Lecture 30: The Canon of Scripture
Course: Biblical Hermeneutics
Lecture: The Canon of Scripture
I want to begin tonight by talking about the Canon of Scripture. We started that last session, we had together. And then after that we will talk about an overview of the class and of the exam that will be coming.
The handout on the Canon of Scripture – there were extras around. They seem to have disappeared. There is still one or two there if you need them.
We talked about how at the time of Jesus, the Old Testament was pretty much defined – understood as consisting of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, with subdivisions of the Law, subdivisions of the Prophets – the former and the latter Prophets – and the latter Prophets also having the Major and the Minor prophets.
We also talked about the various numbering of the Old Testament – it depends on how you number them. For instance we number each individual book and so we get 39, but for Jews in the time of Jesus the Minor Prophets talked about as a book in general and therefore you have 12 books that are not thought of as individual book but as one book and already you have 11 less than in our Canon.
We talked about those books not found in the Protestant Bible but in the Catholic Bible – the books of the Apocrypha. And we noted that in 1546, they became a part of the Roman Catholic clearly defined scriptures and Protestants in general have seen them as not being scripture because they are not included in the Jewish Old Testament Canon.
We want to begin tonight’s books as part of their scriptures. The New Testament never quotes any part of them as Scriptures. No book in the Apocrypha is ever quoted and introduced by “As it is written” or “Scripture says.” They may quote them the Apocrypha but they can quote Greek poets, but they don’t quote them as Scripture so the New Testament writers do not seem to think of them as being part of the Canon of Scripture .
Then we also pointed out that there is a difference in quality between them. Great to read. It teaches us much about the religion of Jesus’ day, about Jewish piety – I love the book of Tobit which I told you about, but there are things in it . . . magic and wizardry. . . kinds of things that are different and sometimes just plain statements of facts that are in error.
So by the time of Jesus’ the Canon of Scripture was established. There is later a Council of Jamnia in AD 90 and some people have sought to argue that it is at that point that the Old Testament canon was established and made clear to the Jewish people, but that is an incorrect understanding of what happened.
What happened at Jamnia was not a coming together as to which books should be included in the Canon of Scripture, but questions about specific books in that Canon of Scripture such as the book of Esther in which the name of God is not mentioned. Then we talked about the origin of the New Testament Canon, pointing out that the Church always had a Bible, from the Day of Pentecost they had a Bible – the Old Testament.
But they also had in addition to that the Jesus Traditions. And Jesus’ words, His deeds were passed on and circulated with great care. Later inscripturated in 4 Gospels and becomes part of the written Canon of the New Testament, but they always had that as part of their authoritative teaching.
In the Gospels course that period which we call the period of Oral Tradition or which Form Criticism deals with after the death and resurrection of Jesus, that period between that event and the writing of the Gospel and the New Testament – the Oral Period is discussed in your New Testament Introduction I course and if you haven’t had that it will be forthcoming.
We then talked about the writing of the New Testament books that Paul’s letters were written 50, 55, 60, 65 – the Gospels, Mark, I understand as being the earliest, 65 to 70 as tradition says, shortly after Peter’s death. Matthew and Luke using Mark after that and John according to Tradition very late as he is an old man.
James then would have been written by before 62.
It claims to be written by a James – the only James that was famous enough to simply talk about himself being named James would be the brother of our Lord and he was the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Hebrews probably before AD 70 because of the lack of any mention of the temple’s destruction. Now the rest of the New Testament no later … in my understanding … through 95 although some critical reconstructions would have books like 2 Peter very late, maybe 135 to 50.
We then come up to the rise of the Canon and I mentioned several of the factors – not that caused people to think that there was a Canon of Scripture but to become concerned about the delineation of the Canon of Scripture. One was the rise of the heresy of Marcion. 140 AD. He is a Gnostic, a Christian heretic, and he has a Bible consisting of the Gospel of Luke and 10 letters of Paul and this is being waved around as their Bible.
Well if they have this Bible, then it makes you start thinking “Well. What is our Bible? How is it different? ” That no doubt caused people to think about the question of the Canon and of Scripture.
The discovery of a new form of writing material called the Codex in which you could put a great deal more material than in a simple scroll. Technically you could make the scroll as big as you wanted if you had a derech (?)to turn the thing, but practically a scroll was from 6 – 20 feet.
But once you had a codex form you could include many other things. If you value Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, as the word of God, you want to make sure that you do not put anything next to it that is not of the same quality and so what books belong together in the codex causes the church to wrestle with that problem as to which books are canonical.
And then we talked about the persecution of the church and the desire of opponents of the church to destroy the sacred writings of the church. And now the question comes up as to which book are you willing to die to save?
I kind of ended it at that point where we will begin.
Any questions up to this time?
