Saturday, November 15, 2014

Problems with Full Preterism (or Hyper Preterism): Is the Bible a Book without a Final Chapter or Even a Back Cover?

Definition: Full preterism (or hyper-preterism) views the eschatological teaching of the NT to be completely fulfilled in the events of AD 70, at the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, even including the resurrection of the dead, and the return (Second Coming) of Christ. Full preterism is not to be confused with “partial preterism” which views some prophecies as already fulfilled in AD 70, while still nevertheless expecting a literal, personal return of Jesus Christ.

A. Theological Arguments against Full Preterism. 

1. It is neither historically orthodox, creedal, nor confessional. It is not expressed formally in any catholic creed or Reformed confession. In fact, it directly opposes them at many points (WCF 32, 33; Heid. 52, 57; Belg. 37). Thus, it is outside the pale of the vast unity and harmony of the Apostolic Christian Church (see the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed). It stands in contradistinction to the united and unanimous voice of all major Christian traditions and denominations which assert boldly that “He will come again to judge the quick and the dead.”

2.    It is not an historic belief system. Full preterism attempts to cover gaping holes in its suspect lineage by selectively quoting from such men as Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin, or patristic fathers, often in broken strains, in order to appear to have any semblance of historic lineage. Full preterist websites use these quotations liberally and profusely as though readers were not aware that these men’s eschatology is fully known and more clearly attested in many sources. See for example here. It does, however, share the inglorious distinction with the German Liberalism of the 1800's of denying any literal, personal return of Jesus. On the other hand,

3.    It is novel. Like its “cousin,” and theological opposite, dispensationalism, it is a curious novelty, untested by the ancient, historic, and orthodox generations spanning over 2,000 years. Theological novelties should be regarded as bearing an enormous burden of proof, as ancient boundary stones ought not be easily moved (cf. Prov. 22:28).

4.   Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an heretical cult, full preterism interprets the NT’s clear testimony that the Lord will return in an undeniable and visible way (cf. 1 Thess 4:15-16) instead as a mysterious event entirely unknown by the majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth at the time it was supposed to have happened. In this way, full preterists (along with the Jehovah's Witnesses) are the modern day alarmists of 2 Thessalonians 2:2, "saying that the day of the Lord has already come" (NIV). 

5.    Its strongest proponents and supporters are largely unknown men – obscurantists and fringe advocates – generally unfamiliar to most and lightly regarded in the circles of serious Reformed and evangelical theologians, pastors, and thinkers. By and large, full preterists are more closely associated with theonomy and other controversial teachings. 

6.    Full preterism is suburban, and therefore pastorally lame. Full preterism is mostly scholastic in its scope and approach; a position that could be more easily held by men resting comfortably in soft chairs in air-conditioned settings than the suffering. It would likely be viewed as absurd, untenable, opaque, and even shockingly bizarre by the millions of suffering and persecuted Christians throughout history, patiently waiting in hope of the Lord’s return to judge their persecutors and vindicate their suffering.

7.    It does not solve any problems associated with dispensationalism's hermeneutical system that amillennialism doesn’t adequately solve with equal – or even stronger – force.  

8.    It is not an eschatology of humility, in that it claims dogmatically to have the correct interpretation of all relevant prophecies.

B. Biblical Arguments against Full Preterism

1.    It dulls the force of the moral and ethical teaching of the NT associated with the parousia, since such ethical exhortations depend on the expectation of the Lord’s Return (1 Tim 6:13-16; Titus 2:12-13; Heb 10:25; James 5:7-9; 2 Peter 3:17).

2.    It must assume Revelation was written prior to 70 AD since the book ends with a plea for Christ’s return (22:20), a dating position held by few scholars. Most hold to a date in the 90's during the reign of Domitian. 

