Why is this important? Genesis 3, Questioning God’s word, and Human tragedy.
Why is this important? • People are asking. • If we have no way of telling which books God wanted in the Bible, we have no way of determining what God wanted us to know. No Canon = no Bible. No Bible = No trustworthy information.
Where we’re going: Part 1: Common misconceptions about the history of the New Testament Part 2: Basic Facts about the formation of the New Testament Part 3: Addressing the misconceptions Part 4: Communication with People about the New Testament Canon
Part 1: Common Misconceptions about the history of the New Testament The “DaVinci Code-ing” of our current dialogue.
“The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven…The Bible is the product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” – DaVinci Code
"Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen . . . Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land . . . More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion. . . The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.“ – DaVinci Code
NT Scholar Charles Hill on the common narrative believed today: “Gospels about Jesus once flourished. As one scholar has recently put it, they were "breeding like rabbits." Each of the varied Christian sects pushed its own version(s) and competition was lively. This "free market" for Jesus literature meant that, for many years and in many places, some now-forgotten Gospels were at least as popular as the ones that now headline the Christian New Testament. Gradually, however, one of the competing sects was able to gain the upper hand over its rivals. And when it finally declared victory in the fourth century, fully 300 years after Jesus walked the earth, it decreed that its four Gospels were, and had always been, the standard for the church Jesus founded. The "winners," supported by the powerful emperor Constantine the Great, then got to write the histories -- and make the Bibles.”
Part 2: Basic Facts about the Formation of the New Testament
What we know (years AD): 50-100 NT books written 100-200 Quotes from early writers indicate they recognized books as scriptures (Polycarp, Didache, Iraneaus) Early collections (remnants of the codex) First List: Muratorian Fragment (c. 170) 200-300 Writers list books they see as scripture (Origen, etc.) 300-400 Eusebius (324 - lists books of OT and NT) Eusebius' Bibles for Constantine (331) Athanasius' Festal Letter – (367) Council declarations Council of Hippo (393) Third Council of Carthage (397)
How it seems to have come together: • Apostles or their associates wrote the books. (At the direction of Jesus; under the inspiration of the Spirit.) • The books were used by those they were written for. • Copies were made and distributed. Originals may have also been kept by the author, for further copying. • As the copies spread to other churches, they were used (read in the church, cited as authoritative scripture) as representing the teaching of the Apostles. • Collections of writings were made. Paul's letters were collected. The four Gospels were collected. The general epistles were collected.
How it seems to have come together: • At any given time, a certain church would recognize the books which had reached it and been vouched for as representing its body of scripture. • Eventually, with more and more communication, churches would be able to share the books in their collection. They sometimes encountered churches with different collections. • Churches, and individual Christians, wrote lists and discussions of the contents of their collections of books. • Large gatherings of church leaders (called “synods” or “councils”) published the lists of books considered scripture.
To sum it up: By 100 AD: All 27 books of the New Testament were in circulation. All but Hebrews, 2 Peter, James, 2 & 3 John, and Revelation were universally accepted. From 100 to 400 AD: These 6 "disputed" books come to be universally accepted. A number of other books were read in a few churches at various times: Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, The Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, Wisdom of Solomon, Apocalypse of Peter.
Part 3: Addressing the Misconceptions
Five of the most common misconceptions: • The Bible was the product of humans. • There were lots of gospels and documents and bibles. • The Bible was made by the church. • The point of the Bible was power, or to make a religion by deifying Christ. • Making a book or a set of books is not something Jesus would do. It's not Christian.
Misconception 1. “The Bible was the product of humans.” This is based on one of two faulty assumptions: Either: #1—There is no God, or if there is, He is unable or unwilling to communicate to us. Or #2—If the Bible were from God, He wouldn't have let the New Testament form the way it did. He would have done it differently.
Misconception 1. “The Bible was the product of humans.” Faulty Assumption #1—There is no God, or if there is, He is unable or unwilling to communicate to us. Talking Point: Bigger Problems • If there is no God we have no explanation for existence, meaning, morals, communication. • If He does exist, why should we assume He is unwilling or unable to communicate? • If He will not communicate, we are in the same position as if there is no God.
Misconception 1. “The Bible was the product of humans.” Faulty Assumption #2—If the Bible were from God, He wouldn't have let the New Testament form the way it did. He would have done it differently. Talking Point: How do we know?Why should we assume this? How would we know what God would or wouldn't do? Christians reference the Bible to find out how God works. The Bible leads us to expect the New Testament to come together in exactly the way it did.
