CANONICITY and PRESERVATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
This course has presented a multitude of evidences that corroborate the inspiration of the Bible as the infallibly accurate Word of God. In the last lesson we saw evidences that the Old Testament documents form a genuine work of inspired men and that God has adequately preserved His Word in the Old Testament through meticulously copied manuscripts. In this lesson we will see evidences that the New Testament documents are also genuine and have been completely preserved in a multitude of Greek manuscripts and translations into other languages. We will also see how the New Testament documents were selected, collected and preserved. Technically, this lesson is entitled the Canonicity and Preservation of the New Testament.
To convince the student that God revealed, inspired and preserved His Word in the New Testament.
LESSON OBJECTIVES: You will:
- Learn how all of the books of the New Testament were collected as a part of God’s sacred Canon.
- Consider the reasons why some books were included in the Canon, while others were excluded from it.
- Learn how the New Testament documents were collected, copied and preserved for future generations.
- Learn how to answer the attacks of critical scholars against the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament books.
NEED FOR THE FORMATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON
- The Nature of the New Testament Documents Required A Standard Canon
- The books of the New Testament were considered prophetical, divinely inspired of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Peter 3:15-16).
- The apostles taught the church that their teaching was “complete” (2 Peter 1:3), “eternal” (I Peter 1:25); “authoritative” (1 Corinthians 14:37) and that it should be preserved and taught to future generations (2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Peter 1:12-14), as the “all sufficient” word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- The churches were to exchange letters with other churches and to read these to the whole church (Colossians 4:16)
- Heretical Stimulus to Form the New Testament Canon
- False teachers had to be exposed.
- There arose the need to list the canonical books and agree on a standard canon for the universal church.
- Missionary Need To Translate New Testament Documents Into Other Languages
The need to translate required the decision of which books to translate and which to exclude.
- Political Need to Determine the Canon
- Constantine, the first Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, was converted to Christianity and wanted all of the citizens of his kingdom to have access to the Scriptures.
- He ordered Eusebius, the church historian, to prepare 50 copies of Scripture at state expense.
- Eusebius had to make the decision which books to translate and which books to exclude.
PRIMARY TEST OF A CANONICAL BOOK
- What Makes A Document Canonical?
- A writing of an inspired man of God is immediately canonical when it is written.
- It becomes canonical to the church when its apostolic or prophetical authorship is recognized by the church (2 Peter 1:19-21; I Thessalonians 2:13).
- Credential of A True Prophet or Inspired Writer
- The prophet must exhibit the credentials of a true prophet of God (2 Corinthians 12:12).
- Preaching accompanied with miraculous signs that would “confirm” or “establish” the truth of the message (Mark 16:16-20).
- This miraculous attestation of apostles and prophets occurred in the first century (Acts 14:3; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:1-4).
- Test of A True Prophet in New Testament Times.
- An apostle: direct association with Jesus as an eye witness of His resurrection (Acts 1:21- 23).
- Prophets and inspired teachers: the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:14-18; Acts 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:7).
- Their prophecies and revelations from God: confirmed with miraculous signs (Mark 16:17- 20; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
- Their messages: agree with the doctrine of the apostles (1 John 4:6).
- Their lives: had to measure up to their teaching (Matthew 7:15-23).
- All of the tests above had to be met (Matthew 7:21-23).
THE METHOD OF TESTING AND ACCEPTING CANONICAL SCRIPTURE
- Prophets in Congregation Served as Inspired Judges of The Credentials of Each Writer
- During the formative stages of the canon, God appointed prophets in each congregation (1 Corinthians 12:28-31; 13:9-10; 14:1-4).
- These prophets were to pass judgment on any oral/written prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29, 37).
- A plurality of prophets served as a check and balance on prophecy.
- The Testimony of Elders & Evangelists
- The apostles appointed elders (Acts 14:23; 20, 17, 28) and evangelists (Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2; 4:5) in the congregations they planted.