Alright well let us look at a couple of examples of material in the New Testament itself which indicates the passing on of the traditions and the beginning germ form of a canon of Scripture. In the book of Colossians, in Colossians 4, Paul writes to the church, beginning at verse 14, makes the comment, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you, Give my Greetings to the Brethren at Laodicea and to Nympha and the church in her house.”
Then he says “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the Church of the Laodiceans. And see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.”
Well that indicates that already in the ministry of Paul, during his life and ministry, his letters were being exchanged in churches and that is very important because now we dont wait until a century later but already during the lifetime of Paul, the churches are beginning to collect his letters.
For instance, if you were from Laodicea and you were on a business trip and you visited Corinth and you met with the brethren in Corinth and they were reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, you have never heard of this letter and you want this letter from the apostle of JC, Paul for your church back in Laodicea. And when somebody from Corinth found out that there was a copy of a letter written to the church at Colossae, they would want a copy of the Colossian letter, so churches now begin to collect the letters of Paul.
You have also in 1st Thessalonians 5:27, another such statement. Paul writes, “I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the Brethren.”
So here the brethren are to all hear the letter be read. And I can’t imagine that this means only the brethren in Thessalonika, but also the brethren in nearby Philippi or something of that nature. So here you have something of the idea – the letters of Paul being read among various churches not just to the church that it was originally written to.
Now in 2 Peter 3:16, we have a very important statement, a very much debated and argued statement. Beginning at v. 14, Peter writes… “
“Therefore beloved. Since you wait for these be zealous to be found by Him without spot or blemish and at peace and count the forbearance of our Lord for our salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking as he does in all his letters.”
Is the knowledge of Paul’s letters – not just a single letter or so.
“There are some things in them - in Paul’s letters - that are hard to understand …”
Its encouraging when an inspired writer of Scripture says, “I don’t get some of these things that Paul says. It makes me feel not so dumb after all.
“There are some things in his letters that are hard to understand which the ignorant and the unstable twist to their own destruction as they do the other Scriptures.”
Now in the Canon of the New Testament, this is the first and only reference to a writing of the New Testament being specifically being referred to as Scriptures. Paul’s letters are understood as Scriptures.
Now, that raises all sorts of problems with regards to a more radical approach to the New Testament. If this is so, well this must mean that 2 Peter has to be a very late letter. It would have to be a late letter so that Paul’s letters could be gathered around. That they have begun to be esteemed highly no doubt after his death they have become revered. And given a few decades or given say a century or so then they are begun to be understood as Scripture. And now we are dealing with 2 Peter being very late, written maybe around 150 or something like that.
There are problems with regard to 2 Peter that you need to be aware of in the New Testament that will be discussed for you, but as it stands this is the clearest reference to Paul’s writings as Scripture within the text of the New Testament itself.
Now there is another reference that is important and that is found in 1Timothy 5:18. Beginning at verse 17:
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”
Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,’
Now that is a reference found where in your footnoted Bible? Deuteronomy 25. Fine. No problem. Scripture says this. Ok. But now the next statement says, “The laborer deserves his wages.” You have a little reference there.
Well. It comes from both Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:14. And actually Matthew 10:10 has “the laborer deserves his food”, but Luke has, “the laborer deserves his wages”.
Now here is the question. Is this a reference then in 1Timothy to the written Gospel of Luke?
Could be. Must it be? What other possibilities are there?
Oral Tradition. Right. Remember when Paul says. “Now say I, yet not I, but the Lord” and then he quotes Jesus’ saying on divorce. Well this is written in 50. And Jesus’ teaching on divorce if it is written in the Gospel then … not too many of our people date any of our Gospels at 50. So it could very easily be an oral tradition.
There is an Oral Tradition for instance in Acts that has to be an Oral Tradition.
“Remembering the words of our Lord who said ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ I think it is Acts 20:35, but I wouldn’t be sure of it.
There is no quotation of Jesus like that in any of our Gospels. It must be an oral tradition that came down from the Lord and that Paul is quoting.
Is this what we have here, not only that it is being quoted by Paul, but also later on this very quotation is written down in the Scriptural accounts, whereas the one in Acts 20:35, again if that’s the right reference, isn’t.
I don’t think its possible to be dogmatic and say “this proves that Luke was written by the time Paul wrote this.” I think it means that, the author of 1st Timothy, Paul in my understanding, is quoting a saying of Jesus that he knew. But.
That it comes from the Lord, indicates that it is Scriptural. It has the authority of Scripture. Just like the Old Testament. So that its an early indication that Jesus’ words are equated along with the Old Testament, as Scripture, but not necessarily that the written Gospel is so quoted because we don’t know if this is being quoted from a written Gospel.
