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The Canon of the Third Synod of Carthage

The New Testament canon was never ratified by an “ecumenical” council (i.e. a meeting of bishops from around the Christian world) in the early church. But there were several smaller synods and councils that pronounced judgment on which books should be accepted as canonical Scripture. Evi­ dently the first to ratify the twenty-seven book canon propounded by Ath­ anasius, and accepted by most churches still today, was a Synod in Hippo, North Africa, in 393 ce, where the greatest orthodox theologian of antiquity, Augustine of Hippo, threw his weight behind Athanasius’s list and pushed its acceptance. Unfortunately, we no longer have a record of the proceedings of the conference. But we do have the proceedings of the Third Synod of Carthage, held four years later, which summarized what had transpired at the earlier meeting. These latter proceedings are given here. Even this synod’s affirmation of the canon was not universally binding, as indicated in the proceedings themselves, where it is noted that the church across the sea (i.e., Rome, on the other side of the Mediterranean) was to be consulted on the matter. And, as it turns out, different churches in other parts of the world never did agree on this twenty-seven book canon, despite its overwhelming acceptance in both Western and Eastern branches of Christendom.1

Besides the canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read in church under the name of divine Scriptures. Moreover, the

canonical Scriptures are these: [then fol­ lows a list of Old Testament books]. The [books of the] New Testament: the Gos­

1

See further Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 229–47.

Translation by Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) 315; used with permission.

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