Monday, February 24, 2014

How We Got the Bible: The Canon of the Scriptures

Chapter 14 studies the canon of both the Old Testament and New Testament. Lightfoot begins the chapter by explaining that the word canon came from the Greek word kanon and the Hebrew word qaneh. Its basic meaning is “reed.” A reed was sometimes used for measurement and so the word kanon came to be known as a standard or rule. The word was also used to denote a list or index. So in relation to the Old and New Testaments, it refers to the books which are regarded as having divine authority and make up each testament. Additionally, he emphasizes that divine authority is not granted but recognized.

The Old Testament Canon

We have good reason to think that the canon of the Old Testament was set by the time of Jesus. Josephus, Origin, and Jerome all affirm the count of twenty-two books which is the same as the thirty-nine which make up the Old Testament today after accounting for grouping differences. Josephus also gives great detail on the three part division, timeframe, and reverence for the books. Evidence also comes from the New Testament for the apostles heavily quoted from a collection of authoritative writings and thus there was an agreed upon collection of “Scriptures” among them. The exact books can be determined by these quotes. Finally, Jesus mentioned (Luke 24:44 and 11:51)  a collection of writings that is divided into the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms and which extends from the time of Abel to the time of Zechariah. A timeframe which agrees with the Jewish order of the Hebrew Bible of Genesis to Chronicles.

The New Testament Canon

The Muratorian Fragment, which dates to the second century, lists Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, Jude, two letters of John, and Revelation as authoritative. Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter and possibly 3 John are not included. For the most part, the writings of Origin and Eusebius agree with this list and its omissions. However, Lightfoot writes:

When the church of Christ was first established, it had no thought of a New Testament. Its Bible was the Old Testament and its new teachings were based on the authority of Christ as personally mediated through the apostles. Soon, inspired men began to put in writing divine regulations both for churches and for individuals. It was inevitable that these written instructions would become normative, for Christians could not have less respect for them than for their Christ. Thus Paul’s letters were carefully gathered into a single whole; next came the collection of the Four Gospels, and then all the others followed.

It was due to this process of circulation and collection that James, 2 and 3 John, and perhaps others were disputed as authoritative. They were questioned because they were not well known or circulated in the church, not because they taught a different gospel.

Finally, in A.D. 367, Athanasius of Alexandria published a list of twenty-seven books that were accepted at the time and these are the same twenty-seven books recognized in our New Testament today.

Lightfoot concludes the chapter by stating the following:

It is important to emphasize that no church council made the canon of Scripture. No church by its decrees gave to or pronounced on the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the New Testament books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves. As a child indentifies its mother; the later church identified the books which it regarded as having unique authority.

Stand firm in Christ,

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