Condensed Theology

A Primer in Systematic Theology

Bibliology: The Doctrine of Scripture
What does the Bible teach about itself?

Where We’ve Been & Where We’re Going
• • Six lessons on the Bible Addressing the following subjects:
• • • • • • • Revelation & Inspiration Authority Sufficiency Unity Necessity Power Truthfulness – Inerrancy – Infallibility Clarity – Illumination – Hermeneutics » Grammatico-historical exegesis » Redemptive-historical interpretation Canonicity (our final lecture on bibliology)

The Canon of Scripture
Which books are the books of the Bible?

Canonicity Defined
• Very simply then, the canon of Scripture refers to the list of books contained in the Bible, the books considered worthy of inclusion in the sacred writings of the church.

The Canon Delineated
Which books are biblical?

The Old Testament Canon

The Old Testament Canon: Josephus
• Josephus (37-100 AD) • This Jewish historian is the first to discuss explicitly the formation of the Old Testament canon

The Old Testament Canon: Josephus
• Canonicity is based upon prophetic inspiration • The biblical books were produced in an unbroken chain of prophecy during the period from Moses to Ezra and Nehemiah

The Old Testament Canon: Josephus
• The canon is fixed at 22 books, divided into three sections: Law, Prophets, Writings
– The five books of Moses – Thirteen books of the prophets: Joshua, Judges-Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations, Exekiel, the twelve minor prophets, Job, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles, Esther – Four books of hymns and precepts: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs

The Old Testament Canon: Other Jewish Sources
• Other Jewish sources commonly number the books at 24, differing from Josephus’ order and number, but the books themselves are the same • 4 Ezra 14:45: And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them.”
– (Written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD)

The Old Testament Canon: Other Jewish Sources
• The Council of Jamnia (or Jabneh) (c. 90 AD)
– Called by Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai to discuss the future of Judaism following the destruction of the Temple – They discussed which books “defiled the hands”—a technical expression that denotes books has having come by inspiration of God—to touch it required ritual washing otherwise you would be defiled – The rabbis introduced no innovations; they reviewed the tradition (of 24 books) they had received and left it unscathed

The Old Testament Canon: Philo
• Philo (c. 25 BC-AD 50) • This Jewish philosopher, though he does not list the books, shows an awareness of the tripartite division: Law, Prophets, Writings

The Old Testament Canon: The New Testament
• Bears witness to the tripartite division • Luke 24:44: Now [Jesus] said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

The Old Testament Canon: The New Testament
• Jesus and his adversaries never debated the limits of “the Scriptures” or “the writings”; they only debated what the Scriptures meant

The Old Testament Canon: The New Testament
• The church has always acknowledged the authority of the Old Testament, of the Hebrew Bible • 2 Tim 3:15-16: And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness… • Rom 15:4: For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The Old Testament Canon: The Cessation of Prophecy
• Josephus, reflecting tradition earlier than his own, viewed prophecy and canon as correlative phenomena • In other words, the canon was closed because the line of the prophets had ceased

The Old Testament Canon: The Cessation of Prophecy
• 1 Macc 9:23-27: After the death of Judas, the renegades emerged in all parts of Israel; all the wrongdoers reappeared. 24In those days a very great famine occurred, and the country went over to their side. 25Bacchides chose the godless and put them in charge of the country. 26They made inquiry and searched for the friends of Judas, and brought them to Bacchides, who took vengeance on them and made sport of them. 27So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.

The Old Testament Canon: The Cessation of Prophecy
• There was an OT expectation of the renewal of prophecy through Elijah and the prophet like Moses of Deuteronomy 18 • Peter interprets the events of Pentecost as the fulfillment of that prediction—prophecy ceased, but it has reemerged at the fulfillment of all things

The Old Testament Canon: Conclusions
• At least 100 years before the Christian era, the Jews were conscious that prophecy belonged to the past • As a result, the Scriptures were complete

The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha
• • • • • • • • • • • • • 1, 2 Esdras (3, 4 Ezra) Tobit Judith Esther (The Additions to the Book of Esther) Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach Baruch The Letter of Jeremiah The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men (additions to Daniel) Susanna Bel and the Dragon The Prayer of Manasseh 1, 2 Maccabees

