Saturday, August 30, 2008

Canonization of Scripture
II. Canonization of the New Testament

Part I ended with the five key questions a book had to face to become part of the New Testament canon:

  1. Was the book written by a prophet of God?

  2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?

  3. Did the book tell the truth about God?

  4. Did the book come with the power of God?

  5. Was the book accepted by the people of God?
Also mentioned there:
The beginning of that development - which would take over 300 years to complete - can be seen within the very books that later became part of that Canon.
Certain works are referred to as "from the Lord" or described, and used, as scripture along with the Old Testament. ( 1 Thess 5:27, 1 Thess 2:13, 1 Corinthians 14:37, 2 Peter 3:15-16 ). Indeed, the first combined Old Testament quote with something from the New is in
1 Timothy 5:18 For the scripture says, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain," [Deut 25:4] and, "The worker deserves his pay." [cf. Luke 10:7]
Those five questions above played out over parts of four centuries as the canon developed, and was finally settled once and for all (sorta) in 367 AD. Breaking the period up into pretty arbitrary divisions:

First Century
the books are written and begin to be copied and disseminated

  • There are frequent exhortations in scripture for the community read the Apostolic [a key point in future canonization decisions] communications outloud when they meet.

  • In 95 AD Clement of Rome writes a Letter to the Corinthians where he shows familiarity with Matthew, Luke, Romans, Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, and Ephesians

  • First half of 2nd century
    as they become more widely known and cherished, they begin to be cited

  • The first three great church fathers - Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius - used the bulk of the material of the New Testament in a casual manner - authenticated scriptures were being accepted as authoritative without argument. In their writings, only Mark, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and 2 Peter are not clearly cited

  • The Epistles of Ignatius (c. AD 115) have correspondences in several places with the Gospels and seem to incorporate language from a number of the Pauline letters.

  • It is in the Epistle of Barnabas (c. AD 130) that we first find the formula “it is written” (4:14) used in reference to a NT book (Mt 22:14). But even before this,

  • Clement, Barnabas, and Ignatius all draw a clear distinction between their own and the inspired, authoritative apostolic writings.

  • Polycarp, who had personal acquaintance with eyewitnesses of our Lord’s ministry, used a combined OT and NT quotation. Citing Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:26, where the apostle quotes Psalm 4:4 and makes an addition, Polycarp in his Epistle to the Philippians introduces the reference by “as it is said in these Scriptures” (12:4)

  • Papias uses citations from Matthew and Mark and uses them in exposition.

  • The Gospel of Truth, a gnostic work probably written by Valentinius, treats the Gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul, Hebrews, and Revelations as authoritaive

  • Marcion in his gnostic canon included Luke, and the letters of Paul (except the pastorals)

  • Justin Martyr places the Apostlic writings on a par with those of the Old Testament prophets. He freely used "it is written" in talking about the apostolic writings.

  • Second half of 2nd Century
    held a recognized place alongside "scripture", and began to be translated into regional languages and made the subject of commentaries

  • Irenaeus - a student of Polycarp who was in turn a student of the Apostles themselves - quotes from almost the entire New Testament as authoritative

  • Tatian - a pupil of Justin Martyr's - writes a harmony of the four gospels showing their equal standing.

  • The Muratorian Canon cites the four Gospels, Acts, thirteen Pauline letters, Jude, 1 and 2 John, and Revelation

  • Translations existed in languages from the east to the west of the church - only lacking 2 Peter.

  • Third Century
    the collecting of the books into whole "New Testaments"; and the sifting of Christian literature for that purpose

  • Revelations was generally accepted in the west, but had variable acceptance in the east.

  • Hebrews was the reverse.

  • Indeed, those books with less than full support still occupy the end position in the Bible today: Hebrews - Revelations

  • Fourth Century
    the church fathers stating that conclusions have been reached which indicate acceptance by the whole church

  • Eusebius, in his church history covers the status going into Nicea:
    • universally agreed: four Gospels, Acts, letters of Paul (including Hebrews - with questions about his authorship), 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelations;

    • admitted by majority: James, 2 Peter (the most strongly contested), 2 and 3 John, and Jude.
    Nicea was essentially a rubber-stamp on the Canon; and indeed it really wasn't entirely settled until later in the century - assuming you want to ignore Luther and Calvin's issues.

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