- Elders and evangelists joined the prophets in testing the validity or non-validity of the men and their alleged inspired writings.
- The Testimony of 3 Groups (Prophets, Elders and Evangelists) Served As Judges of All Inspired Utterances and Writings
- Each writing was examined and accredited as a truly prophetical work before it could be accepted.
- Accepted by a congregation established by the apostles and prophets.
- Accepted by a congregations with elders, evangelists and prophets which gave its divine approval.
- Specific Steps of Canonicity
- Sent to a specific church or person.
- The writing and man are put to the test.
- The elders, evangelists and prophets of the local congregation judge the writing to be inspired or not.
- The church who receives the document as an inspired production preserved the document, copies it, circulates it and testifies to it as an inspired work.
- Churches collect the inspired documents which have the approval of the churches to which they were originally written.
- The combined collection and preservation by all of the churches, finally make up the entire Canon.
OTHER WITNESSES TO THE CANON
- Inspired Witnesses to the Canon
- Paul recognized Luke’s Gospel as inspired literature (1 Timothy 5:18).
- Peter recognized Paul’s writings as inspired (2 Peter 3:15-16).
- Jude 17-18 quoted 2 Peter 3:3 as authoritative apostolic teaching.
- Uninspired Witnesses of the Second and Third Centuries A.D.
- Uninspired writers of the second and third centuries quoted these apostolic documents for proof and authority for their teaching.
- These quotations serve as secondary witnesses to the Canonicity of the New Testament documents.
ORIGINAL PRESERVATION AND CIRCULATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS
- Preservation of the New Testament Canon
- After accepting a writing as genuine it became the responsibility of that church to preserve that inspired document (1 Timothy 3:15).
- God’s spiritual temple, the church, became the depository of that book, as an authentic document of the New Covenant.
- The testimony of these first century churches were preserved by faithful men to whom these documents were committed for future generations (2 Timothy 2:2).
- The Original Collectors and Circulators of New Testament Documents
- Congregations who received the inspired documents immediately began to make copies of their works and distribute them to other churches ( Colossians 4:16).
- Collections by these churches were made in the lifetime of the apostles (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter already had a collection of Paul’s Letters.
- The Providence of God in the Collection and Preservation Process
God promised to preserve His Word (1 Peter 1:22-25). God providentially arranged for all of the inspired New Testament documents to be collected and preserved by the churches.
LATER PRESERVATION AND CIRCULATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON
- Second Generation Preservers & Witnesses of the New Testament Documents
- Christians of later centuries, researched the writing of men who taught in first century churches to find their testimony concerning the various books of the New Testament.
- Christian writers of the second and third centuries cite 26 of the 27 New Testament books (all except 3 John): Sources: Scripture index of Vol. 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, called the Apostolic Fathers; Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers and F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture.
- Specific Witnesses to the New Testament Canon in the Second & Third Centuries
- Clement of Rome (c. 95 A.D.) quotes passages from 18 books.
- Ignatius (100-110 A.D.) quotes Scripture from 6 books.
- Barnabus (100-120 A.D.) quotes or uses the unique language of “Scripture” from 10 books.
- Polycarp, c. 110-50), quotes 18 books.
- Justin Martyr (110-165) cites 13 New Testament writers.
- Hermas (115-140 A.D.) quotes from 13 books.
- Didache (120-150 A.D.) refers to 7 New Testament books.
- Papias (c. 130-140 A.D.) says the apostle John wrote the Gospel of John and Revelation.
- Marcion, the Gnostic heretic who wrote c. 140 A.D. accepted only 11 books and rejected all of the other New Testament books.
- Diognetus (c. 150 A.D.) cites 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, and Titus.
- Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-180 A.D.) cites from 21 New Testament books.
- Muratorian Fragment (c. 170 A.D.) contains all 4 gospels and the other New Testament books except Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter (21 of 27 books).
- Irenaeus, (180 A.D.) quotes every single book of the New Testament except 3rd John.