The Apocrypha
• “Books which heretofore had never been regarded by the Jews as having any more than a certain edifying significance were now placed by Christian scribes in one codex side by side with the acknowledged books of the Hebrew canon. Thus it would happen that what was first a matter of convenience in making such books of secondary status available among Christians became a factor in giving the impression that all of the books within such a codex were to be regarded as authoritative.”[1]
– [1] Bruce M Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford, 1957), 178 quoted in David G Dunbar, “The Biblical Canon” in D A Carson and John D Woodbridge (Editors), Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1986, 1995), 310.

The Apocrypha
• By the first century BC, the Hebrew canon is a settled issue, consisting of 22 (24) books • It appears that Philo has no knowledge of the apocrypha, and he never quotes them as Scripture • While there are allusions to the Apocrypha, the NT writers (along with Jesus) nowhere acknowledge the Apocrypha as Scripture

The Apocrypha
• A significant number of church fathers also did not consider the Apocrypha to be Scripture (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria) • Nevertheless the issue was debated among them. Augustine, for example, considered it to be inspired. • No ecumenical council of the first four centuries favored the Apocrypha, and there were fathers who vigorously opposed them (Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Origen, & Jerome)

The Apocrypha
• Jerome was commissioned to create a definitive Latin version (the Vulgate) of the Bible by Pope Damascus I • Between 390-405 AD, Jerome produced the whole Bible. In the OT, he worked from the Hebrew after having learned it from rabbis • Jerome’s position was in keeping with the Hebrew canon

The Apocrypha
• The Council of Trent (1545-63) declared all the books of the Apocrypha to be Scripture • This was the first official proclamation of the Roman Catholic Church in history concerning the Apocrypha, and it came nearly 1500 years after it was written

The Apocrypha
• Roman Catholic scholars throughout the Reformation period made a distinction between the apocryphal books and the OT canon • For example, Cardinal Xemenes’ Complutensian Polyglot (1514-17) and Cardinal Cajetan, who opposed Luther at Augsburg, published Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament in 1532 that did not include the Apocrypha

The Apocrypha: Conclusions
• The Jews never received the apocryphal books as sacred Scripture • Jesus and the authors of the NT never refer to the apocryphal books as sacred Scripture • Until the Council of Trent, the church did not affirm the inspiration of the Apocrypha • The Apocrypha is not inspired; therefore, it is not canonical

The New Testament

The New Testament Canon
• “It is undisputed that both the Old and New Testaments had in essence already reached their final form and significance by the year 200. The minor variations which still persist, and are occasionally the object of further discussion, coexist perfectly happily with the over-riding conviction that Christians everywhere possessed one and the same Bible.”[1]
– [1] Von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (Germany, 1968), 327.

History of Formation

The New Testament Canon: History of Formation
• The Muratorian Fragment (c. 180 AD): Though it is a list of authoritative books, it is not merely a list, but gives rational for its decisions
– This tells us the kind of thinking regarding canon; there is a historical conception, regarding authenticity – It is our canon, but with the borders still flexible (included 21 of 27 NT books) – Accepts the Wisdom of Solomon and Apocalypse of Peter – Speaks of “Recognized,” “Received,” and “Rejected” books – There is a notion of authority in operation as well as a notion of the finality of Scripture

The New Testament Canon: History of Formation
• The Cheltenham Manuscript: This represents the usage of North Africa ca. 360 AD, listing our present 27 books • Athanasius’ Easter Letter (367 AD): The first witness to the 27 books of the NT as alone canonical

The New Testament Canon: History of Formation
• The testimony of church councils:
– Synod of Laodicea (367 AD): Everything except Revelation – Third Council of Carthage (397 AD): All 27 books; confirmed at Carthage again in 419

The New Testament Canon: History of Formation
• Usage in the East: There was a more restrictive outlook there.
– Syria: At the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century their usage is represented by the Peshitta version, which includes 22 NT books (omitting 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and Revelation) – Outside of Syria there was general acceptance of the Catholic Epistles, while there were still doubts about Revelation. Yet Revelation Still found acceptance in different places

