Friday, May 28, 2010

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Part 6

Conclusion
            The progression of the apostolic writings to actual recognition as Scripture is a process that spanned hundreds of years.  There are a great many contributors whose efforts both in support of the current New Testament and those who preferred a different path are worthy of mention.  Given the amount of research material abundantly available on the subject, the resulting high level view likely comes as no surprise.

            For the believer, the matter of determining what is and what is not Scripture is not choosing between candidates.  Christians believe that Scripture is inspired by God and there was never a need for a council to affirm them or not.  In short, they are self-authenticating.[1]  People and ecumenical councils only acknowledged what was already true because of the inspiration of the books as they were given to their authors.

            In the historical context, however, there are a myriad of circumstances and people that played a role in the determination of what we know of as the New Testament.  Had Gnosticism or Marcion found success in the second century, Christian theology would look nothing like we see today nor would the church.  The believer would argue that God used all of these circumstances to achieve His desired outcome.  While we at LBTS may feel this way, many in the world do not.  However, they cannot argue with the facts from history.  The books of the New Testament were written and passed down through the centuries.  Events in history are documented and more is being learned about them with each new discovery.  Are the contents of these books truth?  That is for the reader to decide.


                [1] Ryrie, 119.

Monday, May 24, 2010

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Part 5

Fourth Century
            Eusebius (ca. 265 – ca.339) could be written of in either the third or fourth centuries.  A brief treatment of his contributions will be treated in this section as it is also the section that discusses the Nicene Council at which he played a prominent role.  Eusebius is considered to be the father of church history.  Like Origen, Eusebius was a prolific writer with four key works that should be mentioned here. 

            First was the work Ecclesiastical History written in ten volumes beginning around 303 and being revised several times between Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Toleration and his victory over Eastern Emperor Licinius.[1]  After being elected bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius wrote his three largest works.  Preparation is a fifteen volume work refuting paganism; Demonstration of the Gospel is a twenty volume work that examines the fulfillment Old Testament prophesies in Christ; Chronicle is a world history to 303 and likely a prelude to the earlier historical work.[2] 

            When confronted with a charge of heresy for his Arian leanings in 325 which resulted in his provisional excommunication, Eusebius successfully argued his defense at the Council of Nicea later in 325 before Emperor Constantine.[3]  His of a creed of Caesarea, though successful, would be altered to become the Nicene Creed and included the key homoousios phrase that Eusebius was never completely supportive of.  Eusebius was the president of the Council of Tyre and served on two other councils before his death in 339.

            The Council of Nicea was the first ecumenical council in the history of the church and was convened by Emperor Constantine himself to address the schism in the church that formed over Arianism.  Among other things addressed at Nicea was an agreement on when to celebrate Easter and a ruling on the Melitian Schism in Egypt.[4]  For all of the issues addressed at Nicea, it is most notable what is not addressed: the New Testament canon.[5]  The importance of the issues of the day left the issue of canonization for another council later in the fourth century. 

            In 367, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in his Festival Letter for the coming Easter holiday gave a full and final declaration of which books were to be read and included an admonition that nothing should be added to nor taken away from this list.[6]  It was not until the third Council of Carthage in 397 that the issue of the New Testament canon would be formally addressed.  It was this council that decreed that nothing should be read in the church under the name of divine Scriptures except the canonical writings which included the twenty-seven books we know today as the New Testament.[7]  Further, the council could only list the books that received a general consensus of use as properly a canon. 


                [1] Douglas, Comfort, and Mitchell, 1992.
                [2] Ibid.
                [3] Ibid.
                [4] Elwell, 840.
                [5] Ibid, 156.
                [6] Comfort, 74 – 75.
                [7] Elwell, 156.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Part 4

Third Century
            There are over thirty extant treatises by Tertullian (ca.160 – ca. 220).  Converted in Rome where he had been sent to study law, he rejected the immorality he found all about him in Rome and returned to Carthage.  Unlike Origen, Tertullian believed the book of Hebrews to have been written by Barnabas and not Paul though he felt it should be included in the canon.[1]  Tertullian coined the term Trinity in reference to the Godhead postulating that in one substance was three persons.[2] 

