Skip to comments.How We Got the New Testament - 2 1/2 Views (LONG!)
Posted on 08/20/2009 9:14:42 AM PDT by Mr Rogers
How We Got the New Testament - 2 1/2 Views (Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic)
The following excerpts are pulled from the Internet. Their full articles are worth reading, if you want to understand their thought. In hopes of keeping this at a digestible meal, I've quoted the sections I found most interesting - and deleted a great deal of good reading!
First, the Orthodox: taken from the Orthodox Christian Information Center.
The Emergence of the New Testament Canon by Daniel F. Lieuwen
...When the church began, there were no New Testament books. Old Testament texts alone were used as scripture. The first book written was probably I Thessalonians (c. 51) (or possibly Galations which may be c. 50-there is some controversy over the dating of Galatians). The last books were probably John, the Johannine epistles, and Revelations toward the end of the first century.(1) The books were written to deal with concrete problems in the church-immoral behavior, bad theology, and the need for spiritual "meat".
Thus, the church existed for roughly twenty years with no New Testament books, only the oral form of the teaching of the apostles. Even after a book was written, it was not immediately widely available. Some books like II Peter were read almost exclusively in their target area, a situation which continued for a long time, leading to their (temporary or permanent) rejection from the canon due to doubts about their apostolic origins. Thus, for instance, II Peter was rejected for centuries by many, and it is rejected by Nestorians to this day.(2) Even if not universally accepted, a book was highly regarded by its recipients and those church's in the surrounding areas. This led to local canonicity, a book being used in public worship in a particular region. Twenty-seven of these books came in time to have universal canonicity, but others (e.g. Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Barnabas, I Clement, Gospel of the Hebrews) were rejected for inclusion in the New Testament canon, even though they often retained a reputation for being profitable Christian reading.(3)
Although the New Testament books we have today were written in the first century, it took time for them to be accepted as universally authoritative. Initially, only the life and sayings of Christ were considered of equal authority with the Old Testament scriptures. For instance, Hegessipus in the first half of the second century accepted only "the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord" as norms "to which a right faith must conform"(4) The Didascalia Apostolurum which appears to have been written in the first half of the third century in Northern Syria similarly states the authoritative norms are "the sacred scriptures and the gospel of God" (which it also refers to as "the Law, the book of the Kings and of the Prophets, and the Gospel" and the "Law, Prophet, and Gospel").(5)
Moreover, the "Gospel" spoken of was often the Oral Gospel and not exclusively the four Gospels we have in our current Bible. There were also many apocryphal gospels written between the late first and early third centuries. Some of them appear to accurately preserve some of Christ's sayings and were long used in Christian circles (for instance, Eusebius (c. 325) writes that the Gospel of the Hebrews was still in use although not widely accepted); others were written to support some heretical sect.(6) While use was made of the four Gospels, in the first one and a half centuries of the Church's history, there was no single Gospel writing which is directly made known, named, or in any way given prominence by quotation. Written and oral traditions run side by side or cross, enrich or distort one another without distinction or even the possibility of distinction between them.(7)
The reason for this is that the authority of Christ's words came from Christ having spoken them and not from the words appearing in a sacred text in a fixed form. As a result, sayings from apocryphal sources and the Oral Gospel appear alongside quotes from the four Gospels of our present New Testament.(8) Many early Christians, in fact, had a preference for oral tradition. For instance, Papias in the first half of the second century, said that he inquired of followers of the apostles what the apostles had said and what "Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord were still saying. For I did not imagine that things out of books would help me as much as the utterances of a living and abiding voice." However, he does mention the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Matthew by name.(9) Early Christian preference for oral tradition had rabbinic parallels-for instance Philo thought oral tradition was superior to scripture. In Semitic thought, the idea persisted for a long time. As late as the thirteenth century, Arab historian Abu-el-Quasim ibn `Askir said, "My friend strive zealously and without ceasing to get hold of [traditions]. Do not take them from written records, so they may not be touched by the disease of textual corruption."(10)
St. Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200), Bishop of Lyons and a great fighter against heresy, was the last writer to use the Oral Gospel as an independent source. He initially fought heresy using only the Old Testament and the church's Oral tradition. However, later, in response to needs arising from fighting Gnosticism and Marcionism, he came to use the books of New Testament extensively.(11)
Besides the Oral Gospels, the Diatessaron served as an alternate Gospel. The Diatessaron was a harmony of the four gospels, written c. 150-160 by Tatian. It circulated widely in Syriac-speaking churches-it was their standard text of the gospels until it was superseded by the Peshitta in the fifth century. The Diatessaron's use shows that the four gospels were considered important authorities, but not exclusive authorities. The Diatessaron by itself constituted as the New Testament scriptures for the Syrian churches until the fourteen Pauline epistles were added in the third century.(12)...
