Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 10 Page 20 October 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles
By Louis Rushmore

Canonicity

You state: “The Old Testament canon was accepted as it is at least by the second century B.C. The New Testament canon was accepted within one generation after the death of the apostle John. The Bible canon has stood the tests applied to it by critics throughout the centuries. Counterfeit books of the Bible have been discovered to be false when compared with the genuine. The inspiration of the Bible books is inherent and does not rely upon verification by outside sources.”

How do you know that “The Old Testament canon was accepted as it is at least by the second century B.C.”?  How do you know that “The New Testament canon was accepted within one generation after the death of the apostle John”?

These are SERIOUS questions that I would like you to answer. ~ Agabus

The querist with the cryptic signature of “Agabus” questions a couple of statements of mine that appear in an article about canonicity.  His critique pertains to my concluding paragraph to the article entitled “Biblical Canonicity.”  Immediately following that paragraph the following list of resources appears.  The substantiation for each affirmation I made in the article, including those under review presently, reside in those citations.
Suggested reading includes: Revelation and the Bible by Berkouwer and others, published by Baker Book House (1958); Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible by Harris, published by Zondervan Publishing House (1974); General Biblical Introduction by Miller, published by Word-Bearer Press (1960); and, Introduction to the New Testament by Thiessen, published by Eerdmans Publishing Co. (1973).
The entire article appears in this issue of Gospel Gazette Online on page 2.  Additionally, the following information is presented for your consideration.

First, the summary statement immediately following presents the canonicity of both testaments as represented above.

The New Testament Canon was formed gradually under divine guidance. The different books as they were written came into the possession of the Christian associations which began to be formed soon after the day of Pentecost; and thus slowly the canon increased till all the books were gathered together into one collection containing the whole of the twenty-seven New Testament inspired books. Historical evidence shows that from about the middle of the second century this New Testament collection was substantially such as we now possess. Each book contained in it is proved to have, on its own ground, a right to its place; and thus the whole is of divine authority.

The Old Testament Canon is witnessed to by the New Testament writers. Their evidence is conclusive. The quotations in the New from the Old are very numerous, and the references are much more numerous. These quotations and references by our Lord and the apostles most clearly imply the existence at that time of a well-known and publicly acknowledged collection of Hebrew writings under the designation of “The Scriptures;” “The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms;” “Moses and the Prophets,” etc. The appeals to these books, moreover, show that they were regarded as of divine authority, finally deciding all questions of which they treat; and that the whole collection so recognized consisted only of the thirty-nine books which we now posses. Thus they endorse as genuine and authentic the canon of the Jewish Scriptures. The Septuagint Version (q.v.) also contained every book we now have in the Old Testament Scriptures. As to the time at which the Old Testament canon was closed, there are many considerations which point to that of Ezra and Nehemiah, immediately after the return from Babylonian exile.  [Easton, M. G., M. A. D. D., Easton’s Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996.]

It is generally acknowledged that the inspired men of God in the latter years of Judaism assembled the Old Testament canon.  “. . . Ezra . . . with Nehemiah, and the great men of the Jewish synagogue formed a canon of Old Testament Scriptures about 420 years before Christ.” [Vine, W. E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell) 1981.]
All indications are that the Law was firmly fixed by the time of Ezra, 400 B.C.  We can speak of its being canonical or authoritative by that time.  The Prophets (the historical books were known as “the earlier prophets” and the prophetic books were “the later prophets”) were probably recognized as canon by about 200 B.C.  [Harrop, Clayton, History of the New Testament in Plain Language, (Waco, TX: Word Books) c. 1984, p. 106.]
Josephus, the Jewish historian, denotes that the Old Testament was fixed and universally recognized by the Jews as such from about 424 B.C.  [Miller, H.S., General Biblical Introduction, (Houghton, NY: Word-Bearer Press) 1960, pp. 103-104.]  Further,
The Septuagint Version, begun about 280 B.C. and continued for about 100 years, until about 180 B.C., is a translation of the entire Old Testament into the Greek language.  It proves that all the books of the Old Testament existed at that time and were considered canonical.  [Ibid., p. 104.]
Any doubt regarding the veracity of an Old Testament canon prior to the New Testament era is adequately dismissed by the acceptance of the status quo, regarding that canon, by Jesus the Christ.
The Old Testament canon in the time of our Lord was precisely the same as that which we now possess under that name. He placed the seal of his own authority on this collection of writings, as all equally given by inspiration (Matt. 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:29, 31). [Easton]
The compilation of the New Testament canon was in progress from the initial presentation of the God-inspired epistles.  As noted in my original article, the epistles were at least acknowledged to be God-breathed (inspired) by their original recipients from their inception.  “The first trace of it appears in 2 Peter 3:15, where a collection of Paul’s epistles is presumed to exist, and is placed by the side of ‘the other scriptures.’”  [Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.]  Extra-biblical evidence also portrays the adoption of a New Testament canon within the life spans of associates of the apostles who overlived them.
The principal books of the New Testament, the four Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first of John, which are designated by Eusebius as “Homologumena,” were in general use in the church after the middle of the second century, and acknowledged to be apostolic, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, and therefore authoritative and canonical. This is established by the testimonies of Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, of the Syriac Peshito (which omits only Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and the Revelation), the old Latin Versions (which include all books but 2 Peter, Hebrews, and perhaps James and the Fragment of Muratori; also by the heretics, and the heathen opponent Celsus—persons and documents which represent in this matter the churches in Asia Minor, Italy, Gaul, North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. We may therefore call these books the original canon.

