As I pointed out in my previous post, when I was a graduate student I wanted to show that I was not interested only in New Testament textual criticism (using the surviving witnesses to establish what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote) but in a range of important historical and interpretive issues in early Christianity. I wanted to be broad ranging. And I wanted this already at the very beginning of my graduate work.
My first semester in the PhD program I had a seminar on the “Canon of the New Testament” with Bruce Metzger. This was a class that focused on the questions surrounding how we ended up with the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Who decided that it would be these twenty-seven books, and no others? What was motivating these people? What were the grounds for their decisions? And when did they make them?
These are all, of course, fundamental questions, and Metzger himself wrote the authoritative book on the topic – which is still the authoritative book. In the seminar itself we did not spend most of our time discussing such matters in the abstract. Instead, we devoted ourselves to translating ancient lists of which books this, that, or the other early Christian author thought should belong to the canon (and then, of course, discussing what we translated).
The first day of class Metzger …
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Bruce Metzger is the author of several books including The Early Versions of the New Testament and The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration.