Saturday, November 14, 2009

Requirements and Recognition of the New Testament Canon

Requirements and Recognition of the New Testament Canon

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

The authors of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, were inspired by the Holy Spirit to pen God’s Word; providing an authoritative document for followers of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul explained to Timothy that Scripture is inspired by God or God breathed which is theopneustos (θεοπνευστος) in Greek. Therefore, only those writings that are “God breathed” are to be counted among Scripture and used for development of doctrine, reproof, correction, or teaching the Saints. Chafer describes the Bible by writing, “The Bible is a phenomenon which is explainable in but one way—it is the Word of God.”[1] It is Scripture that should be used to equip believers for the work of ministry that all Christians are to be involved in as they utilize their gifts for the edification of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 14:12). It is Scripture that transmits the message of Jesus Christ, carrying with it the pure content that gives the context for salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It should be obvious that since the church uses the Bible for all of its beliefs that the true identity of the inspired texts must be determined.

Fortunately for the church, there are both theological and historical reasons to accept the current Protestant Bible, or Canon, as the Word of God. Presently, there are many popular critics of Scripture accusing the church of conspiring to hide documents that do not agree with church doctrine. The reality is that there are a specific number of books that should be in Scripture.

Precisely speaking, canonicity is determined by God. In other words, the reason there are only sixty-six books in the canon is that God inspired only that many. Only sixty-six books were found to have the stamp of divine authority, because God only stamped that many, or invested that number with authority for faith and practice.[2]
Jesus has already proven His authority by the resurrection (Mt. 12:39, 16:4; Lk. 11:29-30; Rom. 1:4; 1 Pt. 1:3). Jesus affirmed the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures in its first century form which includes the same thirty nine books (although in different order and arrangement) presently found in today’s Protestant Bible. Therefore, this work will assume the Old Testament books found in the Septuagint are accurate and will focus on an examination of the New Testament canon.

Christianity is based on the power and authority of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was both fully man and fully God. Jesus died as the Lamb of God, was buried and resurrected. He taught many as He proclaimed the kingdom of God. But Jesus did not pen any of His teachings. As F. F. Bruce notes, “Since Jesus himself left nothing in writing, the most authoritative writings available to the church were those which came from his apostles.”[3] These writings became necessary to continue spreading the Gospel both geographically and chronologically. “It was inevitable, as the eyewitnesses and their hearers passed away, that the terms of the new covenant should be set down in writing. Occasional as his letters might be, Paul himself took the lead in this activity even in the lifetime of eyewitnesses.”[4]

As a means for the transmition of thought, the reducing of a language to writing is an achievement of surpassing importance. It is reasonable and to be expected that God, in communicating with man, would put His message into written form. How else could it be either pondered or preserved? [5]
Bruce expands the thought by writing,

But the perpetuation of the words and deeds of Jesus could not be entrusted indefinitely to oral tradition of this kind. Oral tradition might serve to preserve for many generations a body of teaching in rabbinical schools which were trained to receive and deliver it ‘without losing a drop’. But the Christian tradition was not meant to be scholastic property: it was to be imparted to a wider public, and (from the rise of the Gentile mission) to a public whose culture was thoroughly literate. It was both desirable and inevitable that the oral tradition should be committed to writing if it was not to be lost.[6]
The term canon originally meant a rule or standard but later came to have more important meaning within Christianity. Geisler and Nix wrote that, “In early Christian usage, it [canon] came to mean rule of faith, normative writings, or authoritative Scripture.”[7] The use of this term implies a concept of a norm within Christian faith that would be guided by one authoritative document made up of multiple books written by or approved by those with apostolic authority. Today, as Ryrie notes, “The subject of the canon involves the question of how many books belong in the Bible. Canon then refers to the authoritative list of the books of the Bible.”[8] A certain point is that the first century church understood apostolic authority. There is good evidence that all twenty-seven books of the New Testament come from the apostles and their associates.[9] Some of the most compelling evidence for canonicity is that of internal evidence. The apostles recognized each other’s authority and that thought made it into a portion of Scripture. One author notes that, “The earliest testimony to the canonicity of the New Testament lies in the New Testament itself… writers give obviously unsolicited affirmation of the spiritual worth of other writings. Some examples are found at 1 Th. 5:27 and 2 Pet. 3:15–16.”[10]

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. (1 John 4:1)

The wisdom provided by the Apostle John in his first epistle can be applied to the examination of the canon. John exhorted the church to “test the spirits” to see if they are of God and more specifically what they say about Jesus Christ. The context of John’s dissertation should be seen in light of the overall message which is a warning against false teachers. This principal certainly can be used to identify texts that were produced by false teachers. This can easily be used as the first test of canonization and can either disqualify a text or allow further examination as the Holy Spirit who is the minister of inspiration must agree with the Father and the Son (1 John 5:7). If a text does not agree with the Gospel message as found in the rest of Scripture it must be rejected (Gal. 1:8-9).

