Why are there only 27 books in the New Testament?


Tell me, please, why are there in the Bible 27 books of the New Testament and not 26 or 28? Who decided it? Thanks in advance.

In the New Testament there are included only 27 books because only these 27 are inspired by God.

In the early Church

After the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, and after the Day of Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit descended on earth and the Church was formed), the apostles went and preached the Gospel message of the Lord Jesus, sharing their testimony and the Old Testament Scriptures. Then, being guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles and some of their disciples, began to write the teaching preached by the Apostles. Another form by which the true teaching was spread to Christians were epistles, that were written messages of the apostles addressed to some individuals or Christian communities from different localities. Then these letters circulated and were read in the church at the worship services.

The emergence of pseudo-Christian writings

From its beginnings, the Church has faced attacks on sound doctrine left by Jesus Christ. They came mostly from the Jewish religion and Greek philosophy. There was often attempted to filter into the church bad, heretical teaching through books that were intentionally and falsely attributed to the apostles. Therefore, when the Church of Thessalonica was attacked by a heretical doctrine, Apostle Paul wrote them:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)(NASB)

The followers of heretical teachings have produced a very large number of writings and through them they attempted to undermine the true teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, but in the Church they knew very well the writings that were inspired by God.

Marcion’s attack

For the first time, the heretic Marcion tried to make a list of canonical books, by this he wanted to strengthen his destructive teaching. Moreover, by compiling this list, he attempted to deny the divine inspiration of many books in the New Testament that were already well known and recognized by the Church.

Around 140 AD, that Marcion, who was a businessman, began teaching a form of Gnostic heresy. According to this heresy God of the Old Testament was full of hatred and incompatible with the New Testament God of love. Thus, he rejected the Old Testament in its entirety. To be able to justify the heresy he had initiated, Marcion published a canon, i.e. a list of books that he considered inspired by God and they formed the Sacred Scripture. In this list he included only about two thirds of the Gospel of Luke and 10 epistles of Paul. It was this situation that created in the Church the need for understanding and defining of documents (scripts) that were truly canonical. We must specify that Marcion did not start the process of defining the canon, but he rather led to the intensification of a process already begun.

Defining of Scriptures before Marcion

At that time of Marcion, there were already assembled two sets of documents that were circulating. The first was a collection of four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and this collection was called the Gospel. Other collection included the epistles of Paul and it was called the Pauline corpus. Both these collections were regarded as Scriptures and mentioned by Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, about the year 115 AD. The fact in itself implies that these writings were circulating before. It is believed that there was a collection that included the Epistles of Peter, John, James and Jude and the Book of Acts.

The Moratorium Fragment

Towards the end of the second century there was already settled the New Testament content. It was found a document called “The Moratorium Fragment” and is called so because the entire document has not been identified, but only a part, a fragment. It refers to the Gospel of Luke as the third (by default the first two were Matthew and Mark), then the Gospel of John, 13 epistles of Paul, the Epistles of Judah, John, and Revelation and all are listed as the Scriptures.

Origen’s testimony

Origen lived and worked in the third century. He was one of the great teachers of the Church. He said that the Church had four Gospels and heretics have a lot of them (the Gospels). Then Origen enumerates the list of canonical books: Paul’s 13 epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation. He further stated that at that time it was at issue the canonicity of the epistle to Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James and Jude.

The testimony of Eusebius

Eusebius of Caesarea is the great Christian historian who wrote the first Church History. I highly recommend you to get this book and read it. Eusebius lists as canonical all New Testament books that we use our day except the epistles of James, Jude, 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John. He said about these books that they were questioned by some, but generally accepted by most Christians of that time.

The testimony of Athanasius the Great

In 367 Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, sent to the churches a letter with an Easter greeting and there he writes a list of the 27 canonical books of the New Testament, which we know today and have been always accepted by the whole Church.

The role of the Church Councils

At the Council of Hippo, which took place in the 393 and at the Council of Carthage in 397 there were once again approved the 27 books as the only ones that make up the New Testament Scriptures.

Who established the canon of the New Testament?

It is very important that every Christian knows that the New Testament canon was not discussed and fixed at ecumenical and local councils. At those of Hippo and Carthage canon that already existed for a long time was only approved (confirmed) once more. I like what Neil R. Lightfoot writes in this regard:

In conclusion it is important to emphasize that not the church councils have formed the canon of the Bible. It is not the Church, through its decrees (decisions) that gave infallibility to the books of the Bible. The Bible does not take its authority from individuals or groups of people. The Church does not define the canon but the canon defines the Church. Even if the church is the one that recognize the divine authority of the New Testament books, their authority does not derive from the Church, but is inherited in themselves. How a child identifies his mother, so the Church has identified the books known to have sole authority. (Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Grand Rapids, 2003, p. 161-162)

New Testament canon was recognized by the Church in all times, so as today it is recognized by the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and neo-Protestant Churches. The division between these confessions did not come from Scripture, but from other writings that have been added or removed from the Scripture on the go.

Translated by Felicia Rotaru