“The Bible was the product of humans.” The Bible leads us to reason more like this… • If God does exist, and has communicated, is it unlikely that He would speak in a way that could be written down? • And if it was written down, wouldn't those documents be different than other documents? • And if they existed, wouldn't the group of them be a group of documents unlike any others? This is a Canon. Talking Point: Why is this so outlandish?
Question: How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? A Short Answer: If God exists, and wants to communicate to us, He would make sure we could find out.
Question: How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? A Detailed answer: The God who is described in Scripture indicates that He has done things to make sure His people to be able to recognize His word: God's Methods: • He made sure Christians were exposed to those documents. • The documents themselves have certain characteristics that mark them as different than all other books. • He gave Christians the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to be able to recognize the books as His.
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? 1. God made sure Christians were exposed to those documents. He is intent on, and able to, get His word to His people. The Bible shows us this by recording that: • Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would lead the Apostles to speak and write the truth. • The Apostles made sure that they wrote their teaching down so it would be available after they died.
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26) I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (2 Peter 1:15-16) That which we have seen and heard we declare to you,…And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:3-5) "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7)
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? 2. The documents themselves have certain characteristics that mark them as different than all other books: • As His communication, they have His qualities. • The documents came from trusted sources. • Eventually, the Church in general recognized them.
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? 2. The documents themselves have certain characteristics that mark them as different than all other books: • As His communication, they have His qualities. - “Beauty and Excellency” - “Power and Efficacy - “Unity and Harmony
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? They have God’s Beauty and Excellency: “How does a person know he has encountered God? Does God need some external authority to confirm His identity? When men encounter God, they are vividly aware of His beauty, majesty, and perfection and need no further 'evidence' that He is God...One knows the Scriptures are from God because they bear the beauty and perfection of God.” (MK) Even in regular literature, the “strongest” books become “canon.”
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? They have God’s Power and Efficacy: That is, not just what it says, but what it does.
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? They have God’s Unity and Harmony: • They agreed with the Bible the Church already had: the Old Testament • They agreed with the teaching authority already in place: The Apostles' oral teaching • They agreed with earliest and most commonly accepted NT books (canonical core) • They agreed with each other as a whole.
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? 2. The documents themselves have certain characteristics that mark them as different than all other books: B. The documents came from trusted (Apostolic) sources, who: • were eyewitnesses. • were chosen by Christ and appointed as messengers. • taught things that were in line with the Old Testament. • were men in close connection with these Apostles.
These trusted, Apostolic, sources. Peter — "The word which God sentto the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ…which was proclaimed throughout all Judea…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:36-43)
The documents came from trusted (Apostolic) sources. If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. (1 Corinthians 14:37-38) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:1-3)
Trusted Apostolic Sources: Books written by Apostles: Matthew, John, Paul’s letters, Peters letters, Revelation Books written by those in the Apostolic circle: Mark: overseen by Peter, a record of his teaching Luke/Acts: Overseen by Paul, based on eyewitness testimony (see Luke 1:1-4) James/Jude: Written by an inner circle of the Jerusalem church leadership Hebrews: unknown author, written by someone close to the Apostles (typically grouped with Paul’s letters)
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? 2. The documents themselves have certain characteristics that mark them as different than all other books: C. Eventually, Christians, in general, recognized them. Over time, you could tell what books should be in the Bible, by what books were in the Bible that was commonly used by the large majority of churches.
How would we know which documents belonged in the New Testament? 3. He gave Christians the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to be able to recognize the books as His. “If these books are constituted by the work of the Holy Spirit, then Christians, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, should be able to recognize that fact.” (MK 158) “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” - 1 Cor 14:37 “My sheep hear my voice.” John 10:27
Misconception # 2. “There were lots of different Gospels and versions of the Bible.” There are two answers for this: 1. Yes, there was some disagreement over the books of the New Testament. But why should that mean that the Bible isn't God's word, or that we can't know what books belong in it? 2. The amount of disagreement has been greatly exaggerated. By and large, early Christians were in agreement about most of the New Testament.
Disagreements over the New Testament? Yep. There were: 1. Groups which claimed to be Christian, but which the majority of Christians at the time did not recognized as such. (Modern example: Mormons) 2. Different regions which had different tendencies in their churches. 3. Different leaders within the church sometimes with different opinions.
Disagreements over the New Testament. Examples: Marcion: 2nd Century. Accepted part of Luke, 10 Letters of Paul. Rejected the OT. The Valentinians: 2nd Century and beyond. Gnostics. Gospel of Truth. Accepted the NT and other gnostic books. Clement of Alexandria: Christian leader in 2nd century. Quotes from other Gospels, but knows they are not “the four handed down to us.”
