The Principles Of New Testament Canon The Principles of New Testament Canon The process of determining New Testament canon is the study of how the twenty-seven books that are currently part of the New Testament came to be. From the many early Christian writings, only twenty-seven were placed into ecclesiastical canon. The process of researching New Testament canon is the study of how the select list of twenty-seven was formulated. The canonized books of the New Testament are considered sacred scripture, and have been determined to be canon throughout a very controversial history. The word canon comes from the Greek word kanon, which means reed, a tool for measurement or alignment.
In the craftsmanship field, a reed was known to be a standard, or a ruler in which to judge other things by. Finally, the word came to be recognized as a formal list, or table. Throughout the first three centuries of the Christian era, the term kanon was designated to set aside ethical and doctrinal content of the Christian faith. The first use of canon as applied to Christian writings occurred in 350 A.D. when Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in his decrees of the Council of Nicea, used the term canon to refer to authentic New Testament works.
In the decree the bishop describes the document known as The Shepherd of Hermas, as not part of New Testament canon. In 367, in the bishops famous Easter Letter, he gives a list of authoritative early Christian writings, and refers to them being canonical. At about the same time in history, the Council of Laodicea refers to two different lists of New Testament writings, both ones that are canonical and those that are uncanonical. Canon is referred to today as being the closed set of Christian writings that formulate the New Testament. The word kanon first appeared in early Christian writings when Paul wrote to Galatia. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this kanon (Gal.
6.16). Paul is suggesting that people, who live by the canon, or law, will have peace and mercy come upon them. Paul established canon as a measuring stick, which to live by. Christianity did not begin as a religion based upon scripture, as the Jewish religion. Christianity was based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The knowledge that was passed down about the life of Jesus was done orally. From the beginning of Christianity, people had been quoting Old Testament scripture that supported the Christian message. Nowhere in early Christianity was the idea that the new religion would be based upon a series of books. At some point people realized that the oral traditions must be put down on paper, so not to lose them. Christians feared the use of scriptural patterns because they wanted to separate themselves from the scriptural religion of Judaism.
Early Christian leaders did not think about forming a canon, because the Old Testament canon had not even been definitely set. The New Testament canon process was spread out over many years and was fiercely debated throughout the process. Because the early church left behind no evidence to why they decided on certain books instead of others, the only way to determine why certain books were included is to piece together what little fragmentary evidence is still left. Also, much of the theory must be left up to speculation. Basically three types of evidence exist in determining the canonization process. One of the ways of investigating the origin of New Testament canon is to examine the early Christian writings from the third through the fifth centuries.
In counting the number and frequency of citations of early Christian writings, one can determine how much emphasis was placed on the very first Christian writings, and the reasons why the works made it into canon. The second way to determine why a certain work is in canon is to compile the discussions and ecclesiastical councils about documents that have been either accepted or rejected as New Testament canon. The arguments that were made for certain documents could lead to a possible understanding about why they were included in New Testament canon. Also the arguments against a certain document could help explain why the work was left out. The compilation of this kind of evidence is from the fourth and fifth centuries, so it is not necessarily the oldest or most accurate reason for canonization.
The third way to determine why a work has been canonized is to look at the oldest copies of the manuscript available. Sometimes the works contained some form of prologue that gives an overview of the early church and lends a possible explanation to why the work was included in the New Testament. The many works that make up the bible were brought into canon at different times, in different ways. The Gospels, the uniquely Christian writings based on the life of Jesus Christ, were brought into New Testament canon, all at one time. The four Gospels were individually shaped together outside of the Canonization process, and then adapted afterwards. There were a few Gospels however, that did not make it into canon.
The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter both did not make it into canon. Other gospel-like documents have been found that also did not make it into New Testament canon. The Dialogue of the Savior and the Apocryphon of John, found among the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945, were also left out. Also, the Unknown Gospel, which was found in 1935, is also not a part of canon. Why were some Gospels included in canon, while others were not? The reason that scholars have determined has been that those later works, the ones written in the third or fourth century, did not have any unique value and did not establish any special authority, that made in worthy of being in canon. Pauls letters, which make up a large portion of the New Testament, were heavily debated, in whether to include them because they were directed at a specific group of people and not Christianity as a whole. The early history of Pauls letters is very obscure.
The process that surrounded Pauls letters is a result of the snowball theory(Gamble 36). This theory explains why Pauls letters were so popular and widely known. Each individual letter was directed to a person or to a community, and the news of his letter writing traveled quickly across the land. Paul in turn became very popular, and his works became widely read. Eventually, his many works circulated until they were all joined together. When it came time to determine the canon, Pauls letters were included because of his authority in the early church. These two woks, which make up the bulk of the New Testament, are a combination of works that were put together before they were decided upon being let into canon.
The New Testament canon has four criteria that were used in determining canon. The first of the criteria is apostolicity. According to popular Christian thinking, the apostolicity of the New Testament writings means that the writings are actually written by the apostles. This idea is a misconception in terms of how the concept r …