…they do show that the authority of the Lord and his apostles was reckoned to be not inferior to that of the law and the prophets. Authority precedes canonicity; had the words of the Lord and his apostles not been accorded supreme authority, the written record of their words would never have been canonized.[11]

Because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agree with one another (1 John 5:7) and Scripture affirms God’s aseity (Ps. 90:2; Heb. 13:8) or unchanging nature all of Scripture must have continuity in the message of Jesus Christ.[12] “It should be obvious that the authority in the New Testament is actually the authority of God made known in Jesus Christ. The New Testament is authoritative because it is true; it is true to God’s self-disclosure in Christ.”[13] Chafer describes the importance of recognizing the continuity of all Scripture writing,

The continuity of the message of the Bible is absolute in its completeness. It is bound together by historical sequence, type and antitype, prophecy and its fulfillment, and by the anticipation, presentation, realization, and exaltation of the most perfect Person who ever walked the earth and whose glories are the effulgence of heaven. Yet the perfection of this continuity is sustained against what to man would be insuperable impediments; for the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books which have been written by over forty different authors—kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, physicians, statesmen, scholars, poets, and plowmen—who lived their lives in various countries and experienced no conference or agreement one with another, and over a period of not less than sixteen hundred years of human history. Because of these obstacles to continuity, the Bible would be naturally the most heterogeneous, incommensurable, inconsonant, and contradictory collection of human opinions the world has ever seen; but, on the contrary, it is just what it is designed to be, namely, a homogeneous, uninterrupted, harmonious, and orderly account of the whole history of God’s dealings with man.[14]
Additionally, God confirms His message by predicting history in advance. He often proclaims future events declaring that by the fulfillment of His words man will recognize His word (i.e. Isa. 44:24-28; 28:2-5). Chafer viewed the inclusion of prophecy as a key component to recognizing writing as Scripture. He wrote that, “the supernatural character of the Scriptures would be proved by the history which records their accomplishment; but when these predictions run into thousands which concern the Persons of the Godhead, angels, nations, families, individuals, and destinies, and each and every one is exactly executed in its prescribed time and place, the evidence is incontestable as to the divine character of the Scriptures.”[15] Bruce confirms this thought writing, “a book is canonical if it is prophetic, that is, if it was written by a prophet of God. In other words, propheticity determines canonicity.”[16] God uses prophecy to place His finger print on inspired text.

Early Church Thought

The earliest stages of the Church did not concern itself with the concept of a canon. After all, the apostolic age had just ended and there were church leaders who held significant authority since they had heard the message of the Gospel directly from men that had walked with the apostles. There were letters that had been sent to churches from the apostles and had been circulated among the believers. In fact Paul gave specific instructions to circulate his letters to other churches. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “ Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Col 4:16). It seems very likely that the early church would not have been concerned with verification of canonicity simply because they were so close to the men who carried the authority of the canon. Bruce explains the mindset of the early church;

The earliest Christians did not trouble themselves about criteria of canonicity; they would not have readily understood the expression. They accepted the Old Testament scriptures as they had received them: the authority of those scriptures was sufficiently ratified by the teaching and example of the Lord and his apostles. [17]

The early church found one of the simplest tests to verify Scripture was what John had said; test them as to what they say about Jesus. “The church’s use of those writings was based on Jesus’ use of them: as his followers searched them further, they discovered increasingly ‘in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:27).”[18] These students of Scripture found continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the recognition of prophetic passages and their fulfillment in Jesus.

Christians usually acknowledge Jesus Christ, the fullest revelation of God, as the authority upon whom all intermediate authorities must rest. When the writings were collected into the canonical New Testament, three criteria appeared to have been working: (1) Apostolicity (the author was an apostle or associated with one) was evidence of the eye-witness nature of the writing and, therefore, true. (2) Faithfulness to Jesus Christ (true to the oral tradition about Jesus) was an additional evidence of truth because of who Jesus was. (3) The use of the writing in public worship (reading and hearing the word in worship evoked the inward "Amen," this is the word of God to us) was evidence of its inspiration.[19]

Apostolic authority eventually became the supreme test for identification of Scripture after examining the content for its message of Jesus. “Since inclusion of a particular work in the canon was based on its apostolic authority, if not authorship, it became important to test the traditions of authorship for writings under consideration for inclusion in the canon.”[20] Without the stamp of apostolic authority a book could not be considered Scripture; no matter what the message included.

