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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Was God involved in the formation of the canon? Part II

As was indicated in the previous post, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the Hebrew canon was formed prior to the Christian era. More of that evidence will be presented here. Likewise, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the canon of the New Testament was largely settled prior to Constantine's Council of Nicea. Hence, although it is correct to draw attention to the fact that the formation of the Judeo-Christian canon was a process, I maintain that it is disingenuous to propose that the process did not originate in the time of the apostles and had not achieved a high degree of cohesion and uniformity very early on in the history of the Christian Church. For this blogger, these facts suggest an additional unseen hand in the process of the formation of the Judeo-Christian canon.

The evidence that follows was taken from my own perusal of the writings of Christians of the first three centuries of the Christian era. For those who are interested in examining those documents for themselves, they can be found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/. These are not the commentaries or interpretations of later historians - these are the actual writings of people who lived during those times (Hence, my suggestion that they constitute evidence):

Clement of Rome wrote in the last decade of the First Century. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, he references material from Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah (from which he quotes extensively), Ezekiel and Malachi. Likewise, Clement talks about Paul's epistle to the group and mentions most of the fundamentals of the Christian tradition: Jesus Christ's blood, return, status as first-fruit, leader of the movement and the fact that all blessings flow through him. He also discusses the subjects of repentance, faith (that we are not justified by our own works) and the resurrection.

Ignatius of Antioch lived and wrote in the last part of the First and the early part of the Second Century. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, he talks about David and references things mentioned in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel of John. He also mentions the virginity of Mary, the star that appeared at Christ's birth and Christ's crucifixion. In his Epistle to the Magnesians, Ignatius talks about the birth, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and mentions Pontius Pilate. In his Epistle to the Trallians, he references passages from Isaiah and talks about Christ's descent from David. In his Epistle to the Romans, he talks about Jesus Christ as God's "only-begotten Son" and quotes from Paul's second letter to the saints of Corinth. In this epistle, Ignatius also quotes Christ's statement: "For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?" (recorded in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke). In his Epistle to the Philadelphians, he talks about the "ancient scriptures" and references Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the holy of holies. He also references the Christian concepts of the kingdom of God, Eucharist, cross, death, resurrection and Gospel. In his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius references Christ as being of the seed of David. He also mentions Pontius Pilate, Herod the Tetrarch, the fact that Christ was born of a virgin and was baptized by John. He also references the incident where the resurrected Christ invites Thomas to touch him (recorded in the Gospel of John) in this letter. In his Epistle to Polycarp, he quotes Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians and a statement attributed to Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. Finally, in all of his epistles, Ignatius talks about the respect that Christians owe to their bishops and deacons (offices created by the apostles, referenced throughout the canon of the New Testament).

Polycarp lived in the last part of the First Century and approximately the first half of the Second Century. In his Epistle to the Philippians, he quotes from Paul's letters to the Ephesians, Corinthians, Romans and Timothy. He also references material from the Gospel of Matthew and Peter's and John's first epistles.

Irenaeus of Lyons lived in the Second Century. In his Against Heresies, he quotes from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, I Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel and Jonah. He specifically mentions four Gospel accounts of Christ's life (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and quotes extensively from all of them. Likewise, Irenaeus also mentioned material from I & II Corinthians, Titus, Romans, II Thessalonians, Galatians, Acts, Philippians, Colossians and Revelation.

Justin Martyr wrote in the Second Century. In his First Apology, he wrote about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and referenced the fact that he had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. He talked about Christ as the Son of the True God. Justin quotes extensively from the Gospel According to Matthew. He also refers to Christ as the Word of God (emphasized in the Gospel According to John). He wrote that Christ's aim was "the conversion and restoration of the human race." He also pointed out that Christ was predicted by the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Micah and Zechariah. Justin quotes the first and second Psalms in their entirety. He mentions the concept of Christian baptism and the taking of the bread and wine. Moreover, in his description of a typical Christian gathering of the Second Century, he relates that "the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read."

That the people of these early times were very familiar with the writings that we associate with the canon of the New Testament is further testified to by the works of the men who came next in the progression of church history. The writings of Tertullian (born about 160) and Origen (born about 185) reflect a broad familiarity with the material of the New Testament and an astounding degree of sophistication in the theological philosophy that had already been derived from those writings. Origen composed commentaries on the Gospels of John and Matthew. He quoted extensively from Scripture and even spoke of a "New Testament" relative to an "Old Testament."

Hence, the evidence of these writings indicates that there was an early impulse toward the acceptance and inclusion of certain writings in the "canon" of the Christian Church. Was this impulse to accept some writings and reject others purely human in nature? Each of us must arrive at our own answer to that question, but the author of this blog discerns another force at work within the project. Moreover, if we are going to maintain some kind of inspiration for these writings (and remember I'm not advocating the same kind of inspiration that a Fundamentalist would advance), then it is illogical to suppose that some kind of inspiration did not guide the process resulting in the modern canon of Judeo-Christian Scripture.

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