Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Integrity of the New Testament Canon

(or, the Papacy was built on forgeries, part 3)

In response to my recent postings, to the effect that the papacy was built on forgeries and “pious fictions,” (
here and here) one commenter said, “The same thing can be said (and *HAS* been said) about the NT, by those of a skeptical bent...”

Well, yes, many things are “said.” But it’s up to those who “say” things to prove them; it’s also for those who have things *said* about them to argue against them.

Carson and Moo, in their “Introduction to the New Testament” (2005), discuss issues of pseudonymity and pseudipigraphy (“the practice of ascribing written works to someone other than the author”), as these issues have been brought up in connection with the New Testament (pgs 337 ff.)

First, a couple of definitions:
Pseudonymity: Works that are falsely named.

Pseudipigraphy: Works that are falsely attributed.

Literary Forgeries: Works written or modified with the intent to deceive.

Anonymity: No formal claim is made to authorship (e.g., Matthew, John, and Hebrews are all anonymous).
So, even though some New Testament writings are said to be pseudepigraphical (and that case is not proven, it is clear that many scholars consider all of the potentially pseudepigraphical works in the NT to be authentic, on a case-by-case basis, there is very good attestation for each of the individual books.

While some New Testament works are held to be pseudepigraphical, (including Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter), there are very strong arguments to the contrary. For example:

  • The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus): While these are held by some to have been written pseudonymously, according to Thomas Schreiner, recent commentators who have defended their authenticity include J.N.D. Kelly, Joachim Jeremias, Donald Guthrie, Gordon Fee, George Knight III, Philip Towner, L.T. Johnson, and William Mounce.

  • Ephesians: Harold Hoehner traces sources historically and, as Carson and Moo say, “his detailed work demonstrates that [Raymond] Brown’s assertion that 70-80% of scholars have adopted the view that this letter was not written by Paul is impressively mistaken.”

  • 2 Peter: According to Scrheiner, “if one were inclined to doubt the authenticity of any letter in the New Testament, it would be 2 Peter. … Indeed, Petrine authorship is still the most credible position,” and he begins with 16 pages of analysis to say why this letter is authentic (260-276).

  • Schreiner goes further: “I am persuaded that evidence is lacking that any canonical document is actually pseudonymous" (“1, 2 Peter, Jude,” New American Commentary, pg 273). He cites R.L. Donelson, “Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles,” saying “there is no evidence that pseudonymous documents were ever accepted as authoritative.”


    The fate of early extrabiblical Christian examples
    Some of what I’m about to cite from Carson and Moo has a direct relation to the process of canonization, that is, determining whether or not a writing was to be included in the Canon of the New Testament.
    “About the middle of the second century AD, pseudonymous Christian works began to multiply, often associated with a great Christian leader. We are not here concerned with works that purport to tell us about esteemed Christian figures without making claims as to authorship, but only with those that are clearly pseudepigraphical. Some of these are apocalypses (e.g., the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul); some are gospels (e.g., Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, which is really no gospel at all, but mostly a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus). Several are letters claiming to be written by Paul: 3 Corinthians, Epistle to the Alexandrians, Epistle to the Laodicians. The latter was almost certainly written to provide the document mentioned in Colossians 4:16. It is a brief and rough compilation of Pauline phrases and passages (primarily from Philippians). The largest collection of pseudonymous epistles from the early period of the church’s history is the set of fourteen letters fo correspondence between the apostle Paul and Seneca. They are referred to by both Jerome (De vir. ill. 12) and Augustine (Epist. 153). The Muratorian Canon (c. AD 170-200) refers to the Epistle to the Alexandrians and the Epistle to the Laodiceans as “both forged in Paul’s name (Mur. Can. 64-65) and thus will not allow them to be included (“Introduction to the New Testament,” 341).
    Regarding the process of determining the Canon, the case may be pressed further. According to Schreiner:
    Paul specifically criticized false writings in his name in 2 Thess 2:2 and ensured the authenticity of the letter in 2 Thess 3:17. The author of Acts of Paul and Thecla was defrocked as bishop even though he wrote out of love for Paul (Tertullian, De Bapt. 17). In addition, Gospel of Peter was rejected in A.D. 180 in Antioch because the author claimed to be Peter and was not. Serapion the bishop said, “For our part, brethren, we both receive Peter and the other apostles as Christs, but the writings which falsely bear their names we reject, as men of experience, knowing that such were not handed down to us” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.12.1-6). Evidence that early Christians accepted pseudepigraphic documents as authoritative Scripture is completely lacking. Some argue that Acts of Paul and Thecla and Gospel of Peter were only rejected for deviant teaching, not for pseudepigraphy. But both of the texts [cited] say otherwise, specifically indicting the writers for falsely ascribing the writings to another. (Schreiner, 270-271).
    Carson and Moo say, "all sides agree ... that pseudepigraphy was common in the ancient world." They also cite Donelson, saying "No one ever seems to have accepted a document as religiously and philosophically prescriptive which was known to be forged. I do not know a single example." This is virulently the case in early Christian circles" (342).