...The Pauline letters achieved acceptance in a fixed form considerably earlier; they were circulating as a body of writing "well before AD 90."(13) In fact, recent research makes it quite likely that p46, an early collection of Pauline letters should be dated in the late first century.(14) The letters were known and circulated among both orthodox and heretics as a collection from the early second century. The collection probably contained ten Pauline letters: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, and Philemon.(15)
The first person to attempt to define the canon precisely was the heretic Marcion...
...However, Marcion was not satisfied with accepting the eleven books of his canon in the form he received them. He was convinced that they had been interpolated with "judaising" material. He set out to reconstruct the original, uncorrupted text, free from all distortions.(19) His mind was too narrow and his ideology too rigid to conceive that there were multiple perspectives on the same truths in St. Paul, that God's Law and Grace while contrasted were not put into opposition-although God's Law and man's laws were. He eliminated all but one perspective from his Gospel and Epistles. This perspective, however, was not St. Paul's, but Marcion's. However, it should be noted that he only subtracted, he never added to the texts he received.(20)...
...In responce to Marcion's canon, the expansion phase of the New Testament canon began...
...St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), the preeminent apologist of the early church and a vigorous opponent of Gnosticism including Marcionism,(22) was unwilling to accept Marcion's truncated canon. He "quoted freely from" the four canonical gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles including Hebrews, and I Peter.(23) However, he does not speak of a canon-for instance he was apparently unacquainted with treating the four church gospels as a unit.(24)
St. Irenaeus, who was previously mentioned in connection with the Oral Gospel, produced the first known catholic canon. He was the first to adopt Marcion's notion of a new scripture. He used this idea to fight heresies, including Marcion's. He recognized the four gospel canon as an already established entity and championed it as "an indispensable and recognized collection against all deviations of heretics."(25) Thus, sometime in the last half of the second century, the four church gospels began to be viewed as a single unit...He defended Acts by pointing out that it is illogical to accept St. Luke's gospel and reject Acts (as the Marcionites did). The Pauline letters needed no defense as even the heretics acknowledged them as authoritative.(26)...
...The expansion phase considerable enlarged the accepted canon. It reached near final form in many quarters by around 200, containing the four gospels, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles. The main books disputed after that time were: Revelations, Hebrews, Philemon, and the Catholic Epistles (I and II Peter, I and II and III John, and Jude).(32)...
While the ideas of a canon became more clear, only the core described previously was certain. Revelation in particular was attacked by many because Montanism had made apocalyptic material suspect. Gaius of Rome, an early third century churchman, attacked the inclusion of the Gospel of St. John, Hebrews, and Revelation on anti-Montanist grounds (he ascribed St. John's Gospel and Revelation to Cerinthus, a Gnostic heretic who was a contemporary of St. John).(40) In general, however, apocalyptic material, while treated with caution, was not considered as suspect in the West as in the East. The Shepherd was dropped from the Western canon; the Revelation of Peter and the Revelation of John were both challenged. However, in the East (the Greek speaking parts of the world and Egypt), there was nearly universal refusal to allow apocalyptic writings into the canon until Western influence began to sway the Eastern Christians in the fourth century. Moreover, Hebrews was rejected in the West because it was used by the Montanists to justify their harsh penetential system and because the West was not certain of its authorship. Hebrews was not accepted in the West until the fourth century under the influence of St. Athanasius.(41)
Origen (c. 185-c. 254), the most influential Biblical commentator of the first three centuries of Christianity, categorized books into three categories: those acknowledged by all the churches, the disputed books which some churches accepted, and the spurious books. The acknowledged books were the four gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline epistle, I Peter, I John, and Revelation. The disputed books were II Peter, II John, III John, James, and Jude.(42) He may have considered Barnabas, Didache, and the Shepherd canonical as well-he used the word "scripture" for them. Both Bruce and von Campenhausen indicate that Origen did view them as canonical (although, Origen became more cautious about both Revelation and the Shepherd in later life), while Davis states that even though Origen used the word "scripture" for them, Origen "did not consider them canonical."(43)...
...The final form of the canon was nearly at hand. Emperor Constantine's order for fifty copies of scripture may have been important in the process. While their exact contents are not certain, some surmise that these copies may have contained the 27 books of the final New testament canon.(48) The canons of the council of Laodicia (c. 363) accepted all the books of the final canon except Revelation.(49)...
...The Western Council of Hippo (393) was probably the first council to specify the limits of the canon, and it accepted the 27 book canon, allowing only them to be read in church under the name of canonical writings. It "permitted, however, that the passions of martyrs, be read when their [martyrdoms'] anniversaries are celebrated."(55)...
