Thursday, July 31, 2014

Be Careful the way you communicate the issue of the canon in the early church

Andy Stanley, Pastor of NorthPoint Community Church outside of Atlanta, Ga, said, in his recent Easter sermon, "History's Mystery", basically, "the Bible didn't exist until around 300 - 400 AD".  "for 300 years there was no Bible" and "they had no New Testament for really, 400 years".  (at the 5:56 time mark to 6:20 mark) This is a sloppy and misleading statement, because it sounds like the individual NT books didn't exist, but they all did, by 96 AD.  They were individual scrolls and early churches used them, read them, taught them, and quoted them in the first 3-4 centuries.  They only didn't have all 27 books all together under "one book cover" or "canon list".  Originally, "canon" meant "rule" or "standard" or "criterion", and later came to mean a "list of God-breathed books" or "a list of inspired books".

Whatever is "God-breathed" Scripture, is therefore "canon" or rule or standard.  2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is God-breathed . . . "  Whatever God inspired as revelation that was written down, by reason of the character of the writing being from God Himself, those were the books that were discerned as "canon"/ standard / rule.

Andy's main point, that Christianity is based on the person of Christ (and His crucifixion and resurrection), and not philosophy or ideas, is basically true, but he should have expanded and clarified with more; something like, "Christianity is primarily based on the person of Christ; but also His works and doctrines and teachings, which were written down by His apostles in God-breathed Scripture, and that includes all the 27 books of the NT, including the writings of the apostle Paul, as fulfillment of the coming of the Holy Spirit to led the apostles into all the truth." (John chapters 14, 15, 16)

Andy needs to read Michael Kruger's books and blog on the canon and NT history, as Dr. White suggests. (on the video below) 

The Heresy of Orthodoxy.  (with Andreas Kostenberger) 

Statements like "the Bible did not exist for the first 3 centuries", can make people in the audience vulnerable to Roman Catholic apologetic claims.  That is what happened to my friend Rod Bennett; he was not well taught in the canon issues as a Protestant, and so fell prey to that kind of argument. They claim that the church authoritatively decided and determined the canon (the list of which books are inspired/ "God-breathed").  No; rather they were determined by God the Holy Spirit to be "criterion" / "standard" / (the original meaning of "canon", as soon as they were written as individual books / scrolls.  It just took time to collect them all under one "book cover" or "canon list", so to speak.   The early church discovered, discerned, witnessed to which books were already "God -breathed" and therefore, by nature, were "canon" / criterion / standard. 

Dr. White rightly points this out in this screen flow.  If Andy means the final form of where there was unanimous agreement as to the canon list, as in Athanasius' list in 367 AD, then that is right, but the way he communicated his statement makes it seem like the individual letters / gospels did not exist in churches to guide them into the truth and doctrine and practice.  But even long before Athanasius in 367, Origen around 250 AD indicates the same 27 NT book list.  See here.

Below is a compilation of statements that I originally tweeted yesterday and today, but expanded here in this article.

The Scriptures existed and were "God-breathed" right when the ink dried, therefore "canon" when written. (R. C. Sproul, Sola Scriptura: The Protestant position on the Bible, page 82 - "For the Reformers, the Bible was canon as soon as it was written."); they were individual books, to be exact scrolls; later collected under one "book cover"/canon list.

For a Protestant to say, "the Bible did not exist until 300s or 400s AD", gives credibility to Roman Catholic apologetic claims. Andy Stanley needs to clarify his statement.

Clement of Rome, in 96 AD, wrote, "take up the epistle of Paul to the Corinthians", affirming that 1 Corinthians was written in 55 AD, and considered God-breathed Scripture by Clement.

Clement of Rome (Letter of 1 Clement) quoted and alluded to (hinted and pointed to) several of Paul's letters & at least one of the written gospels (Matthew, written sometime from 50-65 AD) - Clement writing in 96 AD, refers to these earlier writings. (Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 294.)

Tertullian and Ireneus quoted from most of the NT books in 180-220 AD.  Ignatius (107-117 AD), Justin Martyr (150 AD), Polycarp (165 AD) quote from some books of the NT.   Origen (250 AD) actually lists all of the 27 books and discusses many of them. (see link above) Cyprian (250 AD), Clement of Alexandria, (215 AD),  quote from and allude to most of the books of the New Testament.  (Ignatius and Polycarp quote from and allude to some; Justin Martyr quotes and alludes to some, and seems to know all the Gospels, and uses the Logos theology of John 1:1 and 1:14 to speak of Jesus, etc.)