The New Testament Canon: Summary of Formation
• We have witnesses who are representative of the church as a whole in the Mediterranean world in complete agreement on their conception of the canon; they give no hint that the church had a different position anywhere • The basic contours of the canon are the same: the four gospels, Paul’s 13 letters, Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John. All these have virtually no opposition. • 2/3 John, Jude, Revelation have scattered opposition • Hebrews/James were accepted in the East, suspected in the West • Only 2 Peter is really doubtful

The New Testament Canon: Summary of Formation
• At least 20 out of 27 (probably 24) are clearly accepted throughout the church at the end of the 2nd century. From Matthew to Philemon you have no doubts in the 2nd century. • Of the 886 pages of the UBS4 Greek New Testament, only 146 were in debate. • With the addition of the other clearly accepted books (only Hebrews, James, and 2 Peter were really disputed), only 51 of the 886 pages were debated the 2nd century. • This means that 94.3% of the canon was without question.

The New Testament Canon: Summary of Formation
• While the consensus was not perfect (there are Christian confessions that to this day do not accept all 27 books, e.g. the native Syrian church, the Ethiopian church), “it is fair to say that wherever Christians in particular localities have been concerned to know the extent of the New Testament and have searched for this knowledge in a spirit of open communication with the larger church, unanimity of opinion has generally been the result.”[1]
– [1] Dunbar, “The Biblical Canon,” 318.

The New Testament Canon
Criteria of Canonicity

Criteria of Canonicity
• • • • • • Apostolicity/Apostolic Authority Antiquity Inspiration Widespread Acceptance/Catholicity Traditional Use Content/Orthodoxy

Criteria of Canonicity: Apostolicity
• Very frequently, the status of a book is determined by whether or not it came from an apostle • Apostolic authorship, however, was not insisted on if some form of apostolic authority could be established (e.g. James [the Lord’s brother], Jude, Mark’s gospel from Peter’s report, etc.)

Criteria of Canonicity: Antiquity
• Writings beyond the apostolic age would not be considered among the apostolic or canonical books

Criteria of Canonicity: Inspiration
• Apostolicity and inspiration go hand-in-hand, as the apostles claimed to be heralding the very word of God • 1 Thess 2:13: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

Criteria of Canonicity: Inspiration
• For many centuries canonicity and inspiration have been closely bound up together in Christian thought • Books were included in the canon because they were inspired and… • A book is known to be inspired because it is in the canon

Criteria of Canonicity: Catholicity
• A work that enjoyed only local acceptance by the people of God as Scripture was not likely to be considered part of the canon • This factor played a conscious, deliberate role in the early church’s view of the canon. If a book is accepted widely as inspired, that is good reason to accept it

Criteria of Canonicity: Traditional Use
• Related to catholicity is the notion that functions to exclude certain works from the canon; namely, traditional use. • If a newer work were to appear which had never before been seen by the Christian community, it was likely to be rejected on that basis alone: “This is what we have always done!”

Criteria of Canonicity: Orthodoxy
• This was an important factor historically (mid-3rd & early 4th centuries). • It centered on the question both of agreement with other NT books that were universally accepted • And of the church’s accepted dogma

New Testament Hints at a Closed Canon
Six Principles

New Testament Canon Principle 1
• The church accepted a closed canon • That is, it accepted a defined collection of uniquely authoritative sacred writings

New Testament Canon Principle 2
• The church recognized the unique authority of Jesus to advance on a closed canon • He was seen as greater than his contemporaries (e.g. John the Baptist) and greater than his predecessors (e.g. Moses)

New Testament Canon Principle 3
• The church accepted Jesus’ commissioning of the apostles as the recipients of additional divine revelation • The apostles were appointed and given authority by Jesus himself and promised to receive words from the Holy Spirit to communicate his truth

New Testament Canon Principle 4
• Therefore the church accepted the apostles’ unique authority to advance on a closed canon