...The complexity of the process demonstrates that we can know that all and only those books that belonged in the canon are in fact in the canon only because we know that God is faithful, that He will give us all that is necessary for salvation, that He promised to protect His Church so that the gates of hell will be impotent to prevail against her. If, however, we accept that He led the Church aright in the matter of preserving the apostolic teachings, it seems logical that He must have preserved His bride from errors in other matters as well. The myth of the Church abandoning its Master's precepts shortly after the apostolic age or after the beginning of the Constantinian era must be abandoned by those who wish to affirm the New Testament scripture for those scriptures were recognized by that church...
Much more is worth reading in this article - see the link.
Now a Protestant. I originally planned to quote F.F. Bruce, but I thought this article (only a fraction is quoted below) provided a broader view. To save space, I deleted a lot of historical review, which repeats much of what is discussed in the previous article...
Evangelicals and the Canon of the New Testament by M. James Sawyer
I start my excerpt about half way thru, at "The Development of the New Testament Canon"
...The common evangelical view of the development of the New Testament canon sees the canon as having arisen gradually and through usage rather than through conciliar pronouncement which vested the books of the New Testament with some kind of authority. Athanasius' festal letter (A.D. 367) is generally viewed as the document which fixed the canon in the East, and the decision of the Council of Carthage in the West is viewed as having fixed the Latin canon. Youngblood summarizes this position in his recent Christianity Today article,
The earliest known recognition of the 27 books of the New Testament as alone canonical, to which nothing is to be added and from which nothing is to be subtracted, is the list preserved by Athanasius (A.D. 367). The Synod of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Third Synod of Carthage (A.D. 397) duly acquiesced, again probably under the influence of the redoubtable Augustine.41
The closing of the two canons and their amalgamation into one are historical watersheds that it would be presumptuous to disturb. 42
Evangelicals insist upon the primacy of the written documents of Scripture over and against all human authority. However, in so doing we tend to overlook the fact that other authority did in fact exist in the ancient church, particularly the authority of Jesus Christ and His apostles. We often fail to appreciate that the church was founded not upon the apostolic documents, but rather the apostolic doctrine. The church existed at least a decade before the earliest book of the New Testament was penned, and possibly as long as six decades until it was completed. But during this period it was not without authority. Its standard, its canon, was ultimately Jesus Christ Himself,43 and mediately His apostles. Even in the immediate post-apostolic period we find a great stress on apostolic tradition along side a written New Testament canon.44
As the apostles died, this living stream of tradition grew fainter. The written documents became progressively more important to the on-going life of the church. The question of competing authorities in the sense of written and oral tradition subsided. However, even as late as the mid-second century we find an emphasis on oral tradition which stands in some way parallel to the written gospels as authoritative...
...Without doubt, the earliest Bible for the Church consisted of the Old Testament Scriptures, interpreted Christologically. Additionally, in the New Testament itself we find at least one case of some New Testament books being placed on a par with the Old Testament.48 This probably indicates that even at this early date the writings of the apostles were viewed in some circles as being on a par with the Old Testament...
...Yet another factor which must be considered in the canonization of the New Testament is the phenomenon of Tatian's Diatesseron. Tatian, a pupil of Justin Martyr, took the four canonical gospels and from them composed a harmony. This work supplanted the canonical gospels in the Syrian church well into the fifth century, at which time the hierarchy made a concerted effort to stamp out the work and restore the four canonical gospels to their rightful place within the canon.54
The Festal letter of Athanasius (c. A.D. 367) is well known as the first list to contain all and only the present twenty-seven book New Testament Canon. Thirty years later the Synod of Carthage, under the influence of the great Augustine, reached a similar conclusion. Youngblood gives the common Protestant evaluation of these pronouncements:
Thus led (as we believe) by divine Providence, scholars during the latter half of the fourth century settled for all time the limits of the New Testament canon. The 27 books of Matthew through Revelation constitute that New Testament, which possesses divine authority equal to that of the Old.55
The problem with such a sweeping assertion is that it does not fit the historical facts. First, the synods of Hippo and Carthage were not ecumenical councils, but local assemblies whose decisions held sway only in the local sees.56 The Festal letter of Athanasius, to be sure, gives us the judgment of a key figure of the ancient church, but it did not bind even the Eastern Church.57 The ancient church never reached a conscious and binding decision as to the extent of canon. Proof of this fact can be seen in the canons of the various churches of the empire.