    For any of you recent or would-be Tiber-jumpers who are impressed with such arguments as “we needed an infallible Church to give us an infallible canon" -- or the vagueness and generality that goes along with such a statement -- I hope that you will consider the specific ways that individuals in the early church worked to defend the integrity of the canonical Scriptures. In my next posts, Lord willing, I’ll go into some detail about the forged and pseudepigraphic documents that were pressed into service to support the papacy. (And following that, d.v., there’s a lot more to report on the spurious documents that went to support various Marian doctrines, too.)

    Admittedly, the information that I’ve provided here is not a complete survey. But I wanted to give a start, some places to follow up with, and to provide examples of the integrity that went into the protection of the New Testament Scriptures. For any of you young and devout Reformed and Evangelical seminarians who are inclined, I think this information provides a starting point for an excellent thesis.

    33 comments:

    Lvka said...

    ...we were talking about miracles from the lives of the Apostles, which were not recorded in Scripture [John 21:25], and which your cited source dismissed them a priori as "pious romance, not history".

    Lvka said...

    Now to the article:

    1 Clement *IS* written by Clement -- and yet it's NOT in the Bible!

    2 Peter, on the other hand, is of UNSURE provenience, and yet it *IS* canonical. (The same goes for 2&3 John, Jude, James, Revelation, and Hebrews).

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka has a history of misrepresenting the evidence for the canon of scripture. See his negative comments about the book of Revelation and my response here.

    As he so often does, Lvka gives us no explanation for why his comments about First Clement are relevant. For those interested in an explanation of why such documents shouldn't be included in the canon, see here. If Lvka thinks First Clement should be included in the canon, by Evangelical standards or his own, he should explain why. If he doesn't think it should be included, he should explain what his point is.

    He should also explain why he thinks it's relevant whether a book's "provenience" is "UNSURE". To accept a book as canonical, all we need is probability, not certainty.

    Jason Engwer said...

    By the way, notice that Lvka doesn't even attempt to interact with the scholarship John Bugay cited. Thomas Schreiner makes many good points about the authorship of 2 Peter in the commentary John cited, for example, and all that Lvka gives us in response is a vague reference to how "2 Peter, on the other hand, is of UNSURE provenience".

    Lvka said...

    I didn't say anything "new" or "original", so...

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka wrote:

    "I didn't say anything 'new' or 'original', so..."

    Explain what you mean. (If you would put more effort into your posts, you wouldn't have to be asked for clarifications so often.) If you're saying that other people have made comments similar to yours in the past, then what would that fact prove? The fact that somebody has said before that Clement of Rome wrote First Clement, for example, doesn't identify the context in which he said it, how that person's comments are relevant to what John Bugay has said, whether that person was correct, etc. Your comment above doesn't justify what you wrote earlier.

