Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series: How The New Testament Provides Clues For Its Canonization


    In this series thus far, we have introduced the subject of “the doctrine of Scripture”, followed by a message on how we got our Old Testament and the question of the Old Testament canon. In our last post, we touched upon the question of the so-called “Apocryphal books”. These fifteen books, though affirmed by the Roman Catholic Church as inspired by their use of the term “Deutero-canonical”, yet were demonstrated that, in the final analysis, they cannot be considered as part of the Old Testament canon. For those interested in seeing the last post, please click here 

    Having surveyed the issues surrounding the formation and completion of the Old Testament canon, we now turn our attention to the New Testament canon, its message, and why it matters.

The New Testament Canon.

    As we begin to study the beginning and formation of the New Testament canon, we can find evidence by looking at the New Testament documents themselves. As a reminder of what we mean by "canon", the term refers to those books that, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, are received, recognized, and used by ealry Christians as authoritative Scripture. In future posts we will examine "tests" or criteria used by early Christians to identify which books belong in the canon. As we saw in our posts on the Old Testament canon, canonicity is not a process of "kicking out" books which the church had to choose from a large body of literature to suit a certain orthodox agenda (a common assumption in skeptical scholarship). Rather, canonicity is recognizing which books are to be allowed in to a s relatively small collection of literature deemed as inspired. In time this important distinction will be discussed. For now, we turn our attention to how the process of canonicity was well underway before the close of the first century.

How the New Testament provides clues for its canonization.

    To anchor this post, let us turn to three passages that set the tone for our discussion of the New Testament Canon. The first is found in Luke 1:1-4 and the second is found in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. Luke’s Gospel was written in the early sixties’ of the first century. In his prologue (introduction), Luke claims to write an inerrant record.

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

    Amazingly, Paul would write only two years later in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 about "Elders", quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 as Scripture.

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

    My point in mentioning the above Scriptures is to show that the canonization of the New Testament followed a similar pattern like we noted in our previous message on the Old Testament canon. 

    We see God’s revelation of Himself in the Person of the incarnate Son – Jesus Christ. Then, we see Jesus act redemptively in human history by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The beginning and growth of the New Testament canon is the Holy Spirit’s effort in expounding what Christ achieved, and how the church is to proclaim this message with twenty-seven inspired books crafted for each generation of the church to use until He returns. Note a third New Testament passage, 2 Peter 3:14-18.

“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

    Peter’s writing of 2 Peter was in 66 A.D, only a couple of years before his death. We find evidence that all of Paul’s letters were already recognized and used as authoritative Scripture, considered on equal footing with the Old Testament Scriptures (designated by Peter as “the other Scriptures”).

Closing thoughts:
    We begin to consider the canonization of the New Testament books. The books themselves provide primary evidence concerning the beginnings of this process. In our next post, we will examine Jesus' promises to His disciples that would provide the underpinnings for the writing of the New Testament books.

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