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Surprising Bible Manuscript History November 5, 2011

Posted by arkwork in Cessationism.

A big part of the cessationist view is based on the belief that the Bible replaced the gifts of the Spirit, and the ministry of the apostle and prophet. But Bible manuscript history conclusively proves the exact opposite.

We all know when the books of the New Testament were written—in the first century. But when were all the books of the New Testament compiled under one cover? When was this compilation actually called and accepted as the New Testament? And when was all (or part) of this New Testament available to the common man?

In short, exactly when did this supposed transition take place? Does history support this cessationist argument? History gives us an answer that may surprise you.

Surely, the old wouldn’t exit until the new was established. We need to ask . . . when was the new established, and when did the old exit the scene? The Origin of the Biblea booklisted in the bibliography—answers such questions.


When Paul wrote a letter to “the church at Corinth” (or any other city) his letter was passed around from church to church in that city to be read aloud. All of these congregations in Corinth were collectively called “the church of Corinth.” The average first century Christian was fortunate if, in his lifetime, he was to hear even three such letters when they were read to a congregation. It was even more rare for anyone to have the privilege of reading three letters. Of course, copies of these manuscripts would eventually be stored (along with Old Testament scrolls) in church archives.

The Gospels and the letters of Paul were circulated as working documents among churches, but only the Old Testament books were formerly recognized as Scripture in the first century.

Nobody owned a New Testament, much less a whole Bible in the first or second century because there weren’t any. Period! However, an almost complete collection of all twenty-seven books that now make up the New Testament were in use for the first time in Rome by about a.d. 180—but this was only one set. The first church council to list these twenty-seven books was the Council of Carthage in a.d. 397.

Early in the third century (around a.d. 210), Tertullian, an outstanding Christian writer, popularized the title, the “New Testament”. The acceptance of this new title placed the New Testament Scripture on a level of inspiration and authority with the Old Testament for the first time.

The Gospels and the Pauline Epistles did not gain importance equal to the books of the Old Testament until the third century. Until then, the church could not accept even the possibility of there being a second or a New Testament.

This is comparable to us anguishing over the possibility of there being a third Testament written after the Second Coming of Christ. We instantly reject the idea as unthinkable, don’t we? So did they.


The word canon means “rule” or “measuring rod,” and in relation to the Bible, it refers to the collection of books that passed a test of authenticity and authority. It also means that those books are our rule of life.

Several books were canonical even before they were tested. That’s like saying that some students are obviously intelligent before they take any tests. The test only proves or measures what is already intrinsically there. In the same way, neither the church nor councils made any book canonical or authentic. Either the book was authentic when it was written or it was not. The church or its councils recognized and verified certain books as the Word of God, and in time—over the second, third, and fourth centuries—those so recognized were collected together in what we now call the Bible. [Ref. A Survey of Bible Doctrine, by Dr. Charles C. Ryrie].


Until the invention of printing with movable type in a.d. 1456, the text of the Bible could be transmitted only by laboriously copying it letter-by-letter and word-by-word. In fact, it took up to a year for a scribe to hand copy just one new book. Therefore, it took the equivalent of a year’s wages of the average man to buy a book the size of a Bible.

Today, if we were to pay someone eight dollars an hour, and this person worked for fifty weeks making a copy of the Bible for us, the cost would be $18,000—before taxes. Not only was there a huge price tag on a new book, but very few people could read and write in those days. As a result, for over a thousand years there were very few individuals or congregations who could afford (or read) a Bible.

Even if they could, the Roman church outlawed the ownership of Bible up to the time of the Reformation. A priest could read a passage from a Bible on Sunday mornings, but it usually was not in a language the congregation knew. Several Godly men were persecuted for translating the Bible in the language of the people.


Now, let’s look at that cessationist statement again. “ . . . but the written Word completed, the particular ministry of the apostle and the prophet became redundant . . . “

We know when the Bible was completed, but when was the Bible compiled? When was it recognized as being a “New” Testament? When was it named or titled “The New Testament?” How many clergy and lay people had access to the written Word in their language—at a price they could afford?

Based on these more realistic questions, when did God cease talking to His people? Logic and history would conclude that God fell silent sometime after 1456 when the printing press was invented and the Reformation started. The Bible says . . . never!


The writing of Bible text by first century Christians ceased with their death—that is true. And these texts were canonical even before some men decided they were—that is true. However, the Scriptures they left attest to us that everything Jesus instituted is still very much in place today.

Does God still speak to us today? Yes, ever since Adam’s day! Now we must ask, “what does He tell us?” In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul said God’s Holy Spirit manifests Himself in us, His words of wisdom and words of knowledge; and He tells us who He is about to heal, etc. In Ephesians 4:11, Jesus said He established certain ministries (see 1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:6-8).

These ministries and gifts may be ignored . . . they may be misunderstood and misused, but they are still valid and in place for today.

Brethren, this generation needs to witness “sign gifts” far more than the first century people did—and we can. All we have to do is say, “Yes Lord!”


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