    John Bugay said...

    Lvka, it didn't take much for a an ancient work to be lost. All they had to do was NOT copy it.

    Today, we have about 6000 different manuscripts and fragments of the NT. By contrast, "the complete Greek text of 1 Clement hs survived in only a single manuscript," dated 1056 ad. Today, we have about five copies of manuscripts of 1 Clement.

    Evidently the "infallible" early church thought it was not worth saving.

    Your suggestion that it should be in the NT is ridiculous.

    Lvka said...

    Well, seemingly one copy is enough, isn't it?


    Jason,

    is Steve OK?.. :-\

    John Bugay said...

    Well, seemingly one copy is enough, isn't it?

    It is enough that we know the document exists; that we have only one copy in the Greek tells us that the document was not viewed as important enough to continue to copy and spread it. In spite of the fact that some people mentioned that they thought highly of the document, it certainly wasn't important enough that it would be considered canonical.

    Lvka said...

    I didn't say it was "important" or `canonical`; all I said was that it was original, and that the man who wrote it was none other than Clement of Rome, 1st century.

    John Bugay said...

    all I said was that it was original, and that the man who wrote it was none other than Clement of Rome, 1st century.

    But the point is, you don't even know this. Just because it was "original" doesn't mean there is any significance at all to its writer(s). In this case, don't you think it was "disrespectful" that a document seemingly written by "a pope of Rome" was just left to whither and die?

    Or was it rather thought to be just much less important than the Apostolic documents, in the scheme of things.

    Various writers have reconstructed how the Roman church was likely organized during the earliest centuries. One of the best theories posits that there was a "minister of communications" whose job it was to run a delivery service in and among the various church groups in the city.

    Hermas, in 150 ad, writes of a "Clement," whose job this was. Roger Collins strongly suggests that this was how the name "Clement" became attached to the document known as 1 Clement.

    People would have known that fact back then, and something like this would account for the low esteem with which the document was held.

    Lvka said...

    It's not good to base your views on suppositions and 'theories' as opposed to facts: FACT is, Clement wrote it.

    It's equally not good to found one's views on original claims: if all cities everywhere (even in ancient Romania) had ONE bishop, it's a bit odd to say Rome *alone* was an exception to the rule.

    John Bugay said...

    FACT is, Clement wrote it.

    How do you know this?

    Lvka said...

    No claim to the contrary. No suspicion of the book as being of doubtful origin. Or as NOT being written by Clement. Ever. All the evidence points to one simple conclusion.

    John Bugay said...

    Your argument from silence proves nothing. The FACT that nobody thought the document was important enough to copy and distribute speaks volumes.

    Lvka said...

    It's not an argument from silence. It's an argument from talk. Everybody *said* (or wrote) ONE thing, and no-one *ever* said (or wrote) *anything* to the contrary.

    John Bugay said...

    What everybody said was the substance of the "pious fiction" that got passed along as actual history.

    What nobody did was to revere the document enough to include it in the canonical works.

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka writes:

    "It's not good to base your views on suppositions and 'theories' as opposed to facts: FACT is, Clement wrote it. It's equally not good to found one's views on original claims: if all cities everywhere (even in ancient Romania) had ONE bishop, it's a bit odd to say Rome *alone* was an exception to the rule."

    See here for some examples of Eastern Orthodox scholars (and Eastern Orthodox church leaders, who have a higher standing in Orthodoxy than Lvka does) acknowledging that some of the early churches didn't have only one bishop at a time. See here for some examples of church fathers acknowledging that some churches didn't have just one bishop.

    Regarding First Clement, I agree that the document was most likely written by a man named Clement in Rome. He probably was a bishop in that church, but not the only bishop at the time. Apparently, the monepiskopos didn't develop in Rome until later.

    But contrast the documentation John Bugay has offered for his conclusions about Biblical authorship with the lack of documentation on Lvka's part. How often does Lvka document anything?

