The New Testament Canon.
For Paul any question was decided by a 'word of the Lord,' eg. 1 Thess 4:15; in 1 Cor 9:9,13f he places alongside scriptural proof, the instruction of the Lord. In 1 Cor 11:23f he describes the words of Jesus at the eucharist as the norm for such celebration in the church.
A further development arises when Paul is forced to make a decision himself; here he appeals to the fact he has been 'commissioned by the Lord' and possesses the Spirit (1 Cor 7:25,40). Paul even presupposed his letters would be read in the churches and be exchanged (1 Thess 5:26f, 2 Cor 13:12, Rom 16:16- Col 1:1, 4:16).
Side by side the church had the scriptures and the words from the prophets, as well as those from the apostles. Ignatius designates as authorities the 'prophets, but above all, the Gospel' (Sm 7:2); the cross was a voice above the written word (Phil. 8). There is no agreement whether 1 Clem or Ignatius knew of a written Gospel - the letters do not say this; as time passed and the voice of the apostles faded, a search began for the written word.
The collection of writings most likely began with Paul's - Marcion (ca. 140) did this and 1 Clem originating in Rome uses Rom, Heb and refers to 1 Cor. Ignatius knew of a collection also. In 2 Pet 3:15f there is a ref. to Paul's letters. It has been suggested that the collection arose in Asia Minor and this effec- ted more letter-writing (eg. Rev). In fact, it is not known when this first collection took place.
Kummel points out that Ignatius does not refer to any written source and has no knowledge of written Gospels - the idea that the 4 Gospels were brought together at the beginning of the second century 'cannot be proved'. Towards the middle of the 2nd cent, the situation appears to have changed. Tatian then later composed his Diatessaron ('harmony') of all four Gospels. However during this time there was still use of apocryphal gospels and oral Jesus-traditions; there is no evidence the Gospels were read in worship.
The main section of the letter of Polycarp uses Gospel material and Paul's letters and 1 Peter. A little later in 2 Clem, the apostles are placed as living authorities alongside the O.T. Barnabas (4:14) gives a saying of Jesus (Matt 22:14) and it is introduced by 'It is written' (ie. Scripture), although the situation is unclear how this arose.
In Polycarp's letter (Phil 12:1), there is a quote from Eph 4:26 which is referred to by the expression he uses for the O.T and it seems that he intended to refer to the O.T, although is is possible, though unlilkely, he is referring to Eph in this. About the mid-2nd cent, Justin refers to the service of worship when the 'memoirs of the apostles' were read. Corresponding to this, there are frequent quotes from the synoptics; he stresses these were written by the apostles or their disciples; he includes Mark and Luke in this category. It is not known if Justin knew John although there is an echo of John but this may come from tradition. It is even possible some of the Gospel quotations are from oral tradition. Despite this, he places the Gospels on the same level as the O.T. The Pauline letters are not quoted but he mentions Rev.
Marcion in ca. 140 AD, produced a canon of 10 Pauline letters and Luke. This were altered to remove Jewish references. He had a prologue to these letter which attacks the false apostles who taught the Jewish law. It is argued that Marcion took his canon from a church canon already existing, but Harnack believed Marcion was the first to promote the idea. Marcion's canon did not force the canon to be made, but he certainly furthered it. In fact the church adopted the Marcion text forms (Roms doxology) and the Laodiceans, which was rejected by the Muratorian canon as a Marcionite forgery, ie. it is found in some 6th cent Latin Bibles.
The next stage was Tatian who was a disciple of Justin. In ca. 170 AD, he constructed a harmony of the four Gospels and showed there was now 4 accepted Gospels.
The apologist Athenagoras (ca. 180 AD) cited both Gospels and the O.T. and treated them the same. At this point Paul's writings and the Gospels were being treated as having equal value, although they may not have achieved full equality.
One further event assisted the formation; this was the Montanist sect; one result of this sect was the 'Alogi' who threw out John and Rev which they attributed to the Gnostic Cerinthus. Bishop Serapion of Antioch (ca. 200), allowed the Gos of Peter to be read although he later withdrew permission for this.
Irenaeus (180 AD) stressed the acceptance of all 4 Gospels which were expanded by Acts; he also adds thirteen letters of Paul. However at this time there was still no fixed canon.
Tertullian (220 AD) recognised the 4 Gospels, but the acceptance of the apostolic writings was still fluid. He accepted Acts, the 13 letters of Paul, 1 Pet, 1 John, Jude and Rev. He does not mention the Catholic epistles, 2 and 3 John, James and 2 Pet. He called Hebrews the epistle of Barnabas; at one stage he accepted Hermas also.
Clem. Alex (190 AD) accepted the 4 Gospels and 14 letters, incl- uding Heb, of Paul and Acts and Rev. However he used the Gos. of Hebrews and Egyptians and also regarded the Rev of Pet, Kerygma of Peter, Barnabas, 1 Clem, Didache and Hermas as scripture. The canon was therefore still very much open at the beginning of the 3rd century and still undecided/unsettled.
It appears that at this time the 'canon' was 4 Gospels, the 13 letters of Paul, Acts, 1 Pet, 1 John and Rev whilst the other writings were still disputed.
The Muratorian frag. attests to this fact. This is an 8th cent Latin MS and came from a Greek text from the end of the 2nd cent. The beginning is missing and goes on to list the accepted writings; the role of the eyewitness is here emphasised. Wisdom and Rev of Peter were also accepted. Hermas was being read, but not publicly. It lists the writings to be received and details some rejected. 1 Pet is missing and so is Heb, James and 3 John. What becomes clear here is that a writing is not accepted on its content but rather, whether it was written by an apostle or through one. Whilst rejected writings are now known, the apostolic part was still in flux.
The Christian apologist Origen (220 AD) had 3 classes of writings - (1)Those uncontested - the 4 Gospels, the 13 letters of Paul, 1 Pet, 1 John, Acts and Rev. (2)The doubtful- 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Heb, James and Jude. He cited Hermas and the Didache but does not appear to have accepted them into the canon; he does list Barnabas within the N.T though. (3) Those that were rejected.
The view on 'accepted writings' was more open-minded in Alexand- ria; different areas did not necessarily agree with others.
In the Codex D, Phil, 1 and 2 Thess are missing - no doubt through oversight, but so are the 7 Catholic letters, Rev, Acts and Heb. However Hermas, Acts of Paul, Rev of Peter are included. Methodius of Olympus, an opponent of Origen, quotes all the N.T writings as canonical but also the Rev of Peter, Barnabas and the Didache.
Eusebius (330 AD) had three classes of writing - accepted, disputed and those completely rejected. The first set was the Gospels, Acts, l4 letters of Paul (ie. Heb included), l Pet, l John, and 'if one will' Rev. In the second class, this is broken into two groups - the first set that are still esteemed - James, 2 Pet, 2 John; the second group included the Acts of Paul, Rev of Pet, Hermas, Didache, Barnabas and 'if one will' Rev. He says that some accepted the Gos of the Hebrews. In Eusebius' day, the Catholic letters were still disputed and so was Rev. Cyril of Jerusalem, ca. 350, in the 59th or 60th canon of the synod of Laodicea (after 360) and Gregory of Nazianus (d. 390) there are 26 writings - Rev being omitted. In 367 Athanasius issued his Easter letter and lists 27 writings as the only canonical ones; in addition to these and rejected writings, he mentions a 3rd group - those that could be used in instruction - Didache and Hermas. Athanasius was the first to name this collection as the 'kavwv'. Athanasius' authority was such that the canonicity of the 7 Catholic letters was rapidly established although Rev was still disputed. A number of leading Christians did not accept it. There is a list from the 9th cent that omits it and in reality, it was only from the 10th cent that the number of 27 prevails in the Greek church.
The Greek influence on the West in deciding about Heb is discernible. The Latin church did not view it as Pauline and Tertullian attributed it to Barnabas. Hilary of Poitiers (d.367) quoted Heb, James and 2 Pet as did others. Doubts remained about it but it was was gradually accepted. Variations continued, eg. Laodiceans is found in MSS of the Vulgate. However it does appear the N.T was settled for the Latin church from the 5th century.
*The following deals with the acceptance of two specific books - Hebrews and Revelation - into the canon.
Whilst there were a number of books received into the canon, with little or no hesitation, and at an early date, there were several writings that remained on the fringe and were viewed with doubt and only received after a considerable length of time; two such writings were Hebrews and the Revelation.