3.    In attempt to read just a few words and phrases literally (i.e. “soon,” “this generation”) full preterism must necessarily spiritualize, read figuratively - or even completely secularize - dozens and dozens of phrases and terms such as epiphania (“appearing,” Titus 2:12-13; 2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; Titus 2:13), “will appear” (Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2) “every eye” (Rev. 1:7), “in the same way” (Acts 1:11); parousia (a great arrival with much pomp, i.e. of a king; Matt 24:3, 37, 39; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1-9; 2 Peter 3:4); and apocalypsis (unveiling; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13, 4:13). In doing so, full preterism does great damage to the majority of eschatological texts.

4.    It reduces the force of texts that exhort us to wait patiently, long for the Lord's coming, and desire His return etc. (1 Cor 16:22; 1 Thess 4:18; Phil 3:20) making these texts irrelevant to nearly 2000 years of Bible readers.  

5.    It makes all language of “the resurrection of the dead” either spiritualized – or ironically – entirely secularized.

6.    It must necessarily assume the Great Commission has been fulfilled (Mark 13:10; Matt. 24:14) reducing our passion for missions and evangelism. (Note: It is not surprising, then, that full-preterism has NOT been held by many [if any] notable missionaries or evangelists throughout Church history).

7.    If true, the Bible offers no balm to relieve the suffering of those who look to the Return of Christ as their hope in a world of persecution and danger (2 Thess 1:6-7). The entire book of Revelation is rendered absurd.

8.    It provides no Biblical answer to the question “What is next?” or “How does history wrap up?” (See Gary Demar, End Times Madness, in which the author says nothing to explain what happens "next," but merely spends chapter after chapter refuting dispensationalism). Thus, the entirety of Scripture reads to full preterists as a book without a final chapter or even a back cover for that matter. 

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Cambridge NASB and NKJV Hardcover Wide Margin Editions

Anytime a package marked "Cambridge" with a Bible in it shows up at your door, it's a good day.

When a package that contains two Cambridge Bibles shows up, it must be your birthday. Or Christmas. Or your birthday is Christmas.
Cambridge Wide Margin Hardcover Editions

Such was my fortune when two new Bibles arrived ready for review, namely the Cambridge NASB and Cambridge NKJV Wide Margin Editions in Hardcover (forest green and navy blue respectively).

Since I have written on the historical value of owning a Cambridge Bible over at my part-time blogging home - the trustworthy and helpful Bible Buying Guide page - I am going to jump right into the reviews of these two gorgeous wide margin editions after stating just one humble opinion: you really need to get a wide margin especially if you are a ministry leader, regular Bible teacher, pastor or elder. 

Even if you aren't in active ministry, but you just enjoy interacting on a deeply personal level with Scripture, these editions are a must. (My friend Randy Brown has an e-book on this topic that might be worth the mere six-pence he charges for it as an introduction to the study value of such editions).

Let's get straight to the facts:
NASB in Forest Green & NKJV in Navy Blue

  • Publisher: Cambridge
  • Printing: Netherlands
  • Translation: NASB and NKJV
  • Binding: Sewn
  • Cover: Green Hardcover (NASB) Blue Hardcover (NKJV)
  • Columns: Double
  • Text: Red Letter
  • Font: 7.9
  • References: Center Column
  • Study Notes: None
  • Size: 9.4 X 7.5 X 1.5
  • Yapp: N/A
  • Ribbons: One red (NASB); one blue (NKJV)
  • Gilt edges: N/A
  • Liner: card stock/paper
  • Head and tail bands: red and greed (NASB); blue and yellow (NKJV)
  • Features: Presentation page, wide margins on all four sides, concordance, index to personal notes (A-Z), 34 blank lined paper for personal notes and outlines, index to maps, color maps. 
  • Cost: $50 to $60 depending on retailer
Appearance
These two Bibles come bound in some very handsome hardcover editions. Actually, some of the best hardcovers I have ever seen. They are classy and refined in appearance, like something that Professor Kirke would have pulled off his shelf in Lewis' Narnia classics. With their white page edges (no gilt on these editions) they have a very refined "educational" feel to them.
Cambridge Wide Margin Hardcover Editions

You may feel that you are actually studying at Cambridge while carrying one of these around town!

