Lecture 36: Hermeneutics and the Canon of Scripture (Part 1) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 36: Hermeneutics and the Canon of Scripture (Part 1)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics and the Canon of Scripture (Part 1)

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.

Question: [inaudible]

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.

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