Monday, November 7, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series - Jesus' Promise Of The New Testament, Its Recognition, Collection, And Overall Arrangement


    In my last post, I began to consider the canonization the New Testament. Readers can review the last post by clicking on the following link

    In today's post, we want to continue looking at the canonization the New Testament books by noting how Jesus Christ Himself is the reason behind it. Jesus anchors any discussion of Old Testament or New Testament canonization. He on the one hand affirmed the 39 book Old Testament we know today, as well as having fuliflled its hundreds of prophecy about Him. On the other hand, He also promised what would become the New Testament. The point of the New Testament is to portray (Gospels), proclaim (Acts), explain (Epistles), and show as preeminent (Revelation) the Lord Jesus Christ. This post will look at what exactly Jesus did promise about the forthcoming New Testament that would follow after His ascension into Heaven. We will also look at how the early Christians began to recognize and receive the New Testament books.

Jesus promised the "then" forthcoming books that would be The New Testament.

    Jesus promised his disciples that when He sent the Holy Spirit following His ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit would remind them of all He had taught them. John 16:12-15

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

    Just as the Old Testament began and grew with the cycle of God’s revelation, acting redemptively in history, and subsequent recording of both revelation and act in Scripture, we see this same cycle in the New Testament.

The reception and recognition of the New Testament Books.

    As we now turn to recounting the historical formation of the New Testament canon, we must recognize that the Holy Spirit’s providential work through the church in this process was motivated by several factors. Norman Geisler in his book “A General Introduction to the Bible”, has noted that persecution, fighting heresy, the need for established churches, and world evangelization were used by God to prompt the church to verbalize what books it already recognized as Scripture.

    When we survey how quickly the church received and recognized the New Testament books, we find that 20 of the 27 books were immediately and universally received and recognized before the end of the 1st century. Those twenty books are the four Gospels, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, 1 John, and mostly the Book of Revelation. 

    The other seven books (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2,3 John, Jude, and in a few cases, Revelation) were recognized and used by most churches in many parts of the Roman Empire by the end of the first century, with a few hold-outs trying to determine whether those books were inspired.

    The reader can note the above listing of the New Testament books. As for the overall development and formation of the New Testament canon itself, we can note the following observations.

1. The Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters were immediately recognized and put into use as Divine Scripture. As we’ve noted already, the Apostle Peter mentioned Paul’s letters as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:16 and Luke’s Gospel is quoted in 1 Timothy 5:18. 

    The citation of Luke’s Gospel carries with it the automatic acceptance of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, being Luke had literary dependance on those first two Gospels, as well as his sequel to the Gospel of Luke – namely “Acts of the Apostles”. Also, John’s Gospel, his first letter, and Peter’s first letter came into immediate circulation and use as well. 

    The great church historian Eusebius called these books “those accepted by all”, without question, or what are deemed “homolegoumena” (confessed by all).

2. The General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 2,3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation) were immediately accepted and used by most, with some quarters of the Western and Eastern church being cautious. According to the church historian Eusebius, these works were accepted by most, and gradually accepted by all, with a few initially disputing their legitimacy. The term “antilegoumena” is attributed to these books. 

    Thankfully the question of canonicity for these books did not last too long, persisting for only 50 years past the death of the Apostle John and being full recognized by all well within the middle to third quarter of the 100’s A.D. (second century).

    I could elaborate further here, but the interested listener may want to consult Eusebius’ Church History, Book 2, chapters 14 and 15 for the Gospels and Book 3, chapter 3 for the canonization of the New Testament letters and Revelation.

The Shape Of The New Testament Canon

    As for the "shape" or overall arrangement of the canon itself, you have the foundation, being the Four Gospels, corresponding to the Old Testament’s foundational books being that of the Law books or Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Then, you have a book of the history of the church, "Acts", which corresponds to the historical books of our Old Testament (Joshua to Esther). Thirdly, we see letters to the churches that stretch from Romans to Philemon and the eight general letters (Hebrews to Jude), which correspond to the “writings” or “poetic books” of the Old Testament (Job-Song of Solomon). Then of course we have the Book of Revelation, the final prophetic book of the New Testament, corresponding to those seventeen prophetic books in our Old Testaments (Isaiah to Malachi).

Closing thoughts:

    So, we have considered the recognition and formation of the New Testament canon. In the next post we will look at how the the formation of the New Testament Canon conveyed a certain, overall message about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.

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