It is plain that at the beginning of the Christian era the inspiration of the prophetic oracles of the Old Testament was believed to extend to the Old Testament scriptures as a whole… When the New Testament writings were later included with the Old Testament as part of ‘all scripture’, it was natural to conclude that they too were ‘inspired by God’. That they were (and are) so inspired is not to be denied, but most of the New Testament writers do not base their authority on divine inspiration.[21]

In the early church there were false gospels and false teachers that soon arose. Several churches were led astray by letters that claimed to be from Paul. Because of these false messages “criteria of a kind… were found to be desirable quite early.”[22] The early churches sought to verify the authorship and examine its message. “So, any teaching about God contrary to what His people already knew to be true was to be rejected.”[23] As long as there were men and women that had been taught directly by an apostle this would be simple. As teachers rose up that disagreed with what they had heard from Paul or John the church would recognize it as false. But as time would pass false teaching would creep into the church and begin to blur some of those lines that were at one time much more clearly defined.

They had to defend the apostolic teaching, summed up in the rule of faith, against the docetic and gnostic presentations which were so attractive to many in the climate of opinion at that time. When previously unknown Gospels or Acts began to circulate under the authority of apostolic names, the most important question to ask about any one of them was: What does it teach about the person and work of Christ? Does it maintain the apostolic witness to him as the historical Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and raised from the dead, divinely exalted as Lord over all?[24]
Another concept that the early church would have understood in relationship to the canonization of Scripture was that nothing should be either added or subtracted from God’s word. In fact, Paul warned the church in his letter to the Galatians against anyone that presented a new or different gospel. Paul took this topic so seriously that he repeated this statement promising that the person who taught a new gospel would be cursed; even if it was him or an angel (Gal. 1:6-9). Bruce describes this attitude in the early church,

The words ‘to which nothing can be added … and from which nothing can be taken away’, whatever they precisely meant in this context, seem certainly to imply the principle of a closed canon. There are some scholars who maintain that the word ‘canon’ should be used only where the list of specially authoritative books has been closed; and there is much to be said in favour of this restrictive use of the word (a more flexible word might be used for the collection in process of formation), although it would be pedantic to insist on it invariably.[25]
The churches concerns about changing the revealed Word of God stem from clear Biblical teachings on the subject. Replacing God’s words with one’s own words is paramount to reducing God to equal ground with man. Or even worse, it is man making himself out to be equal with God. Bruce continues,

Such language about neither adding not taking away is used in relation to individual components of the two Testaments. To the law of Deuteronomy, for example, the warning is attached: ‘You shall not add to the word which I command you, not take from it’ (Deut. 4:2; cf 12:32). A fuller warning is appended to the New Testament Apocalypse: ‘I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book’ (Rev. 22:18 f.).[26]

The early church found it necessary to develop some basic tests to determine what documents constituted Scripture and which did not. Most important came the tests of; 1) The document’s testimony of Jesus Christ being compatible with what they knew to be true; 2) The test of prophecy; 3) Apostolic authority.

Ante-Nicene Period
As the Apostolic age came to an end more false teachers and false writings came into the church. Using the tests that were developed early on, the Ante-Nicene fathers began to compare documents that were claiming the title of Scripture. They were in a battle to preserve the purity of the faith of Jesus Christ from corrupt teachings such as Gnosticism. It took some time for the church to apply the tests to discover which books really belonged in the canon. Roger Nicole summarized this history writing, “the history of the canon explores the course of acceptance and rejection among God’s people historically. It takes note of the hesitations, the consensus and the occasional errors of Jews and Christians.”[27] The first age of this development was completed by the fourth century. “That the New Testament consists of the twenty-seven books which have been recognized as belonging to it since the fourth century is not a value judgment; it is a statement of fact.”[28]

There are many great figures in the church who served to search the Scriptures and reject those documents that God had not inspirited. “It is in his [Tertullian (160-220 AD)] writings that we first find the designation ‘New Testament’ for the second part of the Christian Bible.[29] Tertullian is a key figure in history when examining the canon. In addition to being the first to designate the New Testament he also provides insight into which books were considered to be Scripture in the second and third centuries. “Tertullian recognized the New Testament as a collection of books[30]… Although he nowhere formally enumerates its contents, it certainly comprised the four gospels and Acts, the thirteen epistles which bear Paul’s name, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation (which he ascribes to John the apostle), It also included the epistle of Jude, which he ascribes to the apostle of that name.”[31]

Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria recognized the apostolic authority of the Pauline epistles including the three Pastoral Epistles.[32] “Of the remaining Catholic Epistles (James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John) Tertullian has nothing to say; we cannot tell whether he knew them or not. But of Hebrews he has something quite interesting to say. It had not come down to him as one of the New Testament books, and he himself had no authority to add it to the list; but in his judgment it was worthy to be ranked with the apostolic writings.”[33] It seems that these early church fathers considered the New Testament to be nearly identical to the Bible that is used today with only some minor differences. One of those differences can be seen in Tertullian,

In the first half of the second century, then, collections of Christian writings which were due one day to be given canonical status were already taking shape—notably the fourfold gospel and the corpus of Pauline letters.[34]
Another reason that Tertullian is a key figure regarding the early church canon is that he was involved in protecting the church from heretical teaching. He had much to say regarding false messages. This includes his view on Marcion and Valentinus who both had different views of Scripture than he did.

Some light may be thrown on the question by a remark of Tertullian’s. There are two ways, he says, of nullifying the scriptures. One is Marcion’s way: he used the knife to excise from the scriptures whatever did not conform with his own opinion. Valentinus, on the other hand, ‘seems to use the entire instrumentum’ (which here means the New Testament), but perverts its meaning by misinterpreting it.[35]
Marcion believed that everyone except Paul had distorted the gospel. The conclusion that Marcion came to was that only Paul’s writings and those with his stamp of approval (i.e. Luke and Acts) should be accepted as true Scripture. “Marcion was a second century heretic whose literary remains are found only in essays written against him. Metzger points out that; the main points of Marcion’s teaching were the rejection of the Old Testament and a distinction between the Supreme God of goodness and an inferior God of justice, who was the Creator and the God of the Jews. He regarded Christ as the messenger of the Supreme God. The Old and New Testaments, Marcion argued, cannot be reconciled to each other.”[36] Daniel Wallace explains that the canon prepared by Marcion was edited as a theological work. Wallace wrote,

To Marcion, Paul was a hero. Marcion’s canon is a theologically edited corpus of Luke’s Gospel and 10 of Paul’s epistles (excluding the Pastorals). Marcion’s major work, Antitheses (largely reconstructed from extensive quotations in Tertullian), describes the nature of his doctrine: a series of antitheses between law and gospel, the Old Testament God of wrath and the New Testament God of love, flesh and spirit, works and faith.[37]
“Both Marcion and Valentinus presented a challenge to the Catholic Church—that is, to those Christians who adhered to what they believed to be the apostolic teaching…”[38] Valentinus wanted to allow most anything to be called Scripture and Marcion wanted to limit Scripture to only what he considered to have Paul’s thumb print on. These are the types of extreme influences that the young church was dealing with.

The church fathers of the early centuries, both Greek and Latin, reacted against such extreme distortions of Paul and settled into a firm acceptance of apostolic authority behind his 13 epistles (not to mention Hebrews, also considered a part of the Pauline corpus). [39]
As the church leaders reviewed documents and tested them for their authenticity as the Word of God, the Canon came together. “There was farseeing wisdom in the decision ‘to accept all that was thought to be truly apostolic, and to see it as mediating through human diversity, the one divine event’.”[40] Bruce describes the reasoning that took place,

We do not reject the Old Testament scriptures, as Marcion does, they said; we accept them, as did Jesus and the apostles (both the original apostles and Paul). As for the scriptures of the new order, we accept not one gospel writing only, but four (including the complete text of Marcion’s mutilated Gospel). We accept not only ten letters of Paul, but thirteen (that is, including the three addressed to Timothy and Titus). We accept not the letters of Paul only, but letters of other apostles too. And we accept the Acts of the Apostles, a work which links the gospels and the apostolic letters, providing the sequel to the former and the background to the latter.[41]
It was in this period of time that false gospels and counterfeit documents were masquerading as authoritative documents. These forgeries generally claimed to have some time of apostolic authority. Often, they carried the name of an apostle in an attempt to gain acceptance.

