The Big Question 58: Why Were Many Ancient Christian Writings Left Out of the Bible?
May 18, 2021 1139
Why were many ancient Christian writings left out of the Bible?
I’ve often found that people who ask why some Christian writings were left out of the Bible, they have some kind of a conspiracy theory in mind. Typically in these conspiracy theories the villain of the piece is the roman emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea around three centuries after Jesus. He is meant to have decided which book should go into the Bible.
The problem with this theory is that in fact neither Constantine nor the Council of Nicaea ever had anything at all to do with deciding which book should be in the Bible. It’s simply not true.
The books of the Bible had already been decided a long time before then by the next generation after Jesus. The core list of the books of the New Testament had already been agreed on by accepted tradition and that’s a long time before the emperor Constantine.
Those first Christians applied some quite reasonable criteria as to why they included some books in the New Testament and why they rejected them. They wanted to make sure that the books were written by people who had actually known Jesus and whose writings were based on eyewitnesses. They wanted to make sure that the books were recognized and respected across the Christian churches and that they didn’t contradict the already authoritative texts.
There were actually quite a lot of writings going around in early Christianity but the problem with many of them was that their authorship was either dubious or they were considered to be outright fakes. Often they were written by people who wanted to push their own personal views about Jesus and about his teachings. They wanted to hijack the Christian faith.
These other writings also tended to have been written later, usually much later, than the books that were accepted as part of the New Testament. That was a bit of a giveaway.
It wasn’t hard for the early Christians to know which were the authentic books of the Bible and which weren’t because the authentic ones had been accepted from the beginning. They originated from the apostles and agreed in the essential teachings of Christianity. The fake ones didn’t.
Much later on when gatherings of church leaders produced official lists of the New Testament books they were essentially just rubber stamping what the churches all over the world had already recognized and were using as inspired scriptures, all of which means that you can have confidence that what’s in the New Testament is what’s meant to be there. And what’s meant to be in the New Testament are writings that are inspired by God and that tell us about Jesus and his message.