Which books functioned as the New Testament in the ancient Church of the East? For example, what would they have been in Mongolia in the days of Genghis Khan?

The books of the Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox New Testament were fixed after the Church of the East split from the other branches of Christianity. So I wonder what became the set of the standard books for them.

  • 4
    Welcome to Christianity.SE, and great first question!
    – Caleb
    Aug 18, 2012 at 17:39
  • I can tell you that the church of the East, Nestorianism was the rule of the day, but I'm not sure about their Bible. Tremendously great first question. Aug 19, 2012 at 12:58
  • Thank you; there seems to be a book called "Chrétien syriaques sous les Mongols", maybe I can get it from the university library but my French is very rudimentary. Hmm.
    – Yuji
    Aug 19, 2012 at 16:21
  • Traditionally, for most of their history, they used a 22 book canon for both Testaments. Initially it consisted of the 22 books of the Old Covenant (according to the traditional Jewish reckoning of the 39 books of the Masoretic text, since Syrians and Assyrians, like the Hebrews themselves, were Aramaic-speaking Semites), along with Tatian's Diatessaron. Later, Acts and the Pauline corpus were also added, along with the first epistles of Peter, John, and James.
    – user46876
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:48

2 Answers 2


Genghis Khan was the founder and emperor of the Mongol Empire around the year 1200. John of Montecorvino (1247–1328) an Italian Franciscan missionary was said to be possibly the first person to translate the New Testament and Psalms into Mongolian.

Therefore we can basically assume the New Testament was the Catholic New Testament (which is the same as the Protestant one):

-The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
-The Acts of the Apostles
-The Letters of St. Paul to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
-The Letter to the Hebrews, the Letters of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude

Since poor Genghis died around 1227, he probably never got a chance to read it himself.

Yet the Catholic history does not reach the full answer because although Catholic missionaries may have been the first to translate a full New Testament into Mongolian, there were not the first Christian missionaries into the region.

This article says:

Nestorianism was the first form of Christianity to be proselytized among the Mongols, in the 7th century, and several Mongol tribes became primarily Christian. During the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Great Khans, though mostly Shamanists and Buddhist, were religiously tolerant towards the Nestorian Christians, Muslims, and Manichaeans. Many of the khans had Nestorian Christian wives from the Kerait clan, who were extremely influential in the Mongol court. During the rule of Mongke Khan, Christianity was the primary religious influence. After the breakup of the Mongol Empire in the 14th century, Nestorian Christianity nearly disappeared from the region.

Nestorianism was an Eastern sect considered by the West as Heresy for its unique view of the nature of Christ as being two distinct persons.

According to this article, the Nestorian Canon "excludes the New Testament books of Revelation, Jude, Second John, Third John and Second Peter, because the use of those books was not attested in the churches of Persia early enough to have been woven into the canonical tradition. "

  • Thank you for the answer, but that was the Bible for the Roman Catholics at the Mongolian court, right? There were also non-Roman Catholic christians at the court of the Khan, and the debates between them were also recorded. My question is the Bible used by the non-Roman Catholic christians.
    – Yuji
    Aug 22, 2012 at 15:33
  • @Yuji - In general would not the eastern tradition of books end up to be the same as Eastern Orthodox? I might be a little out of my depth on this one. I am only interested as I am interested in Asian history.
    – Mike
    Aug 22, 2012 at 15:57
  • @Yuji - Upon further digging I think I realized what you are looking for and listed the books not in the Nestorian Cannon.
    – Mike
    Aug 23, 2012 at 1:15
  • Thank you; note that Eastern Orthodox is different from the Church of the East (which was called Nestorianism in the past), too. See this diagram: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ChristianityBranches.svg I consider East Orthodox closer to Catholicism than to Assyrians(=Nestorians). About the New Testament, I found this article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peshitta , which says that the syriac version of the New Testament was in use among the Nestorians since the very early days.
    – Yuji
    Aug 23, 2012 at 14:46

The best I can find is a list of Old and New Testament books, written by a late 13th-century bishop of Nisibis named Mar Abd-Yeshua. I found the list in a blog post by Eastern Orthodox subdeacon Gabe Martini. The New Testament list is basically the same as the standard 27-book New Testament, with a couple exceptions. Martini notes:

Noticeably absent from this New Testament canon are the second and third epistles of John, the second epistle of Peter, Jude, and the Apocalypse or Revelation to John.

Also, though the list includes the four Gospels generally accepted throughout Christendom, it also includes the Diatessaron.

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