If You Only Read One Article, Read Just Getting a Drink by Douglas Wilson
Most Christians, and I would dare say most Americans, know some basic things about the Christian New Testament. But many people don’t know (or don’t want to know) how the New Testament came into being. Some people seem to think that Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation fell from the sky in a nicely leather bound English translation (whichever your church happens to use, of course). Hopefully, most of you know that wasn’t quite how it happened.
So how did the New Testament canon form?
Before digging into five things that everyone should know about the formation of the New Testament canon, we need to clarify what the New Testament canon is. The word canon itself comes from the Greek kanonikos, the basic meaning of which is “of one rule.” So a canon is something that other things are ruled by, the standard if you will. Within the field of Early Christianity, however, there are two more nuanced meanings behind the term canon, especially as it applies to the New Testament. In the first sense, a canon can mean a “list of authoritative books.” In this context, the canon of the NT is a list of books that should be considered authoritative for Christians. In the second sense, however, canon refers to an “authoritative list of books.” In this context, a list is authoritative and “closed”– only the books on this list are considered authoritative. Much of the history of scholarship concerning the development of the NT canon has actually revolved around misunderstanding this two definitions of the term canon. For the sake of clarity, I use the term “closed canon” when discussing an “authoritative list of books” (even though in the strictest terms, the NT canon may not even be entirely “closed” for Christians today– but that will have to be a different post).
Now that we’ve covered some important terminology, let’s talk about the five things that everyone should know about the formation of the New Testament canon.
1. New Testament Writings Are the Earliest Specifically Christian Writings
The earliest Christians often had at their disposal the writings of Judaism (now contained in the Christian Old Testament). But the earliest specifically Christian writings (that is, those that were written by followers of Jesus) are the writings now contained in the New Testament. Even though we don’t know the specific dates that these writings were composed, scholars generally agree on a range of possible times that they were written. These dates are based on a number of factors, internal and external to the writings themselves. For example, based on Acts 1.1-2, we know that the Gospel According to Luke was written before the books of Acts. Similarly, some scholars have argued that because there is no mention of Paul’s death in Acts, it was written before the Apostle’s death (I hasten to note that this perspective is not universally held). Thus, we have a range of possible dates for the writing of Acts. We should note that there is a minor caveat to the fact that the New Testament Writings are the earliest specifically Christian writings, insofar as they are the earliest writings that we have access to. There are early Christian writings that we know were written but are lost to us. For example, there is good reason to suspect that the Apostle Paul actually wrote four letters to the Church at Corinth, including I Corinthians and II Corinthians, which was actually likely the third letter. As a final (potential) caveat, it’s worth knowing that some scholars date the writing of certain New Testament books (such as the Apocalypse of John or II Peter) into the second century. By no means do all scholars do this, and there is reasonable evidence that supports the writing of all the books in the New Testament by the end of the first century.Continue reading “Five Things Everyone Should Know About the New Testament Canon”
The Christian Bible remains the most influential written work of Western Civilization, influencing language, government, economics, social groups, institutions, and culture. While many people own a Bible and some even read it on occasion, there are some things that you should know about the Bible that you might not have heard before.
(1) The writings of Christian Bible were originally composed in at least two different languages: Hebrew and Greek. Most of the books of the Jewish scripture making up the Christian Old Testament were composed in Hebrew, although some of the later writings (Daniel and Ezra, for example) may have been composed in Aramaic (a sort of “modernized” form of ancient Hebrew). The writings of the New Testament were originally written in Koine Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire during the time of Christ (also noteworthy are the claims of some scholars who argue that the Gospel According to Matthew was originally composed in Aramaic).Continue reading “Five Things Everyone Should Know About the Bible”
Most people do not like being told that they are wrong. This is especially true when it comes to politics or religious faith. Interestingly, a number of pundits and scholars have taken to calling religious faith “myth” in recent years, especially religious faith that for many adherents hinges upon certain events that claim to be historical. The work of Joseph Campbell springs to mind, as do more contemporary perspectives such as those espoused by Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. For perspectives such as these (most admittedly devoted to philosophical naturalism) and others (one thinks of certain Historical Jesus scholars over the years), Christian claims about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be categorized as anything but “myth,” the stuff of legend, or theological story-telling. And, as one might expect, most Christians do not appreciate being told that their deeply held religious convictions are, in a word, myth. While for many the term “myth” connotes feelings of falsehood or story, Christian thinkers such as C.S Lewis conceived of myth in other terms. In the essay that follows, we examine Lewis’ conception of “myth,” as well as his understanding of the relationship between “myth” and “fact” in the Christian narrative.
The idea of myth was an important one for C.S. Lewis, especially with regard to his conversions to theism and Christianity, and his later apologies for the Christian faith. Lewis came to define myth in perhaps a non-traditional manner, writing that “Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history… nor diabolical illusion… not priestly lying… but at its best, a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination” (Miracles, 138). Thus, one must understand that what Lewis refers to as myth is not some cleverly narrated story but truth wrapped in narrative which can, when properly understood, convey great truths to its readers.Continue reading “C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Fact”
Pursuing Veritas is a blog dedicated to reflecting upon theological, historical, and cultural topics from the perspective of a follower of Jesus Christ who lives in this post-Christian and postmodern world. The reflections offered here do not pretend to always be correct or to encapsulate the fullness of truth. Rather, this is an outlet for critical thinking and contextual reflection as a means to pursue the Truth, most fully revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Posts at Pursuing Veritas presume that while truth may be contextual, difficult to find, and contested, there are truths accessible to those who seek them. This is in tension with those who claim to have the totality of truth, who suggest that truth may only be discovered scientifically, or those who ague that universal truths do not exist. Building upon the foundations of the historical Christian Church, handed down through the scriptures, Apostles and Nicene creeds, and people of God, the operating worldview of this blog affirms that God calls those who follow Him to actively Love Him and those in the world; to be constantly Learning about faith (theology), history, and culture; and to Live a life of sacrifice, love of others, and just commitment to a historically and contextually informed understanding of the truth.
Now those of you who know me know that I’m not often in favor of new things for the sake of new things. Rather, I prefer trying something new only after the old has been demonstrated to be beyond reasonable repair. This was certainly the case with Thoughts on Life, Faith, and Worldviews, my previous blog hosted by blogger. After playing around with the WordPress interface for several months, I made the difficult decision to begin my blogging anew. This summer of transition, when Hayley and I will be ending our time in North Carolina and beginning our journey in St. Louis, seemed like the perfect time to work on this project. For those of you familiar with my work at Thoughts on Life, I envision Pursuing Veritas as something of a continuation– in fact, a number of previously posted articles are being reworked for relaunch here.
As I noted above, I do not pretend to have all the answers– that’s why this blog is a “pursuing” endeavor. But I do believe that with hard work, serious reflection, and a commitment to critical thinking, human beings are able to find truth– hence the “veritas” portion of this project. As the subheading designates, the topics I will try to focus on here will be those connected with theology, history, and culture (though I warn that I conceive of theology and culture as highly inclusive categories). I hope that you will consider joining me on this journey of pursuing veritas, wherever it may be found.
Occasionally I will run into someone who holds and unusually “high” view of a certain translation of the Bible. The most notable (or notorious, depending on your position) are those people who subscribe to the “King James Only” position. But there are also people I have met who argue for the supremacy of the Revised Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version.
When reading any English Bible, we need to remember something very important: It’s a translation. And translation always involves interpretation. So not only are you reading Ephesians in a different language and linguistic context than the Apostle Paul wrote it in, but you are reading an interpretation of that passage by a certain set of Biblical scholars. Irrespective of what your views on the authority and inspiration of the Biblical text are, it seems unlikely that many people would subscribe to the view that the editors of the NET Bible are as inspired and authoritative as the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ.
Additionally, throughout the history of English Bible translation there have been more than a few clearly uninspired moments, clear demonstrations that the humans editing and printing the Bibles that we read are, in fact, still humanly prone to error. Some of the most famous (or infamous) are below:
Matthew’s Bible (1537), A.K.A. “The Wife-Beaters’ Bible”
Proof that study notes and footnotes are not inspired: Notation on I Peter 3:7 reads, “And if she be not obedient and healpeful unto him, endevoureth to beat the fear of God into her head, that thereby she may be compelled to learn her duty and do it.”
Geneva Bible (Second Edition, 1562), A.K.A. “The Place-makers’ Bible”
Matthew 5:9 reads “Blessed are the placemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”. Homemakers everywhere loved this passage for years until it was fixed.
King James Version (1612), A.K.A. “The Printers’ Bible”
Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” instead of “Princes.” Rarely mentioned by advocates of the “KJV Only” position.
King James Version (1631), A.K.A. “The Adulterers’ Bible” or “The Wicked Bible”
Exodus 20:14 (the Ten Commandments) reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This version was recalled almost immediately, and only 11 copies are known to exist today.
King James Version (1716), A.K.A. “The Sinners Bible”
John 8:11, reads “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more”.
New English Translation (2001), A.K.A. “The Prostitutes Bible”
Proverbs 2:16 reads, “To deliver you from the adulteress, from the sexually loose woman who speaks flattering words.” In the first printing of the New English Translation, there was a footnote at the end of this verse with a 1-800 number. The translator was writing the notes for this verse on his computer when he got a call and, unable to find a pen, he made note of the number on his computer. Unfortunately, he forgot to erase the number later.
In Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (OUP, 2003) New Testament scholar and textual critic Bart D. Ehrman compiles a translation and brief introduction to forty-seven writings of the Jesus Movement and Early Christian Church. Providing the scholar and student easy to understand and accurate English translations of these non-canonical texts, Lost Scriptures is an invaluable resource for those studying the early history and development of Christian faith and practice. Containing materials of a variety of genres and positions, Lost Scriptures presents its readers with a plethora of source-text based examples of the various strands of early Christian faith. While not a perfect introduction to early Christianity, Lost Scriptures does an admirable job of presenting pertinent historical facts alongside readable English translations of early Christian literature.
Lost Scriptures begins with a brief introduction to the materials presented, including a historical sketch of the Jesus Movement and the importance of realizing that canonical texts do not represent the entire picture of early followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Ehrman lays out the texts in the order of their canonical genres, ordering his materials as gospels, acts, epistles, and finally apocalypses and revelatory texts. Ehrman presents seventeen non-canonical gospel fragments, each of which provides some perspective concerning early Christian views on the pre-history, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These gospel accounts, which vary greatly in length and source-type (some are reconstructed from other writings while others have been discovered in extant form and translated), include such notable works as the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Secret Gospel of Mark. Also included are some texts that are not typically labeled as gospel accounts, such as the Gnostic Second Treatise of the Great Seth, which nonetheless claim to include allegedly biographical information about Jesus.Continue reading “Book Review: Lost Scriptures (Bart Ehrman)”