Finding a Definition of “Canon”

BibleUse of the term “canon” has long been subject to debate within the study of early Christianity, as scholars often discuss precisely when the Christian New Testament canon came into existence. Among modern scholars three primary perspectives have emerged as to the meaning of canon. This post outlines these schools of thought. Continue reading

ECA: The Canon Debate

This post is part of the ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.

courtroom-gavelUse of the term “canon” has long been subject to debate among those studying the formation of the New Testament. The word 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” by which all other things are measured. Determining precisely what this “rule” has meant, however, has not been nearly so clear, leading to a series of conversations dubbed the “Canon Debate.” Continue reading

Forming and Defining the New Testament Canon

BibleQuestions concerning the Bible have long surrounded the Christian Faith.[1] What is the Bible? Where did it come from? Who wrote the books that are in Bible? Can we trust that fallible human beings wrote and chose the correct books for canonization? Occasionally, scholars will doubt the historical veracity of Christian Bible based upon its “late” creation, years after the events it purports to recount took place.[2] An important part of understanding the historicity and reliability of the Christian Bible involves understanding the formation of the New Testament, as understanding this history of canonization shed light on the contents and context of the Christian Bible more broadly. Continue reading

NT Canon: Conclusions

This is the final post in our series outlining the formation of the New Testament canon.

BibleHere at the end of our two week examination of New Testament canon formation, what can we conclude? Remembering the distinction between a “formal canon” (an authoritative list of books) and a “practical canon” (a list of authoritative books), we note several important conclusions. First, very early on (if not immediately) the words of Jesus were viewed by his followers as authoritative and equal, if not greater, in status to the Jewish scriptures. This should not be entirely surprising, of course, given the fact that scholars sometimes seem to forget, namely that followers of Jesus followed Jesus. Second, the use of the New Testament writings began very early in the history of Christianity in writings of the Apostolic Fathers. The earliest non-canonical writings of the Christian faith demonstrate reliance upon those writings now included in the New Testament canon. Third, there was a progression of the status of the writings now in the New Testament from the time of Apostolic Fathers to the third century, demonstrating the continuity and development of a “New Testament” tradition among followers of Jesus Christ across the Roman Empire. Continue reading

NT Canon: Definition of “Canon”

This post is part of an ongoing series outlining the formation of the New Testament canon.

definitionOf primary importance in discussing the development of the New Testament canon is determining precisely what constitutes a “canon.” Historically, three primary schools of thought have emerged concerning the definition of the term the “canon.” Theodor Zahn argued that, since many of the foundational books of the New Testament were regarded as authoritative and scriptural by the end of the first century (as seen by their quotation by Christians such as Ignatius of Antioch), the New Testament canon should be understood as established and collected rather early on in the history of the Church, perhaps by the early second century.[1] A second perspective was that of the late great Adolph von Harnack, who took a more fluid view of canon creation. Arguing that while the texts included in the New Testament where written early on in the Christian tradition, they were not regarded as totally authoritative until several decades (or even centuries, depending on the book) later.[2] A third school of thought, as evidenced by A. C. Sundberg, relies heavily upon the rigid definition of “canon” as an authoritative list of scriptural books. [3] Thus, while early second century Christians such as Ignatius may have viewed certain books as important and useful, Sundberg maintained that the term “canon” cannot be applied to the Christian New Testament until authoritative canonical lists appeared in the fourth century. [4]

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