How and when the early church recognized the 27 books in our New Testament has always been a fascinating topic for people. There is innate curiosity within us about why these books were regarded as Scripture and not others.
Unfortunately, the high level of interest in the New Testament canon is often combined with a high number of misconceptions about the canon. For anyone willing to search for it, the internet is packed with myths, mistakes, and misunderstandings about how the whole process really worked.
While there is no quick cure for such misconceptions, there is one essential key that really helps clear away the cobwebs. And that key is understanding the different categories of books in early Christianity.
We tend to think there are only two categories, those books that are “in” and those books that are “out.” But, early Christians were more nuanced than than this. In fact, they divided up books into four categories. And understanding these categories will clear up a good number of the misunderstandings of the way the canon developed.
We will take our cue from the four categories laid out by the well-known fourth century historian Eusebius in Hist. eccl. 3.25.1-7: