Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Christian Canon Was Authoritative From Its Inception By Terry L. Pruitt

This is a reposting from my website which is going the way of all flesh.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is the main source of information for many in this post-modern generation regarding how the Bible developed. One of it's themes is that those who held power in the church choose the books of the Bible to support their power base. Browns charge against the church, though couched in a work of fiction, is serious. The Bible itself gives strong warnings against such power plays.1 Deuteronomy 4:2 says, "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you." And the book of Revelation "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book," calls for faithfulness to the book. (Rev 22:18) The list of the books that rightly belong in the Bible is called the canon.2 The canon is not strictly a human product, but God created the canon by his work of inspiration in the biblical writers and the church merely recognized the intrinsic authority of the Bible.

The church received scriptures from the Children of Israel. The early church had to decide whether to recognize the Old Testament (OT). The Apocrypha is Old Testament books which were a part of the fourth century Septuagint and were later officially recognized as a part of the Roman Catholic Bible.3 However, the early church father Jerome who translated the Apocrypha into Latin did not recognize it as scripture. Additionally, the New Testament never quotes from the Apocrypha.4 The earliest list of books to form the OT was given by the Bishop of Sardis, Melito, in A.D. 170.5 Melito's list is what is found in today's Protestant Bibles. Generally, the OT was handed down to the church from the Children of Israel's Hebrew Bible.

The early church did not have a entire body of work presented to it in recognizing the New Testament (NT) canon. It was not until the fourth century that Athanasius wrote a list that contains the NT books of the canon essentially as we see them today.6 While Athanasius listed the books of the canon and helped develop use of the word canon, he did not set the canon.7 The present canon was approved by the third Synod of Carthage in A.D. 397, but again, these men in and of themselves did not set the the canon. There was no authoritative leader nor body of leaders who set the canon. While we could say the canon was established by God, in practical terms the mechanism He used was the use of the writings of scripture by the community of faith. As the early church used the scriptures in public worship, they were recognized as scripture.8 As NT scriptures were authoritatively quoted by the early church leaders, they were taken to be authoritative by the community of faith. Did the early church come to recognize the writings of scripture gradually over time or did the church quickly recognize the nature of the writings from their inception?9 Scholars such as Gamble would not only assume an evolutionary development of the text but also assume a gradual recognition of the text as authoritative. The text would be written for an occasion and gradually the occasional nature of the text would give way to an authoritative inclusion of the text into the canon.10 Without a doubt, the present form of the NT was not seen at the inception of the church and did take time to form. However, the authority of NT scriptures were recognized even during the time they were being written. 2 Peter 3:15 mentions Paul's writings as being "as other scripture". 1 Timothy 5:18 makes two quotes of scripture. One being an OT passage but the other "The laborer deserves his wages" can not be found in the OT. It seems reasonable that Paul is quoting Luke 10:7 since it is word for word the same and he declares it to be scripture.11 The early church fathers quoted and alluded to the NT. Clement, Bishop of Rome in A.D. 95, made use of probably seven of our NT books in his writings. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred before A.D. 117, quoted or alluded to six books of our NT. Polycarp, the famous aged martyr, makes use of the language of fifteen of the NT books.12 During the time of the Greek Apologiests, A.D. 120-170, writers such as Irenaeus, Papias, and Justin used authoritatively the books from the NT.13

The writers of the NT scripture, the early church Fathers and the Greek Apologists all recognized the inherent authority of OT and the NT. The prophetic and apostolic authority was not difficult to spot given that some knew the apostles and some had even heard them preach.
End Notes

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Granc Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1994, 54,55.

2 Ibid., 54.

3 John Ankerburg and John Weldon, The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon Part III. Cited 28 September 2005. Online:

4 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 57.

5 Ibid., 58.

6 R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1957, 201.

7 Alexander Souter, The Text and Canon of the New Testament. London, England: Duckworth 1912, 155.

8 Ibid., 158.

9 Harris, Inspiration, 209-210.

10 Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press 1985, 12.

11 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 61.

12 Harris, Inspiration, 203.

13 Ibid., 210-214.
Copywrite 2005 by Terry L. Pruitt Prune Pitts Communications
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