While the canon in the West proved to be relatively stable from the late fourth century, the canon in the oriental churches varied, sometimes widely. The Syriac church at the beginning of the fifth century employed only the Diatesseron (in place of the four gospels), Acts, and the Pauline epistles.58 During the fifth century the Peshitta was produced and became the standard Syriac version. In it the Diatesseron was replaced by the four gospels, 3 Corinthians was removed and three Catholic epistles, James, 1 Peter and 1 John were included. The Apocalypse and the other Catholic epistles were excluded, making a twenty-two book canon. The remaining books did not make their way into the Syriac canon until the late sixth century with the appearance of the Harclean Syriac Version.59 While the Syrian church recognized an abbreviated canon, the Ethiopic Church recognized the twenty-seven books of the New Testament plus The Shepherd of Hermas, 1 & 2 Clement and eight books of the Apostolic Constitutions.60
Even in the West the canon was not closed as tightly as commonly believed. A case in point is the apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans. In the tenth century, Alfric, later Archbishop of Canterbury, lists the work as among the canonical Pauline epistles. Westcott observes that the history of this epistle "forms one of the most interesting episodes in the literary history of the Bible."61 He notes that from the sixth century onward Laodiceans occurs frequently in Latin manuscripts, including many which were prepared for church use. So common was the epistle in the Medieval period, it passed into several vernacular translations, including the Bohemian Bible as late as 1488. It also occurred in the Albigensian Version of Lyons, and while not translated by Wycliffe personally, it was added to several manuscripts of his translation of the New Testament.62
On the eve of the Reformation, it was not only Luther who had problems with the extent of the New Testament canon. Doubts were being expressed even by some of the loyal sons of the Church. Luther's opponent at Augsburg, Cardinal Cajetan, following Jerome, expressed doubts concerning the canonicity of Hebrews, James, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. Of the latter three he states, "They are of less authority than those which are certainly Holy Scripture."63 Erasmus likewise expressed doubts concerning Revelation as well as the apostolicity of James, Hebrews and 2 Peter. It was only as the Protestant Reformation progressed, and Luther's willingness to excise books from the canon threatened Rome that, at Trent, the Roman Catholic Church hardened its consensus stand on the extent of the New Testament canon into a conciliar pronouncement.64
The point of this survey has been to demonstrate that the New Testament canon was not closed in the fourth century. Debates continued concerning the fringe books of the canon until the Reformation. During the Reformation, both the Reformed and Catholic Churches independently asserted the twenty-seven book New Testament canon...Rather than focus solely upon the external criteria of apostolicity, inspiration or providence for our assurance that our present twenty-seven book NT canon is indeed the canon of Jesus Christ I believe that there is a better way for us to approach the problem. This way is not new but a return to and recognition of the Reformers' doctrine of the witness of the Spirit and the self-authenticating nature of Scripture
The Autopistie of Scripture and the Witness of the Spirit
Discomfort with the traditional conservative Evangelical apologetic for the canon is not new...
...as Warfield and Ridderbos both have noted, no book of the New Testament as we possess it contains a certificate of authentication as to its apostolic origin. That is, from our perspective, separated by nearly two millennia from the autographs, we cannot rely upon such means as the known signature of the apostle Paul to assure a book's authenticity. Hence, we cannot use apostolicity as the means by which we are ultimately assured of the shape of the canon. The same can be said for the criterion of prophetic authorship, unless we merely beg the question and assert that the book itself is evidence that its author was a prophet.
I believe that the starting point of canonicity must be a recognition that at the most basic level it is the risen Lord Himself who is ultimately the canon of His church.70 As Ridderbos has observed:
The very ground or basis for the recognition of the canon is therefore, in principle, redemptive-historical, i.e. Christological. For Christ himself is not only the canon in which God comes to the world, but Christ establishes the canon and gives it its concrete historical form.71
It then follows that it is also Christ who causes His church to accept the canon and to recognize it by means of the witness of the Holy Spirit. With this proposition I believe most evangelical Protestants would agree. However, this does not relieve us of the responsibility of examining the history of the canon, nor does it give us the right to identify absolutely the canon of Jesus Christ with the canon of the church. As Ridderbos has said, ". . . the absoluteness of the canon cannot be separated from the relativity of history."72 In short, we confess that our Lord has given us an objective standard of authority, for our purposes today that consists of the written documents. But we also recognize that, due to sinfulness, insensitivity or misunderstanding, it is possible for us subjectively to fail to recognize properly the objective canon Christ has given. We may include a book which does not belong, or exclude a book which does belong.
