See also Canon
IV. Literary Growth and Origin--Canonicity.
Thus far the books of theand have been taken simply as given, and no attempt has been made to inquire how or when they were written or compiled, or how they came to acquire the dignity and authority implied in their reception into a sacred canon. The field here entered is one bristling with controversy, and it is necessary to choose one’s steps with caution to find a safe way through it. Details in the survey are left, as before, to the special articles.
1. The Old Testament:
Attention here is naturally directed, first, to the Old Testament. This, it is obvious, and is on all sides admitted, has a long literary history prior to its final settlement in a canon. As to the course of that history traditional and modern critical views very widely differ. It may possibly turn out that the truth lies somewhere midway between them.
(1) Indications of Old Testament Itself.
If the indications furnished by the Old Testament itself be accepted, the results are something like the following:
(a) Patriarchal Age:
No mention is made of writing in the patriarchal age, though it is now known that a high literary culture then prevailed in Babylonia, Egypt and Palestine, and it is not improbable, indeed seems likely, that records in some form came down from that age, and are, in parts, incorporated in the early history of the Bible.
(b) Mosaic Age:
The song of Deborah (
The age of David and Solomon was one of high development in poetical and historical composition: witness the elegies of David (
(i) Assyrian Age:
With the rise of written prophecy a new form of literature enters, called forth by, and vividly mirroring, the religious and political conditions of the closing periods of the monarchy in Israel and Judah (see Prophecy). On the older view, Obadiah and Joe stood at the head of the series in the pre-Assyrian period (9th century), and this seems the preferable view still. On the newer view, these prophets are late, and written prophecy begins in the Assyrian period with Amos ( , circa 750 BC) and Hosea (circa 745-735). When the latter prophet wrote, Samaria was tottering to its fall (721 BC). A little later, in Judah, come Isaiah (circa 740-690) and Micah (circa 720-708). Isaiah, in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, is the greatest of the prophets in the Assyrian age, and his ministry reaches its climax in the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (
(ii) Chaldean Age:
The prophets Zephaniah (under Josiah, circa 630 BC) and Habakkuk (circa 606) may be regarded as forming the transition to the next--the Chaldean--period. The Chaldeans (unnamed in Zephaniah) are advancing but are not yet come (
(g) Josiah’s Reformation:
A highly important event in this period was Josiah’s reformation in his 18th year (621 BC), and the discovery, during repairs of the temple, of "the book of the law," called also "the book of the covenant" and "the law of Moses" (
(h) Exilian and Post-Exilian:
The bulk of Isa 40-66 belongs, at least in spirit, to the Exile, but the one prophet of the Exile known to us by name is the priestly Ezekiel. Carried captive under Jehoiachin (597 BC), Ezekiel labored among his fellow-exiles for at least 22 years (
(i) Daniel, etc.:
After Ezekiel the voice of prophecy is silent till it revives in Daniel, in Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors. Deported in 605 BC, Daniel rose to power, and "continued" until the 1st year of Cyrus (536 BC;
(j) Preexilic Bible:
If, in this rapid sketch, the facts are correctly represented, it will be apparent that, in opposition to prevalent views, large body of sacred literature existed (laws, histories, psalms, wisdom-books, prophecies), and was recognized long before the Exile. God’s ancient people had "Scriptures"--had a Bible--if not yet in collected form. This is strikingly borne out by the numerous Old Testament passages referring to what appears to be a code of sacred writings in the hands of the pious in Israel. Such are the references to, and praises of, the "law" and "word" of God in many of the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 1; 19; 119; 12:6; 17:4; 18:21,22), with the references to God’s known "words," "ways," "commandments," "statutes," in other books of the Old Testament (
(2) Critical views.
The account of the origin and growth of the Old Testament above presented is in marked contrast with that given in the textbooks of the newer critical schools. The main features of these critical views are sketched in the article CRITICISM (which see); here a brief indication will suffice. Generally, the books of the Old Testament are brought down to late dates; are regarded as highly composite; the earlier books, from their distance from the events recorded, are deprived of historical worth. Neither histories nor laws in the Pentateuch belong to the Mosaic age: Joshua is a "romance"; Judges may embody ancient fragments, but in bulk is unhistorical. The earliest fragments of Israelite literature are lyric pieces like those preserved in
Our present Pentateuch (enlarged to a "Hexateuch," including Josh) consists of 4 main strands (themselves composite), the oldest of which (called Jahwist (Jahwist), from its use of the name Yahweh) goes back to about 850 BC. This was Judean. A parallel history book (called E, from its use of the name Elohim, God) was produced in the Northern kingdom about a century later (circa 750). Later still these two were united (JE). These histories, "prophetic" in spirit, were originally attributed to individual authors, distinguished by minute criteria of style: the more recent fashion is to regard them as the work of "schools." Hitherto the only laws known were those of the (post-Mosaic)
In its theory of the Pentateuch the newer criticism lays down the determinative positions for its criticism of all the remaining books of the Old Testament. The historical books show but a continuation of the processes of literary construction exemplified in the books ascribed to Moses. The Deuteronomic element, e.g. in Josh, Jgs, 1, 2 Sam, 1, 2 Ki, proves them, in these parts, to be later than Josiah, and historically untrustworthy. The Levitical element in 1, 2Ch demonstrates its pictures of David and his successors to be distorted and false. The same canon applies to the prophets. Joel, e.g. must be post-exilian, because it presupposes the priestly law. The patriarchal and Mosaic histories being subverted, it is not permitted to assume any high religious ideas in early Israel. David, therefore, could not have written the Psalms. Most, if not practically all, of these are post-exilian.