Even those who ask for an early dating of Luke, right around 62 or 63, that’s kind of tight here too. Its really hard to fit it into a timeframe before Paul wrote this letter. Now that doesn’t mean that that is the final factor. I think we have to say, there are oral traditions and we have places where they quote oral traditions, like when Paul quotes Jesus’ saying on divorce, I am sure that He is not getting that from Matthew of Luke, because now you have to have before 50.
And that becomes very very early. Especially since the earliest dating of Acts could possibly be around 63 and Luke seems to have been written fairly close to that time not a decade or so before.
I think it does show however that the Jesus traditions are understood as part of the Canon of Scripture. That its canonical material. What Jesus said is like the Old Testament, its Scripture. It’s the Word of God for the early church.
Now beginning in 96 and following we have some of the writings of the early church Fathers. In 1st Clement written in 96 – most people are pretty certain of the dating – he refers to the books of Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, probably also Luke and Acts.
He is the leader of the church as Rome, and it seems quite clear that the Roman library so to speak, in their church, among the scrolls that they held, as part of their Scriptural setting, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, probably Luke and Acts are also included. That doesn’t mean that its only those. These are the ones that he clearly quotes and refers to. There maybe more. There maybe more. He just doesn’t quote them specifically.
In the Didache which was written sometime between 75 and 125 - that’s a very difficult one to date. In these references in 8:2, 15:3 and 15:4, there are several possible references to the various Gospels. Papius around 135 quotes:
Do I have “2 maybe 3 gospels down printed out?” “3 maybe 4” “Change it to 2 maybe 3”
Papius quotes 2 maybe 3 Gospels. What he quotes is found in Eusebius and let me read the passage to you.
“And the presbyter – one of the people that he knew – used to say this. Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed in order of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord nor had he followed Him, but later on as I said followed Peter. He used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making as it were an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and make no false statements in them.”
This is related by Papius about Mark and about Matthew, this was said, “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language and each interpreted them as best as he could.”
So here we have references to Mark and Matthew for sure there may be another reference but that’s only a possibility.
Papius wrote 6 volumes which were commentaries on the Gospels. Only one we know of that we have some fragments of. But if you write a commentary on a Gospel does that suggest that you think it is Scriptural? That its part of the Canon of Scripture?
Marcion – the heretic we talked about – had his Canon of Scripture by about 140. That included Luke and 10 Pauline letters. So now you have by the middle of the 1st century, a Bible beginning to develop much like ours.
In the epistle of Barnabas written around 70 to 150 … again, the dating is difficult. He quotes Matthew 22:14 and he quotes it as if it was Scripture. Let me read it to you.
“Moreover consider this as well, my brothers, when you see that after such extraordinary signs and wonders were done in Israel, even then they were abandoned. Let us be in guard, lest we too should be found as it is written, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
“Many are called, but few are chosen” comes from Matthew 22:14 and it is introduced by “As it is written” so it is clear that Barnabas here sees Matthew’s Gospel as Scripture. In 2nd Clement written about 100 – 150 with 150 pretty much being the end dating.
2nd Clement writes the following:
“And another Scripture says, ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.’” That comes from Matthew 9:13 and it is specifically referred to as Scripture here. So that – by the early beginnings of the 2nd Century, the Gospels are quite freely being referred to as Scripture as such.
Tatian wrote a work, the Diatesseron. Dia is Greek for “through” and tesseron is Greek for “four”. It is “through the four Gospels”.
It is a harmony in which what he did – apparently he had four accounts of the feeding of the 5,000. You could save a lot of space if you could eliminate 3 of them and combine all the information you have in all four together. And you could do the same with all the other stories.
Now the fact that he does that, indicates that by 170, the church has four Gospels. These are the only four that he is interested in doing this to. And the fact that he puts this together, it seems quite clear that he seems the 4 gospels as Scripture and seems to work and make a continuous story of them.
At the end of the 2nd century, a manuscript fragment which has been called the Muratorian canon was written. Muratori was a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1740, 1500 years later, he found the diary of an 8th century monk, a kind of scrapbook of things, and as he was leafing through it, and reading it, he found this scrap of paper which lists the books of the Bible that were understood as being Scripture.
And this scrap has been called the Muratorian Canon. That lists the books that Muratori discovered in 1740. He is not the one that originates it. He just gets the name for finding it. The fragment begins this way. I will read parts of it. I won’t read all of it. The document has lost the first part – the first few parts because it begins,
“The 3rd book of the Gospel according to Luke.”
He had a pretty good idea what was before this. Luke is the 3rd. He must have talked about Matthew and Mark earlier. After the ascension of Christ, Luke the physician whom Paul had taken along with him as a legal expert wrote down in his own name in accordance with Paul opinion. The 4th Gospel is by John, one of the disciples.