What books the disagreements were over: Scriptural books that were smaller, less well known, and not used as often: James 2 John 3 John 2 Peter Also: Hebrews Revelation
What books the disagreements were over: Books that were “helpful” but not Scripture. The Shepherd of Hermas 1 Clement The Epistle of Barnabas The Didache The Wisdom of Solomon The Apocalypse of Peter
Other books which were at odds with the teaching of the New Testament. Gospel of Mary Gospel of Peter Gospel of Truth Infancy Gospel of Thomas Proto-Gospel of James
What about that Gospel of Thomas? “Thomas is never mentioned in any early canonical list, is not found in any of our New Testament manuscript collections, never figured prominently in canonical discussions, and often was condemned outright by a variety of church fathers. If Thomas does represent authentic, early Christianity, it has left very little evidence of that fact.” (Michael Kruger) Talking Point: The Gospels were never really disputed.
“Yes, there was some disagreement over the books of the New Testament. But why should that mean that the Bible isn't God's word, or that we can't know what books belong in it?” How should we expect the New Testament to develop? We should expect some disagreement. Scripture itself says: • There is false teaching. • There are spiritual forces opposing the church. • People often resist the Spirit in sin and disobedience. • Not all who claim to be Christians (or the church) really are. (the Catholic canon)
God chose to deliver his word through normal historical channels. This means: process, time, disagreement. “The most critical issue is that God chose to deliver his canonical books to his church through normal historical channels. Given that the twenty-seven canonical books were not lowered down from heaven in final form, but written by a variety of different authors, in a variety of different time periods, and in a variety of different geographical locations, we can expect that there would be an inevitable delay between the time a book was known and accepted in one portion of the empire as opposed to another. Such a delay would have eventually led to some disagreements and discussion over various books. If God chose to deliver his books in real time and history, then such a scenario would be inevitable and natural.” (Michael Kruger)
Misconception # 2. “There were lots of different Gospels and versions of the Bible.” The two answers for this assertion: 1. Yes, there was some disagreement over the books of the New Testament. But why should that mean that the Bible isn't God's word, or that we can't know what books belong in it? 2. The amount of disagreement has been greatly exaggerated. By and large, early Christians were in agreement about most of the New Testament.
Talking Point: The “Canonical Core.” It’s true—for the first few centuries there was some dispute among the churches over the books that might be called the 'fringe‘… But—there was very little disagreement, if any over the books that formed the “core” of Christian belief. This “core” included the four Gospels, Acts, and the letters of Paul.
“When we look at the early centuries of the church, particularly the 2nd century, we realize that the core of the New Testament canon was in place almost from the very beginning. What do we mean by core? We mean the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and at least ten, if not thirteen, epistles of Paul. For example, one of our earliest canonical lists, the Muratorian fragment, dates from the late 2nd century, probably around 170 or 180 AD. In that particular document, it is clear that there are only four gospels that are received, and it lists all thirteen of Paul’s epistles. That is in the middle of the 2nd century. This means that the Muratorian fragment did not make up its canonical list – it is obviously picking up earlier tradition. What we see is a core of New Testament books that were never really in dispute at all. There is not much dispute about the gospels in any fundamental way – it was these four from the very start. When it came to Paul’s epistles, the core were in place from the very beginning. When we talk about any disputes at all – if we can even use that term – it really has to do with just a handful of books. Some of the peripheral books – 2 and 3 John, Jude, and 2 Peter – are the primary books that discussion centers around. To portray the New Testament canon as entirely open-ended is entirely misleading because the core was there from the start. ” – Michael Kruger
An Early references to the emerging Canonical Core— 2 Peter 3:6 refers to a collection of Paul’s letters. KEY: The point is that certain documents were immediately recognized as “Scripture” (that is, they had the same authority as the Old Testament), and that the first Christians recognized that there were collections of these documents.
Do we have evidence of this Canonical Core? • We’ve discovered many more “canonical” books then those which are not in the canon. The manuscripts that were copied and preserved are overwhelmingly the New Testament books, not other books. This shows us what early Christians thought were the most valuable, what they read, copied, and preserved. For example: 40 fragments of the four canonical Gospels vs. 9 fragments of non-canonical Gospels (late 2nd or 3rd Century)
Evidence for the Canonical Core: 2. There is a pattern in the physical form of the writings that have been preserved: Codex = Scripture Scroll = Not Scripture 40 Canonical Gospels Fragments: 39 on Codex and 1 on Opistograpgh 9 Non-canonical Gospel fragments 4 on Codex and 5 on Scrolls We have discovered no canonical gospels on an unused scroll.
“It is reasonable to judge that the use of a roll to copy a text signals that the copyist and/or user for whom the copy was made did not regard that text (or at least that copy of that text) as having scriptural status.” (Larry Hurtado)