Monday, 27 August 2012

The Collection and Canonization of New Testament Writings (Part 2 of 2)

     By the mid-second century at the latest, all four canonical Gospels were circulating together in the form of Tatian’s Diatessaron (ca. 150-170). That they were collectively known much earlier is indicated by their respective titles: "According to Matthew," "According to Mark," "According to Luke," and "According to John." There is no evidence that the Gospels ever circulated without these designations, and book distribution in antiquity necessitated that any work to which any reference was made have a title for identification purposes. As soon as more than one Gospel was distributed, there had to be some way to distinguish between them (see Authorship of NT Gospels). Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140) was familiar with all four Gospels, as was Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 125-200).
     Clement of Rome, in the final decade of the first century (ca. 95-96), in his letter to the Corinth church, refers to, quotes, and/or alludes to Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and James (perhaps also to 1 Timothy and Titus). Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 69-155) incorporates into his letter to the Philippians numerous passages from the New Testament, especially from Paul’s writings and from 1 Peter. From Rome in the latter part of the second century (ca. 170), the Muratorian Canon presents a list in Latin (albeit fragmentary) of recognized books not very different from our current New Testament. While Matthew and Mark are missing, their original inclusion is presupposed by the fact that Luke and John are referred to as the "third" and "fourth" Gospels respectively. Also missing are James, one of John’s epistles, and 1-2 Peter.
     Allusions to a number of New Testament passages are found in the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 80-120) and the Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 100-160). Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165) quotes from the Synoptic Gospels and mentions the Revelation of John. Besides his harmony of the four Gospels (mentioned above), Tatian also makes use of a number of Paul’s letters (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.29.6). Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 125-200), in his treatise Adversus Haereses, quotes 1,075 passages from all the New Testament books except the brief epistles of Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude.
     The Chester Beatty Papyrus I or P45 (ca. 150) consists of the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s epistles, and Revelation. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (ca. 150) contain sayings of Jesus that have parallels in all four Gospels, and the Bodmer Papyrus XIV/XV or P75 (ca. 150-200) is comprised of Luke and John. P46 (ca. 200) contains Romans, Hebrews, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians(?), but only eighty-six of the 104 original leaves survive today.
     Origin (ca. 240) refers to all the books of the New Testament, although he simply alludes to Paul’s letters without listing them. Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 324) mentions the twenty-seven New Testament books, and though he notes the disputed nature of some of them (viz. James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2-3 John), he acknowledges their use in many churches at the time (Eccl. Hist. 3.25; cf. 2.23). Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 350), in his Catechetical Lectures 4.33, lists all the New Testament books as canonical except Revelation, due to a general reaction against Revelation in the East after excessive use was made of it by the Montanist cults. In 367 Athanasius (Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter) lists all twenty-seven books as canonical. The earliest extant copy of an entire New Testament text is Codex Sinaiticus, produced around 375. The twenty-seven-book New Testament was promoted by Jerome, Damascus, and the Roman synod of 382 and was formerly pronounced by the Council of Carthage in 397. Note, however, that this pronouncement was merely a public recognition of the books which Christians had already accepted as divinely inspired for three centuries.
     The New Testament canon was formed, not by any individual or congregation or council deciding which books belonged to it, but by a general recognition of the inspired documents. Just as the conveyance of the biblical writings entailed both divine and human involvement (see Biblical Inspiration in Perspective), their preservation surely included the same. The recognition, collection, and perpetuation of scripture were accomplished through the human process of critical thinking and reasonable faith, while the providential working of God has no doubt ensured that nothing essential has been omitted and nothing uninspired has been incorporated (cf. 2 Timothy 1:13; 2:2; 3:16-17; Jude 3; Revelation 22:18-19).
–Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Collection & Canonization NT Part 1

Related articles: D. Bryant's Four Truths About the NT, Justin Rogers'  Birth of the Book (Part 1)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Collection and Canonization of New Testament Writings (Part 1 of 2)

     The word "canon" (Greek kan┼Źn) is derived from a Semitic word for stalk or reed that came to be used for a measuring rod and thus a "standard" or "rule." A literary canon is simply a list of titles of various works or the actual collection of documents itself. Applied to biblical writings, "canon" refers to the list and compilation of books recognized as genuine, authoritative, and divinely inspired.
     While most scholars propose that the New Testament canon was settled sometime around the fourth century (cf. F. F. Bruce, Canon of Scripture [1988]: 256-63), Wayne Walden maintains that it was not until the sixteenth century that the final details were complete ("Luther: the One Who Shaped the Canon," RQ 49 [2007]: 1-10), whereas David Trobisch argues that it was confirmed as early as the mid-second century (First Edition of the NT [2000]). What does a straightforward assessment of the historical facts reveal?
     The earliest Christians did not possess a New Testament canon. They relied instead on the verbal instruction of inspired teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28-31), oral accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds (e.g. Acts 20:35), the Old Testament scriptures (Acts 8:30-35; 17:11; et al.), and other inspired writings as they were produced and circulated (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16).
     The first record of an official canonical list is from the heretic Marcion (ca. 144), only a few decades after the New Testament writings were completed. Although Marcion’s canon consisted merely of an abbreviated version of Luke’s Gospel and ten of Paul’s letters (minus the parts with which Marcion disagreed), Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160-225), in his five volumes Adversus Marcionem, sternly criticized him for having cut out the majority of books from the New Testament. This demonstrates that at the time, the generally recognized Christian canon was considerably more extensive than Marcion’s limited version. While Marcion’s list may have been the first to be publicized (as far as we know), he was certainly not the first to consider the concept of a compendium of authoritative writings.
     Very early on, even within the New Testament era itself, Christian documents were used, circulated, collected, and quoted. The apostle Paul wrote his letters over a period of at least fourteen years, sending them hundreds of kilometers in numerous directions. By the year 56 multiple writings of Paul were known and acknowledged by his critics (2 Corinthians 10:10). In the spring of 62 Paul’s expressed intention was that his letters be circulated rather than kept isolated in their respective localities (Colossians 4:16). Not long thereafter, writing to Timothy in Asia Minor, Paul quotes Luke as "scripture" on the same level as the Hebrew Bible (1 Timothy 5:18). By the mid-60s Paul’s writings were recognized (at least from Asia Minor to Rome) as a well-known collection and regarded as "scripture" (2 Peter 3:15-16; cf. 3:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 5:13). Sometime after this Jude apparently had access to and quotes from the epistle of 2 Peter (cp. Jude 17-18; 2 Peter 3:2-3) (see The NT Epistle of Judas).
     We simply do not have enough available information to reach any definitive conclusions about exactly how and when the documents of the New Testament were first collated. It is not improbable that before his death Paul preselected which of his letters to include in a published collection. It was common in the Greco-Roman world for authors to keep copies of their works, and there is no reason to assume that Paul (a man of his time) would not have done this. In 2 Timothy 4:13 he mentions his collection of ta biblia ("the scrolls") and tas membranas ("the parchments"), which potentially refer to papyrus scrolls and parchment codices or notebooks, including copies of his letters. Rather than requiring years to collect the apostle’s writings from multiple locations, they could have easily been made available to the brotherhood all at once by Timothy, Mark, and/or Luke soon after Paul’s death (2 Timothy 4:11-13). This possibility is made even more plausible by the fact that all extant manuscripts comprising the Pauline writings are remarkably consistent in the number of epistles they contain and even the order in which they are arranged.
–Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Collection & Canonization NT Part 2

Related articles: Joshua Hames, What Books Belong in the Bible?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Cross-Bearing: the Cost of Discipleship

     Anything that Jesus said, even if spoken but once, must be important to have been preserved in the biblical record (cf. John 12:48-50). And if he reiterated something or communicated the same message multiple times, surely it deserves our careful attention. There are at least three separate accounts of the Lord making a particular statement, referenced no less that five times in the Synoptic Gospels.1 What could be worth repeating so many times?