The Acts of all the apostles have been written in one book addressing the most excellent Theophilus. Luke includes one by one the things that were done in his own presence as he shows plainly by omitting the passion of peter and also Paul’s departure when he was setting of from the scene from Spain.
As for the letters of Paul, first of all he wrote to the Corinthians forbidding schisms and heresies. Then to the Galatians forbidding circumcism. To the Romans he wrote at a greater length about the order of Scripture and also insisting that Christ was their primary theme.
“It is necessary for us to give an argued account of all these, since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the order of his predecessor John, but not naming him, writes to 7 churches in the following order: First to the Corinthians, second to the Ephesians, third to the Phillipians, fourth to the Colossians, fifth to the Galatians, sixth to the Thessalonians. Seventh to the Romans. Strange Order. But although the message is repeated to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians by way of reproof, yet one church is recognized as diffused throughout all the world. For John also while he writes to 7 churches in the Apocalypse yet speaks to all.
Moreover Paul writes one letter to Philemon, one to Titus, two to Timothy in love and affection. There is said to be another letter in Paul’s name, to the Laodiceans. And another to the Alexandrines. Both forged in accordance with Marcion’s heresy. And many others which cannot be received into the catholic church since it is not fitting that poison should be mixed with honey. But the letter of Jude and the other two subscribed with the name of John are accepted by the catholic church.” “Catholic” means here, universal church, the whole church, not the Roman Catholic church.
Wisdom also, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Apocrypha written by Solomon’s friends in his honor are accepted. The Apocalypse of John we also receive and that of Peter, the apocalypse of Peter, which some of our people will not have to be read in church. But the Shepherd was written by Hermas in the city of Rome quite recently in our own time when his brother Pius had occupied the bishop’s chair of Rome, and therefore it may be read indeed, but it cannot be given out to the people of the church either among the Prophets since their number is complete or among the apostles at the end of time.
But none of the writings of Arsenius or Valentinus or Milteities do we receive at all. So here you have a fragment dating back to the end of the 2nd century and it looks like from that fragment that already the Church has its basic New Testament. You have 4 Gospels. You have Acts. You have Paul’s letters. You have Jude to Johannine Revelation, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Apocalypse of Peter.
At the same time, one of the more orthodox leaders of the church, a man by the name of Ireneus describes the situation by 200. Here he refers to the homolegoumena, those universally confessed by the church.
Homo1, legoumena confessed, spoken of. The Gospels, Acts, Paul, 1st John, 1st Peter.
The Anti-legomena in your notes, sometimes I have made a mistake spelling.
Homolegoumena should be l-o-g-o-umena.
Antilegomena should be l-e-g-o-m.
The Antilegomena – anti – against legomai – to speak – the books that some speaks against. It doesn’t mean everybody rejects these. It means whereas everybody except the 1st group, universally recognized.
There are some who have problems with these and there are some who speak against them. And they involve James, Jude, 2nd and 3rd John, 2nd Peter, Hebrews and Revelation. And sometimes other books come up, books like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, 1st Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas.
So these books then, by 200, our Bible is very close to what we have. Jude is not that big a deal. You have the Gospels, you have Paul’s letters, you have Acts, 1st John, 1st Peter, Hebrews would have been included in Paul’s letters at the time and you have a substantial essence of the New Testament.
The clarification of the Canon that develops
Eusebius was a church historian in 325. He was – no – he was not a church historian – he was THE church historian and if you want to know about early people in the church, Eusebius is the person that usually refers to them in some way. And Eusebius, has a section here in which he talks about the Canon of Scripture and I would like to read it for you.
In his book, he wrote The Ecclesiastical History – the history of the Church, book 3, chapter 25. At this point, it seems reasonable to summarize the writings of the New Testament, which have been quoted. In the first place should be put the holy tetrad of the Gospel. Four – holy tetrad. No one would question of course whether it is Matthew, Mark, Luke and Amos or something like that. To them, follows the writing of the Acts of the Apostles. After this should be reckoned, the Epistles of Paul. Following them, the epistle of John, called the first, and in the same way should be recognized the epistle of Peter.
In addition to these should be put if desirable, the revelation of John; the arguments concerning which we will expound at the proper time. These belong to the recognized books, the Homolegoumena. Everybody acknowledge these, but John is a little strange role. The revelation of John is a strange role. Of the disputed books, the Antilegomena, which are nevertheless known to most. In other words, some people have reservations about the Antilegomena, but the majority accept these.
Its not like everybody talks about these and reject these. The Antilegomena means the majority accept it, but there are some who have reservations and argue against them. The Homolegoumena – everybody accepts them. Period. No one speaks against them. Alright, so now in the disputed books, the Antilegomena, which are nevertheless known to most, are the epistles called of James, that of Jude, the 2nd epistle of Peter, and the 2nd and so called 3rd epistles of John, which may be the so called evangelist or some other with the same name. Alright that’s the 2nd category. The majority of those people accept those as canonical scripture.