I was actually expecting their covers to be gray. I must have read that online somewhere and assumed they came in gray only. How delighted I was when I saw that they came in the colors they did! The NASB comes in a dark, rich forest green and the NKJV in a stately navy blue. In appearance and looks, these editions exceeded my expectations. One minor quibble: I would have left the translation trademark/graphic off the cover. The spine is good enough for those labels. The goatskin editions have Holy Bible only. I prefer that.

By all appearances, these gems look like they are built tough, for the long haul. These editions are built strong like tanks: beautiful, peaceful, erudite tanks. Of course, that's why Cambridge made them. Wide margin editions are designed for a lifetime of close interaction. Underlining. Jotting. Sketching. Outlining. If you buy a wide margin edition, you should prepare to use them consistently and for many years to come. Their value will increase the more you interact and engage with them. 

In sum: a hardback is the perfect edition for desk top reference and durable tote-bag mobility. Their sewn bindings mean they are gentle and compliant when open. No bear traps here.
Cambridge Wide Margins: The 38 GSM Paper is Luxurious

Paper
Let's pull back the covers on these treasures-of-the-shelf and snoop around inside. First, the paper is the best I've ever seen. Really. I love it. 

An opinion poll on a closed group Facebook "super-nerd Bible collector" page I belong to recently ranked Wide Margin editions by Cambridge as securely in the top tier of Bible papers currently in publication. So I'm not the only aficionado that thinks the paper here is top drawer. 

Honestly, I used to think that the undisputed title went to the Crossway ESV Legacy. But now these Cambridge Bibles have the championship belt on their waist instead. First, the Legacy has moved from it's 36 GSM paper down to a mere 27 GSM for it's new heirloom edition. A mistake in my opinion. So technically, the Legacy vacated its title. But secondly and more importantly for our purposes in this article, these wide margins from Cambridge have an incredibly rich and luxurious 38 GSM paper, the smoothest and thickest I have enjoyed in a Bible in recent months.


For reference, GSM stands for grams per square meter. It measures the thickness of the paper, but not always in perfect correspondence to its opacity. So it's one factor, but not the exclusive factor in evaluating Bible paper. If you have an ESV Study Bible, a very popular model, it has 30 GSM paper which I personally hold as the threshold of excellence. But 38 in these editions is just plain extravagant! Well done Cambridge. 

Let's get one thing straight: Bibles have Bible paper, it's always thin. Nobody wants to carry around a cinder block. Noobies and Rookie reviewers seem to always complain about thin paper, but I doubt even the neophyte would have much to lament in these editions. The just-off-white paper was designed for writing and note-taking and so ghosting and bleed through are minimal in these editions. The paper feels durable and holds up well to finger and palm sweat (I preach with an ESV Cambridge Wide Margin in black goatskin, so I've gotten hand moisture on it and it is none the worse for wear).

A Digression on Note-Taking
I have to add one qualifier. Bleed through is minimal if you use the right writing instruments. Any paper is going to bleed through if you use the wrong stick or the wrong color. Personally, I like the Pigma Micron pens, which are now pretty much recognized as the creme de la creme of writing instruments on the various Bible review blogs. But let me add one thing more: get the brown instead of the black. Its show-through is even less notable. I recommend a nib (tip width) of 01. I think 005 is too thin and 03 is too fat. 

...Back to the Wide Margin...

The wide margin editions are so called because they have reserve approximately an inch or more around the text in all four directions for writing. Actually the outer edge has even more (1.5"), the inner margin just about an inch. Both top (0.75) and bottom (1.25) also contain room for writing and notes.
34 pages of lined, clean paper are included for outlines etc.

I recommend textual and theological notes in the side margins and using the bottom margin for sermon illustrations which you can index in the back pages provided. As an example of how you may use these margins, I created my own reference system using symbols and numbers next to the text. (For instance, a star or hashtag indicates an illustration note below). Then I write a corresponding sermon illustration or life application in the margin below.

