While reading William Bridge's, "The Wounded Conscience Cured," (1642) I came across Bridge's usage of the term "New Testament" :

"And in the New Testament, Romans 13.1..."

-William Bridge, "The Wounded Conscience Cured," (5)

While obviously not the earliest usage of the term "New Testament," this did get me wondering about how early on the term first came into usage.

David Trobisch, a prominient scholar on the formation of the Christian Bible, records in his book what he deems to be the earliest usage of the term in an anonymous late second-century treatise against the heresy of Montanism :

"At approximately the same time, (late second century) the previously mentioned anonymous treatise against the Montanist movement seems to use the term New Testament in reference to a written source. The author explains that he was initially very reluctant to write at all. He did not want to create 'the impression that he was adding anything to the word of the gospel of the New Testament; since no one, who decided to live according to the gospel, can add to it or take away from it.'"

-David Trobisch, "The First Edition of the New Testament", (44)

With regards to answers, "New Testament" does not have to be used in reference to a modern day canon; however, "New Testament" should inherently be used to describe some sort of canon from antiquity.


I am curious if there are any other earlier usages of the term "New Testament" or is David Trobisch's example truly the earliest, extant usage of the term?

Just to clarify, I am not inquiring of the earliest English usage of the term, but earliest in any language, so a usage resembling (but not exclusive to): Novum Testamentum, Καινή Διαθήκη, ܕܝܲܐܬܝܼܩܝܼ ܚܵܕܬܵܐ.

  • Do you mean specifically to refer to the canonical books, or any use of the phrase? The phrase itself is found in the Bible ("this is the new testament in my blood"). If you mean just as a reference to the canonical books, I don't know the answer but the Pentateuch was called the Book of the Covenant in the Old Testament, and Hebrews calls that covenant the Old Covenant, hence the splitting of the canonical books into Old Testament/Covenant and New Testament/Covenant.
    – Birdie
    Mar 22, 2018 at 23:48
  • @Birdie The earliest usage of “New Testament” as in a set of books that were a canon; regardless of their authenticity. An example of what I’m referring to is given in David Trobisch’s quote. Mar 23, 2018 at 0:32
  • As can be seen in some of the answers below, to precisely answer your question one must pay very close attention to how the term "New Testament" is used, either to refer to the testament/covenant itself, or to the documents describing the testament/covenant. You have requested an example of the latter usage. However, the example you give is at best ambiguous between the two usages, and I think falls under the former. It is the "word of the gospel" which the author doesn't want to add to, not a written work named the New Testament, as is made clear by the rest of the quotation. Jun 12, 2023 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


It seems that the first written usage of the term "New Testament" comes from the writings of Melito of Sardis (died c.180) and followed by Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 240). The term "New Testament" was coined in the second century.


The term New Testament is a translation from the Latin Novum Testamentum first coined by the second century Christian writer Tertullian. It is related to the concept expressed by the prophet Jeremiah (31:33), that translates into English as new covenant:

'The time is coming," declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… '

This concept of the new covenant is also discussed in the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, in which the "old covenant" is portrayed as inferior and even defective (Hebrews 8:7). Indeed, many Christians considered the "old" covenant with the Jews to be obsolete. In Tertullian's day, some even considered the God of the Hebrew Bible to be a very different being than the Heavenly Father of Jesus. Tertullian took the orthodox position, that the God of the Jews and the God of the Christians are one and the same. He therefore wrote:

"All Scripture is divided into two Testaments. That which preceded the advent and passion of Christ—-that is, the law and the prophets—-is called the Old; but those things which were written after His resurrection are named the New Testament. The Jews make use of the Old, we of the New: but yet they are not discordant… (Against Marcion)."

While Christians have thus come to refer to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament, Jews prefer the term Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, the latter word being an acronym for its three basic component parts: the Torah (Book of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). - New Testament (New World Encyclopedia)

The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say the New Testament:


Testament come from testamentum, the word by which the Latin ecclesiastical writers translated the Greek diatheke. With the profane authors this latter term means always, one passage of Aristophanes perhaps excepted, the legal disposition a man makes of his goods for after his death. However, at an early date, the Alexandrian translators of the Scripture, known as the Septuagint, employed the word as the equivalent of the Hebrew berith, which means a pact, an alliance, more especially the alliance of Yahweh with Israel. In St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:25) Jesus Christ uses the words "new testament" as meaning the alliance established by Himself between God and the world, and this is called "new" as opposed to that of which Moses was the mediator. Later on, the name of testament was given to the collection of sacred texts containing the history and the doctrine of the two alliances; here again and for the same reason we meet the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. In this meaning the expression Old Testament (he palaia diatheke) is found for the first time in Melito of Sardis, towards the year 170. There are reasons for thinking that at this date the corresponding word "testamentum" was already in use amongst the Latins. In any case it was common in the time of Tertullian. - The New Testament


The earliest sources referencing a New Testament come very early in Christian history from circa 95 to 200. To be clear about Melito; he does not explicitely reference a new testament, but rather by implication as he mentions the old testament.

TERTULLIAN (circa 200)

it follows that, after all these precepts had been given carnally, in time preceding, to the people Israel, there was to supervene a time whereat the precepts of the ancient Law and of the old ceremonies would cease, and the promise1211 of the new law, and the recognition of spiritual sacrifices, and the promise of the New Testament, supervene; Apologetic, An Answer to the Jews

MELITO (circa 170)

I accordingly proceeded to the East, and went to the very spot where the things in question were preached and took place; and, having made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set them down below, and herewith send you the list.
From the Book of Extracts


For God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of others by consequence, as philosophy. Stromata

Usage of New Covenant interchangeable with New Testament.

For we find in the Scriptures, as the Lord says: “Behold, I make with you a new covenant, not as I made with your fathers in Mount Horeb.”3259 He made a new covenant with us; for what belonged to the Greeks and Jews is old. But we, who worship Him in a new way, in the third form, are Christians. Stromata Book V

IRENAEUS (circa 180)

If, therefore, even in the New Testament, the apostles are found granting certain precepts in consideration of human infirmity, because of the incontinence of some, ... AH,IV,XV

JUSTIN MARTYR (circa 150)

And by Jeremiah, concerning this same new covenant, He thus speaks: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt’ Dialogue with Trypho

Moreover, He referred to the fact that there would be no longer in your nation any prophet, and to the fact that men recognised how that the New Testament, which God formerly announced [His intention of] promulgating, was then present, i.e., Christ Himself; and in the following terms: ‘The law and the prophets were until John the Baptist; from that time the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. And if you can2110 receive it, he is Elijah, who was to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’ -ibid-

IGNATIUS (if his works can be trusted who wrote circa 95)

so also did the prophets and the apostles receive from God, through Jesus Christ, one and the same Holy Spirit, who is good, and sovereign,920 and true, and the Author of [saving] knowledge.921 For there is one God of the Old and New Testament, “one Mediator between God and men,” for the creation of both intelligent and sensitive beings, and in order to exercise a beneficial and suitable providence [over them]. Epistle to the Philadelphians

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