The 3rd group among the books which are not genuine. These are the Nothas(?) – greek word, must be reckoned the Acts of Paul, the work entitled the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to them, the letter called Barnabas, and the so-called teaching of the Apostles - the teaching of the apostle, is another word for Didache. And in addition, as I said, the Revelation of John, if this view prevailed. For as I said, some reject it, but others count it among the recognized ones.
The book of Revelation was a really interesting book. Everybody that has spoken in favor of it or that it was heretical. There was no one in between, that said, I have questions about it. You were not lukewarm about the book of Revelation. You were either hot or cold.
And so it was recognized or it was completely heretical. There was no in between position on the book of Revelation and the reason for that is because of the historical situation. There happens to be in the church beginning in the 3rd century, a group of Montanists and others who became 2nd coming enthusiast types. The world is about to end and they went to all sorts of excesses and their favorite book was the Book of Revelation. So now if you hear, the majority of times you hear the book of revelation preached, its preached by people who are weird, saying sell all you have, get a white robe and meet us on the mountain. The Lord is about to come. You start to shy away from the book of Revelation and that’s what happens, so people are hot or cold for it, there is no lukewarm emphasis on it.
Have you ever wondered why when people say “the Lord is about to come” they sell everything and convert it to gold. And gold we take when the Lord comes? And not paperback? I don’t know. Its really strange to me. Alright.
So with Eusebius, you have then, the homolegoumena, and the Antilegomena making up our New Testament. The Antilegomena, some have reservations about these, but the majority think it is Scripture.
Later on you start having Jerome, 400 A.D., the greatest biblical scholar of his day. Augustine, the greatest theologian of his day – probably the greatest theologian between Paul and the Reformers. The Church Council of Hippo, of Carthage, all recognizing our 27 books as the canonical.
So that gives you a kind of a development of how the recognition of books of the New Testament take place in the thought of the church. Alright, let us stop here.
Sometimes this is very disturbing to students. On the other hand, though when you think of it, you really wouldn’t have expected that they came down as gold tablets and everybody recognized them right away. These are the books of the apostles of Jesus Christ as they were written in various places. As time goes on, they are brought together and the majority part of the New Testament was never questioned in any sense of the word.
Now, let me go on and talk about just some of the factors that are involved in the formation of the Canon.
A major theological issue comes up between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and it can be summarized in a simple question and how you answer it depends on what perspective you come from.
~ Is the New Testament, an authoritative collection of books or a collection of authoritative books?
Now the way you answer that is extremely important in your understanding of divine authority on all issues. Where now do you think the Roman Catholic view would be?
Authority of collection and the authority comes in the collectors of it who then give their authority, the Church’s authority to it. The Reformers argued, “No”, the authority of the books comes from God directly and all that we do is to recognize the authority of these books.
So what the church does in not make an authoritative collection, but recognize the authority of certain books and therefore the Church does not pass on authority to the books, they simply recognize these books are authoritative.
The church does not make the books authoritative, but they recognize them as such. Now in the process of recognizing which books were authoritative, there were a number of factors that played a role.
One was apostolic authorship. People said, “Was this book written by an apostle?”
Now when you go through the New Testament, you have – alright – you have Matthew …
We are talking not about a critical analysis of the New Testament, but the Church’s popular understanding of who wrote these books.
Matthew is an apostle.
Mark is not, but Mark is the right hand man of Peter who is an apostle.
Luke is not, but Luke is the right hand man of Paul who is an apostle.
You have John.
Acts goes back to Luke.
Then you have the Pauline letters.
Romans, 1,2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1,2nd Thessalonians, 1,2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon.
Hebrews tended to be associated as 2nd/3rd Century on, primarily in the Western Church which is Rome in the center, not so much the Eastern church.
Hebrews was associated with Paul, so it comes in on Paul’s shirt sleeves.
1st and 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd and 3rd John, Jude and then Revelation.
So all of them are in some way associated with apostles and this is very influential on the church.
Another factor which leads the church in recognizing which books are authoritative is the continuous usage of these books by the church.
In other words, these books were not Johnny-come-lately’s. They were not for instance hot items in one part of the world, like say in Egypt, it was a best seller, but no one was reading it in Macedonia or the like.
But from the beginning these books were always being used by the church. Continuous usage in the church. No Johnny-come-latelys.
One book that was a Johnny-come-lately was the Shepherd of Hermas. It was an apocalyptic book, like Daniel, Revelation, so some people got very very excited by it. It came like a meteor in the sky and it burned out just as quickly but not continuous usage. People didn’t get very excited about that as a possibility.
Another factor would be, the unity and agreement with the rest of the Bible. If for instance you know that Paul’s letters in the Gospels are authoritative – the Word of God for you – then you are not going to be able to accept a book which you think conflicts those books. So these other books would have to be in harmony with these books of Scripture.
And then finally there is something which - not something provable - but it seems highly likely in my understanding and that is what I would call the Superintendence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
Let me just say that – somehow what I have come to believe - that God sent His son into the world to die for the sins of the world. That He raised Him triumphantly from the dead. I just cannot conceive at that point that God in His superintendence of history would say something like “I sure hope somebody will write something.”
But in the providence of God, He would guide, so that people would write these things down. And He would inspire them in so doing. What every doctrine of inspiration in someway, I would think, you know, God would agree to look after the record of what happened to His only begotten Son, He would see that these were written down accurately and carefully.
Now once you say that, it doesn’t seem to be far to say well I think at that point you would say, “I hope they are not lost.” In the superintendence of history, guide that they would be preserved and furthermore that they would be recognized, so that in a general way I think you could say the superintendence of God’s spirit in the life of the church would guarantee that the New Testament would be in harmony with God’s inscripturated Word.
I don’t think I would want to go so far as to say that in His own presence as He shows an infallible – uh – perfect kind of a canonical development but a general development at least I think can be argued in a strong way.
As to the New Testament books themselves, they are not arranged in chronological order. They are arranged in logical order. I mean where would you start except the Gospels? Matthew, Mark and Luke would be brought together because they are look alike Gospels, and John doesn’t look like that so it would be the fourth one.
Acts, after you talk about the life of Jesus, you want to say “Well. What about those who were His followers? What did they do? And you have an overall history of the church in the book of Acts.
Also that is the nearest place you can put the two books by the same author, Luke. You don’t want to put way way from the book of Luke so Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts.
Then you have Paul’s letters. These again are not arranged according to the dates, but if you look at them, what do you notice about Romans and Philemon?
Romans is big. Philemon is small.
1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, are big and so what you have is the arrangement according to size primarily. After that if Hebrews is associated with Paul, it would be put near Paul’s letters certainly. Then you have what are called the Catholic Epistles.
Again – don’t understand Roman Catholic, but catholic in the sense of the universal nature of that Word.
And the books of James to Jude are not written so much to specific churches like Ephesus or Rome or Corinth but to the Church in general. To the universal church. And that’s why its called the catholic epistles or the universal epistles.
And then Revelation which brings us to the end of history and is as good a way of ending as you can imagine.
Alright, that gives us kind of an overview of information as an introduction and then we will talk a little about some other questions.
When people talk about the completion of the Canon – you have to be careful about words here. When was the Canon of the New Testament completed?
Yeah. When the last book would have been written . . .
When was it recognized? We talked about universal recognition maybe around 400. But it is completed with the last book.
When you talk about the Bible being our final authority, let me read to you from the Westminster Confession of faith briefly:
“Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:”
And it lists them all.
“All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.”
“The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”
The Anglican – the Episcopal Church in its articles of religion read somewhat similar but not exactly.
“The Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament … “
And then they are listed.
Then he says …
“And the other books Jerome said the Church reads for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”
In other words, they are profitable for reading and it goes a bit further than the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith but you don’t get doctrine from it.
And he says,
“Such are the following:”
The Third Book of Esdras
First Esdras or Third Esdras
The Fourth Book of Esdras; Fourth Esdras
The Book of Tobit
The Book of Judith
The rest of the Book of Esther; the additions to the book of Esther
The Book of Wisdom; The Wisdom of Solom
Jesus the Son of Sirach
Baruch the Prophet
The Song of the Three Children
Bel and the Dragon
The Prayer of Manasses
The First Book of Maccabees
The Second Book of Maccabees
Ok. Now. Lets go on to one more comment here.
“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God which is truth itself; the author thereof. And therefore it is to be received as the Word of God.”
In other words, they are not an authorized collection but a collection of authorized books of authority that comes from God Himself.
Now when we talk about the Bible being inspired, infallible, inerrant – that raises a question. What exactly do we mean by that?
The 66 books. What do you mean by those 66 books?
When you talk about the Bible being without error - are you talking about the English translation?
Are you talking about the books they were thinking of in the fourth century?
Well. I think for the most part, they are very close but. If something is inspired, it must be the original autographs read by “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” when he wrote that. And because we are able to arrive at a 99.44, 100% pure + kind of thing, our present Bible, we can pretty much say is without error and if we understand it, we understand the Scriptures as such, but ultimately you would have to say, it is the original autographs, because a copyist could have made an error somewhere along the line.
If you had a professor and you were at a secular university at this time and he asked you this question:
“Now we talked about the Canon of Scripture , but let me ask you something. Do you really believe that when Paul wrote 1st Corinthians – that he thought 2,000 years later, this will be part of a common Bible and that this will be equated just as authoritatively as the books of Moses?
