To gain canonical recognition, a book was expected to pass two basic tests. First, it had to have a history of “continuous and widespread approval amongst Christians” (J. W. Wenham, Christ And The Bible). Second, it was expected to demonstrate that it had either been written by an apostle or specifically approved by the apostles.
The fact that the Muratorian Canon (approximately AD 170) listed all of the books presently in the New Testament except for Hebrews, James, and the two epistles of Peter, is another demonstration of the early, broad-based support for the Canon.
Another example (and many others could be given) is provided by the brilliant theologian Irenaeus who also wrote in the second century. He quoted the four Gospels extensively and included quotations from all of the New Testament books except Philemon and 3 John. Actually,the fact that a few books were received officially by the church at a later date is more a demonstration of the church’s discretion and caution than it is an indication that these books are in some way unreliable.
A well-known theologian once said that the church no more created the New Testament Canon than Newton created the basic principles of physics. The earliest writings of the church fathers demonstrate their confidence in the authority of the New Testament Scriptures.