- Barococcio (c. 206 A.D.) All 27 except Revelation.
- Apostolic Constitution (c. 300 A.D.) All 27 except Revelation.
- Christian Writers And Councils of The Fourth and Fifth Centuries
- Eusebius of Caesarea (314 to 339 A.D.) divided New Testament into 3 categories
- Universally acknowledged: 4 gospels, Acts, 14 Epistles of Paul (including Hebrews), 1 John and 1 Peter and Revelation = 22 books.
- Five Disputed books recognized by a majority: James, 2 Peter, 2nd and 3rd John.
- Spurious books: Acts of Paul, Shepherd, Apocalypse of Peter, Barnabas, Teachings of the Apostles, Gospel according to the Hebrews and some: the Apocalypse of John, the Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas.
- Council of Nicea, 325 A.D. – all 27 books of the New Testament listed with questions or doubt about James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Jude.
- Augustine (354-430 A.D.) all 27 books.
- Athanasius (367 A.D.) all 27 books.
- Canon of Laodicea 26 books (omits Revelation).
- Jerome (c. 383 A.D.) all 27 books.
- Councils of Hippo (393 A.D. & Carthage (397 A.D.): all 27 books.
- Council of Carthage 397 all 27 epistles confirmed.
- Council of Carthage 419 all 27 books confirmed.
- Eusebius of Caesarea (314 to 339 A.D.) divided New Testament into 3 categories
HIGHER CRITICISM OF SOME NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS
- Antilegomena (Spoken Against)
- Some Christian writers had doubts about 7 New Testament books: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.
- Modern scholars criticize all of the New Testament, especially the four gospels.
- Eusebius says in Book 6, ch.25, that the difference in style of Hebrews in relation to Paul’s other letters gives him doubts about Paul’s authorship.
- Origin, c. 220 A.D., admits “that the ancients have handed it down as Paul’s” and not “without cause”. However, he noted that some object to Paul’s authorship.
- The earliest attestation of Hebrews is Clement of Rome (95 A.D.), who cites Hebrews as Scripture 14 different times and Justin Martyr (110 A.D.), who quotes it once.
- Clement of Alexandria (180 A.D.) quotes Pantaenus (130-160 A.D.), who gives the best explanation of any recorded in history: “The Epistle to the Hebrews he asserts was written by Paul, to the Hebrews in the Hebrew tongue; but it was carefully translated by Luke, and published among the Greeks. Whence, also one finds the same character of style and of phraseology in the epistle, as in the Acts. But it is probable that the title, Paul the Apostle, was not prefixed to it. For as he wrote to the Hebrews, who had imbibed prejudices against him and suspected him, he wisely guards against diverting them from the perusal, by giving his name . . . But now as the blessed presbyter used to say,’since the Lord who was the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul by reason of his inferiority as if sent to the Gentiles, did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews; both out of reverence for the Lord, and because he wrote of his abundance to the Hebrews as a herald and apostle of the Gentile.’” Church History of Eusebius, Bk. 6, XIV.1-4.
- Epistle of James
Some thought this letter was too Jewish. However, James is cited as Scripture 13 times by the earliest Apostolic Fathers.
- 2 Peter
- Geisler and Nix: “No other book in the New Testament has been questioned as persistently as 2 Peter. Even Calvin seemed unsure of it”[i]
- External Evidence: the historical evidence is actually much stronger than most scholars will admit.
- Jude 17 (1st century A.D.) quotes 2 Peter 3:3.
- Barnabas (120 A.D.) quotes 2 Peter 3:8 as Scripture.
- Clement of Rome (95 A.D.) quotes 2 Peter 2 as “Scripture.”
- Jerome accepts it as a genuine book of Peter.
- Internal evidence: critical scholars say the difference in vocabulary and style between 1 & 2 Peter prove that the same author did not write both books.
- Chase contended that the two letters are “in complete contrast in reference to literary style,” and 2 Peter’s style is so inferior that Peter could not have written it.