    I agree with Lvka that the widespread agreement over the authorship of First Clement among ancient sources is significant. But there was also widespread early agreement about Revelation, for example, yet Lvka tries to cast doubt on that book's authorship and canonicity based on later opposition. How does Lvka justify dismissing such good evidence for Revelation from the earliest sources based on opposition from some later sources who were in a worse position to judge the matter?

    Notice that Lvka is so confident and insistent in his defense of something like the monepiskopos or the authorship of First Clement, yet takes such a different approach toward scripture. What does that suggest about his priorities?

    Lvka said...

    John,

    All agree unanimously that 1 Clement is original: that's the historical and documentary evidence. -- (That You can feel free so as to ignore it completely is your problem: not mine, and definitely NOT the data's).


    Jason,

    if your evidence starts and stopps with Jerome in the fourth century, I think you might have a bit of a problem there..

    1 Clement's authorship was never disputed by anyone: its recognition as being an authentic work of Clement was NOT `widespread`, it was *universal*: there's a difference there.

    John Bugay said...

    Lvka -- I never disputed that 1 Clement was "original": It was an "original" document of the first century. But it was *anonymous*. [That is different from saying it was *forged,* for example. See the definitions I provided in the initial post.]

    It was from a group of Christians in Rome. No single author is identified within the document. The handle "Clement" got attached to it somehow -- that much is known. There IS very good evidence, though, that the name "Clement" was attached to it, because, as Collins said, "Clement" was the individual who delivered it. (As opposed to someone named Clement being the one who wrote it).

    Further, the fact that it did not get included among the Scriptures that were being collected at the time is CLEAR EVIDENCE that it did not have "apostolic authority." It was not written by an Apostle, nor did it have the sanction of an Apostle. For that reason, it was not included in the Canon.

    1 Clement's authorship was never disputed by anyone: its recognition as being an authentic work of Clement was NOT `widespread`, it was *universal*: there's a difference there.

    Instead of just asserting this over and over, as you have been doing, with no evidence at all, why don't you cite some authority from the early church that says, "We universally accept 1 Clement as having been written by Clement, Pope of Rome"? If it was as *universal* as you say, then you should not have trouble finding a boatload of citations.

    But my further point has been, that even if Clement did write it, as I said, the universal sense (except for one manuscript) was, "this document is not worth keeping and passing along."

    Lvka said...

    John,

    your fist two paragraphs apply perfectly to all the four Holy Gospels; your third paragraph is insinuation; and the answer to the last two is simple: everyone who has ever said or written something about 1 Clement considered it to be his work, not that of another author, whether known or unknown.

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka wrote:

    "if your evidence starts and stopps with Jerome in the fourth century, I think you might have a bit of a problem there"

    The articles I linked above discuss more than Jerome and other later fathers. The Eastern Orthodox scholars I cited, for example, discuss evidence from the New Testament and patristic sources prior to Jerome. And, as I documented, Jerome makes his case from such earlier sources.

    But why would you be objecting (incorrectly) to an alleged lack of earlier sources for my view when your view of Revelation, for example, does neglect the earlier evidence in favor of the lesser testimony of later sources? You're doing what you wrongly accuse me of doing.

    You write:

    "1 Clement's authorship was never disputed by anyone: its recognition as being an authentic work of Clement was NOT `widespread`, it was *universal*: there's a difference there."

    The term "widespread" doesn't carry with it a denial of universal agreement among the sources who commented on the subject. I wasn't denying that there was agreement.

    Lvka said...

    Let me see the references from Chrysostom and Theodore, then.


    I didn't sat Revelation was an obvious fake, all I said was that the controversy regarding its authorship was far too wide-spread and far too long-lasting to be simply ignored.

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka writes:

    "Let me see the references from Chrysostom and Theodore, then."

    Asking me to discuss other evidence doesn't address the evidence I've cited above. Why don't you address what you've already been given before asking for more? And you referred to Jerome as "in the fourth century" above, as a way of dismissing him. Why, then, would you ask for more information about other sources from around the same time?