            Most of Christianity today also holds to Tertullian’s view of original sin being transmitted to the successive generations from Adam. This view came from Tertullian’s belief that the soul was actually material and that it was procreated along with the body by a person’s parents.[3]   Additionally, it was Tertullian who’s Against Praxeas is famous for affirming that Jesus has two natures joined in one person. [4]   All of these contributions of Tertullian are significant but the historical context in mentioning him is that found in his writings around the turn of the century is the first use of the term New Testament.[5]

            Origen (185 – 254) compiled a complete listing of the books of the Old Testament.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the New Testament canon.  Bruce argues Origen initially had little interest in the question of canonicity of New Testament writings.[6]  Later, he would write commentaries on most of the books of the New Testament with a particular focus on inspiration by God.[7]  Origen was a prolific writer based on the literal text of Scripture which he held to be accurate historically.  His De Principiis, already mentioned earlier, is one of the first attempts at a systematic theology.[8]  Perhaps Origen’s most famous work is his Hexapla which was a six-columned Bible with the original Hebrew, a transliterated Greek, the version of Aquila, the version of Symmachus, and the text of the LXX as it existed at that time.[9]

            Though Origen wrote at a time before what most Christians consider a correct view of the Trinity became proper doctrine, he did affirm God as the creator of all things, Christ as eternal Son and Word, and the Holy Spirit with each member distinct from the others but forming one.  At other times though, Origen would speak of the Son and Holy Spirit as being subject to the father.  This view led others to subordination and at times to Arianism.[10] Origen died several years after suffering during the Decian persecution in 254.  In 553 he was declared a heretic[11] though in very recent years Origen’s fame has been rehabilitated mostly through efforts to distinguish his doctrines from those attributed to him later by his so-called followers.[12]


                [1] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 182 – 83.
                [2] Elwell, 1176.
                [3] Ibid.
                [4] Ibid.
                [5] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 180 – 81.
                [6] Ibid, 191 – 193.
                [7] Comfort, 73.
                [8] Douglas, J. D., Comfort, Phillip Wesley, and Mitchell, Donald. Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), 1992..
                [9] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, 230.
                [10] Elwell, 870.
                [11] Ibid.
                [12] Douglas, Comfort, and Mitchell, 1992.

Friday, May 14, 2010

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Part 3

Second Century
            Within thirty to thirty-five years of the apostle John’s death, there is ample evidence that all four of the gospel accounts and the letters of Paul were known and in use.[1]  Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius all referenced the majority of the New Testament material casually and accepted it as authoritative without argument.  Only Mark, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter and Jude are not clearly attested.[2]  Even more important than this is the fact that Clement, Barnabas, and Ignatius all clearly make distinctions between their own words and the inspired, authoritative apostolic writings.[3]  This continued into the second half of the second century with Irenaeus who argued for the use of four gospels.  Irenaeus also referenced Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John, Revelation, and all of the Pauline epistles except Philemon in his writings.[4] 

            Around A. D. 140, Marcion (ca. 85 – 160), whose father was bishop of Sinope in Pontus, compiled a list of books he considered to be true Christian Scriptures.[5]  Marcion, for whatever reason, had an enigmatic dislike of both Judaism and the material world.  The latter is likely a result of the influence of Gnosticism though Marcion differed with Gnostics by rejecting allegory and speculation.[6] In creating his own canon, Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament.  The version of the New Testament issued by Marcion consisted of a version of Luke’s gospel edited to exclude all references to Judaism and ten Pauline epistles that specifically excluded the pastorals.[7]  This exclusion, however, was unlikely to have been intentional.  Collections of Paul’s epistles were circulating by this and Marcion likely had a collection much like the Chester Beatty codex he worked from.  Like the Chester Beatty codex, Marcion’s likely did not contain the Pastoral Epistles.[8]

            Marcion was branded a heretic and he was stripped of fellowship with the church in A. D. 144.[9]  Afterwards, Marcion founded his own church that survived for several centuries.[10]  Though Marcion was defeated, the need for an official listing of authoritative writings became clear.  The church at large began to compile a list though it should be noted that this was not a formal movement of the church but rather a gradual forming of a consensus over a period of time.  As noted earlier, the four gospels were accepted very early as well as Acts and the Pauline epistles.[11]

            The early adoption of four gospels was important in the second century as the church fought against the spread of Gnosticism and Marcionism.  With four gospels, there was a consensus concerning the basic issues which were much more effective and convincing than claiming possession of a secret gospel by heretical groups.[12]  The church made the claim that it held the true teachings of Jesus.  The church also accepted the Old Testament as did Jesus and His apostles, including Paul.[13]

            The importance of apostolic succession is made an issue.  If Jesus has secret knowledge to pass on, He would have done so through his apostles who in turn would have also passed it down to their disciples.  Since no secret knowledge had been passed down, the church declared none existed.[14]  Later in the development of the church the idea of apostolic succession would take on additional meaning.  At this time, it was enough to simply defeat the heresy being taught by those whose understanding of Jesus’ teaching differed from the church.

            The defeat of the Gnostics and Marcionites did not stop others from writing their own gospels.  Tatian (c. 120 – 180), a pupil of Justin Martyr wrote a harmony of the four gospels called the Diatessaron.  While not a canonical book, it did attest to the equal status that the four gospels enjoyed by this time.[15] The Diatessaron took root in Syriac-speaking churches and was the preferred text for the next two centuries.  The people who had come to use the Diatessaron were very reluctant to give it up but finally did so in fifth century under episcopal pressure.[16]

            Also dating to about A.D. 170 is the Muratorian Canon which listed all of the New Testament books with the exception of 2 Peter and excluding all other writing.[17]   It is possible that the reference to the Apocalypse of Peter may be the book of 2 Peter.  If this is indeed the case then the Muratorian Canon would be the oldest list of the New Testament canon.  As the second century draws to a close, the writings that were to become the New Testament are generally accepted by the church though not necessarily in their entirety in all places.  Eventually, the universal acceptance of the 27 books of the New Testament would be achieved.


                [1] Comfort, Phillip Wesley, (ed.). The Origin of the Bible. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992), 70.
                [2] Ibid.
                [3] Ibid, 71 – 72.
                [4] Comfort, 72 – 73.
                [5] González, 61 – 62.
                [6] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 735.
                [7] Ibid.
                [8] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 137 – 38.
                [9] Ibid. 
                [10] González, 61 – 62.
                [11] Ibid, 63.
                [12] Ibid, 63 – 66.
                [13] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 150 – 51.
                [14] Ibid.
                [15] Comfort, 72 – 73.
                [16] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 126 – 28.
                [17] Comfort, 73.  The Muratorian Canon state that is accepts the Apocalypse of John and Peter.  In his book The Canon of Scripture, Bruce dates this canon closer to the end of the second century.  This is interesting in that Bruce also contributed to the book which Comfort served as both a contributor and editor.

Monday, May 10, 2010

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Part 2

First Century
            At the time of Jesus there was no New Testament as we know it today.  Simply put, it hadn’t been written yet.  Some scholars have argued for a long period of oral tradition before a significant written record of Jesus or the early church began.  Carson and Moo remind their readers that the world Jesus was born into was highly literate and there is evidence against a long oral tradition.[1]  Still, Jesus wrote no book.  Rather He taught by word of mouth and through personal example.[2]

            The development of the New Testament canon begins with the apostles of Jesus.  The last of the apostles, John, died around the end of the first century.  Given this, a first century date of writing of all of the books canonized in the New Testament is assumed though this subject is debated among scholars to this day.  Specific dates of authorship, though important, will not be discussed here.  The apostles are given the ability from the Holy Spirit to recall and interpret the words and actions of Jesus (John 14:26; 16:13 – 14).  This is significant as the office of apostle is seen by the early church as having the same authority as the Old Testament prophets.[3]  One example of this is found in 2 Peter 3:15 – 16 where Peter mentions Paul’s epistles and the “other scriptures”.  Another example is found in1 Timothy 5:17 – 18 where Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 placing Luke’s gospel on the same level as Old Testament Scripture.[4]  

            The books of the New Testament were written over about a 50 year period of time in the first century.  Clearly those written by apostles were seen as equal in standing with Hebrew Scriptures and accepted early in church history.  There are, however, five books (Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude) that were not written by an apostle.  Grudem argues that Mark’s association with Peter and Luke’s association with Paul likely led to an early acceptance of their works by virtue of the apostle attesting to their authenticity.[5]  In a similar fashion, Jude was the half-brother of Jesus and was closely associated with James, another of Jesus’ half-brothers and leader of the church in Jerusalem.  This may have led to the eventual acceptance of Jude though the possible reference to the pseudepigraphal book of 1 Enoch (Jude 1:14 – 15) certainly delayed acceptance.[6] 

