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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Transmission and Collection

The documents surveyed here obviously represent great diversity in the literary life, beliefs, and practices of the early church. During the course of the first four centuries, the increasingly dominant form of Christianity became convinced that not all of this literature expressed the faith correctly. Lists of books to be included alongside the Jewish scriptures began circulating no later than the end of the second century, and by the end of the fourth, the supremacy of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament seems to have been assured. Other books, however, continued to be read, cherished, and scribally transmitted. Late in the seventeenth century several of these books came to be called the Apostolic Fathers, including the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp, 1 and 2 Clement, and The Shepherd of Hermas. At about the same time other books, especially nonbiblical gospels, acts, and apocalypses, came to be called “New Testament Apocrypha.” The designation “apocryphal” (“hidden” or “secretive”) had been used for centuries to describe literature considered dangerous to practicing Christians. Because of their questionable status, many of these books survive only as titles, as brief quotations, or in a single manuscript, often only in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, or Ethiopic translation. Other early apocrypha were rewritten into more orthodox recensions; promoting less objectionable theologies. There is no reason to think that the era of discovery of early Christian books has ended. Scholars continue searching for overlooked manuscripts housed in monasteries or in library archives and repeatedly add to our knowledge of early Christian composition.

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