From about ad 160 onwards there began to appear in various parts of the Christian world a number of compositions claiming to record the acts of this or that apostolic figure: the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of John, the Acts of Andrew, the Acts of Thomas. The compiler may mean: none of these is authentic; all that can be known of any of the apostles is exclusively recorded in this ‘one book’.[42]
The apostate documents were, in most cases, weeded out easily by true believers. Their message and authority did not meet the requirements required by Scripture. Alexander Roberts describes one of the problems with the Acts of Thomas in his introductory notes to the Gnostic Gospels. He wrote, “Acts of Thomas.—The substance of this book is of great antiquity, and in its original form it was held in great estimation by the heretics of the first and second centuries. The main heresy which it contained was that the Apostle Thomas baptized, not with water, but with oil only.”[43] These forged documents all have messages that were unbiblical. For example the Acts of Paul and Thecla supports “the heretical opinion that women may teach and baptize.”[44]

The Gospel of Thomas.—Like the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas is of undoubted antiquity. … It seems pretty clear, from the contents of the book, that its author was a Gnostic, a Docetist, and a Marcosian; and it was held in estimation by the Nachashenes and the Manichaeans. Its bearing upon Christian art, and to some extent Christian dogma, is well known.[45]
The quartet of Gospel accounts became the standard by which other gospels were compared. The church fathers recognized these documents as authoritative and instinctively knew that these new documents could not contradict the confirmed Gospels and what was known to be true about their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Church fathers such as Irenaeus warned against adding any new documents to the Canon.

In his warning against either increasing or reducing the number of gospels Irenaeus may have in mind those who gave some degree of credence to the more recent Gnostic gospels or, on the other hand, people like Gaius of Rome and the Alogoi who at that very time were repudiating the Gospel of John. But the general impression given by his words is that the fourfold pattern of the gospel was by this time no innovation but so widely accepted that he can stress its cosmic appropriateness as though it were one of the facts of nature.[46]
Irenaeus recognized the completeness of the full counsel of God; both Old and New Testaments. It gave the church the foundation for the Gospel message and a sense of antiquity of the new found faith. Christianity was not like the other false religions that sprang up by a charismatic charlatan. Christianity was the true religion and worship of the God Who created everything.

The Old and New Testaments together provided Irenaeus with a broad and secure foundation not only for the negative purpose of refuting heresy but even more for the positive exposition of what has been called ‘the biblical theology of St Irenaeus’. From his time on, the whole church in east and west has acknowledged the New Testament collection as making up, together with the Old Testament, the Christian Bible.[47]
As these false gospels became more numerous they also began to claim more authority. The debate over these documents became more fierce and the test of canonicity changed. “Technically speaking, the discussion about certain books in later centuries was not a question of canonicity but of authenticity or genuineness”[48] The test changed to that of authenticity and genuineness because they claimed to be the work of apostolic age saints or even the works of the apostles themselves. The precedence set by earlier scholars became increasingly more important as the next generation of scholarship would review his predecessor’s work. Amphilochius of Iconium produced a list of Scripture and also gives his thought behind the need to identify those documents that were considered to be Scripture. He wrote,

But this especially for you to learn is fitting: not every book is safe which has acquired the holy name of scripture. For there appear from time to time pseudonymous
books, some of which are intermediate or neighbours, as one might say, to the words of truth, while others are spurious and utterly unsafe, like counterfeit and spurious coins,
which bear the king’s inscription but as regards their material are base forgeries.
For this reason I will state for you the divinely inspired books one by one, so that you may learn them clearly.[49]
The church leaders were confronted with false teachings. They knew that at least to some degree they could trust what had been passed to them. An example of this is found in Jerome’s acceptance of Scripture. “He [Jerome] enumerates twenty-seven books of the New Testament” as had been handed down to him by Athanasius.[50] This led to limits being put on the Canon at the councils of Hippo and Carthage.

In 393 a church council held in Augustine’s see of Hippo laid down the limits of the canonical books along the lines approved by Augustine himself. The proceedings of this council have been lost but they were summarized in the proceedings of the Third Council of Carthage (397), a provincial council. These appear to have been the first church councils to make a formal pronouncement on the canon, When they did so, they did not impose any innovation on the churches; they simply endorsed what had become the general consensus of the churches of the west and of the greater part of the east. In 405 Pope Innocent I embodied a list of canonical books in a letter addressed to Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse; it too included the Apocrypha.[51]
These two councils represent a critical development as the Canon of Scripture came together. “The Council of Hippo (393) was probably the first church council to lay down the limits of the Canon of scripture: its enactments are not extant, but its statement on the Canon was repeated as Canon 47 of the Third Council of Carthage (397).”[52] It stated that:

And further it was resolved that nothing should be read in church under the name of the divine scriptures except the canonical writings. The canonical writings, then, are these:.. Of the New Testament:
The four books of the gospels, the one book of the Acts of the Apostles, the thirteen epistles of the apostle Paul, the one [epistle] to the Hebrews, by the same, two of the apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, John’s Apocalypse—one book.
… Let it be permitted, however, that the passions of martyrs be read when their anniversaries are celebrated.[53]
The accepted books at this period are comprised of the exact same books that are recognized today as the only books that are God breathed. The next stage of recognition of the New Testament came by Eusebius. Eusebius was commissioned by Constantine to prepare fifty copies of Scripture. “Ironically enough, within twenty-five years of the edict to destroy the Scriptures, Constantine took positive action to preserve them. He commissioned Eusebius, the historian, to prepare fifty copies of the Scriptures at imperial expense.” [54] Bruce explains some of the significance of this commissioning,

Eusebius may have performed a special service towards the fixing of the Christian canon of scripture. Not long after Constantine inaugurated his new capital at Constantinople on the site of ancient Byzantium (ad 330), he wrote to Eusebius, asking him to have fifty copies of the Christian scriptures (both Testaments in Greek) prepared for the use of the churches in the city. The emperor’s letter is preserved in Eusebius’s Life of Constantine, a panegyric composed soon after Constantine’s death in 337.[55]
Eusebius’ commissioning represents a significant event in canon recognition. At this point is the first clear instance of the Scriptures being evaluated according to various traditions and tests and placed together as one official document. It is not completely clear as to how he decided on which documents would be used. Bruce ventures a hypothesis on the matter,

If a guess may be hazarded, it is more likely that the fifty copies exhibited the text of the recent edition of Lucian of Antioch (martyred in 312), the ancestor of the Byzantine or ‘majority’ text. If they did, this would help to explain the popularity of this form of text in Constantinople and the whole area of Christendom under its influence from the late fourth century on, a popularity which led to its becoming in fact the majority text and to its being called by many students nowadays the Byzantine text. (But the New Testament text used by Eusebius himself belongs neither to the Alexandrian nor to the Byzantine type.)[56]
While Eusebius did not belong to either the Alexandrian or the Byzantine type there certainly must have been reasons for him to lean on the Byzantine traditions and documents. The first and most obvious is that Eusebius was commissioned by the emperor in Constantinople. But one must wonder if the church was concerned with the Gnostic influence of Alexandria. This seems possible as much of the church recognized Gnosticism as a major heretical influence.

As the new Bibles were produced Eusebius included the books that were universally accepted to the Word of God. The New Testament documents used were twenty-seven in number and are the same books found in the Protestant Bible today.

The copies contained all the books which Eusebius lists as universally acknowledged (including Hebrews, of course, but also including Revelation) and the five catholic epistles which he lists as disputed by some—in short, the same twenty-seven books as appear in our copies of the New Testament today. [57]
Later church figures would confirm this tradition. For example Augustine wrote,

That of the New Testament, again, is contained within the following:—Four books of the Gospel, according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John; fourteen epistles of the Apostle Paul—one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews: two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and one of James; one book of the Acts of the Apostles; and one of the Revelation of John.[58]
The Reformation brought about a new age of controversy. Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and William Tyndale saw the Scripture as the only authority over man as opposed to church tradition that was viewed as corrupt. It would be natural for these believers who desired to return the church to a true Gospel to rebel against tradition and feel the need to re-evaluate all that they had been taught by the church.

Martin Luther questioned the canonicity of several books primarily for theological reasons. For example he “questioned the full canonicity of James because he thought the book taught salvation by works, and that teaching was contrary to the doctrine of salvation by faith as it was clearly taught in other Scriptures.”[59] The church had compromised the Gospel message and had taught that salvation was administered through works and the church institution. Luther had rediscovered the doctrine of salvation through faith alone. There is little wonder why Luther would question any document that even hinted at a works based salvation.[60] Luther’s view of the New Testament is interesting. He accepted all twenty seven books in a sense. He placed twenty three books on a higher level than he did the final four.