All the 27 NT books existed by 96 AD, they were just not collected together under 1 canon list or "book cover" yet.  

The nature of the NT documents-they were individual letters/gospels written on scrolls: the Codex form did not even exist in common usage until about 150-200 AD.  Before then, books and letters had to be individually rolled up as scrolls.  So, the form of a modern book, with a binding, flat, etc., did not even exist when the individual letters were written to different areas in the first century.  

The apostles Peter and Paul were executed by Nero around 67 AD.  This means that all their letters were written and existed before then.  The book of Hebrews also was clearly written before 70 AD, because he presents his argument based on the fact that the priests were currently offering sacrifices and the temple was still standing; but He says Christ was the final, once for all time, sacrifice.  If he was writing after 70 AD, he would have said, "And we have proof that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the sacrificial system, because God ordained the Romans to come and destroy the temple in 70 AD, thus proving that Christ is the final sacrifice.  

The Gospel according to Mark (written sometime between 48-60 AD), James, Galatians, written around 48-50 AD; these are the earliest NT documents; they existed, and churches used them and quoted from the them in the first 3 centuries.  So it is misleading to say, "The Bible did not exist until the 300s or 400s AD".    We know Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 in 48-49 AD (Carson, Moo, Intro to NT, p. 464), because if Galatians was written after that, Paul would have mentioned the decisions in his letter to the Galatians to bolster his case.  The fact that he does not mention those decisions is proof that the letter to the Galatians was written sometime before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.

We know that Luke wrote the book of Acts shortly after his release from the 2 year in house prison because of the abrupt ending and lack of other details as to what he did after that.  ("other considerations suggest a date not long after 62 AD".  (See Carson and Moo, Intro to NT, page 300.)  This means The Gospel of Luke was written before then, in 60 or 61 AD, or before Acts early in the year of 62 AD.

Most conservative NT scholars believe the Gospel according to John, the letters of 1, 2, 3 John, and the book of Revelation were written somewhere between 80-96 AD, but some argue for a pre- 70 AD dating. That leaves the little book of Jude to be around 80 AD, and "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) (or verse 3) may indicate it was the last book written or one of the last NT books written.

The main reason liberals date Matthew, Mark, and Luke after 70 AD, is because they don't believe in supernatural, predictive prophesy, but Jesus clearly predicted the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24:1-3 as future to Him (spoken in 30 AD before the cross), and, it indeed happened in 70 AD. It is interesting that "a generation" was generally considered "40 years". This has implications for Matthew 24:34 - "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place". Does Jesus' woes and judgment pronouncements on that generation living at that time extend from Matthew 23:36 ("all these things will come upon this generation") to Matthew 24:34 ?

As John A. T. Robinson argued, if Matthew, Mark, and Luke had been written after 70 AD, they would have surely added something like, "and this was fulfilled when Titus' armies rolled in and destroyed the temple in 70 AD." (Redating the New Testament, pages 13-30)
The 27 books of the NT and generally accepted dates by conservative students and scholars:
Galatians - 48- 49 AD
James - 48-50 AD (?)
Gospel according to Mark - 48-60 AD
Council of Jerusalem - 49 AD
1 Thessalonians - 50 AD
2 Thessalonians - 51 AD
Matthew - 50-65 AD
Luke - 60-61 AD
Acts - 62 AD
1 Corinthians - 55 AD
2 Corinthians - 56 AD
Romans - 57-58 AD
Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (60-62 AD - in Paul's first imprisonment at end of Acts.)
Paul released from prison; seeks to go to Spain. (Romans 15:20-24)
I Peter - 64 AD
I Timothy, Titus - 63-65 AD
2 Timothy - 67 AD
2 Peter - 67 AD (Dictated to a student from prison; to Jude, possibly, the half brother of Jesus, which would explain similarities of style and vocabulary.)
Apostles Paul and Peter executed by Nero. (67 AD)
Nero commits suicide - 67 AD
Hebrews - 68 AD
70 AD - Destruction of Temple
80-96 AD - Gospel of John, letters of 1, 2, 3 John, Revelation
80 AD - Jude - "the faith was once for all delivered to the saints"

So, when admitting that the Bible in its final book form or canon list was not available until either 250 AD (per Origen) or 367 AD (per Athanasius Festal Letter 39), we should make clear that the books of the NT were already written from around 48-96 AD, and that the early churches each had either one gospel (maybe 2 or 3) and one or more NT letters; that they were never without some portion of Scripture. Pastors and teachers should be careful the way they communicate the issue of the canon and the history of it in the early church.