How We Got the Bible

On the Formation of the Biblical Canon

Barton, John. How the Bible Came to Be. Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

This accessible book offers an overview of the contents of the biblical books and a brief history of the collection and definition of the Christian canon of scripture.

On the Formation of the New Testament Canon

Clark-Soles, Jaime. Engaging the Word: The New Testament and the Christian Believer. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010. (Chapter 5)

Gamble, Harry Y. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Reprint. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002.

Gamble provides a short and readable overview of how Christian writings began to be regarded as authoritative during the first four centuries.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. “Epilogue: The New Testament as the Church’s Book.” Pages 525–546 in The Writings of the New Testament. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.

McDonald, Lee Martin. Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writings. Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

A foremost scholar of the development of the Christian canon, McDonald thoughtfully describes the process itself as well as some of the writings that mainstream Christianity eventually rejected.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford University Press, 1987.

This is a dense, scholarly study of the history of the New Testament canon.

Perkins, Pheme. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. (Consult chapter 2, “Books and Believers in Early Christianity,” which is available as part of the book’s free preview when you search for it at

Although her textbook’s focus is the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Perkins’s second chapter gives a brief and accessible overview of the history of the New Testament canon.

In addition, these websites contain resources for studying the formation of the New Testament canon:

On the History of the Text of the New Testament

For the serious student, I’d recommend:

Metzger, Bruce M. and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. 4th Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

On the Translation of the Bible

Metzger, Bruce M. The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Sheeley, Steven M. and Robert N. Nash, Jr. The Bible in English Translation: An Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997.

This is now dated as it doesn’t include the newest versions, but it provides an accessible introduction to the translation process and translation issues.

For brief information about the history of English translations of the Bible:

Read Other Early Christian Writings

If you are interested in reading Christian writings (including many noncanonical writings) from the first four centuries CE, you can find English translations of several works at the following sites: