Doctrine For Everybody: Revelation and The New Testament Canon

On the fourth post of Doctrine for Everybody, concluded that the books the Lord says are Scripture are Scripture; that the Church doesn’t dictate the table of context, they confirm the index. For this reason we noted that the strongest support for the Old Testament Scriptures as we have them in the Protestant Bible are directly connected to the fact that it was the Bible that Our Lord Jesus Christ was using and confirmed as Scripture.

Now the New Testament Scriptures’ canonicity is a bit harder to establish—but not in the way that folk (like Dan Brown—who says that the Church voted on which books would comprise the New Testament) like to suggest. We don’t have Christ confirming books after they’re written, but we do have our Lord confirming the work of a certain core group.

The Lord chose this group (Acts 9:15; 10:40,41), Called them (Luke 6:12-16; Rom 1:1) for a specific work (Gal 1:1; Acts 22:14, 15; John 15:27), indicates replacements when he has to (Acts 1:24), empowered them (Matt 10:1; Mk 6:7; Acts 2, 3), gave them authority, spoke through them (Matt 10:19, 20; 1 Cor 2:10-13, 16) and worked to remind them (John 14:26) about everything they knew of Christ “since the beginning.” So when some folk decided to lie to the Apostles, the real sin was underscored: by lying to the ones with the authority, they were lying to God who placed them in authority (Acts 5:3,4)

This core group are not (ridiculously) called “Scripture Writers” (as some, setting up a Straw Man, state about their opponents), they are called The Apostles.

We then see this core group of believers, these apostles who are entrusted with laying the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20), confirming their fellow apostles as being workers of the Lord (Gal 2:709; Acts 15:22-32) or equating the writings of those other Apostles with the Scripture of the Old Testament(2 Pet 3:15-16). Moreover, this is why we see the Apostles looking at the work of not-Apostles and, by the Authority of God, confirming their writing as Scripture (1 Tim 5:17-18 which is a quote of Luke 10:7).

We don’t have a written record of this confirmation with the book of Mark, the book of Hebrews, the book of James or the book of Jude—that’s it. The rest of the books are either written by an Apostle, or confirmed by an Apostle within his writings. Historically, the book of Mark was considered as a record of Peter’s notes, James may have been given priority because he was the Lord’s brother—and was obviously approved by the Apostles given his priority in meetings— as well as Jude. The book of Hebrews was considered written by Paul, but textual criticism has established that that is unlikely.

History agrees. Ignatius cites Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and 1 Thessalonians as Scripture. Polycarp cites Matthew, Mark , Luke, Acts, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Phillipians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter and 1-3 John as Scripture. Even heretics (like Marcion) would cite these core books as Scripture—even if they took it upon themselves to delete some of them. Sure some folk cited other books as helpful (like the Shepherd of Hermes). But as early as 200AD, the Muratorian Canon shows all the books we have in our New Testament listed as the Books of The Bible.

This is all years before the Council of Nicea (325 AD) where it wasn’t decided which books should be the New Testament Canon, but which books had imposed themselves upon the Church as authoritative by God.

This all is just to establish this: we might not have too few books in the New Testament canon (as in the Gospel of Thomas, the Didache, etc) we might (at worst) have too many. Yet even so, these books have—as it were—imposed themselves upon the Church.

So we have our Scriptures comprised of the same Bible that Jesus used and the books that the Spirit of God mandated and imposed upon the Church under the authority (not merely the handwriting) of his chosen Apostles. Once again, we don’t have the Church defining the table of Contents but realizing that God didn’t speak in those Other Books. Now some corners of the Church (like the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) says otherwise but they are in error by assuming the authority of God in their decision.

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5 Comments

  1. Rey –

    You’re correct that addressing the issue that ‘apostles are NT writers’ is a strawman. But I would say it is a strawman for the more studied like yourself. But there are a lot of people that make the connection between apostles and NT Scripture, just like many make the connection between prophets and OT Scripture. So I do believe it is still worth addressing. It’s just that we need to do it with utmost grace and respect with these issues.

    I do struggle a little with how you try and make the direct connection in this way:

    1) Christ confirmed the authority of the apostles.
    2) The apostles confirmed the authority of the non-apostles who also wrote Scripture.
    3) Therefore, the non-apostles writing Scripture had authority.

    It sounds nice, and I’m sure if the article were longer and more in depth, you would make the connections better. But I simply don’t think that pointing at 1 Tim 5:17-18 and Luke 10:7 will justify the premise. I am not negating Luke’s authority, or Mark’s, or Jude’s, etc. I’m simply saying that I am not sure we can make this package to present this idea. Why can’t we just rest in the wisdom of the reality that our fathers long ago did, under God’s providence and direction, make decisions about the NT canon. There is a lot of history that affirms the 27 books of the NT, rather than trying to point out that so and so confirmed Luke’s writings, etc. Ok, it is interesting to consider. But I would hope we could rest in God’s providence upon our wise and Spirit-directed fathers.

    I didn’t get to read your OT article on doctrine of Scripture, or maybe I did. Maybe provide a link. But wasn’t the most prevalent text of the Jesus’ day the Septuagint. Of course some had the Hebrew. But weren’t they very willing to consult the Septuagint, which held the deuterocanonical books? I know I have brought this up before, but didn’t know if you addressed yourself why we discard the deuterocanonical books if they were in the text that Jesus and the apostles would have had no problem consulting.

