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The NT today contains 27 books. The most prominent of these are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The early Christian disciples were traveling around the Ancient Near East, sharing the story of Jesus’ life and teachings. It is believed that Peter’s recollections and sermons were the first to be written down by John Mark in what we call the Gospel of Mark. Most likely, Matthew’s Gospel came next. Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel (which followed a little later) added different accounts with different emphases to Mark’s original material. Some have argued that the new material contradicted the accounts of Mark. The Gospel according to John probably came last and it stood on its own. Each of these books were carefully copied by hand on papyrus, and were bound into books, known as codices. By the end of the first hundred years of the Christian church, all four gospels were circulating among the churches. It is believed that the first compilations of these four gospels into one book came into use somewhere between 100 and 150 AD. In addition to the four gospels, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas were also in circulation. Some questioned which of the documents were more authoritative, and most Christian churches agreed that material that originated from the disciples and apostles, who had known Jesus personally, were more authoritative. About the same time, Tatian of Adiabene wrote the Diatessaron, in which he harmonized the four gospels into one book proposing his own sequence for the events of Christ’s life and leaving out some of the sections of the four gospels that he could not harmonize. In some churches Diatesseron became the main Gospel for almost four centuries, while others rejected it in favor of the four separate gospels. The debate continued for at least two more centuries but in the end, the Christian church by various councils agreed that the four gospels formed an integral part of the 27 books of the New Testament that we know today.
I would say that the number was determined by the frequency with which those gospels (as opposed to any non-canonical gospels) were used in worship by early Christians (dating from a time when there still would have been eyewitnesses to attest to the accuracy of their content); by the Holy Spirit's guiding of those who (whatever their individual strengths and weaknesses may have been) corporately determined the composition of the canon of Scripture until it was finalized to insure that the Bible contained all the information about Jesus that God intended to convey; and because the four gospels together appealed in tone and content to all of the primary groups among which the early Church evangelized -- Matthew to Jews; Mark to Romans; Luke to Greeks; and John (the last gospel chronologically) to believers of all heritages and times.
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