Summary: Message about the Origin of the New Testament specifically regarding the process of canonization
Text: 2 Timothy 3:16, Title: In or Out? Date/Place: NRBC, 7/5/09, PM
A. Opening illustration: Read selections from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
B. Background to passage: do a little review from the Greek To Me message, explain “canon,” and conclude that although canonization was complete by 405 AD with the publication of the Vulgate (although it included some non-canonical writings), this process was very open-ended, with vigorous debate, and did not end with some council that ended all debate. In fact, Luther seriously questioned whether or not James and Hebrews and a couple others should be included in the canon.
C. Main thought: Out of the many writings circulated in the first two centuries after Christ, God preserved for us a proper collection from which to hear Him speak.
A. Historians and Early Canons
1. There were several men, most of which were bishops (pastors) who commented at various times about books that were included. Some made lists, whereas others we can determine which books they used by the quotations that they cited. Men like Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107 AD), Polycarp (120 AD), Irenaeus (190 AD), Origen (250 AD), Eusebius (325 AD), and Athanasius (367 AD) all have extensive writing from which we can derive their lists of books. Also early canons existed such as the Muratorian Canon (170-200 AD), Codex Sinaiticus (350 AD), and the Vulgate (405 AD). The most interesting of these is the MC, which a Latin fragment, very poorly copied, but very early original Gr. It is the earliest actual list of NT books. However it did not include the letters of Peter, James, or Hebrews, and it included the Revelation of Peter, but acknowledged its disputed status.
2. Illustration: the original text written by George Santayana, who, in his Reason in Common Sense "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." A slight modification of an Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, "Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it."
3. We have a very inadequate knowledge of church history, ancient and recent (I include myself in this). The history and the church fathers dealt with many of the same issues that crop up today (Use the JWs as an example of the Arian heresy). And like the quote says, if we don’t know history, it will like repeat itself in us, and that is usually bad. We need not reinvent the wheel. And the bible commands that we remember those who labor among us (1 Thess 5:12, Heb 13:8), so that we can emulate their life; similar to the Apostle’s command that we imitate him, because He imitated Christ. Maybe one day we can do a course on church history for those of you who are interested in history. Finally, thank God for raising up men like this, and preserving lists, and giving us His Word.
B. Criteria for Selection of Books
1. One might think that inspiration would be the first, and maybe only quality considered. But it is rather assumed under certain other conditions, and rarely even mentioned in the debates of which books to include. More than 30 other “gospels,” about 40 other “acts,” 100s of epistles, and dozens of “revelations.” So how did they decide? 1. Authorship. It must be verifiably written by an apostle or a direct associate of an apostle. Give examples. 2. Readership and acceptance. Again, this was done by consensus. And on most books that was easy, but not all. They wanted to know if the bishops that came from apostolic succession (define) accepted certain writings. Some of this was regional too. 3. Lastly, they considered content and theology. There are examples of books cited by several “listers”, explained that they were rejected because of some of the things that they taught.
2. Illustration: some of these same debates go on today—the authorship of Hebrews is questionable, Luther felt like Hebrews and James taught “salvation by works,”
3. Remember 2 Peter 1:16-21 from several weeks back, we do not follow cunningly devised fables, but … eyewitnesses of His majesty… prophesy came not by the will of man, but as the Holy Spirit moved upon holy men of God, and they spoke.
C. Books with Much Debate
1. Eusebius is the most helpful in writing his Ecclesiastical History of the Church. On a number of occasions, he mentions lists, books, why or why not of their inclusion, etc. He also gives us categories that most in the debate over books and their inclusion used. He spoke of “recognized/accepted” books, “disputed” books, “spurious/rejected” books, and books that he wouldn’t even include with rejected ones!
2. Interestingly enough, the Revelation of John is included in the recognized books. It was clearly in dispute for years among different factions of the church. But I guess by Eusebius’s time, that side had won out. Among disputed books, he included James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John. Mostly questions were arising about their authorship, not so much their theology. Others might also include the Shepherd of Hermas and 1 Clement among the disputed books. Eusebius thought that 1 Clement was profitable to read, but not in churches as scripture, and didn’t even consider it in dispute. The Shepherd of Hermas is a book he included in the Spurious, or Rejected books. Others rejected include: Acts of Paul, Revelation of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, and the Gospel of the Hebrews. Books that he didn’t even included among the Rejected, but rather Not Even Considered list, included Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Matthias, Acts of Andrew, John, and other Apostles.