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WORD OF GOD
CANONIZATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Victor M. Eskew
A. When a religious work was written by inspiration of God, it was immediately part of the canon of Scripture.
1. It was from God.
2. It was authoritative.
B. Two interesting points:
1. When men wrote by inspiration, they knew they were inspired (I Cor. 7:40; I Tim. 4:1; Rev. 3:22).
2. The writings of inspired men were recognized as Scripture in the first century (II Pet. 3:15-16).
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
a. Paul’s words are contrasted with “the other scriptures.”
b. In other words, Peter puts Paul’s words on the same level as the other Scriptures.
C. It must also be pointed out that the inspired books were circulated among the churches almost immediately after they were written.
1. Peter knew about Paul’s writings and even described them as containing things hard to be understood (II Pet. 3:16).
2. Paul told the church at Colossae to have his letter read to the church at Laodicea (Col. 4:16).
3. The apocalypse of John was to be sent to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:11).
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches of Asia…
4. Thus, during the first century, the churches slowly collected various inspired books for their church libraries.
D. The end of inspired revelation:
1. All agree that John was the last apostle to die. The last book that he wrote was the book of Revelation.
a. Some date the book at 96 A.D.
b. Some believe that the date of Revelation was in the late 60s before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
2. There is debate as to which gospel was written first, Matthew? Or, Mark? It is believed that the earliest gospel was written in the early to mid 50s.
3. Thus, the period of revelation was from:
a. A.D. 50 to A.D. 68 (18 years)
b. A.D. 50 to A.D. 96 (46 years)
E. The problem
1. The first century church did not have an association or conference to govern it.
a. The churches were all autonomous, or, self-governing.
b. So, there was no single authority commissioned to collect all of the inspired books.
2. The printing press and digital medial did not exist to make the production of the inspired books easy to make and distribute.
3. Other religious works that were not inspired were circulated among the churches (See Luke 1:1).
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of these things which are most surely believed among us.
I. THE NEED TO IDENTIFY THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
A. Because of the type of books being revealed. They were inspired and prophetic.
B. Because of the needs of the early church.
1. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were to cease (I Cor. 13:10).
2. The written Word of God was to be revealed in its completeness (John 16:13; Jude 3).
3. The churches would need the complete, written revelation from God.
C. Because heresy was developing in the church (Acts 20:29-30).
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
D. Because persecution against the church was vicious. The opposition wanted to destroy both Christians and the Scriptures (Gal 1:13).
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.
II. THE CANONIZATION PROCESS
A. Was the book written by an apostle?
1. Jesus had promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:12-13).
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
2. NOTE: Numerous books contain the name of the author.
a. Paul’s epistles
b. Peter’s letters
c. John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ
B. Was it written by a prophet?
1. Some men were not apostles, but they were prophets in the church.
2. Matthew’s gospel and John’s gospel were accepted first because they were penned by apostles.
3. Mark was close to Peter and Luke was a companion of Paul. Both were prophets. Thus, their gospels were quickly accepted.
C. Does the book harmonize with all truth?
1. Scripture does not contradict Scripture.
2. If a book disagreed with other inspired books, it “would certainly regulate the book to non-canonical status” (A General Introduction to the Bible, Giesler and Nix, p. 141).
D. Was the book circulated and received by the churches as authoritative?
1. The churches knew that inspired writings existed and circulated them among the churches.
2. Did the people of God accept the book as Scripture? This was often determined by whether a book was read in the public assembly.
3. This would involve the consensus of many congregations of the Lord’s church.
4. The quotations of the “church fathers” become important under this heading.
a. The “church fathers” were leaders of the church, preachers and elders, who wrote about spiritual things from the late first century to the fourth century.
b. “A sample survey will suffice to show that by the middle of the second century (150 A.D.) every book of the New Testament was referred to, presumably as canonical, by at least one of the church fathers” (A General Introduction to the Bible, Giesler & Nix, p. 186).
E. Chart: The New Testament Canon During the First Four Centuries (A General Introduction to the Bible, Geisler & Nix, p. 193).
III. THE ANTILEGOMENA: THE DISPUTED BOOKS
A. Of the twenty-seven canonical books of the New Testament, only seven were more difficult to be recognized.
B. A list of the antilegomena:
1. Hebrews: This book was questioned because its anonymity.
a. Some questioned the authorship.
b. Some thought that it conflicted with Paul’s writings.
3. II Peter: It was doubted for a while because it was not similar in style with I Peter.
4. II John: This epistle was of a private nature and had little circulation.
5. III John: This epistle was of a private nature and had little circulation.
6. Jude: This book was disputed because of its reference to the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch (Jude 14-15).
7. Revelation: The book was questioned because of it references to the thousand years in Revelation 20:1-6.
C. Important points:
1. All of the books were quoted by the middle of the second century.
2. Anonymous authorship, differences in style, difficult teachings, and little circulation were their main problems.
3. By the end of the second century, these books were included in several canonical lists.
A. As the New Testament books were written, they were recognized as Scripture.
B. The early churches were aware that certain books were inspired of God.
C. All the books of the New Testament were quoted by the church fathers by the mid-second century (150 A.D.). Thus, they were all known.
D. By the end of the second century, the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were recognized by most as canonical