New Testament Canon Principle 5
• The church understood the apostles’ ministry as foundational to its existence • Thus the church understood the apostles’ function to be limited and unique to their generation

New Testament Canon Principle 6
• The church believed the apostles’ doctrine to represent a precious deposit entrusted to the church to be preserved and protected, not added to or altered • The rise of false teaching aided this process by prompting the church to keep the apostolic tradition from being distorted by false teachers

New Testament Canon Principles: Summary
• The church accepted a closed canon • The church recognized the unique authority of Jesus to advance on a closed canon • The church accepted Jesus’ commissioning of the apostles as the recipients of additional divine revelation • The church accepted the apostles’ unique authority to advance on a closed canon • The church understood the apostles’ ministry as foundational to its existence • The church believed the apostles’ doctrine to represent a precious deposit entrusted to the church to be preserved and protected, not added to or altered

New Testament Canon Principles: Conclusion
• THEREFORE, the NT canon was not something that developed as the offspring of the church’s later history, but was beginning to form even as the apostles were alive

Limitations of Our Study

Limitations of Criteria: Apostolicity and Inspiration
• To say a book was written by an apostle, thus is canonical -- we extend this to close associates of the apostles (Luke, etc.). Yet this can easily become an ad hoc principle to justify what you want • 1 Cor 5:9 and Col 4:16 refer to Paul’s other letters which have not survived. Thus we have apostolic letters that are not canonical: hence, there is not an absolute identity between apostolicity and canonicity. All that is canonical is inspired; not all that is inspired is canonical

Limitations of Criteria: Apostolicity and Inspiration
• Mark was an associate of Peter; Luke of Paul. • Since Clement also was an associate of Peter, based on this criteria, we would have to include his writings as canonical as well • What about Hebrews? No author is given and it is highly unlikely that it was Paul

Limitations of Criteria: Catholicity
• While this is an impressive factor supporting the bulk of the NT, it loses its power for the picker problems • If this is the criterion we must ask, when? Revelation, for instance, had serious doubt in the 4th century. • What constitutes “widespread acceptance”? Is it public reading? If so, then we might have to include the Shepherd of Hermas in as canonical

Limitations of Criteria: Orthodoxy
• This seems to rely too much on private judgment. • It is on this basis that Luther rejected James. He claimed that James “‘mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture.’ For him, it was an ‘epistle of straw’ to be relegated to the end of the NT.”[1] • Luther said, “I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.”[2]
– [1] Douglas J Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 5. – [2] Ibid.

Limitations of Criteria: Conclusion
• None of the criteria cinches the case • Though this does not make the criteria meaningless, it does mean that we cannot look for some air-tight, “objective” criteria that will once and for all “prove” that the 27 books of the NT (and the 24 [39] books of the Old Testament, for that matter) are the only books worthy of canonical status

Limitations of New Testament Principles
• The argument is highly inferential • There are no texts in the New Testament that explicitly set forth the limits of the canon as we know it

Limitations of New Testament Principles: Conclusion
• The argument from Scripture does not cinch the case • Though this does not make the argument meaningless, it does mean that we cannot look for some air-tight, “objective” argument or proof texts that will once and for all “prove” that the 27 books of the NT (and the 24 [39] books of the Old Testament, for that matter) are the only books worthy of canonical status

Responding to Canon Formation
In light of the uncertainty surrounding canonicity, how should we respond?

Response 1: Skepticism
• “I agree that history and the NT itself cannot demonstrate with absolute certainty the limits of Scripture.” • “Therefore the canon of Scripture is up for grabs.”

Response 2: Fideism
• “I agree that history and the NT itself cannot demonstrate with absolute certainty the limits of Scripture.” • “And even though the evidence tells me to believe that the canon of Scripture is up for grabs, I will accept the canon anyway.”

Response 3: Learned Ignorance
• “I agree that history and the NT itself cannot demonstrate with absolute certainty the limits of Scripture.” • “Nevertheless, this does not lead me to conclude that the canon of Scripture is up for grabs; instead, on the basis of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, that there are gaps in my knowledge that cannot as yet be accounted for.”

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