Athanasius’ 4th century Thirty-Ninth Festal Epistle and the Christocentricity of a Closed Canon

In 367, Athanasius of Alexandria (A.D. 296-373), the most prominent theologian of the fourth century who served as bishop of Alexandria wrote the following in his Thirty-Ninth Festal Epistle commonly referred to as his “Easter Letter.” [1] His was the first official pronouncement of a list of canonical books identical with our present-day list. Athanasius’ list was not a hierarchical decision but a widely acknowledged recognition that the list contained the books the church already recognized as authoritative. After the list he declares,

“These are the fountains of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed. Let no one add to these; let nothing be taken away from them. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures. And he reproved the Jews, saying, Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of me.”[2]


[1] Philip Schaff, ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 551-552. Sections 2-7.

[2] Philip Schaff, ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 552.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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