Lecture 37: Hermeneutics and the Canon of Scripture (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 37: Hermeneutics and the Canon of Scripture (Part 2)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics and the Canon of Scripture (Part 2)

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.

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