I want to share with you some facts about the writings which the early Christians wanted “read in the churches.” A problem arose because of the gnostic groups that were prevalent in those days. In order to spread their gnostic beliefs, they constructed false “gospels” and “epistles” purporting to have been written by disciples of Jesus or by apostles. For example, one of these supposedly describes some of Jesus’ activities when He was still a child. It reports that he formed a bird out of clay, and then turned it into a real, live bird which then flew away.
In order that the Church would not be deceived by these false, so-called apostolic writings, the leaders of the Church made a list of the writings of the genuine disciples and apostles, and proclaimed that only they could be read in the churches. They didn’t talk about these writings as being “The word of God” or that only they were “inspired.” The test was only whether they were written by the apostles or the disciples of Jesus. Thus the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the only gospels included. Though Mark and Luke were not disciples of Jesus or apostles in the strictest sense, they were fellow workers with Paul, and did apostolic work with him. So they qualified. Acts, the early history of the Church was also accepted without dispute.
There was some heavy discussion among the early church leaders with regard to the apostolic letters (or “epistles”). Which of the letters circulated around were really composed by apostles and therefore qualified to be read in the churches?
All the letters of Paul were accepted without dispute. So was 1 Peter and 1 John.
Hebrews was under dispute. Who wrote it? Its author doesn’t say. Some early churches accepted it to be read in the churches; others didn’t. Those who accepted it assigned the authorship to Paul. This is highly doubted by most Biblical scholars today.
2nd and 3rd John were disputed. The author of these books referred to himself as “the elder.” We don’t know who this elder was, but some have speculated that it was an elder named “John,” though he doesn’t give his name at all. Again those who accepted 2nd and 3rd John assigned the authorship to the apostle John, although there is absolutely no evidence for this.
For some reason James and Jude were under dispute, although both these authors open their letters by giving their names and “James” and “Jude.”
Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was disputed. The author was Paul’s fellow worker (Philippians 4:3) and therefore did apostolic work as did Mark and Luke. Although some churches accepted it, others didn’t. Clearly it didn’t “make it” into the New Testament.
Revelation was under heavy dispute. Four times in the book, the author identifies himself as being “John.” But which John? The apostle John never calls himself “John” anywhere in his Gospel or in 1 John. So there is no reason to suppose that the apostle John was the author. Again, those who wanted it read in the churches said the author was John the apostle, and this idea has persisted to our day. Whoever the John was who wrote it, had a vision, and in most of the book, he describes what he saw in his vision. In my opinion, it is a mistake to formulate doctrine or beliefs about the future based on the vision which some unknown John saw.
Much later in A.D. 367 Athanasius formed a list which comprised what is knows as the “canon of New Testament writings”. Athanasius was the first person to form a list which is identical to that which is in
the “New Testament” as we have it today. His Old Testament “canon” was the same as that which is found in the Protestant Bible except it included the book “Baruch.” This book is not found in the Protestant Bible, but it IS included in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.