How then are we to determine what properly belongs to the canon? Is it "every man for himself"? I believe that Charles Briggs has proposed a viable method for us to consider today. Following the Reformers, he proposed a threefold program for canon determination, built upon the "rock of the Reformation principle of the Sacred Scriptures."73 The first principle in canon determination was the testimony of the church. By examining tradition and the early written documents, he contended that probable evidence could be presented to men that the Scriptures "recognized as of divine authority and canonical by such general consent are indeed what they claim to be."74
With reference to the Protestant canon this evidence was, he believed, unanimous. This evidence was not determinative, however. It was only "probable." It was the evidence of general consent, although given under the leading of the Spirit. It was from this general consent that conciliar pronouncements were made. It did not, however, settle the issue, since divine authority could not be derived from ecclesiastical pronouncement or consensus. The second and next higher level of evidence was that of the character of the Scriptures themselves. This is the Reformers' doctrine of the autopistie of the Scriptures. Their character was pure and holy, having a beauty, harmony and majesty. The Scriptures also breathed piety and devotion to God; they revealed redemption and satisfied the spiritual longing within the soul of man. All these features served to convince that the Scriptures were indeed the very Word of God. As Briggs stated, "If men are not won by the holy character of the biblical books, it must be because for some reason their eyes have been withheld from seeing it."75 It is in light of this concept that we should understand the Syriac church's rejection of the Apocalypse and Luther's rejection of the book of James. In both cases there was a pressing theological reason which kept them from seeing the divine fingerprints upon specific books of the New Testament. In a very real sense it was their zeal for the truth of the apostolic faith/gospel which blinded them.76
The third and highest principle of canon determination was that of the witness of the Spirit. He stated, "The Spirit of God bears witness by and with the particular writing . . . , in the heart of the believer, removing every doubt and assuring the soul of its possession of the truth of God."77
Briggs saw the witness of the Spirit as threefold. As noted earlier, the Spirit bore witness to the particular writing. Secondly, the Spirit bore witness "by and with the several writings in such a manner as to assure the believer"78 that they were each a part of the one divine revelation. This argument was cumulative. As one recognized one book as divine, it became easier to recognize the same marks in another of the same character.79 A systematic study of the Scriptures yielded a conviction of the fact that the canon was an organic whole. The Holy Spirit illumined the mind and heart to perceive this organic whole and thus gave certainty to the essential place of each writing in the Word of God.80
Third, the Spirit bore witness "to the church as an organized body of believers, through their free consent in their various communities and countries to the unity and variety of the . . . Scriptures as the complete and perfect canon."81 This line of evidence was a reworking of the historical argument but strengthening it with the "vital argument of the divine evidence."82 Whereas before, the church testimony was external and formal, whenever the believer came to recognize the Holy Spirit as the guiding force in the Church in both the formation and recognition of the canon, "then we may know that the testimony of the Church is the testimony of divine Spirit speaking through the Church."83
Focusing on the principle of the witness of the Spirit for assurance in canonical questions introduced a subjectivity factor which rendered the question of canon, in the absolute sense, undefinable.84 While the Reformers did attempt in their creeds to define the limits of canon, Briggs contended that in so doing they betrayed their own principle of canon determination. If Scripture was self-evidencing, then that evidence that God was the Author was to the individual.85 In addition, doctrinal definition, in order to be binding upon the Church, had to be held by consensus of the whole church. Both the Reformed churches and the Roman Catholic Church represented but a fraction of the church catholic, hence, they could not give definitive pronouncement to canon questions.86 He held that the question of canon must then be regarded as open to this day in the subjective sense. An individual believer was thus free to doubt the canonicity of a particular book without the fear of being charged with heresy.87
Summarizing Briggs' method of canon determination: first, the logical order began with the human testimony as probable evidence to the divine origin of Scripture. This testimony brought the individual to esteem the Scriptures highly. Next, when he turned to the pages of Scripture itself, they exerted an influence upon his soul. Finally, the divine testimony convinced him of the extent of the truth of God, at which point he shared in the consensus of the church.88
The question of the Canon of the New Testament is clearly not as simple as it appears in survey texts and popular presentations...
...Yet, American evangelicals have forsaken their Reformation heritage and slipped into the same type of rationalism regarding the canon as that for which we castigate liberals of a bygone era. My point here is that we as Evangelical Christians are by definition, people of faith. I believe that when we attempt to build our rationale for our New Testament canon solely upon rational ground we betray the faith principle.
The individual's ultimate assurance that the Scripture he has received is indeed the Word of God must be grounded upon something more (but not less) than historical investigation. Scripture as the Word of God brings with it its own witness, the Holy Spirit, who alone can give certainty and assurance.
The canon of the New Testament was not closed historically by the early church. Rather, its extent was debated until the Reformation. Even then, it was closed in a sectarian fashion. Therefore the question must be asked, is it then heresy for a person to question or reject a book of the present canon ? There have been repeated reevaluations of the church's canon. This happened during the initial sifting period. It happened again during the Renaissance and Reformation period, and it is beginning to happen again now. In such instances the fringe books of the canon have been repeatedly questioned. If an individual believer should come to question or reject a book or books of the accepted canon, should that person be regarded as a heretic, or accepted as a brother whose opinions are not necessarily endorsed?
The full article is worth reading.
The article from F.F. Bruce that I had intended to quote is here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/bruce1.html
Calvin's ideas can be found here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.viii.html
Catholic: Canon of the New Testament, by GEORGE J. REID, Transcribed by Ernie Stefanik
I only quote a bit (hence, 2 1/2 views) because much of the history is a repeat of previous writing, and the basic approach, to me, seemed to be 'the Catholic Church decided at Trent - don't question'.
...Since the Council of Trent it is not permitted for a Catholic to question the inspiration of these passages.
The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council...