How would you respond to that?
Student comments: difficult to hear.
Dr. Stein’s responses to students:
You want to go further than he believed what he meant, because Karl Marx did too.
You are arguing that Paul thought he was inspired as he wrote.
You are saying that he didn’t think there would be Scripture 2,000 years later.
It is really a tricky way of putting it, because whether Paul thought 2,000 years from now, anything is irrelevant to the real issue. The real issue that you have to wrestle with is – did the writers of the New Testament when they wrote, did they think that their work should be treated in the way that we say Scripture should be treated.
Lets look at a couple of references. Final authority – what we used to have in mind.
We have read already in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 that Paul thought that his letters should be read in all the churches.
“I adjure you by the Lord, that this letter be read by all the brethren.”
But yeah. That’s why we understand it as Scripture. That’s why this letter should be the brethren. It is not just something written to a specific church back then. When he says, his letters should be read to all the churches, in our terminology, we would say yes. We think this is a canonical rule for all the churches. It is to be read in all of the churches.
In 2nd Thessalonians 3:14, Paul looks at his letters and he says, if anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Yeah. We think, Paul’s letters should be obeyed. They are canonical. You wouldn’t say, everything that Stein writes, we should obey. Good Grief.
What Paul writes, should be obeyed, because that’s the way Scripture is treated and we think because it is to be obeyed, that is really Scripture.
When you go to 1st Corinthians 14:37, you have another reference here
“If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.”
What he writes comes from the Lord. It’s a command that God Himself gives. It is Scripture.
In 1st Corinthians 7:17, “Let everyone lead the life which the Lord has assigned to Him and which the Lord has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”
We think that what he says is authoritative. And what he writes to all the churches and we still believe is authoritative in all the churches and therefore we understand it as canonical.
1st Corinthians 7:17 and then finally 1st Corinthians 7:40.
“But in my judgment, she is happier if she remains as she is” He has just given advice and then he says, “Humbly, I think that I have the Spirit of God.”
And we believe that Paul has the Spirit of God and therefore it is to be understood as authoritative Scripture in this way.
Therefore the question, did Paul think that his works would be read along with the books of Moses and Scripture 2,000 years later. The answer is, I don’t know what he thought about 2,000 years later, but he did think his works were to be obeyed just as Moses’ works were to be obeyed. And therefore I think that they are part of the common order of faith that we have as a believing community and they are a part of the Canon of Scripture .
Now the final question. There are a number of places in the New Testament, where Paul refers to somethings we don’t apparently have. In 1st Corinthians he writes
“I wrote to you earlier” and what he wrote he now describes that they should not fellowship with immoral people is not found in the earlier part of 1st Corinthians. He is referring to something that he had written before 1st Corinthians.
I make a kind of lighthearted way of understanding that. Without changing 1st Corinthians, lets call that other work, ½ Corinthians because it is before that.
Well, in 2nd Corinthians he refers to a letter he wrote that’s not 1st Corinthians so there is a 1-1/2 Corinthians as well. Suppose you found ½ Corinthians or 1-1/2 Corinthians.
Of course it wouldn’t be written, Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ to the ½ Corinthians church or something like that or something of that nature, but remember, we also read in Colossians about a letter written to the Laodiceans. We do not have the Laodicean letter.
Now, possibly, that might be a reference to the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians. If you look at the material in the Ephesians letter, the best manuscripts do not have the word Ephesians in it. A number of scholars have thought that there may have been a blank there that you were to fit in
Now lets imagine that there was a Laodician letter and that
What would happen if you found it?
What would happen if you found ½ Corinthians?
When you shipped it to the museum, packed it better than, so that it won’t deteriorate … but here we have this and it begins
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the church at Laodicea, grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I give thanks to every remembrance (?) of you as I think of your joy and faith in Christ.”
Ok. The conclusion “What do you do with the letter?”
“It would be worth more… I mean … if you were going to sell it… it would be nice to have, ‘Paul an apostle’ rather than just ‘Paul’” ?
“Do you think if he said Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, then this would then make it canonical?”
Audience answer: “Not necessarily. There would be people who would dispute it.”
Dr. Stein: “Well. Yeah. There would be people who would dispute it, but lets imagine everybody agreed and said that there is a DNA test where we took from his bones and we see some fragments of it, skin here and … the DNA matches… that’s impossible, but anyhow …”
Audience response: “If you go back to the superintendence of the Holy Spirit wouldn’t it have already been included if it was intended to be?”
Dr. Stein: “Yeah see. You have one argument, apostolic authorship. You have another argument guidance and superintendence of the Spirit and it seems hard in some ways to think that for 2,000 years, God would have permitted this to have been lost.”
