Constantine and the Bible

One of the things that bothers me that has come of the Da Vinci Code, though he wasn’t the first to talk about it, was the idea that Constantine chose the books that are in the Bible.  The truth is, the Bible had been coming together a long time before that.  James Garlow and Peter Jones, in their book Cracking Da Vinci’s Code tell us that “they were not creating the Bible but merely clarifying and unifying once and for all what had been true from the beginning” (148).

The reason why church councils had to deal with the topic of Biblical canon (the list of books that are recognized as authentic and part of the Bible) was because of the rise in false teachers trying to alter what was already being formed naturally. 

One person in particular who came up with his own list of New Testament books was Marcion.  Marcion believed that the Old Testament was completely irrelevant, so he sought to remove any Old Testament influence from the Bible.  The books he accepted were the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters which he had edited to remove anything that had Old Testament influence.  “Marcion even acknowledged that the books he rejected or modified were accepted and honored by the church and written by the original apostles.   He simply believed that he was right and they were wrong” (Garlow 141).

Because of Marcion and others like him, many in the church began compiling their own lists, lists that were very similar, but with some variation.   The Muratorian Fragment is one of these lists.  It is believed to be from around 170 A.D.  The list includes all of our New Testament books except Hebrews, James and 1 and 2 Peter.  It also includes a book called the Revelation of Peter.  James North tells us that the Revelation of Peter “is typical of dozens of various writings which were not authentically apostolic but were often used by the early churches” (57).

Origen, who lived from 184 to 254, gathered lists from various Christian populations from around the Mediterranean and made two new lists.  The first list was called the homologoumena, which included all of the books accepted by all the churches.  This included all four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Revelation.  The second list was called the antilegomena.   These books were the ones that were accepted by some of the churches but not all of them.  This included Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, Jude, Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the Gospel of the Hebrews.  “It is obvious that by the time of Origen the churches were well on their way to achieving a consensus on what writings were to be considered scripture – but there were still some discrepancies with regard to a final list” (North 58).

Before Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, the church was under intermittent periods of severe persecution, so getting everyone together to form a comprehensive list was difficult, though Origen did make a good start at it.  When Christianity became legal in the year 313, there was no more fear of persecution, so the church could finally come together and identify as a whole what they already knew to be true.  “The various church councils that pronounced upon the subject of the canon of the New Testament were merely stating publicly . . . what had been widely accepted by the consciousness of the church for some time” (Cairns 115).

There is a lot more that could be said here, but I’ll just leave you with the books I used to research so that you can read more for yourself if you are interested.  These books cover many different topics concerning the church, but each one has a section on the development of the New Testament canon.  Cracking Da Vinci’s Code is an especially interesting book because it talks about many of the issues brought up in Dan Brown’s book. 


Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Carson, D.A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Garlow, James L. and Peter Jones. Cracking Da Vinci's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts Colorado Springs: Victor, 2004.

North, James. A History of the Church from Pentecost to Present Joplin: College Press, 1983.
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