Luther’s own views on the New Testament canon gained wide currency with the publication of his German New Testament in 1522. (The Greek basis for his translation was Erasmus’s second edition of 1519.) The table of contents suggested that he distinguished two levels of canonicity in the New Testament: the names of the first twenty-three books (Matthew—3 John) are preceded by serial numbers 1–23; the remaining four books—Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation—are separated from those by a space and are given no serial number. Luther did not exclude the last four books from the canon, but he did not recognize in them the high quality of ‘the right certain capital books’, and expressed his opinion forthrightly in his individual prefaces to these books.[61]

Luther’s view of Canonicity is seen in his statement: “That which does not teach Christ is still not apostolic, even if it were the teaching of Peter or Paul. On the other hand, that which preaches Christ, that would be apostolic even if Judas, Annas, Pilate or Herod did it.”[62] As previously discussed, Luther rejected the book of James. “It is in his preface to James in his 1522 New Testament that he calls it ‘an epistle of straw’. He finds that it contradicts Paul and the other Scriptures on justification by faith, and, while it promotes law, it does not promote Christ.”[63] He also objected to the book of Jude. He stated that Jude is a “superfluous document: it is an abstract of 2 Peter.”[64] Finally, he did not have a high opinion of the book of Revelation. He stated that it “lacks everything that I hold as apostolic or prophetic”.[65] “Historically and uniformly, Jude and James have been vindicated and their canonicity recognized, but only when their teaching had been harmonized with the rest of the body of Scripture. What has compounded the problem has been the failure of men to see that further truth can be complementary and supplementary without being contradictory to existing truth. But because the Fathers held a kind of ‘if in doubt throw it out’ policy, the validity of their discernment of the canonical books is enhanced.”[66]

John Calvin’s views on the Canon differed from Luther’s. “Calvin accepted the New Testament canon as it had been handed down.”[67] While Calvin did accept the Canon as had been handed down that is not to say that he did so simply because of tradition or decree. “For him the authority of the New Testament, like that of all scripture, rested not on any church decree but on the self-authenticating quality.”[68]

Post Reformation
“The dimensions of the New Testament canon were not seriously affected by the fifteenth-century revival of learning and the sixteenth-century Reformation.”[69]

Following the Reformation there were two councils that as part of their proceedings sought to clarify issues of canonicity that were brought about by the Reformation. The first is the Council of Trent. This council’s conclusions certainly would not have been accepted by the reformers who believed Scripture to be above any decree or tradition. Bruce summarized the council’s comments,

When the Council of Trent, at its fourth session (April 1546), dealt with the canon of scripture, it listed the twenty-seven ‘received’ books of the New Testament. Its position differed from that of the Reformers not with regard to the contents of the New Testament canon but with regard to the according of equal veneration with scripture to the ‘unwritten traditions’ received ultimately ‘from the mouth or Christ himself by the apostles, or from the apostles themselves at the dictation of the Holy Spirit’, and also in its specifying the ‘ancient and vulgate edition’ of the Latin Bible to be the one authentic text of scripture.[70]
Trent had affirmed the Latin Vulgate as the “authentic text of Scripture” rather than the Greek and Hebrew versions in spite of the revived interest in those languages. It was not until the Westminster Assembly that the error of Trent was corrected. “A century after the Council of Trent the Westminster Assembly of Divines found it expedient to state that ‘the Old Testament in Hebrew … and the New Testament in Greek …”[71] The Westminster Confession also included a list of books that were to be considered Scripture. This list included both the Old and New Testaments. This document differed from some of the past. It recognized that it was not a decree or council that made Scripture canonical; but rather it was God who gave authority to these documents and man who simply recognized that they had been inspired by God.

In the tradition of Calvin, the Westminster Confession denies that the authority of scripture rests ‘upon the testimony of any man or church’; rather, ‘our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.’ [72]
Finally, at this point in history a key statement was made. “The canon of scripture is a closed canon.[73] The Scripture that is represented in the Protestant Bible today has been tested and retested. These documents have been viewed through the lenses of authenticity, theology, and time and have been found authoritative in their message. It is these books that have carried the message of life giving salvation found only in the work of Jesus Christ-through faith in Him as the Son of God who died as an act of Love to remove sins from those that are washed in that life giving Blood.


Work Cited

Ashcroft, Morris, “Revelation and Biblical Authority in Eclipse,” Faith and Mission Volume 4 (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1987; 2005).

Bruce, F. F., The Canon of Scripture, Includes Index. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988).

Chafer, Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology, Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993).

Edwards, B. B., “The Genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 150 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993; 2002).

Ferngren, Gary B., “Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 134 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977; 2002).

Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Includes Indexes. Includes a Short-Title Checklist of English Translations of the Bible (Chronologically Arranged)., Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1986).

Howell, Don N., Jr., “Pauline Thought in the History of Interpretation,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 150 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993; 2002).

Karleen, Paul S., The Handbook to Bible Study : With a Guide to the Scofield Study System, "This Book Is Intended as a Companion to the Scofield Reference Bible"--Pref.; Includes Indexes. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Nicole, Roger “The Canon of the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 40 (The Evangelical Theological Society, 1997; 2002).

