Fortress Press

On the Origin of Christian Scripture: The Evolution of the New Testament Canon in the Second Century

On the Origin of Christian Scripture

The Evolution of the New Testament Canon in the Second Century

David Trobisch (Author)


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The New Testament claims to be a collection of writings from eight authors. The manuscript tradition and the first provenance narratives place its publication in the middle of the second century, when many other books on Jesus and his first followers were circulating.

Competing publications on Jesus communicate knowledge secretly passed on from generation to generation, transcending time and geographical boundaries. Like the Canonical Edition of the New Testament, they use first-century voices to address second-century concerns, such as whether the Creator of the world was the Father of Jesus, the role of women in congregations, the culture of producing and distributing books, and the authority of Jewish Scripture for Christians. The shared meta-narrative is the story of a divine messenger sent to earth to deliver the promise of eternal life to those who believe his message.

The editorial narrative of the Canonical Edition names a certain Theophilus as the implied publisher who assembles the collection, organizes it in four volumes, and presents it to the public when Paul is in Rome and faces his day in court. Historically, the New Testament was published a century after Paul's death as an interpolated and enlarged revision of the Marcionite Edition, which combined one gospel book with several letters of Paul. It presented itself as a publication of autographs for an international Greek-speaking readership in Central Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor, and Greece. This perspective provides new answers to old exegetical questions like the genre of the Johannine corpus, the function of synoptic parallels, and the authorship of the letters of Paul.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506486147
  • eBook ISBN 9781506486154
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 205
  • Publication Date September 19, 2023


David Trobisch is a signal figure in contemporary discussions of the Christian Bible's origins. What he makes clear in this expansive sketch of the various phenomena that produced the Bible's canonical edition is the interdependency of the second century's social world, the developing technology that produced collections of related writings, the literary marks and peculiar network of ecclesiastical figures that produced--perhaps inevitably so--the first editions of the church's biblical canon. Provocateur and poet, historian and hermeneut, Trobisch has drawn for us more a map than a monograph and one that promises to guide future quests of an ancient history and help plot the tellings of this fascinating story of the bible's real beginnings.

Rob Wall, Seattle Pacific University

What is the Christian Bible, which books does it contain, and how, specifically, might one account for the formation of the New Testament? In his bold new book, On the Origin of Christian Scripture, David Trobisch engages these well-worn questions from a strikingly--and no doubt controversial--new perspective. Trobisch deftly articulates literary connections among what he thinks are several editorial interpolations throughout the New Testament all of which shed light on the overall editorial purpose of the "Canonical Edition" of the New Testament. Bristling with fascinating and contentious insights, Trobisch's work will be sure to spark both conversation and intense debate. One thing is sure--his sweeping and unique synthesis of the New Testament canon cannot be ignored.

Darian Lockett, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

With historical precision, Trobisch extends his innovative challenge to long-rehearsed theories about the formation of the New Testament canon, assembling further evidence for an early four-volume canonical edition of the Christian scriptures.

Travis B. Williams, Tusculum University