Formation of the New Testament Canon - Lesson 6

Apostolic Origins

This lesson will deepen your understanding of the concept of covenant, especially in the context of the New Testament. You will learn about the connection between the Old and the New Covenant, highlighting the foundational work of the Old Testament authors that was continued by the authors of the New Testament. You'll realize the pattern of covenants God established in the Old Testament, which were drawn from established structures in the ancient world. The transition from Old to New Covenant is then explained through the actions of Jesus and the Apostles. The Apostles, as 'ministers' or 'agents' of the New Covenant, operated with the authority of Christ to instate and implement this new arrangement. The Apostles were not only aware of this authority, but it extended to their teachings, both spoken and written. This lays the groundwork for understanding that their writings were seen as bearing 'covenantal apostolic authority', essentially functioning as New Covenant documents or Scripture from the very beginning. You'll learn that their authority was immediate, rather than conferred later. The lesson also explains the reasons the Apostles felt the need to write down their teachings, including the covenantal context, the practicality of disseminating their message, and their own mortality.

Michael J Kruger
Formation of the New Testament Canon
Lesson 6
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Apostolic Origins


A. The apostles recorded the terms of the new covenant in written form

B. A covenant required written documentation


A. The apostles were the agents of the new covenant

B. The apostles were conscious of their authority


A. Peter refers to some of Paul's letters as Scripture

B. Apostles expected their writing to be accepted as authoritative


A. Covenantal context

B. Apostolic mission could not be accomplished only in person

C. Awareness of their limited lifespan

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Class Resources
  • Through this lesson, you are gaining an in-depth understanding of the challenges and debates surrounding the canonicity of the Bible, learning about its misconceptions, and exploring the various definitions and theories that underline its recognition and authority.
  • You'll gain insight into the community, historical-critical, and Roman Catholic models of determining a book's canonicity, and grapple with debates surrounding 'self-authenticating authority' and the role of the Council of Trent in formalizing the Canon.
  • You gain an understanding of the historically-determined model and how it differs from the community-determined model, learning that the historical context of a book is pivotal in determining its canonicity. You explore two sub-categories of this model, reflecting on the problem of preconceived worldviews influencing canon selection and questioning the origins of canon authenticity criteria. The lesson prompts you to consider the lack of neutrality in historical investigations due to interpretive bias.
  • By engaging with this lesson, you gain a profound understanding of the Self-Authenticating Model, where the canon is authenticated by its own contents, ultimately providing its authority and maintaining the principles of Sola Scriptura. This model involves a proper epistemic environment, divine qualities, apostolic origins, and the Holy Spirit's operations. You also learn to address potential criticisms and differentiate this model from others, such as the Mormon argument. Finally, you come to perceive canon formation as a dynamic process rather than a fixed event.
  • From this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the concept of 'defeaters' and their role in questioning our knowledge of the Bible. You will learn about the attributes that indicate a book is from God and how these are susceptible to 'defeaters'. You will be introduced to the divine quality of 'unity and harmony' and the challenges posed by 'defeaters' that question this unity. You will also understand the harmony between the Old and New Testaments, including the shared narrative structure and symbolism. Lastly, this lesson will help you recognize the importance of personal perception in understanding the Bible's divine qualities.
  • You'll grasp the significance of the covenant concept in the New Testament, understand the Apostles' roles as agents of the New Covenant, recognize their authoritative teachings in both oral and written forms, and appreciate the reasons behind the shift from oral teachings to written documents.
  • Gaining knowledge from this lesson, you understand the concept of Canonical Core and Corporate Reception, noting the early establishment and widespread agreement on most New Testament books, learn about disputed canonical status of some texts, and differentiate between orthodox and canonical books.
  • In this lesson, you explore the formation of the early Christian canon, examining patristic citations, the role of Christian manuscripts, and the adoption of the codex, which shaped the Christian textual culture and pointed towards an early formation of the canon.
  • This lesson provides an in-depth understanding of the four-fold division of the canon in early Christianity and the content and reasons for the disputed books, underlining the fact that the core of the canon was firmly established from Christianity's inception.
  • You will learn about Eusebius's four-fold division of the canon, the content and context of disputed books, and the stability of the foundational canon in early Christianity.

This course explores the complexities and debates related to the recognition, authority, and understanding of the biblical canon, including modern controversies fueled by discoveries of apocryphal materials and the influence of fictional works like the Da Vinci Code. It emphasizes the critical differentiation between a book becoming canonical and its recognition as such, introduces various canonical models, offers insights into the concept of a "proper epistemic environment," probes the development of the early Christian canon, and provides a comprehensive analysis of Eusebius' four-fold division - all with the aim of deepening the understanding of the biblical canon's formation, its diverse interpretations, and ongoing debates.