- B. Mayor said, “The Greek of the one is not by the same hand as the Greek of the other.” (Epistles of St. Jude & of the 2nd of St. Peter, p. lxxiv.)
- Barnett wrote, “Differences in style from 1 Peter create insuperable difficulties for the view that the two epistles have a common author.” Interpreter’s Bible, XII.164.
- In Ted’s Master’s Thesis[ii] He tested the arguments on style and vocabulary. He examined every Greek word and the Greek style in 1 & 2 Peter. To compare the differences in the two letters, Ted made an analysis of the vocabulary and style of the Greek in two other New Testament passages: 2 Corinthians 1-6 and 2 Corinthians 10-12.
- The two passages in 2 Corinthians are parallel to 1 & 2 Peter in difference of length of the Greek text.. All scholars agree that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.
- The two passages in 2 Corinthians are also parallel to 1 & 2 Peter in treating different subject matter: 2 Corinthians 1-6 emphasizes God’s grace and comfort as does 1 Peter; 2 Corinthians 10-13 denounces false teachers as does 2 Peter.
- Argument of Scholars: Out of 330 words in 2 Peter, 230 are not found in 1 Peter, a difference of 69.6%.
- Refutation: Out of 306 words in 2 Corinthians 10-12, 217 are not found in 2 Corinthians 1-6, a difference of 70.9%.
- The difference of the subject matter is the explanation for the difference in vocabulary.
- Scholars’ argument: Christ’s 2nd coming is solely translated by apokalupsis (appearance) in 1 Peter and solely by parousia (presence) in 2 Peter.
- Refutation: Paul uses both words in 2 Corinthians 10-12 and neither of the words in 2 Corinthians 1-6.
- Paul uses only apokalupsis in Romans and only parousia in 1 Thessalonians.
- Scholars’ argument on compound/family words with agathos (good) and kakos (bad): 1 Peter used 4 forms of agathos and 5 forms of kakos; 2 Peter did not use any of these compound words.
- Refutation: Paul used compound /family words with doxa (glory) in 2 Corinthians 1-6, but did not use them in 2 Corinthians 10-12.
- Paul used compound/family words with pseudo (false) in 2 Corinthians 10-12, but did not use them 2 Corinthians 1-6.
- Scholars’ argument on compound words with sun (with): 1 Peter has 8 and 2 Peter only
- Refutation: Paul uses 8 sun compounds in 2 Corinthians 1-16 and only 4 in 2 Corinthians 10-12.
- Scholars’ argument of 2 Peter’s redundant use of gar (for or because): 15 times in 2 Peter and 10 times in 1 Peter.
- Refutation: Paul uses gar 24 times in 1 Thessalonians and 5 times in 2 Thessalonians
- Scholars’ argument: men de (on one hand, but on the other hand) clauses used by 1 Peter 4 times, absent in 2 Peter.
- Refutation: Paul used men de clauses 22 times in 1 Corinthians, but did not use them at all in 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
- Scholars’ argument: 2 Peter 1:3-4 uses the preposition dia (by or through) 4 times in 2 Peter 1:3-4, a cumbrous and awkward repetition of the same preposition.
- Refutation: 1 Peter 1:3-5 uses eis (for) 4 times; I Peter 1:20-23 uses dia (by or through) 4 times and 1 Peter 2:12 uses en (in) 3 times.
- Affirmative evidence favoring Peter as the author of both letters: inherent and distinctive similarities of vocabulary and style indicate a common authorship.
- Common words (30%) of the 2 passages in 2 Corinthians proves that 30% in 1 & 2 Peter is to be expected when writing on two different subjects.
- There are 59 hapax legomena (words found only 1 time in the New Testament) in 1 Peter and 56 in 2 Peter. The writer of both letters had the same style of using unique and rarely used words.
- Both letters have an abundant use of Hebraistic parallelism (repeating the same thought in different ways), indicating that the author was Jewish.
