We here at The Essential Church believe in studying the Word of God. This past five months or so, we’ve been diving into our Falling Away Series. I’ll provide links below so that you can check out the series if you haven’t done so already. We’re nearing the end of our 2 Peter examination, and chapter 3 is our study chapter this coming Sunday. I was meditating on 2 Peter 3 the other day when, to my surprise, the Holy Spirit revealed something to me that I may have forgotten or simply didn’t remember: that is, Peter’s statement about the canon of Scripture:
14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:14-16, NKJV)
This passage got me thinking about the argument I’ve been hearing online on YouTube videos from atheists and reading from them as well: that is, Christianity is false because its canon, including the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, what one would call biographies of Jesus, weren’t officially made part of the biblical canon (that is, the collection of exclusive books we now call the Bible) until AD 325 at the Council of Nicea — some near 300 years after Jesus’ ascension. In other words, we can’t trust the books because of how long it took the church to officially canonize them. In other words, with all the time removed from when Jesus walked the earth, a lot of things in them could be corrupted, revised, transformed, and “tweaked” to look better than they actually were.
Fortunately, we have Scripture to speak for itself, and atheists who claim 325 AD as the date of biblical canonization are terribly wrong. From Peter’s words above, we read of Paul’s epistles that he “has written to you” (2 Peter 3:15) along with “the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Now the question that comes to us is this: if there was no official biblical canon, no official set of books deemed Scripture before 325 AD, then why is it that Peter writes this second letter to the scattered Jewish believers as though Paul’s letters are part of the Scriptures? How could Paul’s letters have been deemed Scripture so quickly after Jesus’ ascension if the biblical canon was only formalized in 325 AD?
Let’s think about when the letter of 2 Peter was written. According to biblical scholars, Peter died in 68 AD, which means that he would’ve written this letter between 65-68 AD. So, when Peter acknowledges Paul’s epistles, this means that Paul’s letters were part of the official canon as early as 65 AD, some 32 years after the death of our Lord (most scholars believe Jesus died and rose in 33 AD, others say 30 AD). If Paul’s letters were a part of the official canon in 65 AD, some five years after Paul’s death (if you believe he died by beheading under Emperor Nero in 60 AD), then they were canonized some 260 years before the Council of Nicea. In other words, Paul’s letters were canonized far ahead of the Council of Nicea. Atheists have their history wrong, but they get it wrong because they distrust the Bible and all it says.
Paul’s letters are part of the canon by 65 AD; what about “the rest of the Scriptures”?
What about Peter’s statement regarding “the rest of the Scriptures”? We know that, if 65-68 AD is a good timeframe for the crafting of 2 Peter, then we know other letters were written earlier than 65 AD. All of Paul’s letters were written prior to 65 AD, since Paul died in 60 AD. We know that the Epistle of James was written sometime in the 40s AD, and the Gospel of Mark was also written at the same time as James. Mark’s Gospel is the earliest of the four. Matthew’s Gospel was written in the 50s AD, according to conservative estimates, as well as the Gospel of Luke (Luke the beloved physician who traveled with Peter, see 2 Timothy 4:11, as well as Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). The Book of Acts could’ve very well have been written in the early 60s, before Paul was beheaded at Rome.
When we take into account the Pauline Epistles (Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), plus the Epistle of James, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke, as well as the Book of Acts (possible), we end up with 18 of the 27 books of the New Testament already penned by the time of Peter’s death and accepted as official biblical canon. So by the end of the first century, some 35 years after Jesus’ death and ascension, two-thirds of the New Testament was already cemented in church history and accepted by believers. At this time, First Peter and Second Peter may or may not have been official biblical canon; they could’ve been added later, considering that the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, along with John’s epistles and the Book of Jude were accepted into the canon years after Peter’s death. As many as 21 of the 27 books of the Bible could’ve been accepted by the time Peter died.
The Council of Nicea didn’t convene for the purpose of deciding the biblical canon, contrary to what atheists claim, and their claim has no merit. However, this post was designed to show that there’s simply no way, according to what 2 Peter 3:15-16 says, the biblical canon wasn’t official until 325 when, right in the 60s AD, Paul was already a part of the biblical canon and was called “Scripture.” As we see with Peter’s words, though, the Scriptures contained more than the Pauline Epistles. This tells us that there were a variety of books that were part of the official canon early on, which matches what the official canon is today.
Pick the latest book written in Scripture, and you’ll find it was declared part of the canon at least 200 years before the Council of Nicea. Perhaps atheists, who seek to demolish the Christian faith, should do more reading before condemning such a rational and intellectual faith as ours.
Falling Away Series Links