     Early in his ministry, around the year 28, Jesus was in the district of Galilee near Nazareth when he spoke these words to the twelve: "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:38, NKJV). What would this have meant to those who first heard it? Jesus had not yet predicted his death, and the concept of a "cross" had absolutely no religious connotation at this time. What was the Lord trying to communicate to these new recruits?
     The following year, in the spring of 29, Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi, northeast of Galilee. This time he spoke to a larger group of people, including his immediate disciples. All three Synoptic Gospels record the statement: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24; cf. Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). This was spoken not long after Jesus had, for the first time, informed his disciples that he would be "killed" (Matthew 16:21), although he had not yet specified the manner of his death. Without knowledge of the Lord’s crucifixion, how would they have understood this teaching?
     The third time Jesus is reported to have employed this metaphor, he was east of Judea in Perea in the winter of 29. On this occasion, as he spoke to a multitude about the importance of counting the cost of discipleship, he declared: "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:27). Once again, the idea of Christ dying on a cross had not yet been communicated,2 so with what frame of reference were they to interpret such an obscure admonition?
     Long before the words in question were spoken, Palestinian Jews were quite familiar with the cross as an instrument of public execution. As far back as the second century BC, Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes crucified Jews who resisted his oppressive decrees (see Josephus Ant. 12.5.4). Later, the Romans perfected this form of capital punishment as a means of humiliation and torture and a deterrent to insurrection. The condemned was forced to carry the implement upon which he would die to the place of execution. Seeing that an entire Roman cross weighed over 135 kg (300 lb.), it was the crossbeam, weighing approximately 35-60 kg (75-125 lb.), that was typically carried.

What was Jesus trying to communicate?

     When Jesus called upon each listener to "take," "take up," or "bear" his own cross, what image would this have brought to their minds? Few would have continued following him asking, "What’s in it for me?" or "What can I get out of this?" None would have gone away thinking, "It’s all about me!" Whatever this message implies, it is abundantly clear that such is necessary to be worthy of Christ (Matthew 10:38), requiring self-denial (Matthew 16:24), without which one cannot be the Lord’s disciple (Luke 14:27).
     There are at least four applications to consider. First, as cross-bearing always ends in death, the Christian walk is to last for the remainder of one’s life. It was never intended as a temporary lifestyle to be tested on a trial basis and then abandoned at will. Genuine discipleship involves a lifetime commitment (Revelation 2:10).
     Second, to be a committed follower of Christ means that there is a tough road ahead. Cross-bearing was not designed to be pleasant. Anyone looking for the "easy life" will not find it in the Christian experience. In fact, as long as there are fallible human beings living in an imperfect world, the hypothetical "easy life" is not possible for anyone! Rather than promising earthly comfort and ease, the Lord realistically assures just the opposite for the faithful (Matthew 5:11; John 15:20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; etc.).
     Third, the journey is never taken alone. The cross-bearing expected by Christ involves following after him. Not only will he be the supreme example (1 Peter 2:21), he offers guidance (John 8:12), strength (Matthew 7:24-25), and the assurance that he is with his fellow-cross-bearers each step of the way (Matthew 28:20).
      Finally, Jesus never asks his followers to do anything he is unwilling to do himself. He goes on to literally carry his own cross (John 19:17). Moreover, when extreme blood loss and fatigue seem to render him incapable of completing the journey alone, someone else is compelled to provide assistance along the way (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). While cross-bearing is first an individual responsibility, in the way of Christ help is available as needed (John 13:34-35; 15:12-14; etc.).


     Whatever else might be involved in being a Christian, cross-bearing is an indispensable component. A grave injustice is committed against prospective converts by failing to inform them of this essential truth (Luke 14:26-33). It is a lifelong commitment, with great challenges throughout, but not an isolated or lonesome journey. As each bears his own cross and follows in the footsteps of Christ, he is empowered by the Lord’s abiding presence. Beyond that, other cross-bearers are on hand to help shoulder any seemingly unbearable loads.
     "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . . . For each one shall bear his own load. . . . But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:2, 5, 14).
Kevin L. Moore


       1 With textual variation among ancient manuscripts, the same teaching also occurs in Mark 10:21 in the Greek text behind the KJV, NKJV, and RAV.
     2 It was not until the following year that Jesus would reveal his impending death by way of crucifixion (Matthew 20:19; 26:2).