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997).

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, Basic Theology : A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999).

Schaff, Philip, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. II, St. Augustin's City of God and Christian Doctrine. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997).

Wallace, Daniel B., “Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism,” Grace Theological Journal Volume 12 (Grace Seminary, 1991; 2002).

[1]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 1:22.
[2]Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Includes Indexes. Includes a Short-Title Checklist of English Translations of the Bible (Chronologically Arranged)., Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1986), 211.
[3]F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, Includes Index. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 256.
[4]Ibid, 181.
[5]Chafer, 1:31.
[6]Bruce, 118.
[7]Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Includes Indexes. Includes a Short-Title Checklist of English Translations of the Bible (Chronologically Arranged)., Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1986), 204.
[8]Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology : A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 118.
[9]Geisler, 213.
[10]Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study : With a Guide to the Scofield Study System, "This Book Is Intended as a Companion to the Scofield Reference Bible"--Pref.; Includes Indexes. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
[11]Bruce, 123.
[12] It is important that one not overreach with this principal as the covenant theologian does. This author certainly affirms that Old Testament predictions of Jesus that are fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament create a thread of continuity in the Bible. However, that does not give theologians license to impose New Testament understanding of soteriology on all of Scripture including Old Testament prophetic passages. The clearest picture found in Scripture is discovered only in the realization that God’s plan for mankind is primarily doxological and soteriology should be seen through the lenses of His doxological plan as presented in His progressive revelation.
[13]Morris Ashcroft, “Revelation and Biblical Authority in Eclipse,” Faith and Mission Volume 4 (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1987; 2005), vnp.4.2.9.
[14]Chafer, 1:29.
[15]Chafer, 1:30.
[16]Geisler, 212.
[17]Bruce, 254.
[18]Ibid, 28.
[19]Ashcroft, vnp.4.2.9.
[20]Gary B. Ferngren, “Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 134 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977; 2002), 134:329.
[21]FBruce, 265.
[22]Ibid, 254.
[23]Geisler, 226.
[24]Bruce, 260.
[25] Ibid, 22.
[26]Ibid, 22.
[27]Roger Nicole “The Canon of the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 40 (The Evangelical Theological Society, 1997; 2002), 40:199.
[28]Bruce, 250.
[29]Ibid, 180.
[30]Ibid, 181.
[31]Ibid, 182.
[32]B. B. Edwards, “The Genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 150 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993; 2002), 150:131.
[33]Bruce, 182.
[34]Ibid, 123.
[35]Ibid, 145.
[36]Daniel B. Wallace, “Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism,” Grace Theological Journal Volume 12 (Grace Seminary, 1991; 2002), 12:39.
[37]Don N. Howell, Jr., “Pauline Thought in the History of Interpretation,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 150 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993; 2002), 150:304-305.
[38]Bruce, 150.
[39]Howell, 150:305.
[40]Bruce, 152.
[41]Bruce, 151.
[42]Bruce, 163.
[43]Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 357.
[44]Ibid, 355.
[45]Ibid, 352.
[46]Bruce, 175.
[47]Ibid, 177.
[48]Geisler, 231.
[49]Bruce, 212.
[50]Ibid, 96.
[51]Ibid, 97.
[52]Ibid, 232.
[53]Ibid, 233.
[54]Geisler, 282.
[55]Bruce, 203.
[56]Ibid, 204.
[57]Ibid, 204.
[58]Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. II, St. Augustin's City of God and Christian Doctrine. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 539.
[59]Geisler, 227.
[60] Although, it should be noted that James does not contradict the doctrine of salvation by faith. It adds a component of outward actions that faith should demonstrate.
[61]Bruce, 243.
[62]Ibid, 244.
[63]Ibid, 243.
[64]Ibid, 243.
[65]Ibid, 244.
[66]Geisler, 227.
[67]Bruce, 246.
[68]Ibid, 246.
[69]Ibid, 241.
[70]Ibid, 247.
[71]Ibid, 248.
[72]Ibid, 249.
[73]Ibid, 250.

1 comment:

  1. I found your article intersting.

    I do a lot of blogging on biblical topics, and I have written and self-published a book about the Bible, so I often have to address the question of canon. Your explanation for the canon of the Old Testament is good. For the New Testament, I rely on the fact that there is little serious disagreement about the canon of the New Testament. God promised that His word would endure forever, and I trust that God has correctly preserved the New Testament canon as it is today.


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