For instance in Romans 3:10-18, I might add a star next to the text, and then write "Golding's book Lord of the Flies" to remind me that this particular book serves as a good illustration for human depravity and sin. In the back of the Bible, I might use the A-Z index Cambridge added as a special feature and write "Sin: Golding's Lord of the Flies" in case I want to remember that illustration for future preaching or teaching.
A Cambridge Wide Margin put to use. This one is goatskin.


Font and Layout
The font on these Cambridge editions is just about 8 point. That is fairly average for Bible text and layout, although on the smaller side of average. I recently did a chart comparing Crossway's ESV editions and found that 8 point is near the bottom middle of their standard formats. Smaller fonts (6-7) are usually used in hand-sized Bibles and should be purchased with caution. Many cannot use them with aging or far-sighted eyes. Larger fonts (10-12) can be considered large print, but often have the drawback of being bigger and bulkier text blocks.

Either 8 or 9 point font is about standard for double column editions. I will admit that the line-spacing is pretty close with these Cambridge editions, so choose wisely. My eyes have no problem with that though. Cambridge's near perfect line-matching on both sides of the paper makes ghosting a non-issue with this thicker paper too. 

Just for the sake of information, the Cambridge Wide Margins are laid out exactly as their corresponding Pitt Minion "little brother" hand-sized series. So Isaiah 53 in the NASB Wide Margin is laid out exactly in the same place and page on both editions, with the difference being font size and margin space. I love this tag-team effect for my Cambridge ESV Pitt Minion and Cambridge ESV Wide Margin duo which are part of my preaching/teaching starting lineup.

Concluding Thoughts on the Hardcover Editions
In summary, these are once again can't-miss editions put forth by Cambridge. The hardcovers are going to last a lifetime and the sewn bindings make them lay flat immediately, so no annoying problem with the Bible trying to snap shut like a Venus flytrap. Although the font is safely on the middle ground of print sizes, it does look slightly smaller with lesser line spacing than other double columns on the market. I personally use one easily enough for preaching and teaching, but my eyes are quite sharp up close and my pulpit is well lit. The center column references are excellent and useful.
Cambridge Hardcovers and Goatskin (top) 

Cambridge has once again outdone themselves with these editions, and they rank as some of the most affordable Cambridge Bibles on the market.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a Bible lover and owner of many versions, editions, and translations, and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando currently writing his dissertation on Jonathan Edwards' theology of joy. 



Friday, October 31, 2014

The Bible that's Changing the World (Without a Leather Cover!)

We like Bibles. Especially well-made Bibles!

In fact, we love them.

We smell the leather, and analyze the paper. Here at the Bible Buying Guide, Bible editions score high marks with us by featuring real leather covers (goat, sheep, cow - just not bonded!) sewn bindings (stitching not glue!) and modern features such as high quality paper and line-matching.

We buy, collect, and trade. It's our hobby and passion.

And so it was a great reminder for me when I attended the local Gideon International chapter's recent Pastors' Appreciation dinner last week.  Together, we celebrated one of the Bibles that God is using to change the world: the small, 4.75" X 3" pocket New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. Let's go ahead and do a quick review, and then I'll tell you why God is using it all over the world.


-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Formation of the NT Canon

Last week we laid some essential groundwork for our discussion on the canonicity of the Christian Scriptures. We detailed the process by which the Hebrew Scriptures became canonized, an authoritative rule for faith and life, as the Christian Old Testament. The canon of the Christian Scriptures was a needed distinction given the misappropriation of other possible texts that for some borders on authoritative. The same process of the reception of God’s word took place with the advent of Jesus Christ and the ensuing written accounts of the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. These accounts witnessed to the Gospel, but were they to be rendered as Scripture for the Christian?

The Need For New Scripture

By the end of Malachi the OT canon is closed. Nothing is to be added to it. But with the coming of Christ there is a warrant for further Scripture for the Christian faith. Why? The word of God, as He made it known through various forms, was recorded as the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent Christian OT. The very word of God is contained therein. With the coming of Christ, God speaks once again, a new and further revelation that builds upon the OT Scripture.