Concerning the other seven books, the “Antilegomena” of Eusebius, viz. the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apocalypse, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle of Jude,—the tradition of the church in the time of Eusebius, the beginning of the fourth century, still wavered between acceptance and rejection. But of the two oldest manuscripts of the Greek Testament which date from the age of Eusebius and Constantine, one—the Sinaitic—contains all the twenty-seven books, and the other—the Vatican—was probably likewise complete, although the last chapters of Hebrews (from Heb.11:14), the Pastoral Epistles, Philemon, and Revelation are lost. [Ibid.]

. . . from the time of Irenaeus [140-203] on the New Testament contained practically the same books as we receive today, and were regarded with the same reverence that we bestow on them today . . . but there was a minority that continued to question the genuineness and authority of some of the books for a long time.  [Thiessen, Henry Clarence, Introduction to the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 1973, p. 10.]

The Old Latin version was made about 150 A.D. for the churches of North Africa.  It was used by Tertullian, Cyprian, and others.  It contains 26 books, omitting 2 Peter.  [Miller, p. 133.]

According to Harrop, “The first man to list our current twenty-seven books of the New Testament as canonical—these and no others—was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter Epistle of A.D. 367.”  [p. 131.]  Before this time, then, the present content of the New Testament we know was widely recognized.

New Testament Scripture itself indicates that a canon or body of Scripture existed about the end of the first century.  Additional to being the means by which new revelation was received and confirmed (Galatians 1:11-2; Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4), miracles were slated by Scripture to endure until replaced with a written revelation of the previously piecemeal and partial revelations (1 Corinthians 13:10-13; Ephesians 4:11-14).  True, Bible miracles ceased when written revelation (i.e., the New Testament) was available.  Miracles were performed last before the apostles and those upon whom the apostles laid their hands to grant miraculous ability died.

Besides extra-biblical evidence regarding the formation of the Old and New Testament canons (and internal or biblical evidence of the same), reason also concludes the early canonization of Scripture.  Anyone who acknowledges divine inspiration under either testamental period surrenders, knowingly or unknowingly, to the indication of early canonization of both testaments.

The Canon grew, but the concept of inspiration, which the idea of canonicity presupposes, was fully developed from the first, and is unchanged throughout the Bible. As there presented, it comprises two convictions.  The words of Scripture are God’s own words. . . . 2. Man’s part in the producing of Scripture was merely to transmit what he had received. [The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.]
Anyone who discounts plenary, divine inspiration should not weary himself about canonicity.  Instead, he should direct his attention to divine credentials of the biblical books (e.g., historical accuracy in matters pertaining to antiquity, prophecy and fulfillment, etc.).

Anyone who acknowledges the supernatural and divine nature of God, knowingly or unknowingly, argues for the inspiration of Scripture and the subsequent canonization of biblical books.  If God possesses the divine attributes of God, among which is his charitableness toward his human creation, God then has (1) the capacity to provide mankind with written revelation that he can comprehend, (2) the willingness to provide an intelligible revelation to mankind, (3) the capacity to collect and preserve that revelation, and (4) the capacity to create human subjects capable of comprehending that revelation.  The act of being God and interacting with his human creation from whom he expects obedience presupposes divine inspiration and canonicity.

Admittedly, discussions and even debate regarding canonicity, especially of New Testament era books, continued beyond the initial acceptance of canonical books.  This fact, though, does not alter the makeup of the biblical canon.  Ongoing critique of even canonical books is not of itself evidence whereby any Bible books should be dislodged from the canon.  For instance, simply because Martin Luther failed to comprehend the harmony between Romans and James or since the so-called “Jesus Seminar” hacks away at supposed interpolations in Scripture does not adversely and directly affect the biblical canon.

It may well be that the terminology “canon” or “canonization” was not applied to Scripture until the fourth century (as Harrop reports, p. 105-106), yet the body of Old and New Testament volumes respectively predates the use of the terms.  The canonization of Old and New Testament books remain fixed from time long ago.  Canonization of Scripture was the product of participation by divinely inspired men and the willingness and ability of God to provide and preserve written revelation for his human creation.  Canonicity of Scripture is further evident from the internal evidences of the canonical books and external, historical evidence regarding their canonicity.


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