SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NT CANON (from Dr. Utley's Seminar Textbook)
Because this Seminar Textbook (see Seminar of Biblical Interpretation online at www.freebiblecommentary.org) is basically an introduction to contextual and textual principles for interpreting the Bible, it seems obvious that we need to first look at the Bible itself. For the purpose of this study we are going to assume the Spirit's guidance in canonization.
A. The Author's General Presuppositions
1. God exists and He wants us to know Him.
2. He has revealed Himself to us.
a. He acted in history (revelation)
b. He chose certain people to record and explain His acts (inspiration)
c. His Spirit helps the reader (hearer) of this written revelation understand its main truths (illumination)
3. The Bible is the only trustworthy source of truth about God (I know about Jesus' life and teachings only through the Bible). It is collectively our only source for faith and practice. OT and NT books written to specific occasions and times are now inspired guides for all occasions and ages. However, they do contain some cultural truths that do not transcend their own time and culture (i.e., polygamy, holy war, slavery, celibacy, place of women, wearing veils, holy kiss, etc.).
B. I realize that canonization is a historical process with some unfortunate incidents and events, but it is my presupposition that God led its development. The early church accepted the recognized books of the OT that were accepted within Judaism. From historical research it seems that the early churches, not the early councils alone, decided the New Testament canon. Apparently the following criteria were involved, either consciously or subconsciously.
1. The Protestant Canon contains all the inspired books; the canon is closed! (i.e., "the faith," Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; Gal. 1:23; 6:10; Jude 1:3,20)
a. accepted OT from Jews
b. twenty-seven books in NT (a progressive historical process)
2. New Testament authors are connected to Jesus or an Apostle (a progressive historical process)
a. James and Jude to Jesus (His half brothers)
b. Mark to Peter (turned his sermons at Rome into a Gospel)
c. Luke to Paul (missionary partner)
d. Hebrews traditionally to Paul
3. Theological unity with Apostolic training (later called "rule of faith"); the Gospels were written after most of the other NT books
a. because of the rise of heresy (i.e., adoptionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism)
b. because of the delayed Second Coming
c. because of the death of the twelve Apostles
4. The permanently and morally changed lives of hearers where these books were read and accepted
5. The general consensus of the early churches and later church councils can be seen in the early lists of canonical books
a. Origen (a.d. 185-254) asserts that there were four Gospels and the Epistles of the Apostles in circulation among the churches.
b. The Muratorian Fragment dates between a.d. 180-200 from Rome (the only copy available today is a damaged, late Latin text). It lists the same 27 books as the Protestant NT (but adds Apocalypse of Peter and Shepherd of Hermas).
c. Eusebius of Caesarea (a.d. 265-340) introduced a threefold designation (as did Origen) to describe Christian writings:
(1) "received" and thereby accepted
(2) "disputed" and thereby meaning some churches, but not all, accepted them
(3) "spurious" and thereby unaccepted in the vast majority of churches and not to be read The ones in the disputed category which were finally accepted were: James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John
d. The Cheltenham list (in Latin) from North Africa (a.d. 360) has the same 27 books (except for Hebrews, James, and Jude [Hebrews is not specifically mentioned, but may be included in Paul's letters]), as the Protestant NT, but in an unusual order.
e. Athanasius' Easter Letter of a.d. 367 is the first to list exactly the same 27 books (no more, no less) as the Protestant NT.
f. The concept and contents of an authoritative list of unique books was a historical and theological development.
6. Suggested reading
a. The Canon of the New Testament by Bruce Metzger, published by Oxford Press
b. Articles on canon in Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 709-745
c. Introduction to the Bible by William E. Nix and Norman Geisler, published by Moody Press, 1968 (esp. the chart on p. 22)
d. Holy Writings – Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity by John Barton, published by Westminster John Knox Press.
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