"A collection of five essays and nine book reviews from a respected scholar’s reflection on the doctrine of Scripture. God’s Word has always had enemies, but in recent years the inspiration and authority of Scripture have been attacked with renewed vigor. Respected scholar D. A. Carson has written widely on the nature of Scripture over the past thirty years, and here presents a timely collection of his work ..." (From the introduction).
Sort of as a tribute to some of the commenters here who may be tempted to think that the Church came before the New Testament, Carson provides an exceptional summary of how the New Testament Canon came into being, and the church's role in that process.
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5. Some have given the entirely false impression that the early church took an inordinately long time to recognize the authority of the New Testament documents. In fact it is vital to distinguish the recognition of the authority of these documents from a universal recognition as to the content of a closed list of New Testament documents. The New Testament books were circulating a long time before the latter happened, most of them accepted everywhere as divinely authoritative, and all of them accepted in at least large parts of the church. Most of the New Testament documents are cited as authorities very early indeed; this includes the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline letters, 1 Peter, and 1 John. Most of the rest of the contours of the New Testament canon were well in place by the time of Eusebius, in the early fourth century.
6. The criteria by which the early church agreed that certain books were authoritative were basically three. First, the church Fathers looked for apostolicity, i.e., a document had to be written by an apostle or by someone in immediate contact with the apostles. Thus Mark was understood to have the witness of Peter behind him; Luke was connected with Paul. As soon as the Fathers discussed the possibility, they rejected any document under the suspicion of pseudonymity (written by someone other than the claimed author). Second, a basic requirement for canonicity was conformity to the “rule of faith,” i.e., to basic, orthodox Christianity recognized as normative in the churches. Third, and scarcely less important, the document had to have enjoyed widespread and continuous usage by the churches. Incidentally, this criterion requires the passage of time to be useful, and helps to explain why so much time elapsed before the “closing” of the canon (i.e., before the church had almost universally agreed on the status of all twenty-seven New Testament documents). One of the reasons Hebrews was not accepted in the West as early as some letters was that it was anonymous (not pseudonymous!), and in fact it was more quickly accepted in the East where many (wrongly) thought it to have been written by Paul.
7. Perhaps the most important thing to recognize is that although there was no ecclesiastical machinery or hierarchy, akin to the medieval papacy, to enforce decisions, eventually almost all of the universal church came to recognize the same twenty-seven books. In other words, this was not so much “official” recognition as the people of God in many different places coming to recognize what other believers elsewhere had also found to be true. The point must be constantly emphasized.
The fact that substantially the whole church came to recognize the same twenty-seven books as canonical is remarkable when it is remembered that the result was not contrived. All that the several churches throughout the Empire could do was to witness to their own experience with the documents and share whatever knowledge they might have about their origin and character. When consideration is given to the diversity in cultural backgrounds and in orientation to the essentials of the Christian faith within the churches, their common agreement about which books belonged to the New Testament serves to suggest that this final decision did not originate solely at the human level. (Glenn W. Barker, William L. Lane, and J. Ramsey Michaels, The New Testament Speaks [New York: Harper & Row, 1969], 29)
The church, then, did not confer a certain status on documents that would otherwise have lacked it, as if the church were an institution with authority independent of the Scriptures or in tandem to the Scriptures. Rather, the New Testament documents were Scripture because of what God had revealed; the church, providentially led, came to wide recognition of what God had done in his climactic self-disclosure in his Son and in the documents that bore witness to and gathered up the strands of the Son-revelation.