Or something like that … there could be a test in it. Supposing you found them saying something that was contrary to Romans. That would be very unlikely but that would certainly make it “No way this one!” He had a bad hair day or something like that.
So you would say “No. It doesn’t fit the teachings of Scripture and therefore, it is not part of the common faith of the church.” That would be an issue.
Let me just say however hypothetical question which shows that the arguments for recognition of the Canon of Scripture – some of them would say no to this. Some of them would support it as being included in the Bible but we are not going to find it, so its nice to think, hypothetically about it.
But don’t lose a lot of sleep over it, because it is not going to happen in that way. Alright … uh… comments and questions?
Student: [hard to hear]
Dr. Stein. I think I’d go further than that. And that is that claims that later divine inspired books would be added to it are very contrary to the New Testament which says that the next thing we await is not new revelation of the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – that is the next effect – not tablets from heaven, new revelation or something like that.”
Question from audience: Did everything that Paul write – would it be considered inspired or was it only at certain times? This letter is inspired, but that letter isn’t. He wrote more than what we have. He probably wrote a 100 letters, so would you consider everything he wrote to be inspired or only certain things. Was it like a light switch? How would that work?
Dr. Stein: What do you think?
Student: I have got about 30 more classes and I will let you know.
Dr. Stein: Let me ask a different one. Did everything the baby boy Jesus said, ‘Is that inspired?’
There is a difference between being inspired and being truthful. Right? I hope sometimes to think that I am truthful, but I am not inspired. Would you want to find everything that Jesus said and put it in the Bible?
Student: And that is what I was thinking about. Not everything. Everything was inspired but I am going to eat lunch at 12.
Dr. Stein: Yeah. Okay. There is a sense in which we would say, I think that when Paul wrote 1 Cor. He was led by God to write it. And what he wrote was inspired scripture. He could have written other things like
“Timothy go down to the store and get some bacon and eggs and ham. I am free. I want to enjoy my non-kosher freedom” or something like that.
That wouldn’t be inspired. So there may be something in which, without reacting too negatively at first that he might speak and write with divine imprimateur – At that time
Much as when a Pope gives a pronouncement. Not everything the Pope says is infallible, but at this point it is.
There may be things like, not everything Paul said would have been. But when he writes this in that capacity as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he is not speculating about mathematics, the shape of the world or something like that, but he writes as God’s servant, but he does that infallibly at that point.
Student: And he makes it clear in the letter?
Dr. Stein: Yeah. But again. The other letters – we don’t know anything about. There is a sense in which I am perfectly willing to say that in the providence of God, God saw fit not to have them preserved this way, because there was no necessity of it.
Student: [hard to hear] Concerning those portions of Scripture that don’t have a whole lot of external ??? Would there be a justifiable point where you would say the evidence is just so strong?
Dr. Stein: I know what you are saying, I would word it differently because I don’t think when you remove 1st John 5:7, you are taking anything out of Scripture. I think you are not letting anything into Scripture that shouldn’t be there. I would want to emphasize and I think thats important in how you word that for your congregation. This somebody later added to the Bible in the 5th, 6th century, and the latin texts and later in the 13th, 14th in the Greek texts. I think the Bible is too precious to have people add things to it. John did not write that and therefore it should not be part of John.
But what I am doing there is I don’t think we should add things to the Bible. Because the warning that people give
“Well you know. If you remove 1st John 5:7, there is a curse in the book of Revelation. Woe be that person who removes things from this book. He probably means Revelation, but I think you could say that for the whole Bible.
But don’t forget that “also adds” or “adds to it.” I think, 1 John 5:7 was added to it. I don’t think we should add things to the Bible.
Student: But isn’t the only way to be sure about that is to actually have the autographs? In other words does the internal evidence so great that you can ??? [hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: Well. [Makes comments about a marking pen unrelated to lecture topic]
[Drawing something on the wall]
Lets imagine a timeline. This is John’s original letter. We are working our way down the centuries. At this point in 4 manuscripts we have 1 John 5:7 written in the margin – in the margin not in the text. Somebody later added it.
Then you get down to the 16th century, and you have the only one that is written in the text itself, and by that I mean, between the previous verse and the following verse. Now all of these up here – omit it.
From you judgment should you follow this line of tradition or this one here? That’s fairly simple isn’t that up here?
The biggest problem we have is that the King James follows this one. That’s the problem, and that’s been the Bible, that we are familiar with.
So as pastors you need to teach your people not this particular problem. You should spend sometime in the history of how we got our English Bible, with no axe to grind, with no particular passage to teach, but talk about Wycliffe and Tyndale and the others. And talk about the King James Version. What a great translation it was.
Give them an understanding of where these all came from. Let them raise questions and prepare them for that because sometimes this question is going to come up:
“Why not here but here?”
But they don’t even know this. You have to share that with them.