The apostles, direct witnesses, and those close to them believed Jesus was God. Subsequently they knew that His life and implications for the lives of mankind needed not just to be shared orally with each other, but written down. Therefore it is necessary to record again the divine words of God Himself spoken through Jesus revealing the good news of our salvation and the call on our lives to serve Him as Lord. The words of Jesus for the Christians were “treasured and quoted, taking their place beside the Old Testament and being held as of equal or superior authority to it.”[1] We see the apostle Paul give example to this elevation of Christ’s words as Scripture, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). Paul refers to a quotation from the OT in Deuteronomy 25:4 and goes on to quote Jesus from Luke 10:7 as Scripture!

Paul shows us that Jesus’ words were considered on equal authority with the OT Scriptures and therefore warranted recording as God’s holy word. This revelation from Christ was in line with the revelation of God in the OT, but it was nonetheless new, “So when the promised Messiah came, a new and generous outpouring of divine revelation necessarily ensued.”[2] Where rabbis previously expounded upon the Hebrew Scriptures, Christians now preached upon a new divine word from God,

“…which now has been manifested through the appearance of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Timothy 1:10-11).

Thus we see with the coming of Christ a warrant, more than that, a need for recording His words and those of His immediate companions to reveal to us the very nature of God and subsequent gift of grace to mankind through the cross. It was worthy of being recorded because it was inspired by God to be received as Scripture, as canon. But how did 27 different documents, that we now call the New Testament canon, come to be considered as canon for the Christian Church? It happened over centuries as the Church recognized and received certain texts as the inspired word of God.

Criteria For Reception of New Testament Scripture

The process for distinguishing certain documents as Scripture for the NT was different than that used for the reception of the OT. The criteria for accepting the OT as canon for the Christian had to do largely in part with what constituted the Hebrew Scriptures to which Jesus referred to as “Scripture.” But there was not a litmus test to be applied to OT texts because the Hebrew Scriptures had already been inspired and recorded long before the formation of the Christian Church.

But now with the rise of new Scriptures for the Christian New Testament (though the authors did not see themselves writing Scripture in the sense that they viewed the OT as Scripture) there was a need for some method by which to approve the genuineness of God’s inspired documents recording the good news of the Gospel. Traditionally there are three such criteria that have been applied to texts considering their reception into the NT.

However it must be said that these criteria for the Church did not enable them to declare Scripture to be Scripture on their own authority, but instead received it under the inherent internal authority of the text itself that was undeniably inspired. John Calvin gives us a further glimpse into this reality of reception:

“When the church receives it, and gives the stamp of her authority, she does not make that authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted, but acknowledging it as the truth of God, she as in duty bound, shows her reverence by an unhesitating assent…Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste.”[3]

Instead then the role of the church was primarily one of reception, seeking out at every point the authenticity of the documents as the inspired word of God versus the fallible word of man. So too the role of the Apostles played a major part in the reception of documents as Scripture,  “the church saw itself empowered only to receive and recognize what God had provided in books handed down from the apostles and their immediate companions.”[4] This speaks directly to the first criteria that arose for the Church’s reception of NT documents as inspired, the apostolicity of the text.

1) APOSTOLICITY

One of the primary criteria used to recognized which texts were inspired canon is the identity of the author. The early church gave great value to the authors who had seen the incredible reality of the risen Jesus Christ with their own eyes, those who were “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16b). But more than simply being eyewitnesses, these Apostles “were the duly authenticated messengers of Christ, of whom He said, ‘He that heareth you, heareth me.’”[5] Therefore Christ’s Apostles, lit. “sent out ones,” were tasked to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they were the heralds and messengers of God’s grace to the world.