The principle of canonicity
Before entering into the historical proof for this primitive emergence of a compact, nucleative Canon, it is pertinent to briefly examine this problem: During the formative period what principle operated in the selection of the New Testament writings and their recognition as Divine?--Theologians are divided on this point. This view that Apostolicity was the test of the inspiration during the building up of the New Testament canon, is favoured by the many instances where the early Fathers base the authority of a book on its Apostolic origin, and by the truth that the definitive placing of the contested books on the New Testament catalogue coincided with their general acceptance as of Apostolic authorship. Moreover, the advocates of this hypothesis point out that the Apostles' office corresponded with that of the Prophets of the Old Law, inferring that as inspiration was attached to the munus propheticum so the Apostles were aided by Divine inspiration whenever in the exercise of their calling they either spoke or wrote. Positive arguments are deduced from the New Testament to establish that a permanent prophetical charisma (see CHARISMATA) was enjoyed by the Apostles through a special indwelling of the Holy Ghost, beginning with Pentecost....These authors (some of whom treat the matter more speculatively than historically) admit that Apostolicity is a positive and partial touchstone of inspiration, but emphatically deny that it was exclusive, in the sense that all non-Apostolic works were by that very fact barred from the sacred Canon of the New Testament. They hold to doctrinal tradition as the true criterion...
...This Gospel was announced to the world at large, by the Apostles and Apostolic disciples of Christ, and this message, whether spoken or written, whether taking the form of an evangelic narrative or epistle, was holy and supreme by the fact of containing the Word of Our Lord. Accordingly, for the primitive Church, evangelical character was the test of Scriptural sacredness. But to guarantee this character it was necessary that a book should be known as composed by the official witnesses and organs of the Evangel; hence the need to certify the Apostolic authorship, or at least sanction, of a work purporting to contain the Gospel of Christ. In Batiffol's view the Judaic notion of inspiration did not at first enter into the selection of the Christian Scriptures. In fact, for the earliest Christians the Gospel of Christ, in the wide sense above noted, was not to be classified with, because transcending, the Old Testament. It was not until about the middle of the second century that under the rubric of Scripture the New Testament writings were assimilated to the Old; the authority of the New Testament as the Word preceded and produced its authority as a New Scripture. (Revue Biblique, 1903, 226 sqq.) Monsignor Batiffol's hypothesis has this in common with the views of other recent students of the New Testament canon, that the idea of a new body of sacred writings became clearer in the Early Church as the faithful advanced in a knowledge of the Faith. But it should be remembered that the inspired character of the New Testament is a Catholic dogma, and must therefore in some way have been revealed to, and taught by, Apostles...
...Even those Catholic theologians who defend Apostolicity as a test for the inspiration of the New Testament (see above) admit that it is not exclusive of another criterion, viz., Catholic tradition as manifested in the universal reception of compositions as Divinely inspired, or the ordinary teaching of the Church, or the infallible pronouncements of ecumenical councils. This external guarantee is the sufficient, universal, and ordinary proof of inspiration. The unique quality of the Sacred Books is a revealed dogma. Moreover, by its very nature inspiration eludes human observation and is not self-evident, being essentially superphysical and supernatural. Its sole absolute criterion, therefore, is the Holy inspiring Spirit, witnessing decisively to Itself, not in the subjective experience of individual souls, as Calvin maintained, neither in the doctrinal and spiritual tenor of Holy Writ itself, according to Luther, but through the constituted organ and custodian of Its revelations, the Church. All other evidences fall short of the certainty and finality necessary to compel the absolute assent of faith...
I've participated on a number of threads that moved into a discussion of 'How do we know what is scripture, and what is not'. I post this for discussion. I'm a Baptist, so my views tend to agree with the Protestant author. I gave shorter change to the third view (Catholic) because much of the history was a repeat.
A ping to those who have discussed these and similar issues with me before. If I’m pinging you improperly, please accept my apologies and let me know so I don’t make any such mistakes in the future. I’m not trying for a formal ping list - just trying to give a noggins up to folks who have written about these things before.
I appreciate the ping.
I might not be able to give it any attention until Saturday, but I will.
The Emergence of the New Testament Canon by Daniel F. Lieuwen
Evangelicals and the Canon of the New Testament by M. James Sawyer
Canon of the New Testament, by GEORGE J. REID, Transcribed by Ernie Stefanik
Lots of links found here, including 2 of the 3 articles above: http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon.html
Thanks for the ping!
A discussion on NT Canon probably shouldn’t omit the controversy involving Luther, and removing some NT books from the canon. This link:
has a long discussion - the Table of Contents is found below.
Luthers View of the Canon of Scripture by James Swan
-Table of Contents-
Introduction: Playing The “Luther Card”
1: Martin Luther Did Not Remove Books From The Bible: Was Martin Luther a sixteenth century Marcion? Did he publish a Bible missing books? A brief overview on the construction of Luthers Bible.
2: Luthers Concept of The Canon Of Scripture: How did Luther view the canon of Scripture? A synopsis of Luthers prefaces. A look at Luthers Christocentric hermeneutic.
3: Luthers Liberty With The Canon And Trends In Church History: A look at the scholarly understanding of the canon in the sixteenth century. The opinions of Luthers Catholic contemporaries Desederius Erasmus and Cardinal Cajetan.
4: Martin Luther Called The Book Of James An Epistle Of Straw: A look at the most frequently used Luther quote on his view of the canon, and Luthers subsequent retraction.
5: Luthers Opinion Of The Book Of James: A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Luthers Preface to the Epistle of James.
6: Luther Cited And Preached From The Book Of James: The rarely documented positive usage of the Epistle of James by Luther.
7: Did Luther Want To Throw The Book Of James In The Stove?: Ever heard this one? Did Luther want to warm his house by using the Epistle of James in his stove?
8: Martin Luthers Opinion Of The Book Of Jude: A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Luthers preface to the Book of Jude.
9: Martin Luthers Opinion Of The Book Of Revelation: A brief look at Luthers original preface to the Book of Revelation and its later revision.
10: Martin Luthers Opinion On The Book Of Hebrews: A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Luthers preface to the Book of Hebrews.
Conclusion: Removing The Luther-Card
Appendix A: Patrick OHares Spurious “Facts” About Luthers Canon: A look at one of the worst books on Luther ever written: The Facts About Luther, and its citations of Luther on the Old Testament.
Appendix B: Luthers Sermon on James: An entire sermon by Luther from James 1:16-21 Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle
Endnotes: Bibliographic material and interaction with various anti-Luther writers and Catholic apologists.
Thanks. I would add that the Catholic Church views the canon issue for both Testaments settled since the African councils of Carthage and Hippo. The only thing that Trent did was to proclaim that solemnly in light of the controversies of the time.
Like most conciliar pronouncements, Trent repeated with greater clarity and in reference to the emerging Protestant doctrines, what the mind of the Church held to be true at all times since the issue was settled in practice, that is, as far as the Canons are concerned, since late 4c.
Thanks for the ping
Spot on, Alex!
From the Orthodox article:
The final acceptance of exactly this set of 27 books by everyone except the Nestorians (who accept five fewer) and the Ethiopians (who accept more) took some time particularly for Hebrews (because the Roman church was unsure of its authorship), Revelations (because it was easily misused by those with apocalyptic fantasies), and Jude (because it quoted from the apocryphal book of Enoch). While II Peter previously was the most disputed book,(53) by this point, it was less controversial to the Christian mainstream. For instance, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386) and St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-389) accepted all 27 books except Revelation. On the other hand, in 405, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter which affirms a 26 book canon that excluded Hebrews.(54) Clearly, it took some time to achieve universal acceptance among the Orthodox for Hebrews in the West, and Revelation in the East.
The Western Council of Hippo (393) was probably the first council to specify the limits of the canon, and it accepted the 27 book canon, allowing only them to be read in church under the name of canonical writings. It “permitted, however, that the passions of martyrs, be read when their [martyrdoms’] anniversaries are celebrated.”(55)
Some accepted larger canons as well. St. Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315-415) accepted all 27 books but also accepted the Wisdom books of Solomon and Ben Sirach. The late fourth century Codex Sinaiticus included Barnabas and the Shepherd “at the end but with no indication of secondary status.” The early fifth century Codex Alexandrinus made “no demarcation between I and II Clement” and the rest of the New Testament. St. Jerome (c. 342-420), the translator of the Vulgate and one of the greatest scholars of the early church, seemed to believe that Barnabas and the Shepherd were worthy of inclusion. However, he recognized that they were not in the accepted canon, and he did not believe that anyone had the authority to add them. He also noted that many still rejected Jude because of its quotation from Enoch.(56)
The canon of the Syriac-speaking churches in the third century included the Diatessaron and the fourteen Pauline epistles. In the early fifth century, the Peshitta became the official text of Syriac-speaking churches. It replaced the Diatessaron with the four gospels. It contained the 22 books of our New Testament other than II Peter, II John, III John, Jude, and Revelation. (The Peshitta is traditionally held to be the work of Rabulla, bishop of Edessa from 412-435. However, it probably built on work of the previous century.) The Nestorian church still uses this 22 book canon. In 508, the Jacobite branch of the Syriac church came to accept the standard 27 book canon.(57)
The longest Biblical canon belongs to the Ethiopian church. Their Old Testament contains the Septuagintal books, Jubilees, the Ethiopic Enoch, IV Edras, the Rest of the Words of Baruch, the Ascension of Isaiah, and other books. Their New Testament includes the Shepherd and other books. Some manuscripts of the Ethiopian New Testament include the Epistle of Eusebius to Carpianus and the Eusebian Canons which were written by Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (c. 260-c. 340).(58)
I had deleted it to save space, but the full article is worth reading. Please remember that “the Church” doesn’t mean the Catholic Church to anyone except Catholics.
