At the conclusion of his excellent and wide-ranging discussion of the formation of the New Testament (The Canon of the New Testament, 286-67), Bruce Metzger makes a few well-put general comments:
Instead of suggesting that certain books were accidentally included and others were accidentally excluded from the New Testament Canon--whether the exclusion be defined in terms of the activity of individuals, or synods, or councils--it is more accurate to say that certain books excluded themselves from the canon. Among the dozen or more gospels that circulated in the early Church, the question of how, and when, and why our four Gospels came to be selected for their supreme position may seem to be a mystery--but it is a clear case of the survival of the fittest.See also,
From this point of view the Church did not create the canon, but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church. If this fact is obscured, one comes into serious conflict not with dogma but with history.
- My review of C. E. Hill's Who Chose the Gospels?