In the case of Heb, there were a number of problems; there is no introductory form that would be found in a letter and it almost appears to be a sermon; early Christian preaching has certainly been identified within Heb, and as its style is reminiscent of the Hellenistic synagogue preaching, as presented for example by Philo of Alexandria, it is not surprising that its unusual style created doubts about its suitability for the canon.
One of the principle problems concerning Heb was authorship; the writing is quoted as early as l Clement (17:1, 36:2-5); although the West did not accept Heb as Pauline until the fourth century, the church in the East did; it was through the influence from the East that the West did finally accept it as a Pauline writing.
Attributing Heb to Paul inevitably created problems; the language and style of Heb is quite different from that of Paul; there are some 124 words within Heb that are not found in the Pauline writings. The language of Heb corresponds to a sophisticated Hellenistic Greek and manifests a regular carefully rounded sentence structure unlike Paul who sometimes even failed to complete his sentences. One noticeable feature in Heb is that quotations from the O.T are never introduced by the formulas usually used by Paul, eg. 'it is written', 'the scripture says', etc.
The unusual features in Heb also distinguishes it from Paul's writing; the title of high priest is frequently attributed to Jesus in Heb, but this title is never used by Paul; unlike Paul's stress on Jesus' resurrection from the dead, Heb is more concerned with his ascension into heaven and his activity there. The problem over authorship is illustrated by the list of 'possible authors' supplied by early Christian writers, eg. Clement of Alexandria (200 AD) believed that Luke could have translated Heb from a letter written by Paul in the Hebrew language; Origen (220 AD) was acquainted with the idea that Clement of Rome had written Heb; since the time of Tertullian (220 AD) ,the person of Barnabas has been suggested as a possible author; Apollos was also suggested. Despite all these suggestions, the authorship is unknown, and it has, traditionally, remained a letter written by Paul.
Therefore the obvious problems that Heb created, not only by its unknown authorship, but the contents within it, delayed its acceptance into the canon for a lengthy period of time. It was not recognised as canonical by the West before the third century. In the case of Rev, this was undoubtably written for a specific period of time, ie. the beginning of state persecution in the closing years of the first century. The author identifies himself as 'John' (1:1,4,9, 22:8) and this later led to Rev being attributed to the apostle John. However there is no indication that the writer had seen the earthly Jesus and in fact virtually nothing is said about Jesus' life.
Some statements in Rev conflict with Jesus' teachings as in the Gospels (eg. Rev 6:10 when the martyred saints cry for vengeance, with Matt 5:44, when Jesus teaches that persecutors should be loved and prayed for). The realised eschatology of John's Gospel is missing in Rev; instead, there are a number of events to occur before the final climax when Jesus returns and the present system, including the earth itself, is ended (Rev 20-21).
The contents of Rev therefore, not surprisingly, led to discussion and dispute about whether it should be received into the canon. Its attitude to the church's enemies was viewed as 'sub-Christian' and its stress on God's wrath eclipses any suggestion of God's love.
Doubts about Rev are very clear from early Christian writings; it is omitted in several lists of 'received books' and as early as the third century, some Christians even thought it appropriate to question Rev's authorship in writing; Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria challenged the belief that the apostle John (who he believed had written the Gospel and the three Johannine letters) could have also written Rev; he deals with the differences in style, vocabulary and ideas. In the case of Heb, Dionysius did use this and furthermore, he did view it as a Pauline writing.
The Muratorian fragment which is a Latin translation of a Greek canon list usually dated ca. 180-200 AD (although some date it as a century later) lists the accepted writings in Rome, and Rev is included in this; although it mentions writings to be rejected, it does not mention Heb.
Irenaeus (180 AD) used most N.T. writings, but he did not use Heb; in the case of Tertullian (220 AD), he used Rev but did not accept Heb. Clement of Alexandria (200 AD) quoted extensively from the N.T writings and although he used Heb, he also quoted from pagan writings, so Clement is not an ideal guide to the church's view towards certain N.T. writings.
In the region of Antioch, the canon did not include Rev and even after doubts about the seven 'Catholic' letters had been cleared up in the fifth/sixth centuries, doubts about Rev still continued.
Although doubts continued over certain N.T.writings, one significant event in the church's history in relation to settling its canon was Athanasius' Easter letter of 367; in this he lists the twenty-seven writings as those that were to be received; despite this, doubts did however still linger on.
Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem in the mid-fourth century omitted Rev (Catech. IV.36) as did Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of Constantinople in the latter part of the fourth century. Philastrius, bishop of Brixia shortly afterwards omitted Heb from his list. Other Christian leaders, eg. Chrysostom and Theodoret, also rejected Rev.
The fourth cent. Codex Sinaiticus has all twenty-seven writings, but it also has 1 and 2 Clement. The fourth century historian Eusebius of Caesarea stated that Heb had been rejected by some as it was not seen as being written by Paul (H.E. III.3.1-5). In H.E. 25.1-7, he lists the accepted writings, but with regard to Rev, this was accepted only 'if it seems right'. He also lists Rev under the category of those writings deemed 'spurious' (ie. doubts about authorship), and adds that Rev was accepted by some, although others rejected it. According to H.E. III.39.12, Eusebius clearly had doubts about Rev himself.
In H.E.IV, he comments on Origen's view of accepted writings and states it was unlikely that Heb's author was Paul, but it was possibly Clement bishop of Rome, or Luke. Origen had also classed the different writings into groupings, ie. those to be accepted (he included Rev in this), the doubtful (which included Heb), and those that were rejected.
Jerome (ca. 347-420 AD), who was responsible for the Vulgate translation of the Bible did include Heb in his N.T, but was aware of the doubts that had been raised about it. In the same period, Ambrose did not view it as a Pauline letter.
The Codex Claromontanus, which is dated ca. sixth century, and apparently of Western origin does include Rev and 'an 'Epistle of Barnabas' which some feel may be Heb. Although it is dated ca. sixth century, some believe that it reflects a view that existed in the third/fourth century.
With regard to the formation of the canon, J.N.D. Kelly in Early Christian Doctrines, states,
"For example, Hebrews was for long under suspicion in the West, and Revelation was usually excluded in the fourth and fifth centuries where the school of Antioch held sway...."
The Stichometry of Nicephorus, usually dated as mid-ninth century omits Rev. The 'Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books', transmitted in several MSS, reflects the view of the Greek church at a later date - this however also omits Rev. Therefore even at this late stage in the church's history, it appears some did not accept Rev into the canon.
Errors that arose in manuscripts.
Examination of different MSS shows the variants which have occurred in the time of copying.
In 1707 some 30,000 variants were listed from Greek MSS by John Mill; early this century von Soden printed evidence of some 45,000 variants that he had found in N.T MSS.
There are a number of reasons for these variants, eg.
(1)If the eye skipped over a word, letter, word or line(s), the error is 'haplography' ("single writing"); (1a) If it was a case of seeing something twice, the error is termed 'dittography' ("double writing"). One example of this can be found in 1 Thess 2:7 - the difference between 'we were gentle' and 'we were babes' (as per RSV footnote), is whether one or 2 'n's' belong in the Greek. In Matt 27:17, the insertion of 'Jesus' before 'Barabbas' in some MSS may arise through repetition (dittography) of the last two letters of the Greek word 'for you' which in fact was the regular abbreviation for 'Jesus'. In contrast to this, it may in fact be a case of haplography where 'Jesus' has been omitted.
(2)If the confusion is due to similiar endings on two words or lines, so the intervening words are omitted, this error is termed 'homoeoteleuton' ("similiar ending"); if it is the case of omission due to a similar beginning, it is termed 'homoeoarcton'; an example of this arises in the O.T, ie. 1 Sam 14:41 where several clauses have dropped out in the Hebrew between 'Israel' - the LXX and the Vulgate however preserve the correct reading.
(3)A cause for another type of error was the copyist mishearing; if a letter was being dictated, a scribe could mishear things; such a situation appears to have arisen in Rom 5:1 - 'we have peace' and 'let us have peace' (RSV Footnote) which sounded the same in first cent. Greek.
This error was possible in N.T copying but not for the O.T -there are no rabbinic references to a practice of reading aloud to a copyist.
(4)There were also errors through poor judgement. A copyist might misinterpret the abbreviations that were often used in MSS, especially for 'God' and 'Christ' which were frequently abbreviated. The variants found in 1 Tim 3:16 undoubtably involved this point.
On occasion a copyist would have to divide a word; as Greek uncials were written continuously, without a break, a scribe introducing his own word divisions would have to decide upon the position of the word-break. It is was not always clear where a sentence ended; Rom 9:5 is a good example of this and is important as some believe Paul calls Christ 'God' here (although unlikely).
