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Can (or Should) We Change the Canon of Scripture? A Blast from the Past

  Digging around in posts from five years ago now, I came across this one --as interesting to me now as it was then!  Hope you think so too.  It's a response to a penetrating question. QUESTION: Given the criteria used to determine what would go on to constitute the New Testament canon, how is it that Hebrews and the book of Revelation remain part of the canon? I understand that Christians came to believe that they were authored by the apostles which is why they made it into the canon, but we now know that they weren't authored by Paul or John..so why are they still in the NT? RESPONSE: Interesting idea!   I sometimes get asked what I would exclude from the canon if given the choice, and I almost always say 1 Timothy (because of what it says about women in 2:11-15, and how the passage has been used for such horrible purposes over the years).  But, well, it ain’t gonna happen.  I don’t get a vote. And that’s the problem with Hebrews [...]

How We Got Our 27-Book New Testament: The Case of Didymus

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 [...]

Jesus’ Teaching in Aramaic and the Books of the Canon: Mailbag February 24, 2017

There are two interesting questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one about Jesus’ teaching in Aramaic and the other about which books did not make it into the New Testament.  If you have a question yourself, ask it as a comment and I will add it to the burgeoning list!   QUESTION: Even though Christ taught in Aramaic, was there absolutely nothing written down in Aramaic? Is there much of a language translation problem going from Aramaic to Greek? (Again, it’s mind boggling to consider how many opportunities for error to creep in by accident or design)   RESPONSE: Yes, I’m afraid that’s right: we don’t have any writings from any early Christians in the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic.  That makes things rather complicated when it comes to deciding what Jesus really said – that is, if we want to have an idea of his exact words.  Let me make two points about that. First, there are some passages in the Gospels where the author will preserve an Aramaic word or phrase on Jesus’ [...]

An Interesting Scribal Change at the Beginning of Mark

Since I’ve started saying something about how scribes altered the Gospel of Mark over the years as they copied it (yesterday I mentioned eight changes made by scribes in just the five verses, Mark 14:27-31) I would like to pursue this theme a bit, and talk about some of the more interesting changes.   In this post I’ll pick just one that occurs right at the beginning of the Gospel.  It’s an interesting change because scribes appear to have made it in order to eliminate a possible contradiction that was originally found in the Gospel – already in verse 2! The first verse of Mark’s Gospel is often understood to be a kind of title for the entire account: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  To that opening statement, most manuscripts add the words “the Son of God.”  I’ll talk about that textual variant in my next post, because it is complicated and interesting too – were those additional words originally found in v. 1 or not?   And why would it matter?  It turns [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:33-04:00February 22nd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

How We Got the New Testament (and not some other books!)

Many people (most people?) don’t realize that the collection of the books into the New Testament did not take a year or two.  It was *centuries* before there was any widespread agreement about which books to include and which to exclude (why include the Gospel of John but not the Gospel of Thomas?  Why include the Apocalypse of John but not the Apocalypse of Peter?). Yesterday I started to explain how it all happened.  In this post I finish the task, by explaining the grounds on which the decisions were made and something of the historical process involved.  I’ve always thought this topic was unusually interesting – it was my first passion in my graduate school days (and the first topic I ever wrote a scholarly article on). Again, this discussion is taken from my Introduction to the Bible, published a couple of years ago. *************************************************************** The Criteria Used The “orthodox” church fathers who decided on the shape and content of the canon applied several criteria to determine whether a book should be included or [...]

Constantine and Christianity

One of the readers of this blog pointed out to me in a comment a *third* thing that is commonly said about the emperor Constantine and the council of Nicea that is also wrong (the first two being the ones I mentioned: that at the council they [or even he, Constantine!] decided which books would be in the canon of the New Testament and that it was at the council that a vote was taken on whether or not Jesus was to be considered the Son of God. Wrong, wrong, wrong – both of them). It is widely believed (for some inscrutable reason) that Constantine made Christianity the “state religion” of the Roman empire. This too is wrong. So just a very brief bit of background, which will involve another (more or less unrelated) bit of misinformation that is commonly held having to do with the history of Christian persecution up to Constantine’s time. Many people appear to think that Christianity from the very beginning was an illegal religion that was constantly persecuted by the [...]

Should We Change the Canon of Scripture?

QUESTION: Given the criteria used to determine what would go on to constitute the New Testament canon, how is it that Hebrews and the book of Revelation remain part of the canon? I understand that Christians came to believe that they were authored by the apostles which is why they made it into the canon, but we now know that they weren't authored by Paul or John..so why are they still in the NT? RESPONSE: Interesting idea!   I sometimes get asked what I would exclude from the canon if given the choice, and I almost always say 1 Timothy (because of what it says about women in 2:11-15, and how the passage has been used for such horrible purposes over the years).  But, well, it ain’t gonna happen.  I don’t get a vote. And that’s the problem with Hebrews and Revelation – and all the other books that were admitted when Church Fathers (wrongly) thought they were written by apostles of Jesus (in this case Paul and John).  No one is going to give any [...]

Question on How We Got the Canon of the New Testament

QUESTION: I just read Jesus, Interrupted … and have now seen that you have written quite a few books and articles. I am particularly interested in how the books of the New Testament were chosen and why/how the others were not. Can you recommend a good read for this?   RESPONSE: Ah, this is one of the BIG questions of early Christian studies! I have been interested in it for over 35 years. My first PhD seminar in graduate school was devoted to just this question, and I started thinking about it years even before that! I do address the question in several of my books. As you know from having just read Jesus Interrupted, I devote a good chunk of chapter 6 to it; in particular it is the overarching subject of Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (that book is my long version of the answer!). FOR THE REST of my response, log in!  If you don't belong, please join today! It only takes a small contribution [...]

2020-04-03T19:42:44-04:00May 24th, 2012|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|
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