Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

January 29, 2010

Lesson Plan: Development of the New Testament Canon

This lesson plan is useful for anyone teaching a course on the Introduction to the New Testament. Access to computers and the internet is required, so students should have laptops at their desks or they should be taken to the school computer lab or library.

Background:  Canon of the New Testament

It took centuries for the Catholic Church to make a recognition of the official books of the Bible. “Canon” refers to the official list of the inspired books of the Bible. Catholics list 46 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books in the canon. Technically it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in the 16th century that an ecumenical council officially recognized the canon by affirming St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate as the authoritative text of Scripture. Traditionally, St. Athanasius is credited with fixing the New Testament canon at 27 books in AD 367.

The Church canon was developed according to the following criteria:

1. Apostolic Origin - the author should be an Apostle or closely connected to one
2. Widespread Acceptance – the book should not be unique to a certain geographic area
3. Conformity with the rule of faith – the book must reflect what the Church expresses in its traditional teachings and the liturgy

Lesson Plan:
To help students understand the formation of the New Testament canon, direct them to a website called “The Development of the Canon of the New Testament”: http://www.ntcanon.org/table.shtml.

SWBAT trace the developments of a particular book of the New Testament canon.
SWBAT predict why some books were accepted into the canon earlier than others.
1)  First, assign each student a person (or codex) at the top of the table. Ask them to prepare answers to the following:
Full Name:
One sentence summary:
Give students about 5 minutes to complete the assignment, then have them share the information with the class. Have students copy the information in their notes or create a word document on the computers to keep track of the information. They may copy and paste the table from the website into a word document to take notes.

2)  Next, assign each student in your class a particular book of the New Testament. Ask them to use the information in this website to trace the history of the book’s connection to the New Testament canon. Distribute the following questions as a guide to their research:

1. When was mention of this book recorded?
2. Was the book consistently accepted by the Church Fathers in the table?
3. How does this book’s acceptance compare to the other books in the New Testament?
4. What does the timeline suggest about the date that the book was written?
5. Why do you think it took as long as it did to be widely accepted?

While students are working on the assignment, help them with questions 3-5. Remind them of the three criteria for the canon. Suggest that they use these criteria to form their responses to question #4.

Invite students to share their findings with the class.

3)  For homework, ask students to write a 250+ word reflection on the day’s activity. What did they learn about the development of the New Testament canon? What conclusions can they draw from their research?


1 Sarah Wilson

Feb. 5, 2010
Hi! Saw your blog and thought you might be interested in a brand new pre-publication offer from Logos Bible Software: http://www.logos.com/products/prepub/details/5995

Leave a Comment

High School eNewsletter
Receive bi-weekly lessons, links, tips and more in our Email Newsletter

Resources Archive