Related Posts"Father, Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit"Simon of Cyrene

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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Jude's Alleged Use of Pseudonymous Sources

     Jude refers to a prophecy of "Enoch, the seventh from Adam" (vv. 14-15), and a similar passage is found in the Jewish pseudepigraphical work The Book of Enoch (a.k.a. Ethiopic Enoch or I Enoch), leading many to conclude that Jude quoted from this non-canonical source (viz. I Enoch 1.9, with possible allusion to 60.8; 93.3).
     It is important to note, however, that Jude does not suggest his information came from anything Enoch had supposedly written (i.e. Enoch is not cited as "scripture"). Even if it is presumed that The Book of Enoch (whomever the author/s) was a contemporary work from which Jude may have quoted, remember also Paul’s practice of sometimes using quotes from secular literature to illustrate or emphasize a point (cf. Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12) and the inadvertent prophecy made by Caiaphas (John 11:49; 18:14). In other words, Jude simply recognized that what was said by Enoch had turned out to be an accurate description in view of the immoral conduct of certain false teachers. As demonstrated in Paul’s teachings, referencing a true statement from an extrabiblical source does not legitimize the entire work, does not lend credence to everything the work might prescribe, does not imply divine inspiration of the work, and does not suggest that the work should be inserted into the Bible.
     Nevertheless, it is of interest that The Book of Enoch is not included among the books of the Apocrypha that were written during the third to first centuries BC. The Greek text was known from at least the mid-second century AD (and onwards) to the author of the Epistle of Barnabas (4.3; 16.5-6), Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 4.16.2), Justin Martyr (Apol. 2.5), Clement of Alexandria (Eclogae prophetice 2), Tertullian (On Female Dress 2), and Origen (De Principiis 8). Tertullian, who was familiar with both the prophecy in Jude (Idol. 15; Apol. 22) and writings ascribed to Enoch (On Female Dress 2), does not connect the former to the latter.
     Aramaic fragments of the work have been discovered in Qumran, mostly in Cave 4 (see J. T. Milik, Books of Enoch). While fragment 4Q204 (4QEnc) has presumptuously been identified as the passage from which Jude quoted (cf. R. H. Charles, Book of Enoch 274-75), this tiny scrap of parchment only has about sixty letters in four broken lines, a number of which are indiscernible, with merely seven words that can be deciphered conclusively. When compared to other major texts of this section of I Enoch, only one word ("harsh") is found to be in common with the Greek version. In studies comparing this fragment and Jude’s quotation (e.g. C. D. Osburn, "Christological Use of I Enoch" 334-41), the standard text that tends to be used is not 4Q204 itself but Milik’s supplemented reconstruction of the text! There is no compelling evidence showing a clear literary parallel with Jude’s quoted prophecy.
     Furthermore, there is a conspicuous absence among these Qumran fragments of significant portions of I Enoch’s current content, not the least of which is 37-71 (Similitudes), which can readily be dated in the third century AD (J. T. Milik, Books of Enoch 89-98) and not prior to the late first- or early-second century AD (cf. J. H. Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 89), with apparent allusion to passages in the Gospels of Matthew and John (see J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making xxxix n. 81, 77-78, 297 nn. 75-82).
     The extant Book of Enoch (discovered in 1773) is actually a conglomeration of fragments of various authorship, and the date(s) of these writings are uncertain. If the ancient Jews and the Christians of the New Testament era had known of these writings, they apparently did not consider them canonical. Because The Book of Enoch, in its current form, contains numerous parallels to passages in the New Testament (at least forty-nine passages from sixteen different New Testament books), it is not improbable that Jude’s epistle was the primary source from which the writer(s) of The Book of Enoch borrowed the prophecy in question. Jude may have received knowledge of Enoch’s prophecy through divine revelation or oral tradition, but since Jude does not provide any more information, speculation is futile.
     Jude’s account of the dispute over the body of Moses (v. 9) is purportedly based on another pseudepigraphical work, namely the Assumption of Moses (a.k.a. the Testament of Moses). However, Jude does not attribute his information to any particular source. The Assumption of Moses is of uncertain date and authorship, and the only extant portion of it is a sixth-century AD fragmentary Latin manuscript that was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century. Since no surviving portion of this work contains the passage in question, and since similar words are found in Zechariah 3:1-2, the element of divine revelation notwithstanding, it is just as likely that the material came from a common source or tradition rather than having been the result of literary dependency.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Epistle of Judas, Why Argue Over the Body of Moses?Collection & Canonization NT Part 1Collection & Canonization NT Part 2, Biblical Inspiration