Reformed Arrangement of the New Testament Canon
The reformed arrangement of the New Testament is presented below. This contains all 27 books of the traditional canon but lists them in two categories: Primary Authorities and Secondary Authorities.
- 1 Peter
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
- 1 John
- 2 Peter
- 2 John
- 3 John
- For more on why Luke-Acts is held with a higher level of confidence than Matthew and Mark, refer to the sections below.
- Apart from Mark and Matthew, the secondary authorities of this list were disputed as being authoritative in early Christianity. They were identified by the Christian historian Eusebius to be disputed (not universally accepted) in the early 4th century (Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5).
- Revelation is on the list of secondary authorities because it was not included in the Aramaic Peshitta and Eusebius doubted its authority in his own canon (H.E. 3.25.4). Revelation was more widely accepted in the Western churches in the second and third centuries, but it was not initially held in high esteem in the Eastern churches.
- For more information on the development of canon see, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon by Lee M. McDonald, Available at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2OatQVh
- The Pauline epistles in the list of Primary Authorities are in the approximate chronological order.
Reasons for favoring Luke-Acts over Matthew and Mark
- The author is the only New Testament writer that also wrote the book of the Acts of the Apostles: The historical account of the spread of the early church and what the Apostles preached.
- The author claims to have traveled with the apostles (Acts 16:11-15). A difficult claim to make if and would be likely be disproved at the time it were not true.
- Luke acknowledges that many had previously attempted to compile a narrative and he felt it necessary to do so in order that believers may know the exact truth about the things they have been taught (Luke 1:4)
- Luke was written last and had access to Mark and Matthew when composing his narration. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrer_hypothesis
- Luke claims to have investigated everything closely from the beginning. And the level of detail he provides substantiates having more specific historical information than Mathew and Mark.
- Luke is the only synoptic gospel that is structured like a historical narrative in which everything is in chronological order.
- Luke-Acts is the most detailed of the three with respect to historical references and it’s reliability can be strongly defended
- The use of language in Luke is more advanced indicating that the author had a technical/medical background.
- Both Luke and Acts is addressed to Theophilus which means “God-Seeker” or “friend of God”. This pertains to a general audience of those who seek after God.
- Matthew has problematic readings that are not supported by any other new Testament books and does not harmonize well with the rest of the New Testament. See the Credibility of Matthew section below
- The birth narrative of Luke is more plausible than that of Matthew. There is no historical record of Harod committing a mass genocide “Massacre of the Innocents”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents
- Mark is also problematic. During copying and transmission many variants were added to Mark harmonize it with Matthew. Mark was copied less frequently than Matthew and Luke in the first two centuries and there are few Greek manuscripts that attest to the original text. Versions of Mark also have different endings. Scholars use early Latin texts of Mark to get a better indication as to the original reading of Mark.
Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Acts 1:1-2 (ESV)
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
Authenticity of Luke-Acts
The Authenticity of the Gospel of St. Luke
Its Bearing Upon the Evidences of the Truth of Christianity
Arthur Charles Hervey (1890)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3sejvap
“In considering the authenticity of the Gospel of St. Luke, and the sources of his information, and the special opportunities enjoyed by him of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the facts and truths of Christianity, and the consequent claims he has upon our confidence, I spoke throughout as I should speak of any secular author, and without any reference to the inspiration of the writer.” (p.151)
“If I have provided by many “infallible proofs,” by external and internal evidence, that this Gospel was written by Luke the Physician, the beloved friend and companion of St. Paul, before the year A.D. 63 (and probably about A.D. 60), and that its authenticity carries with it the truth of the Christian religion, then I have a right to claim the full acceptance of the Christian faith by all before whom this evidence is laid, as the necessary act of a rational mind, and as the solemn duty of a reasonable moral agent.” (p.150)
The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament
William Mitchell Ramsay (1915)
“Luke is a historian of the first rank not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed among with the very greatest of historians.” (p. 222)
Archive Link: https://archive.org/details/bearingofrecentd00ramsuoft/page/222/mode/2up
The Book of Acts in History
Henry J. Cadbury (1955)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3c2t990
With this book a foremost New Testament scholar makes a signal contribution to the literature about the times of the first apostles. This period, when the memory of Jesus was fresh yet no written literature about him existed, lends itself well to the descriptive treatment Dr. Cadbury employs. The purpose of these pages, he writes, is to establish not so much the accuracy of the book of Acts as the reality of the scenes and customs and mentality which it reflects…. We can walk where the Apostle Paul walked, see what he saw, and become increasingly at home in his world. Five chapters deal with each of the five cultural strands then existing: Roman, Greek, Jewish, Christian, and cosmopolitan. The sixth attempts to reconstruct the earliest history of the book of Acts.
Luke: Historian and Theologian
I. Howard Marshall (1998)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3b8Wtv0
Apart from the apostle Paul, Luke is arguably the most influential force in the canon of the New Testament. His Gospel and Acts occupy almost a third of the New Testament, and together their narrative voice carries us over a span of more than sixty years, from the birth of Jesus to the imprisonment of Paul in Rome. It is difficult to imagine our understanding of the New Testament period without Luke’s writings. For this reason, the question of Luke’s historical reliability has been repeatedly investigated. In this study Howard Marshall affirms Luke’s trustworthiness as a historian. But Luke is more than a historian. He is also a theologian who finds his interpretive key in the great theme of salvation. Marshall provides us with a lucid guide to Luke’s theology of salvation as it is unfurled in Gospel narrative, but always with a eye on its ongoing development in the companion work, the Acts of the Apostles. A postscript assesses the course of Lukan studies during the decade of 1979-1988.
The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2W9cH2a
The Acts of the Apostles is the New Testament book that contains the most obvious ties to its cultural and historical milieu. Yet, until very recently, the trend has been for 20th-century authors to bypass discussion of the relation of Acts to the world and history around it. In this book, Colin Hemer examines various strands of interlocking data, ranging from the epistles of Paul to records of the corn fleet that sailed from Alexandria. The wealth of new literary, epigraphic, and papyrological data brings fresh light to numerous details as well as to the central question of Luke’s conception of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. The result is a broader understanding of the Hellenistic world in general and a greater appreciation for Acts as a coherent and consistent product of its day. Originally published by J. C. B. Mohr in 1989.
The evidential value of the Acts of the Apostles
Howson, J. S. (1880)
Archive Link: https://archive.org/details/evidentialvalueo00hows
The Credibility of Matthew
Matthew has a number of issues that calls its credibility into question. These are summarized in the paper at the download link below. First, introductory notes about Matthew are provided relating to the source material, authorship, and structure. The Farrer theory provides additional rational for holding Matthew with increased skepticism considering the likelihood that Luke excluded much of the content from Matthew. Major contradictions of Matthew with other Gospel accounts are shown in the following section. Most of the contradictions in the New Testament are Matthew conflicting with Mark, Luke, and John. Other issues with Matthew are described in terms of problematic passages and inconsistent language. Finally, evidence is provided against the traditional wording of Matthew 28:19 that indicates the trinitarian baptismal formula was added later and is not original to Matthew.