(c) Psalms and Prophets:
Monotheism came in--at least first obtained recognition--through Amos and Hosea. The prophets could not have the foresight and far-reaching hopes seen in their writings: these passages, therefore, must be removed. Generally the tendency is to put dates as low as possible and very many books, regarded before as preexilian, are carried down in whole or part, to exilian, post-exilian, and even late Greek times (Priestly Code, Psalter, Job, Proverbs, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Second Isaiah, Joel, Lamentations). Daniel is Maccabean and unhistorical (circa 168-167 BC).
It is not proposed here to discuss this theory, which is not accepted in the present article, and is considered elsewhere (see Criticism; Pentateuch). The few points calling for remark relate to canonical acceptance.
(3) Formation of the Canon.
The general lines of the completed Jewish canon have already been sketched, and some light has now been thrown on the process by which the several books obtained a sacred authority. As to the actual stages in the formation of the canon opinions again widely diverge (see Canon of the Old Testament).
(a) Critical Theory:
On theory at present in favor, no collections of sacred books were made prior to the return from Babylon. The only books that had authority before the Exile were, perhaps, the old Book of the Covenant, and, from Josiah’s time, the Book of Deuteronomy. Both, after the return, were, on this theory, embodied, with the JE histories, and the Priestly Code, in Ezra’s completed Book of the Law (with Joshua(?)), in which, accordingly, the foundation of a canon was laid. The fivefold division of the law was later. Subsequently, answering to the 2nd division of the Jewish canon, a collection was made of the prophetic writings. As this includes books which, on the critical view, go down to Greek times (Jon;
(b) More Positive View:
It will appear from the foregoing that this theory is not here accepted without considerable modification. If the question be asked, What constituted a right to a place in the canon? the answer can hardly be other than that suggested by Josephus in the passage formerly quoted--a real or supposed inspiration in the author of the book. Books were received if men had the prophetic spirit (in higher or lower degree: that, e.g. of wisdom); they ceased to be received when the succession of prophets was thought to fail (after Malachi). In any case the writings of truly inspired men (Moses, the prophets, psalmists) were accepted as of authority. It was sought, however, to be shown above, that such books, many of them, already existed from Moses down, long before the Exile (the law, collections of psalms, of proverbs, written prophecies: to what end did the prophets write, if they did not mean their prophecies to be circulated and preserved?); and such writings, to the godly who knew and used them, had the full value of Scripture. A canon began with the first laying up of the "book of the law" before Yahweh (
(c) Close of Canon:
There is no need for dogmatism as to an absolute date for the close of the canon. If inspired voices continued to be heard, their utterances were entitled to recognition. Books duly authenticated might be added, but the non-inclusion of such as a book as Sirach (Ecclesiasticus: in Hebrew, circa 200 BC) shows that the limits of the canon were jealously guarded, and the onus of proof rests on those who affirm that there were such books. Calvin, e.g. held that there were Maccabean Psalms. Many modern scholars do the same, but it is doubtful if they are right. Ecclesiastes is thought on linguistic grounds to be late, but it and other books need not be so late as critics make them. Daniel is confidently declared to be Maccabean, but there are weighty reasons for maintaining a Persian date (see Daniel). As formerly noticed, the threefold division into "the law, the prophets, and the rest (ta loipa, a definite number) of the books" is already attested in the Prologue to Sirach.
2. The New Testament:
Critical controversy, long occupied with the Old Testament, has again keenly attached itself to the New Testament, with similar disturbing results (see Criticism). Extremer opinions may be here neglected, and account be taken only of those that can claim reasonable support. The New Testament writings are conveniently grouped into the historical books (Gospels and Acts); Epistles (Pauline and other); and a Prophetic book (Rev). In order of writing, the Epistles, generally, are earlier than the Gospels, but in order of subject, the Gospels naturally claim attention first.
(1) Historical Books:
The main facts about the origin of the Gospels can perhaps be distinguished from the complicated literary theories which scholars are still discussing (see Gospels). The first three Gospels, known as the Synoptics, evidently embody a common tradition, and draw from common sources. The Fourth Gospel--that of John--presents problems by itself.
(a) The Synoptics:
The former--the(Matthew, Mark, Luke)--fall in date well within the apostolic age, and are, in the 2nd century, uniformly connected with the authors whose names they bear, Mark is spoken of as "the interpreter of Peter" (Papias, in HE iii.39); Luke is the well-known companion of Paul. A difficulty arises about Matthew, whose Gospel is stated to have been written in Aramaic (Papias, ut supra, etc.), while the gospel bearing his name is in Greek. The Greek gospel seems at least to have been sufficiently identified with the apostle to admit of the early church always treating it as his.