(5)Liturgical instructions also appear to have been added in some cases, eg. Acts 8:37 (RSV footnote) which most likely reflects the baptismal confession in the church of the second cent. copyist.
1 Cor 4:6 is a good example of the errors that could arise when notes were added in the margin or under the text; the phrase 'to live according to the scripture' is literally 'not above what is written'; it is suspected that a copyist made an error in the first verses of l Cor 4, then made a note for the next copyist not to repeat this error, but instead, the next copyist not only did this, but also included the instruction which had been left for him.
(6)Deliberate alterations also occur in the text; this is due to a number of reasons.
Copyists made changes for theological reasons, eg. to remove what appeared to be a contradiction, to expand upon something that he felt was important, to change the meaning to suit his own viewpoint, or changing the statement simply to clarify the meaning. On occasions the copyist might simply make changes to supply a more familiar word, eg. the unusual verb in Mark 6:20 when Herod was 'perplexed' was changed in later MSS to 'did'. Clarification of a verse can be seen by Mark 14:12 'lest...it be forgiven them' becomes in certain MSS 'their sins should be forgiven them'. In John 5:3b-4 (RSV footnote), there is an insertion to explain the conversation that follows.
When Matt (27:9) quotes an O.T passage which is mostly from Zechariah but it is attributed to Jeremiah, some MSS show that a copyist has attempted to remove this. In Mark 1:2, two statements are brought together, one from Isaiah and the other from Malachi, but Mark attributes both to Isaiah; again some MSS omit 'Isaiah' to try and remove this error.
In time, some copyists felt it would be useful to add further details, eg. in one Old Latin MS, the two thieves being crucified with Christ are given names in Mark 15:27. In Matt 24:36 Jesus states that even the Son did not know when the parousia was to occur and obviously some copyists felt this impugned Jesus' omniscience, and in some MSS 'nor the Son' is missing.
It is suspected a copyist's marginal protest note has been included in Luke 16:16-18. In v.16 Jesus states that the law and the prophets were only until John, and in v.l8, Jesus forbids divorce (against the Deut 24:1-2 ruling), but in v.17 he states that not one dot of the law will pass away.
Some feel this is a marginal protest against 16:16 (and possibly v.18) by a Jewish-Christian copyist that has been incorporated into the text and hence the apparent contradiction.
The view of the copyist towards Jesus' status is reflected in the MSS; in John 1:18 'the only Son' becomes 'the only God' in some MSS; therefore the Christology of the copyist sometimes led to changes being made on occasion. Heb 1:8 has two different renderings and one of these has the Son being addressed as 'God'. The personal view of the copyist could sometimes result in word changes that drastically altered the meaning of the sentence; in the Western text, the Jews 'act evilly' when crucifying Jesus, but in the Codex Vaticanus, the Jews merely act 'in ignorance'. In Acts 2:17 when Peter explains about the prophesy of Joel - that the spirit would be poured out on all flesh - the Codex Bezae has the noun for flesh in the plural to stress that this promise was for all nations and peoples, and not just the Jews. In Vaticanus, the wounded side of Jesus, as detailed in John l9:34 is also introduced at Matt 27:49.
One of the most significant additions to N.T writing is Mark 16:9-20; here the abrupt ending of Mark has been continued to include post-resurrection appearances by Jesus to his disciples. The critical time for this was most likely ca. 70-ca. 150 AD; at this time Christian writings were not seen as 'Scripture', but 'guides to Christian living' so there was no real difficulty in making changes. Later on, Origen condemned copyists who made deliberate changes for their 'depraved audacity' and Jerome reported to pope Damascus that 'numerous errors' had arisen through attempted harmonisation by copyists.
One rule adopted by those endeavouring to ascertain the original reading is to choose the reading that (a)is the most confused (ii)contradicts or is least likely to agree a statement in another N.T. writing (iii)is shorter. It was usual for a copyist to change a statement to make it clearer, or if it contradicted another passage, or if it could be made to support another passage; a longer passage is therefore most likely the one that has been changed as a copyists would tend to lengthen it to include an explanatory note. The general rule is 'Lectio difficilior probabilior', ie. it affirms the more difficult expression as the one to be regarded as more likely the original.