Wednesday, 25 July 2018

What the Scriptures Say About the Scriptures

     The English word “scripture,” corresponding to the Greek graphē in the New Testament, is a transliteration of the Latin scriptura with reference to “a writing” or “something written.” In religious circles “the term acquires special meaning, referring not to any written text but to a text, usually a collection of texts, considered uniquely authoritative for members of that religious community” (C. R. Holladay, A Critical Introduction to the NT 572). With respect to Christianity, the term is used in the special sense of a sacred writing, i.e., recognized as inspired by the Spirit of God.

The Scriptures According to Paul

     In his final apostolic manuscript the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15).1 The allusion here to “the Holy Scriptures” is evidently pertaining to the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament), the only sacred writings available to Timothy in his younger years. Then the apostle writes, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness …” (v. 16). Is Paul still limiting his focus here to the ancient Jewish canon, or would the adjectival “all” be inclusive of additional works?
     In his previous correspondence to Timothy, Paul had called attention to the fact that he is quoting “the Scripture” [hē graphē] as he writes, You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (1 Tim. 5:18a). This citation is from Deut. 25:4, which the apostle obviously regards as “Scripture.” He then quotes these words, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18b). The only other biblical record of this particular statement is Luke 10:7. Seeing that Paul, by his own admission, is not reciting the spoken words of Jesus or oral tradition but something that has been put into written form [hē graphē], he apparently considers the writings of Luke to be included among the Holy Scriptures.

The Scriptures According to Peter

     Not too long after the apostle Paul had completed his final manuscripts, the apostle Peter speaks of “our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you” (2 Pet. 3:15).2 The audience Peter is addressing had also received correspondence from Paul. This is Peter’s second letter to these particular readers (2 Pet. 3:1), identified as those scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1). We know that Paul at least sent letters to Christians living in the provinces of Galatia and Asia (viz. Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1-2 Timothy, and the non-extant letter to the Laodiceans).3 Then Peter alludes to other Pauline writings as well: “as also in all his epistles” (2 Pet. 3:16a). Whether or not Peter was aware of or had access to the entire Pauline corpus is debatable, but it is certainly possible.4 As Peter goes on to speak of “the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16b), he implicitly includes the letters of Paul in this broader collection of sacred writings.
     Earlier in Peter’s second epistle, he speaks as an eyewitness, claiming to “have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place …” (2 Pet. 1:16-19). He goes on to say “that no prophecy of Scripture is of [gínomai = in its origin] any private interpretation,5 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (vv. 20-21). Peter not only alludes to the oral communication of “the prophetic word,” but the term “Scripture” [graphē] specifically applies to what has been transcribed in written form. This would surely include what Peter is currently writing, as well as his previous correspondence (3:1), not to mention the Pauline letters he goes on to specifically reference (3:15-16).

The Making of Scripture

     Paul reminds the saints at Ephesus “of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)” (Eph. 3:2-4). The “mystery” [mustērion = something once hidden, now revealed] had been “given” and “made known” to Paul by way of “revelation,” which he then transmitted in writing [employing a form of the verb gráphō]. Now his readers can “understand” this “knowledge” by reading what the apostle has written. Paul also affirms that the information he is sharing, “in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (v. 5; cf. 2:20).
     The Lord’s “holy apostles” who reportedly contributed to the New Testament canon involved Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul. The rest of the writings would have been produced by “prophets” (divinely-inspired spokesmen), including Mark, Luke, the anonymous Hebrews writer(s), James, Jude, and even Timothy and Silvanus (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1, 13; 1 Pet. 5:12).6 


     From the earliest days of the Christian movement, the teachings of Jesus were considered authoritative (cf. Acts 11:16; 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23-25; 1 John 1:1-4), and the preaching of his 1st-century representatives was acknowledged as the “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. 4:8). Certain writings were recognized as divinely-inspired and were circulated, quoted, and included among the collection of documents known as the Holy Scriptures. The formation of the New Testament, as well as the entire biblical canon, was not the result of any individual, congregation, or council deciding which books belonged to it, but by a general recognition and acceptance of the sacred writings.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV. Like graphē, the noun grámma is also based on the verbal gráphō and refers to something written.
     2 On the authorship of 2 Peter, see Authorship of 2 Peter; also D. A. Carson, E. M. B. Green, D. Guthrie, D. J. Moo, B. Reicke.
     3 See The Missing Letters of Paul.
     4 Paul wrote his letters over a period of at least 14 years, sending them hundreds of kilometers in numerous directions. These writings were not to be kept isolated in their respective localities but were to be shared with others (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). Note Peter’s claim that Paul “has written to you” (2 Pet. 3:15), inclusive of readers in five Roman provinces (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 3:1), whereas the addressees of Paul's extant writings include those living in only two of these provinces. It is not improbable that before his death Paul pre-selected 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 times) would not have done this. In 2 Tim. 4:13 he mentions his collection of ta biblia (“the scrolls”) and tas membranas (“the parchments”), which may refer to papyrus scrolls and parchment codices or notebooks, including copies of his letters. This collection of Paul’s writings could have easily been made available to the brotherhood all at once by Timothy, Mark, and/or Luke after Paul’s death (2 Tim. 4:11-13). Note that Mark in particular worked closely with Peter (1 Pet. 5:13). "The NT writings are connected by a network of authorial associations (e.g. Mark and Peter, Luke and Paul) that present the Gospels and epistles as alternate mediums for the same message that centers on Jesus Christ" (G. Goswell, “Johannine Corpus,” JETS 61.4 [2018]: 717).
     5 This passage does not suggest that an individual is incapable of interpreting Scripture for himself (as per JB, N/KJV, NASB, RSV) but has reference to the origin of Scripture, i.e., it did not originate from [gínomai] a prophet’s own understanding.
     6 See Silas/Silvanus, and Timothy Part 1; also Authorship of Hebrews Part 1 and Part 2.

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