The older theory of origin assumed an oral basis for all 3 Gospels. The tendency in recent criticism is to distinguish two main sources:
(1) Mk, the earliest gospel, a record of the preaching of Peter;
(2) a collection of the sayings and discourses of Jesus, attributed to Matthew (the Eusebian Logia, now called Q); with
(3) a source used by Luke in the sections peculiar to himself--the result of his own investigations (
Mt and Lu are supposed to be based on Mr and the Logia (Q); in Luke’s case with the addition of his special material. Oral tradition furnished what remains. A simpler theory may be to substitute for (1) a Petrine tradition already firmly fixed while yet the apostles were working together in Jerusalem. Peter, as foremost spokesman, would naturally stamp his own type upon the oral narratives of Christ’s sayings and doings (the Mark type), while Matthew’s stories, in part written, would be the chief source for the longer discourses. The instruction imparted by the apostles and those taught by them would everywhere be made the basis of careful catechetical teaching, and records of all this, more or less fragmentary, would be early in circulation (
(b) Fourth Gospel:
The Fourth Gospel (Jn), the genuineness of which is assumed (see Gospel of John), differs entirely in character and style. It is less a narrative than a didactic work, written to convince its readers that Jesus is "the " (
The Ac narrates the origin and early fortunes of the church, with, as its special motive (compare
(2) The Epistles.
Doubt never rested in the early church on the 13 epistles of Paul. Following upon the rejection by the "Tubingen" school of all the epistles but 4 (Rom, 1, 2 Cor, Gal), the tide of opinion has again turned strongly in favor of their genuineness. An exception is the Pastoral epistles (1, 2 Tim, Tit), still questioned by some on insufficient grounds (see Pastoral Epistles). The epistles, called forth by actual needs of the churches, are a living outpouring of the thoughts and feelings of the mind and heart of the apostle in relation to his converts. Most are letters to churches he himself had founded (1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians(?), Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonains): two are to churches he had not himself visited, but with which he stood in affectionate relations (Romans, Colossians); one is purely personal (Philemon); three are addressed to individuals, but with official responsibilities (1 Timonty, 2 Timothy, Titus). The larger number were written during his missionary labors, and reflect his personal situation, anxieties and companionships at the places of their composition; four are epistles of the 1st Roman imprisonment (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon): 2 Timothy is a voice from the dungeon, in his 2nd imprisonment, shortly before his martyrdom. Doctrine, counsel, rebuke, admonition, tender solicitude, ethical instruction, prayer, thanksgiving, blend in living fusion in their contents. So marvelous a collection of letters, on such magnificent themes, was never before given to the world.
The earliest epistles, in point of date, are generally held to be those to the Thessalonians, written from Corinth (52, 53 AD). The church, newly-founded, had passed through much affliction (
Corinth itself received the next epistles--the 1st called forth by reports received at Ephesus of grave divisions and irregularities 1Co (
In the following year (58 BC) Paul penned from Corinth the
Closely connected with the Epistle to the Romans is that to the Galatians, in which the same truths are handled, but now with a polemical intent in expostulation and reproach. The Galatian churches had apostatized from the gospel of faith to Jewish legalism, and the apostle, sorely grieved, writes this powerful letter to rebuke their faithlessness, and recall them to their allegiance to the truth. It is reasonable to suppose that the two epistles are nearly related in place and time. The question is complicated, however, by the dispute which has arisen as to whether the churches intended are those of Northern Galatia (the older view; compare Conybeare and Howson, Lightfoot) or those of Southern Galatia (Sir Wm. Ramsay), i.e. the churches of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, in Paul’s time embraced in the Roman province of Galatia (see Galatia; Galatians). If the latter view is adopted, date and place are uncertain; if the former, the epistle may have been written from Ephesus (circa 57 AD).
The 4 epistles of the imprisonment all fall within the years 60, 61 AD. That to the Philipplans, warmly praising the church, and exhorting to unity, possibly the latest of the group, was sent by the hand of Epaphroditus, who had come to Rome with a present from the Philippian church, and had there been overtaken by a serious illness (
See Captivity Epistles.
Latest from Paul’s pen are the Pastoral Epistles). Timothy was left at Ephesus (
These are the
The one prophetic book of the New Testament--the apocalyptic counterpart of Daniel in the Old Testament--is the Book of Revelation. The external evidence for the Johannine authorship is strong (see Apocalypse). Tradition and internal evidence ascribe it to the reign of Domitian (circa 95 AD). Its contents were given in vision in the isle of Patmos (
The principal steps by which the books now enumerated were gradually formed into a New Testament "Canon," have been indicated in previous sections. The test of canonicity here, as in the Old Testament, is the presence of inspiration. Some would prefer the word "apostolic," which comes to the same thing. All the writings above reckoned were held to be the works of apostles or of apostolic men, and on this ground were admitted into the list of books having authority in the church. Barnabas (circa 100-120 AD) already quotes