Monday, May 04, 2015

How We Got the Bible - Part Two - The New Testament

The John Rylands manuscript fragment P52, from the gospel of John, is considered to be the earliest New Testament manuscript fragment known to man. It is dated around AD 125.
This post is the second in a series. The first is found here:
The information below is drawn from several sources, including those listed at the end of the post.
The Canon of the New Testament
Authority precedes canonicity. The canon concept existed long before any “canon list” appeared. Any such lists merely recognized and confirmed those books already recognized as inspired and authoritative. No council or church determined or changed the books the Spirit inspired; they acknowledged them. Often lists arose to address or correct a doctrinal error or challenge.
As Moses is to the Old, Jesus is to the New.  His teaching is the nucleus of the NT canon. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Cf. John 14:26; 16:13-14; Matt 16:19; Rev 1:11.
From earliest times, there has been no question raised regarding our four gospels. Tatian’s Diatessaron (“through the four”), produced in AD 170, is a harmony of our own four gospels. Tatian rejects other so-called gospels in circulation at the time, some of which survive today. Origen in the 3rd century said: “The Church possesses four Gospels, heresy a great many …” He listed these four Gospels in the order of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In the gospels, Jesus said the apostles would transmit His Word by His Spirit and authority. Matt 18:18; John 13:16, 20; 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-14.
Paul claimed the same thing. Gal 1:11-12; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:1-2, 15; 1 Cor 2:6-16; 4:17; 7:17; 14:37; 2 Cor 13:3; Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27; 1 Tim 6:20
Books known to be related to an apostle (or Jesus) and reflective of Jesus’ teaching were naturally recognized by the church.  Heb 2:4; 1 Pet 5:13; 2 Tim 4:11; Jude 1:1
1 Tim 5:18 quotes both Deut 25:4 (OT) and Luke 10:7 (NT) as “Scripture.”
As Paul’s writings were produced, they were instantly regarded as canonical and authoritative. They were even circulated. Col 4:16. 2 Peter 3:15-16, written to all Christians, refers to a collec­tion of Paul’s letters which were widely known, and calls them “Scripture.”
Each NT book was recognized by [1] its relationship to an apos­tle and [2] its content.
Some NT books were slower than others to gain recognition in some areas of the church. These include Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. Remember, however, that not all NT books were circulated in all the same areas at the same time. Also, over time and with repeated use and examination, all these books have shown themselves to be the Word of God.
No NT doctrine is totally dependent on the presence of any one book in the canon. When we consider the canon in the early centuries, we need not be disturbed by the minor differences. Instead, we should be amazed by the major consensus.
Justin Martyr (c. AD 150) refers to the reading of the "memoirs of the Apostles" together with the “writings of the prophets” during the Sunday worship assemblies. He writes, "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things." (Justin Martyr, "First Apology", Chapter 67)
“From the close of the second century the history of the Canon is simple, and its proof clear. It is allowed even by those who have reduced the genuine Apostolic works to the narrowest limits, and from the time of Irenaeus the New Testament was composed essentially of the same books which we receive at present, and that they were regarded with the same reverence as is now shewn to them.” … “Thus it is that it is impossible to point to any period as marking the date at which our present Canon was determined. When it first appears, it is present not as a novelty but as an ancient tradition. Its limits were fixed in the earliest times by use rather than by criticism; and this use itself was based on immediate knowledge.” (B.F. Westcott, The Canon of the New Testament, sixth ed. (Macmillan, 1889), pp. 6, 501)
Origen (c.250) seems to include all 27 books.  He writes, in his Homilies on Joshua: “So too our Lord Jesus Christ…sent his apostles as priests carrying well-wrought trumpets.  First Matthew sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel, Mark also, and Luke, and John, each gave forth a strain on their priestly trumpets.  Peter moreover sounds with the two trumpets of his Epistles; James also and Jude.  Still the number is incomplete, and John gives forth the trumpet sound through his Epistles [and Apocalypse]; and Luke while describing the deeds of the apostles.  Latest of all, moreover, that one comes who said, ‘I think that God has set us forth as the apostles last of all’ (1 Cor 4:9), and thundering on the fourteen trumpets of his Epistles he threw down, even to their very foundations, the wall of Jericho, that is to say, all the instruments of idolatry and the dogmas of the philosophers.”
“Although not all the books were known in one place, all the New Testament books were accepted as divine and authoritative by Christians somewhere. No writing known as apostolic was rejected anywhere. Within one generation after John completed his writings, all twenty-seven books of the New Testament were cited as Scripture by some church leaders. Within two centuries, all but less than a dozen verses of the New Testament were quoted in from three to four thousand citations that are now preserved.” (Don Shakelford, ed., New Testament Survey (Searcy, AR; Resource Publications, 1987), pp. 54, 55)