Recommended Books

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

I. Why is the Concept of Covenant Important in the Context of Apostolic Authorship?

One of the things we realize about the New Testament and certainly the word, Testamentum, the Latin word from which it comes; a better word would be New Covenant. This shows that there is a much larger concept under guarding the New Testament. This is really critical to get because of what I lay out in the book; when you start talking about a New Covenant, you are really building on a foundation that is outlined by the Old Covenant. I point out the fact that the New Testament authors really saw themselves as continuing in the tradition of what the Old Testament was already doing. When God makes a covenant arrangement, he gives with it the terms of that covenant in a textual document. So when Jesus said that he was inaugurating the New Covenant, we would expect there to be New Covenant documents that came along with it. You need to understand the link between the Old and the New. It gives us a sense of why we would expect new documents to be part of the New Covenant arrangement.

II. The Covenant of God in the Old Testament was patterned after Covenants Made in the Ancient World

When God says that he was going to establish a covenant, it was patterned after a typically structured agreement already established in the ancient world. This was like a contract from the Hittite world, when you made a covenant from king to king, you had a written documentation of that covenant that setting out the terms and the arrangements of it. So the Israelites would have already had that grid in their minds. And the first Christians, being that they were Jews, would have already had that idea of how a covenant would have been associated with written documents.

III. Jesus Instituted the New Covenant and the Apostles Became the Agents

I use the term, agents of the New Covenant. Paul in 2nd Corinthians 3 uses the term as Ministers of the New Covenant. What I love about the role of the apostles, there were what you might call the official implementer or agents or spokesmen or ministers of the New Covenant. They are installing it; they have the permission and the authority of Christ to speak for him and to operate with his authority. So they were implementing the terms of that New Covenant amongst God’s people. So, when you think about the authoritative leaders and installers of the New Covenant, it was clearly the apostles. They had a distinctive and foundational one-time office designed to begin and install the foundation of the New Covenant. Of course, Paul, himself, saw the apostles this way by describing them as ministers of the New Covenant.

IV. Did the Apostles Understand this Role in Their Lives?

One of the points I labored to make in the book is that when the apostles operated and functioned as apostles in their teachings, they were consciously aware of their own authority. That authority did not limit itself to oral proclamation, but was extended to written proclamation and content. Paul, in fact, does as much; he is to be obeyed whether in his oral teachings or written teachings. His words were to be followed and listened to. So once the apostles understood themselves as ministers of the New Covenant then you realize that their authority extended to anytime they were operating as ministers of the New Covenant. This certainly would include their preaching and oral proclamation and the key point here was when they wrote that message down. So when the apostles in their office of apostles wrote down the apostle message, what would that physical writing have been regarded as? What function would it have played? It would have played the role as a writing that bore full covenantal apostolic authority right from the beginning. So what kind of book is this? In every real sense, it is a Scripture like book. It is a book that would have functioned like a New Covenant document. And so, part of the reason I think this argument is important is that it helps to remind us that when the New Testament writers wrote, it wasn’t like they wrote with one intention, only later did people regards these books as authoritative. They didn’t have the idea of thinking that they weren’t authoritative or anything like that, but from the beginning they knew that these writings had authority. Paul wrote as a minister of the New Covenant and these documents had authority instantaneously. So, this is why I think, unless you grasp the self-awareness of the apostles when they wrote, you will always want to date the canon at a later date. The canon is an early phenomenon when you realize that the apostles were aware of what they were doing.

V. Some Modern Scholars Consider Irenaeus as the First Person who Considered the New Testament Documents as Authoritative.

Peter would be surprised as he referred to Paul’s letter in his 2nd letter. Yeah, this is a repeated reframe with modern scholars, that, once again, it was the later church that first regarded these documents as distinctively Scripture and that in earlier stages, no one bothered to think that way. I think this is fundamentally flawed; we have already seen that the conception of these books bore apostolic authority. The apostles said that they were writing with the authority of Christ.

VI. Why did the Apostles Write at all?

People often ask, didn’t the apostles first delivery their message orally and if so, why didn’t they keep doing this? This second step of writing things down seemed to be a later artificial step. What made the apostles do this? One reason, I think, has to do with the covenantal context. If they had this concept that they were the ministers of the New Covenant, the idea of a New Covenant text would have been a natural normal, even organic next step. Just like the Old Testament had text that documented the terms of the Old Covenant, you can understand why the apostles had that in their minds. So, this is one reason to expect a written text. The second reason would be based on the apostolic mission itself. Their goal was to lay the foundation of the church and bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It would not have been long though before the apostles began to realize that this goal was not going to be able to be accomplished always in person. You can’t always deliver every message orally. They couldn’t travel to every church and every place. If they were going to be effective in their mission, they needed to have some way to replicate their message more rapidly and writing things down would have been a practical step to this. The last thing I want to mention; I think the apostles were aware of their own limited life span. As they begin to age out and die, I think the urgency to write the message down would have increased. People often also ask, why didn’t they write in the early thirties or forties a lot more; they really only started writing in the fifties and sixties. There could be many answers to this question. People began to realize that the apostles were either dying or would be dying and they were leaving their deposit behind in a way that would be preserved and maintained for future generations.