  2. @ScottL: I didn’t suggest the facile syllogism you summarized sans reading. The non-apostles had no authority. The Apostles did. What the apostles did with their authority is point out that these documents were Scripture. That’s not something that percolated within them. That doesn’t say anything about the writers. It says everything about the text that was written.

    And the connection between Prophets and Apostles is a tight one even if the apostles are not functioning as prophets. Both had the authority of God. Both could point out and say “Thus says the Lord”. But your strawman ignores the fact that all of us who make this tight connection Never Say that Apostles equates to Scripture Writers. That’s just fundamentally sloppy.

    And you’re falling for Dan Brown’s trap. There was no decision as to what is the Canon; there was a recognition of what had impressed itself upon the Church. Keep arguing for decision and you’ll find yourself meditating on the Gospel of Thoma or the Shepherd of Hermes (which I’ve never seen you quote).

    The link to the OT post has been up above.

  3. Rey –

    By the way, you could have gone along with your series and steered clear of showing how terribly fallacious I am with my arguments. :)

    The non-apostles had no authority. The Apostles did. What the apostles did with their authority is point out that these documents were Scripture. That’s not something that percolated within them. That doesn’t say anything about the writers. It says everything about the text that was written.

    So the premise is:

    1) Christ confirmed the authority of the apostles.
    2) The apostles never confirmed the authority of non-apostles, but only specific writings from non-apostles.

    Or was it that the apostles – the 12 and Paul – also had to confirm the writings of other actual apostles, i.e., James? Or he got to be included because he was Jesus’ physical brother and instrumental in the Jerusalem council? Or was Paul not part of the original authorised people, so Peter’s statement at the end of 2 Peter helps us know that the writings of Paul were authoritative?

    I know you will say I am building strawmen. But I do so in an extreme sense to point out what seems a bit of a silly connection. In the end, it all sounds nice and neat to the mind, but there is a lot of more steps you have to consider to build the case. At least that is the way I see it. I mean, can we really believe that it is as nice and neat as you present it? Were Mark, Luke, James, Hebrews and Jude all read by an apostle and then given a seal of approval that, though these guys aren’t authoritative like us, you have at least written things that carry authority. And we’ll make sure we tell everyone around the Roman empire so that some day it ends up in a leather bound canon. Or do we conclude Stephen did not carry any authority, but because Luke, who was deemed authoritative, or at least his two volumes, especially noting his connection to Paul, made Stephen’s one specific speech have an authoritative measure because it is found in Acts 7?

    I am not at all saying the NT text we have in the 27 writings are not authoritative. I just don’t think your explanation really does justice to how organic and providential these things came together, even under the wisdom and guidance of our fathers in the early centuries. Why are we so scared to admit such? We don’t have to head down the Dan Brown path, do we?

    And the connection between Prophets and Apostles is a tight one even if the apostles are not functioning as prophets. Both had the authority of God. Both could point out and say “Thus says the Lord”.

    I didn’t say that OT prophet and NT apostle are the same thing, or that NT apostle took over as the authoritative speakers and recorders of Scripture from the OT prophet. That is Grudem’s argument that doesn’t hold water.

    But your strawman ignores the fact that all of us who make this tight connection Never Say that Apostles equates to Scripture Writers. That’s just fundamentally sloppy.

    Whether you want to admit it or not, some make the connection. Just like some only think that prophets were in the OT, but not in the NT. I’ll try not to bring up the argument around you any more. But you’d be surprised how many in the body of Christ hold to this connection even if it isn’t voiced.

    And you’re falling for Dan Brown’s trap. There was no decision as to what is the Canon; there was a recognition of what had impressed itself upon the Church. Keep arguing for decision and you’ll find yourself meditating on the Gospel of Thoma or the Shepherd of Hermes (which I’ve never seen you quote).

    Speaking of Dan Brown, there is a part of me that wants to argue for sloppiness here. Comparing me to Dan Brown. How gracious! Saying I am heading down the slippery slope of wanting to meditate on the Gospel of Thomas. Fantastic!

    Ah, but when was the last time you meditated on the words of an author outside of Scripture? Sure the Gospel of Thomas is very gnostic, actually anti-Christ. So I am not saying we need to meditate on it. But your argument could be seen as teaching that we should only meditate on Scripture. I’m currently meditating, chewing over, the words of Richard Foster. I assume that’s ok.

    Also, what are your thoughts on the use of the Septuagint by many people, even authoritative apostles, in the first century, since it included the deuterocanonical books?

  4. But you’d be surprised how many in the body of Christ hold to this connection even if it isn’t voiced.

    Reading minds is never justified. Especially when building an argument. But maybe you have the Spiritual Gift of Mind-Reading so it may be allowed. lol.

    Speaking of Dan Brown, there is a part of me that wants to argue for sloppiness here. Comparing me to Dan Brown. How gracious! Saying I am heading down the slippery slope of wanting to meditate on the Gospel of Thomas. Fantastic!

    Seriously, Scott, you need to read the words I write. I didn’t compare you to Dan brown. I said you fell for his trap: the notion that the Church VOTED on which books comprised the New Testament Canon.

    Also, what are your thoughts on the use of the Septuagint by many people, even authoritative apostles, in the first century, since it included the deuterocanonical books?

    My NET Bible has notes. Doesn’t mean those notes are the word of God. Doesn’t mean anyone who uses the NET Bible thinks those are the word of God either. I’ve also mentioned these things in the last post. And you’re also really confusing the history as if everyone walked around with an LXX with the DC. We’ve had a huge thread on that somewhere with citations from the early church fathers. You can also consult Nearhood’s comprehensive post on differences of LXX Versions.

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