    You write:

    "I didn't sat Revelation was an obvious fake, all I said was that the controversy regarding its authorship was far too wide-spread and far too long-lasting to be simply ignored."

    Instead of making ambiguous comments, such as that Revelation "isn't obviously a fake", why don't you tell us in clear terms what you think of the document's authorship and canonicity? Then defend your view. I've argued for my view of Revelation.

    And I haven't said that later objections to the book should be "simply ignored". Rather, I've explained why the evidence in support of the document's Johannine authorship and canonicity outweighs the contrary evidence.

    Lvka said...

    Because I've seen that passage tossed around the internet quite a few times.. seemingly it's the only one Protestants were able to come up with: that's why I'm curious about passages from OTHER Fathers on that subject.

    I don't *know* who authored Revelation, that's the point.

    If you accept Revelation despite significant testimony to the contrary, why do you then reject 1 Clement, who's had *NO* testimony to the contrary *whatsoever*?

    John Bugay said...

    So Lvka, you are arguing that 1 Clement should be Scripture, and the book of Revelation should not be.

    Lvka said...

    No.. all I'm saying is that I find all sorts of post-facto ad-hoc rationalizations pathetic, that's all.

    John Bugay said...

    How is anything that Jason or I have said, "post-facto," "ad-hoc," or "rationalizations"?

    Lvka said...

    It's not about (just) you or Jason here.. it's about what Protestants have been trying to figure out for the last.. how long has it been now?.. 500 years?

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka wrote:

    "Because I've seen that passage tossed around the internet quite a few times.. seemingly it's the only one Protestants were able to come up with: that's why I'm curious about passages from OTHER Fathers on that subject."

    I didn't just cite one passage from Jerome. And the scholar I cited who mentions the other fathers you asked about is Roger Beckwith, a Protestant. Those who believe that some early churches didn't have a monepiskopos, like the Eastern Orthodox scholars I cited, appeal to multiple sources who lived prior to Jerome, including the New Testament itself. A source doesn't have to comment on a subject explicitly and completely in order to do so implicitly and/or partially. The evidence against a monepiskopos in some early churches comes from multiple early sources, and that fact was recognized long before modern times, as Jerome illustrates.

    You write:

    "I don't *know* who authored Revelation, that's the point."

    Why aren't you telling us whether you consider it canonical? Many of your alleged predecessors in Eastern Orthodoxy, like Athanasius, affirmed the canonicity of Revelation. They made high claims about its status in the canon, how it was handed down by church tradition, etc. Was their concept of the church and tradition different than yours?

    You write:

    "If you accept Revelation despite significant testimony to the contrary, why do you then reject 1 Clement, who's had *NO* testimony to the contrary *whatsoever*?"

    I've already said that I accept Clementine authorship of First Clement. What I reject is the book's canonicity, and I explain why in the article I linked above, the one here.

    You still haven't explained why the later objections to Revelation supposedly weigh as much as or more than the early evidence for it. It's been almost two years since I wrote that article in response to you on the subject. When are you going to explain why you keep assigning so much weight to later sources while not believing what so many earlier sources said?

    Lvka said...

    Still some convincing quotes from Church Fathers other than Saint Jerome wouldn't hurt...


    It's canonical because it's in the canon. -- that's all I can say.

    (And please forgive me for being a bit put down by the fact that that book was rejected by "half" of the Christian world for about half of Christian history, that's all...)

    Jason Engwer said...

    Lvka,

    Now you're saying that you don't know who wrote Revelation, but that you consider it canonical anyway. But you referred to John as the author in our discussions in 2008, and some of your negative comments about the book suggested that you wouldn't consider it canonical. You keep making ambiguous and inconsistent claims.

    Lvka said...

    I don't believe that John wrote Revelation in the same way I believe in the Trinity, or in the same way know I have black hair, if that's what You mean.