            The authorship of the book of Hebrews is a curiosity to this seminarian.  Many offer a quote from Origen stating that only God knows who the author is.  This appears to be taken out of context in which it was written.  Origen clearly believed that Paul was the author of Hebrews.  One need only read Origen’s letter to Africanus where reference is made to making arguments some other time to prove Paul is in fact the author of Hebrews.[7]  Twice Origen references Paul and Hebrews in Against Celsus.[8]  There are seven such references in De Principiis![9]  There can be little doubt that Origen firmly believed that the apostle Paul was the author of Hebrews.  Where Grudem argues that Hebrews is self-attesting[10], this early belief in Pauline authorship demonstrated by the letters of Origen from the third century is clear in showing this tradition had been handed down and is likely the reason Hebrews was accepted as authoritative rather than other explanations offered.  Drane too supports the notion of unknown authorship.[11]  Of course, Origen wrote from the East where Hebrews was accepted sooner than in the West.[12]  A Pauline epistle or not, today we certainly find Hebrews in our New Testament canon.

            With the close of the Apostolic Age at the end of the first century, the books that would become the New Testament had been written and were being widely circulated though probably not in their entirety.  Before moving on to the second century, a final note on writings is in order.  As will be discussed later, these 27 books were by no means the only writings from this period.  There were other writings that carried significant weight in the church authored by disciples of the apostles.  Early in the second century, those who directly knew the apostles would become increasingly important.


                [1] Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction To The New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 24.
                [2] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 117.
                [3] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 60 – 62.  There remains significant debate among scholars about whether or not the Old Testament canon was closed during the time of Christ.  Though not the purpose of this work, here it is assumed that the OT canon was closed before the incarnation.
                [4] Ibid.
                [5] Ibid, 63 – 64.
                [6] Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 922.  Another instance of a non-canonical book being quoted in the New Testament is Paul’s quote of the Cretan poet Epimenides in Titus 1:12.
                [7] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 388. It is noted that Origen was born in the second century and wrote in the third century but the importance of an early tradition of Pauline authorship bears mention of Origen concerning the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Origen will be discussed later.  Here Origen references Hebrews 11:37 in referring to Paul. 
                [8] Ibid, 485.  Origen references Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and then several sentences references the same writer and refers to Hebrews 5:12 – 14.  On page 622, again Origen speaks of Paul’s quote and refers to Hebrews 12:22.
                [9] Ibid, 239 – 368.  References to Paul and Hebrews include Hebrews 2:1; 6:7 – 8; 8:5; 9:26; 11:24 – 26.
                [10] Grudem, 63 – 64.
                [11] Drane, John William. Introducing the New Testament, Completely Revised and Updated. (Oxford: Lion Publishing plc, 2000), 444.
                [12] Bruce, Fredrick Fyvie. The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 192 – 93.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Part 1

**PLEASE NOTE: This series originated as a term paper for a class at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary**


INTRODUCTION

             Temptation is a curious thing that expresses itself in many ways.  For the seminary student writing about the development of the New Testament canon, it is very tempting to focus on the inerrancy of Scripture and the fact that, as Christians, we believe these writings to be the inspired word of God.  Such a temptation would lead the current work down a noble path to be sure though the result would likely be found wanting for a history class.  Therefore, the role of historian must be assumed in this undertaking. 

            Here, a discussion of the historical development of what we know today as the New Testament shall follow with an emphasis on several key events and people who played a role in the canonization of the New Testament of the Bible.  A mention of the meaning of canon is in order.  The term canon comes from the Greek word κανών (kanōn) which refers to a measuring instrument.  The term later came to mean a rule of action that one is to live by (Gal. 6:16; Phil. 3:16)[1] or a standard of faith and practice.[2] 

            While the historical studies in the current class did not always follow history chronologically, pursuing the topic at hand seems to the author to be best suited to a chronological approach.  Though a detailed treatment of each century is not possible given the constraints of the current assignment, the first through fourth centuries will be discussed.  It is assumed, given the nature of the assignment that foregoing any discussion of what Christians refer to as the Old Testament is expected.  It is noted, however, that when early Christians spoke of Scriptures, they were referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, usually the Septuagint.[3] 


                [1] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986, 1999), 119.
                [2] Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible. (Bellingham, WA: Logos research Systems, Inc., 2009), 2583.
                [3] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1984), 62.  González goes on to reveal there was no question, except among the Gnostics and Marcionites, that Hebrew Scripture was part of the Christian canon.