- Both used plural abstract nouns: 6 in 1 Peter and 5 in 2 Peter. Five of these plural nouns are not found elsewhere in the New Testament
- Both letters abound in figurative language: 26 in 1 Peter and 29 in 2 Peter.
- 2 John. It was small and seldom quoted and thus doubt surrounded its Canonicity; but Irenaeus (180 A.D.) quotes 4 of its verses.
- 3 John. It was not quoted by early church fathers, but was small and little used.
- It also was small and thus seldom quoted; yet Polycarp (110 A.D.) quotes Jude 3 as Scripture and Irenaeus quotes Jude 3 and Jude 7.
- Too complex to understand and just doubted by some. However, the book of Revelation is listed in the earliest canon (Muratorian Fragment) and Justin Martyr (110 A.D.) quoted Revelation 20:4-5 and Irenaeus (180 A.D.) quoted 47 verses from Revelation.
- Apocrypha Defined
- Books accepted by some as canonical, but which the majority considered non-canonical.
- Sometimes these are called Pseudepigrapha (False or spurious writings).
- Apocryphal Gospels: Gospel of Thomas, Pseudo-Matthew, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Nicodemus, Gospel of the Nazarenes, Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Hebrews, Nag Hammadi Gospels: Gospel of Thomas, Philip, Truth and of the Egyptians.
- Apocryphal Acts: Acts of Paul, Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, Thaddaeus, Philip Andrew and Matthias.
- Biblical Promises to Preserve the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:8 Matthew 5:18)
- Christ’s Promise to Preserve His Words Forever (Matthew 24:35)
- New Testament Apostles Promised Their Words Would Not Pass Away (1 Peter 1:23; Jude 3)
- Men Who Tried to Destroy the Scriptures
- Antiochus Epiphanes, 170-164 B.C. tried to destroy Judaism and worship of Bible and burned the Scriptures with fire.
- Diocletian, 280-300 A.D. burned Bibles, destroyed church buildings and persecuted Christians.
- The famous French philosopher and author, Voltaire, predicted that the Bible would be forgotten in 100 years. He died in 1778. 200 years later the Bible Society of Geneva has headquarters in his house.
HOW GOD PRESERVED HIS WORD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
- Greek Manuscripts
- Quantity: more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts.
- Antiquity: back to the second century and quotations back to the first century
- Security: all did not make the same error.
- Translations: Latin, Coptic (Egyptian), Syrian, Etc.
- Quotations by Christian Teachers of the First Four Centuries
- Textual Variations
- Reasons: Uninspired scribes made unintentional mistakes when copying the original manuscripts. Occasionally a scribe made an intentional change to fit his particular bias or to clarify what he thought was obscure.
- A plurality of scribes copied the same original manuscript.
- The scribes did not all make the same mistake.
- By examining all of the most ancient manuscripts of a particular variation, the majority opinion almost always indicates what was the original reading.
- If the ancient Greek manuscripts are equally divided on a particular textual variation, the ancient translations, as well as quotation by ancient church fathers will ordinarily decide which of two readings is the original text.
- Other considerations to determine which is the best reading of two or more textual variations.
- Observation of the geographical distribution of the Manuscripts.
- Consideration of the immediate and wide literary and doctrinal context of each textual variation.
SELF EXAM FOR LESSON TWENTY-FOUR
- Give four reasons or needs for the formation of the New Testament Canon.
- List five tests of a true prophet in the New Testament.
- What three groups served as judges of all inspired utterances and writings?
- What was the responsibility of churches who received letters from inspired writers? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
- How many books of the New Testament do Christian writers of the second and third centuries cite?___________
- Explain why there are textual variations and how this particular problem is solved. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
REFERENCE BOOKS ON THE SUBJECT OF
THE TEXT & CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Eldon J. Epp and Gordon D. Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1993.
Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press), 1977
Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford Univ., 1968).
[i] Geisler & Nix, General Biblical Introduction, p. 197).
[ii] Ted Stewart, Internal Evidence for the Genuineness of 2 Peter, at A.C.U, 1960.