The Canon, the Councils, and the Church
 “… no church council made the canon of Scripture. No church by its decrees gave to or pronounced on the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the New Testament books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves. As a child identifies its mother, the later church identified the books which it regarded as having unique authority.” (Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, pp. 161-162)
“One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing  their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa--at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397--but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p. 27)
Non-Canonical Writings
These writings began to appear in the second century, and they continued to emerge for several hundred years. One reason for their creation was the desire for further information about the life of Jesus and the apostles. So there are more apocryphal “Gospels” and “Acts” than there are epistles and apocalypses (books like Revelation). A second reason was the desire of some to foist their false teachings on the church with the alleged endorsement of Christ or the apostles.
One who has doubts about the New Testament canon should just read some of the New Testament Apocrypha. For example, the “Gospel of Thomas” 114 reads: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
In the “Acts of Paul,” Paul baptizes a lion, who later spares him from death in the amphitheater at Ephesus. The “Gospel of Judas” is a late and unhistorical production of a fringe Gnostic sect. It makes Judas a noble hero by claiming that he betrayed Jesus, not because he loved money, but because Jesus instructed Judas to do so.
The Transmission and Preservation of the New Testament
The “autographs” (the very documents that were penned by the inspired authors, Paul, Peter, John, Matthew, Luke, etc.) have not been preserved for us today. The autographs were written in Koine (“common”) Greek, the universal language of the Roman world in the first century. The earliest copies of these autographs are, therefore, in this original language.
Types of Greek manuscripts
The earliest New Testament manuscripts were written in papyrus sheets (plant material) or parchment (animal skin). Writing at that time was done all in capital letters with no punctuation or division between words (uncial). This form is sometimes responsible for confusion by Greek textual scholars today who need to determine where one word stops and the next begins.
By the 7th or 8th centuries, Greek manuscripts were put into small letters with punctuation, word, and paragraph divisions (miniscule). Miniscules are characterized by small letters, written in a cursive style.  This style of writing became popular in the ninth century.  Its advantage was that more words could fit into the same amount of space.
Reliability of Greek manuscripts
The New Testament was written AD 45-95. Some fragments of Greek texts exist that date back to AD 120 and AD 150. That’s only 35-100 years after the original autographs. In addition there are 4,000-5,000 New Testament Greek manuscripts (partial or complete) in existence. By comparing these many copies, scholars can identify and correct possible copying mistakes.
Textual Criticism: the science of restoring the original text from the copies.
So there are two factors confirming that the Greek texts, available to scholars today, are very accurate reflections of the original writing. 1) There are copies dated closely to the time of the original writing. 2) There are lots of copies.
The following chart compares the New Testament manuscript evidence with other Greek literature (considered accurate by historians) from the same era.
Manuscript               Date of Oldest Existing Manuscript       Number of Copies
Plato                      1,200 years later                                   7
Caesar                    900 years later                                    10
Herodotus               1,300 years later                                   8
Aristotle                  1,400 years later                                   5
New Testament        Only 35-100 years later                          4,000-5,000
Other Sources for the New Testament Text
Over 2,200 Lectionaries (Books used in worship that cite the Bible).
Ancient Versions – 9,000 manuscripts (largely due to the advance of the Roman religion that spread the Latin Vulgate throughout Europe). 
Church “Fathers” – ca. 36,000 citations. Scholars say that all but four verses of the entire New Testament text could be reconstructed from the citations of the early Church Fathers alone.
Sources / For Further Study:
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Fifth Edition (Eerdmans 1960).
Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Third Edition (Baker 2003).
Wayne Jackson, “The Holy Scriptures—Indestructible”
Larry Stone, The Story of the Bible: the Fascinating History of its Writing, Translation, and Effect on Civilization (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

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