The Canon of Scripture Part 2

This is the second part of a three part set of posts.  See this post for an explanation.

Support

The support for the protestant canon is overwhelming.  This section will outline support of the protestant canon as final and authoritative revelation for the Christian church.  The evidence will be broken up into two different sections:  Old Testament support and New Testament support.  It is important to remember that as redemptive history moves on more revelation is given to God’s people until there is no need to give more.[1]

Old Testament

           

The support for the OT being accepted as canon by Protestants will be shown in two parts.  First, the Jews will give support historically and secondly support will be given by Jesus and the NT writers. 

The protestant canon contains the 39 books of the Jewish canon that was accepted as authoritative by the Judaism during the time of the writing of the NT and today.[2]  These writings started with God carving the Ten Commandments into two stone tablets and continued to grow thereafter.  Most often the scriptures were added to by the person holding office of prophet as he wrote down what was perceived as the word of God.  As mentioned above this normally happened in relation to redemptive history and the need for more revelation.  This process of God revealing revelation as canonical Scripture came to a halt around the year 435 B.C. until the NT was started.  There were other writings that detailed the history of the Jewish people between 435 B.C. and the writing of the NT, but they do not claim to be canonical and were not thought by Jews to be authoritative.  In fact, 1 Maccabees 4:45-46 says that the Jews were waiting for a prophet to give them direction.  Josephus the great Jewish historian says that a “complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records.”[3]

           

Jesus and the NT writers also attest to the protestant OT as being accepted as part of the canon.  There is no dispute between Jesus and the Jewish leaders about the OT scripture as being authoritative.  There are also about 295 quotations of the OT in the NT but not one single quote from one of the other writings of the Jews including the Roman Catholic Apocrypha.[4] 

           

Because the gospel went to the Jew first and then to the Greek it was only natural for the early Christians, who were from Jewish decent, to accept their writings as pointing toward Jesus as the Christ and being inspired of God.  Jesus himself even opened the scriptures (protestant OT) and taught of himself (Luke 24:27).  These are obviously the accepted scriptures of the Jews or He would not have been teaching from them.  From this evidence the protestant OT seems to be without a doubt part of the authoritative and final authority of God to his people.  What about the NT?

New Testament

           

The New Testament is not as easy to claim as being canonical as the OT.  Regardless of the theological persuasion within Christendom books of the OT are not excluded instead parts have been added.  This is not the case with the NT; much debate about the addition and exclusion of certain writings has taken place.  Referring to redemptive history, the Apostles and divine authorship, and finally deletion or additions will support the NT as canonical scripture. 

           

As mentioned above, Scripture is written as God works through redemptive history.  At the close of the OT canon there is the expectation of the coming Messiah as the next stage of redemptive history.[5]  This would mean that Scripture would begin again when the Messiah arrives.  Regardless of their beliefs in the particularities of Christ, no true Christian group denies that Jesus is this Messiah.  Christ, being the next act in redemptive history opens the canon for new writings.

 

The apostles, those ordained by Christ, were the main writers of these new Scriptures.  These men were ones who were either close to Jesus during his time on earth, or were called into apostleship by him (Paul for example).  There were others who were close to these apostles that were empowered by the Holy Spirit to also write the scriptures.  The authors who wrote down the NT used their writings to confirm that the words they were speaking and writing were new scripture.  The NT writers claim multiple times that they have the Holy Spirit and that equates their teaching and writing as divinely authored, not human (2 Peter 3:2; Acts 5:2-4; 1 Cor 2:9; 2:13, 14:37; 2 Cor 13:3; Rom 2:16; Gal 1:8-9; 1 Thess 2:13, 4:8, 15, 5:27; 2 Thess 3:6, 14).[6]  These words are substantiated multiple times as the Apostles healed and taught with great authority.[7]  The NT writers also point to other NT writings as canonical by equating it with the OT.  An example of this is 2 Pet 3:15-16.  Peter claims that Paul’s writings are being twisted as other scriptures are being twisted.  Grafh (graphe meaning writings or scriptures), the Greek word used here, is only used when referencing the OT.  This equates Paul’s writing with the OT as scripture.  1 Timothy 5:17-18 also provides an example of equating NT writing with the OT.  Paul tells Timothy that others should honor preachers and teachers and then quotes Deut 25:14 and Luke 10:7 with equal authority.  These two passages show that early in formation of the Christian church that the NT canon was starting to form.[8] 

Along with the witness of redemptive history, and argument that God through the Apostles authored the NT it is helpful to look at candidates for addition or deletion from the NT.  At this point in time there are not writings that provide strong evidence for addition into the canon.  Some of these writings that received some promotion in the early church have errors that conflicted with the accepted protestant canon of the NT.  One example of this is “The Shepherd” of Hermas which teaches penance and that the Trinity came into existence after the resurrection of Christ.  The Gospel of Thomas teaches that women should make themselves male to enter into the kingdom of heaven. These teaching are not consistent with the teachings of the Apostles who obviously had divine authority to write new scripture.  Other writings of the time that may not have conflicted with the Apostles teachings had disclaimers by the authors that indicate the writing is not scripture.[9] 

Some throughout history have argued for the removal of some of the established NT writings because they seem to contradict other books[10] or for the promotion of unity among churches.[11]  These attempts however must be brushed aside as we remember that the work of the early church was not to pick some writings and give them divine authority.  Only God can make a text have divine authority, the work of the early church was to recognize God’s writings and affirm them as scripture.  It is difficult with much success to argue against nearly two thousand years of acceptance and recognition by the church that these texts are divine.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 60.

[2] Note that the Jewish Bible is the same as the protestant Old Testament however the division of books is different.  The Jewish Bible is only divided into 24 books instead of the 39 of protestants.

[3] Josephus,  Against Apion, 1.41., quoted in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 56.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 56-57.

[5] Ibid., 60.

[6] Ibid., 61. 

[7] See Acts chapters 3,4,5,8,28 as examples.

[8] Ibid., 61-62.

[9] Ibid., 66-67.

[10] Ibid., 67.  Martin Luther was hesitant about James because it seemed to him to contradict justification by faith.

[11] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origen, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 274. Kurt Aland proposed this during a 1961 lecture at Oxford.

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