compatible with the Synoptic Gospels.
300 AD: The Old Syriac was a translation of the New Testament documents from the Greek into Syriac. In the Coptic Versions, Coptic was spoken in four dialects in Egypt and the materials were translated into each of these four dialects.
ca. 303 AD: The making of what is currently known Codex Claromontanus canon (named after the town of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis in France from where it was procured by the Calvinist scholar Theodore Bezza in the late 16th century), a page found inserted into a copy of the Epistles of Paul and Hebrews, has the Old Testament, plus Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, 1–2,4 Maccabees, and the New Testament, plus 3rd Corinthians, Acts of Paul, Apocalypse of Peter, Barnabas, and Hermas, but missing Philippians, 1–2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews.
330 AD: Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, recorded his own New Testament canon which includes the holy quaternion of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul, the epistle of John, the epistle of Peter, the Apocalypse of John, the epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and the second and third epistles of John.
331 AD: Roman Emperor Constantine I commissioned Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, to deliver fifty compiled Scriptures for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apostolic Constitution 4) recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 AD preparing the Canon for Constans. Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are among of these ancient compilations together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus.
350 AD: Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, included in his Catechetical Lectures (4.36) the Gospels (4), Acts, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, and Paul’s epistles (14), but listed the Gospel of Thomas as pseudepigrapha.
360 AD: The making of the so-called Cheltenham/Mommsen Canon (named after German classical scholar Theodor Mommsen who discovered it in 1886 from a 10th-century manuscript belonging to the library of Thomas Phillips at Cheltenham, England), which contains the 24-book Old Testament and 24-book New Testament that provides syllable and line counts but omits Hebrews, Jude and James, and questions the epistles of John and Peter.
363 AD: The Synod of Laodicea was one of the first synods that set out to judge which books were to be read aloud in churches. It canonized 22-book Old Testament and 26-book New Testament (excludes Revelation).
367 AD: In his Festal letter, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the 27-book New Testament canon, and he used the word “canonized” (kanonizomena) in regards to them. He also listed a 22-book Old Testament and 7 books not in the canon but to be read: Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas.
374-377 AD: Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, listed the following canon in his Panarion 76.5: Gospels (4), Paul’s epistles (13), Acts, James, Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation, Wisdom, Sirach.
380 AD: The redactor of the Apostolic Constitutions attributed a canon to the Twelve Apostles themselves as the 85th of his list of such apostolic decrees: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter; three of John; one of James; one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Acts of the Apostles.
382 AD: The Synod of Rome (presided by Pope Damasus) started the ball rolling for the definition of a universal canon for all city-churches. It listed the New Testament books in their present number and order.
ca. 382 AD: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (Jerome), a Roman presbyter, was commissioned by Damasus I, bishop of Rome, to revise the Vetus Latina (“Old Latin”) collection of Biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. Once published, it was widely adopted and eventually eclipsed the Vetus Latina and, by the 13th century, was known as the “versio vulgata” (the “version commonly-used”) or, more simply, in Latin as vulgata or in Greek as βουλγάτα (“Vulgate”).
385 AD: Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop of Constantinople, produced a canon in verse which agreed with that of his contemporary Athanasius, other than placing the “Catholic Epistles” after the Pauline Epistles and omitting Revelation. This list was ratified by the Synod of Trullo of 692 AD.
inter 386-388 AD: John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, was the first (in his Homilies on Matthew) to use the Greek phrase “ta biblia” (the books) to describe both the Old and New Testaments together.
393 AD: The Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa accepted the present canon of the New Testament.
394 AD: Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium, in his poem Iambics for Seleucus, nephew of St. Olympias, discussed debate over the canonical inclusion of a number of books, and almost certainly rejects the later Epistles of Peter and John, Jude, and Revelation.
397 AD: The third Synod of Carthage, which refined the canon for the Western Church, sent it to Innocent I, bishop of Rome, for ratification. Its list is similar to the present canon of scriptures. In the East, the canonical process was hampered by a number of schisms.
ca 405 AD: Innocent I, bishop of Rome, in ratification of the canon defined by the Synod of Carthage, sent the list of the sacred books to Exsuperius, Gallic bishop of Toulouse, which was identical with that of the Ecumenical Council of Trent.
419 AD: The fourth Synod of Carthage reaffirmed the canon defined by the previous synod in its present number and order (similar to the Ecumenical Council of Trent).
551-62 AD: Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, Roman statesman and writer, in his Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum, omitted 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude and Hebrews.
787 AD: The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which adopted the canon of Carthage. At this point, both the Latin West and the Greek / Byzantine East had the same canon. However, the non-Greek, Monophysite and Nestorian Churches of the East (the Copts, the Ethiopians, the Syrians, the Armenians, the Syro-Malankars, the Chaldeans, and the Malabars) were still left out. But these Churches came together in agreement, in 1442A.D., in Florence.
1199 AD: Innocent III, bishop of Rome, banned unauthorized versions of the Bible as a reaction to the Cathar and Waldensian heresies. The synods of Toulouse and Tarragona (in 1234 AD) outlawed possession of such renderings. But there is evidence of some vernacular translations still being permitted while others were being scrutinized.
ca. 1245 AD: Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, and Hugo Cardinal de Sancto-Caro, dominican titular bishop of Santa Sabina, developed different schemas for systematic division of the Bible. It was the system of Archbishop Langton on which the modern chapter divisions are based.
1380 AD: The first English translation of the Bible was by John Wycliffe, the founder of the anti-Catholic group named Lollardy. He translated the Bible into English from the Latin Vulgate. This was a translation from a translation and not a translation from the original Hebrew and Greek. Wycliffe was forced to translate from the Latin Vulgate because he did not know Hebrew or Greek.
1442 AD: AD : At the Ecumenical Council of Florence, the entire Church recognized the 27 books. This council confirmed the Roman Catholic Canon of the Bible which Damasus I, bishop of Rome, had published a thousand years earlier. So, by 1439 AD, all orthodox branches of the Church were legally bound to the same canon. This is 100 years before the Reformation.
1448 AD: The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a French Jewish philosopher and controversialist by the name of Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus (Mordacai Nathan).
1456 AD: Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, a German publisher and inventor of a movable type printing, produced the first printed Bible in Latin. Printing revolutionized the way books were made. From now on books could be published in great numbers and at a lower cost.
ca. 1500 AD: The first person to divide New Testament chapters into verses was an Italian Dominican biblical scholar Santi Pagnini, but his system was never widely adopted.
1514 AD: The Greek New Testament was printed for the first time by Erasmus. He based his Greek New Testament from only five Greek manuscripts, the oldest of which dated only as far back as the twelfth century. With minor revisions, Erasmus’ Greek New Testament came to be known as the Textus Receptus or the “received texts.”
1522 AD: Polyglot Bible, in which group of editors was led by Diego López de Zúñiga and funded by Jiménez Cardinal de Cisneros, was published. The Old Testament was in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin and the New Testament in Latin and Greek. Erasmus used the Polyglot to revise later editions of his New Testament. Tyndale made use of the Polyglot in his translation on the Old Testament into English which he did not complete because he died in 1534 AD.
1536 AD: In his translation of the Bible from Greek into German, Martin Luther, a former Catholic monk and priest who became the primary figure of the Protestant Reformation, removed four New Testament books (Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation) and placed them in an appendix treating them as less than canonical as well as the seven Old Testament books (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch plus the additional texts in Esther and Daniel) labelling them as apocryphal.
1546 AD: At the Ecumenical Council of Trent, the Catholic Church reaffirmed once and for all the full list of 27 books. The council also confirmed the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books which had been a part of the Bible canon since the early Church and was confirmed at the councils of 393 AD, 373 AD, 787 AD and 1442 AD. At Trent, the Church of Rome actually dogmatized the canon, making it more than a matter of canon law, which had been the case up to that point, closing it for good.
1551 AD: Robert Estienne, a French printer and classical scholar, created an alternate numbering in his edition of the Greek New Testament which was also used in his 1553 publication of the Bible in French. Estienne’s system of division was widely adopted, and it is this system which is found in almost all modern Bibles.
1566 AD: Sixtus of Siena, a dominican theologian, coined the term “deuterocanonical” to describe the seven Old Testament books that had not been accepted as canonical by the Protestants but which appeared in the Septuagint; and defined for the Roman Catholics of the terms “protocanonical” and the ancient term “apocryphal” in his work Bibliotheca Sancta ex Præcipuis Catholicæ Ecclesiæ Auctoribus Collecta (Venice 1566).
16th century to present AD: The HOLY BIBLE composed of 73 canonical books (46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament) based on the infallible decree of the holy Catholic Church. Thus, the great Tridentine Council declared: “But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.”
THE TIMELINE of the development of the biblical canon is the living proof that the holy Bible was not handed down by Christ to His apostles as it is. The Bible did not even come down from the heavens as what it looks like at present. The truth is:
IT WAS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WHO CHOSE WHICH BOOKS ARE INSPIRED AND COMPILED THEM INTO A SINGLE BOOK WHICH SHE CALLED THE BIBLE. THUS, IT IS THE BIBLE WHICH CAME FROM THE CHURCH AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
However, despite this historical fact, the holy Church did not claim authorship on those divine scriptures. For her, “God is the author of Sacred Scripture” (CCC 105). And, she added: “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more” (CCC 106).
Remember, “the Christian faith is not a religion of the book but of the Word of God, a word which is not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living” (cf. CCC 108).