There has also been a dispute in the Catholic Church about what canonical means - are all ‘scriptures’ of equal value, or are some not useful for determining doctrine. I get in over my head on this discussion - I believe the Council of Trent left that as an open question.
What the Orthodox have to say on this is quite Catholic, and, I trust, vice versa, what the Catholics say is Orthodox. It is after all the same unified Church that worked out the Canon.
I am not aware of anything dogmatic regarding the relative importance of the New Testament books. The idea one often hears from the Protestants, that the Epistles are what teaches doctrine, and the Gospels are of lesser doctrinal value, sounds horrifyingly foreign to me. If anything, the words of Christ to us override any other statements that might sound more systematic and theological. Of course, we don’t contemplate any internal contradiction throughout both Old (complete) and New Canons, so it is a matter of one passage read in the light of another, rather than one passage negating another. Whatever difficulties of interpretation exist, they are more pronounced between the Old and the New Testament, rather than inside the New Testament, and comparing the two it is definitely the New Testament driving the proper understanding of the Old Testament and not the other way around.
“The Church” to me and to most Catholics is the set of Catholic and Orthodox Churches that retain the apostolic succession and have valid sacraments. Since our unity is imperfect, at times, when aspects that divide us are discussed, I would use “The Church” meaning narrowly the Catholic Church united to the bishop of Rome, but not in a discussion like this one. The Catholic ecclesiology is that each regional Church under a given bishop is in herself a complete Church, even though a larger body such as the Roman Catholic Church is also a Church, consisting of many Rites, Churches, and episcopacies. This allows for a certain flexibility of terminology.
I've only been a Baptist for 35+ years, but I've never heard that. I'd gladly jump down the throat of any Protestant who uttered such nonsense. If theology is the Study of God, then what could be more valuable than the Gospels?
That said, 400+ years after the Reformation, there are many Protestant 'churches' that God hates. I thought Martin Luther's introduction to his commentary on Romans, which I read for the first time about a month ago, a GREAT summary of the Gospel. That has made the recent news of a 'Lutheran" church ordaining homosexuals all the more painful - a bitter reminder of what can happen when the tares outnumber the wheat.
I would like to be able to visit them, and utter just one sentence in front of them:
It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. - Martin Luther
If we all agreed on the authenticity and history of scripture without agreeing on the correct interpretations of scripture means that the Bible divides just like the Koran and other religious books.
Once you throw out the interpretations of the the early Christians united completely on Eucharist,Baptism etc... you throw Christianity into a religion of many truths that disagree with each other and are divided(the devil's trap)
Modernist scripture scholarship lacks love and humility,dear brother.
Try spending more time in prayer than thinking of yourself as being some modernist prophet of free republic
“Once you throw out the interpretations of the the early Christians united completely on Eucharist,Baptism etc...”
If you read the New Testament OR the church fathers, it becomes obvious that early Christians were united on very little. It is also obvious that when we look back, we can easily read into what they said things they never intended (such as Purgatory & 1 Corinthians 3, per the NAB footnotes).
This post was intended to point out that while there is large agreement on what constituted MOST NT scriptures, there isn’t unanimity even today - and even less so if one considers books written prior to the life of Christ on earth.
“Try spending more time in prayer than thinking of yourself as being some modernist prophet of free republic”
I don’t think you know much about my prayer life...and I fail to see how reviewing the development of the NT canon is in any way trying to be a “modernist prophet”.
Care to explain?
The Third North African Council that canonized the Christian Bible was a local Council and therefore not binding on the whole Church. The Eastern Church referred to the Revelation as questionable until the end of the 8th century. The Orthodox Church to this day does not liturgically read from the Revelation, the only NT book that is thus excluded.
Obviously, not all dogmatic pronouncements are based on the exact number of canonical books. I submit that, without Hebrews or Revelation, nothing would change dogmatically as regards the concept of the Triune God, the dual nature of Christ or Mariology.
Both Churches make that very clear and reiterate that the Church teaching is as much based on what's in the Bible as in the unbroken life of the Church liturgically (Eucharistically), in other words lex orandi lex credendi.
Nonsense! They were 100 percent united on Eucharist being the actual body of Christ.
You make Christianity a religion of self interpretation like the Islam ,Judaism and Hinduism
Neither can you read exactly the dogma of the Holy Trinity. Sure, the three Hypostases are mentioned by name at various points in the scriptures and among the early Fathers, but the nature of the Triune God, as defined by the Church after the 4th century is not readily discernable from anything written in the NT.
That's why it took the Church until the 4th century to come up with a definition just what (not whothat was easy) was it the Church believed in.