This eyewitness account and charge to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ gave incredible authority to the Apostles because of whom they represented, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18b, 19a, 20a). The basis then for this new revelation of God in Jesus relied upon Christ’s apostles and the power of the Spirit within them to record God’s inspired word. Therefore, “since Jesus himself left nothing in writing, the most authoritative writings available to the church were those which came from his apostles.”[6]

The first criteria for canonicity of the NT books was the apostolic nature of the author recording this new revelation. The early church in the process of receiving those texts which were to be NT canon acknowledged “those books, and those only which [could] be proved to have been written by the Apostles, or to have received their sanction.”[7] Or in other words “if the Christians believed that a book was written by an apostle, they received it, without further argument, as canon.”[8] Over time then the words of the Apostles, inspired by God, “came to written form in the books of the New Testament.”[9]

However, some texts received as canon were not written by Apostles. Instead the apostolic criteria included those who would have been “from the apostolic circle, to have somehow been certified by the apostles.”[10] For example we know that the authors of Mark, Luke-Acts, Hebrews, James, and Jude were not apostles, but instead had close ties to Apostles and shared so vitally with them in the mission of the Gospel that their words became an inspired witness, or in other words “The principle of canonicity was not apostolic authorship, but imposition by the apostles as ‘law.’”[11] The recognition of what the Apostles believed to be true bore incredible weight on the early church documents as they witnessed to the reality of Christ. Thus apostolicity was a foundational criteria for assessing which texts were to be considered as inspired canon for the New Testament.

2) CATHOLICITY

The second criteria for recognizing a document as canon was that of catholicity, or universal reception. If a letter had been received and acknowledged by the church universal then there would be general consensus as to its authorship and authority as truthfully witnessing to the Gospel. This criteria would be as close as we would come to a committee gathering and voting unanimously for its approval. We don’t have a formative event like this for the NT documents, but we do have the important witness and consensus of churches all over the Mediterranean receiving certain books and rejecting others as they witnessed to the inspired content of the Gospel truth.

It’s one thing if a letter is received as an authoritative witness to a specific church and another thing entirely if it is universally received. Or in other words, “A work which enjoyed only local recognition was not likely to be acknowledged as part of the canon of the catholic church. On the other hand, a work which was acknowledged by the greater part of the catholic church would probably receive universal recognition sooner or later.”[12]

For example the apostle Peter speaks of certain letters that his audience to whom he writes should know,

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

We see already from Peter that Paul’s letters would be generally known and recognized to his audience, implying already within our Scriptures a general recognition of Paul’s writings as Scripture. Thus the catholicity, or universal acceptance, of a letter was a key criterion for reception into the NT canon.

3) CONFORMITY

The third criteria for recognizing the books of the NT canon had to do with conformity to the common rule of faith, also known as ‘orthodoxy.’ Fundamental to this criteria was the understanding that there was a common theology of the Gospel that must be considered consistent in its parts to be true. Texts in this category were weighed to see if they conformed to the common theology of the Gospel and texts already accepted, or to see if they conflicted with the common theology thereby proving its nature as an uninspired document. But even this criteria is vitally connected to the first of apostolicity, because by the document’s conformity to a common theology they meant conformity to the theology of the “apostolic faith—the faith set forth in the undoubted apostolic writings and maintained in the churches which had been founded by the apostles.”[13]

Paul refers to this idea of conformity and orthodoxy when he says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). So too would texts that did not conform to the Gospel as witnessed by the Apostles be considered outside the canon of the NT.

There were many texts that claimed to meet other criteria that failed in this category. For example one such document was named The Gospel of Peter. But contained within it was a teaching that did not conform to the message of the Apostles, it was unorthodox. So when a bishop named Serapion “discovered that its account of the Lord’s death was tinged with Docetism (it implies that he did not really suffer), then he decided that he ought to pay the church of Rhossus a pastoral visit to make sure that it had not been led astray by this heterodox teaching.”[14] Conformity was an important criteria for assessing a document’s authenticity with regards to being the true inspired word of God.

Even later in church history, after certain books had been accepted for centuries, some doubted their canonicity. In the 16th C. Martin Luther “questioned the canonicity of The Epistle of James because he thought it did not set forth a clear doctrine of justification by faith alone.”[15] Or in other words he questioned James because he did not believe it was orthodox. Therefore last of the generally accepted criteria for canonicity was the content of the documents conformity to the orthodox teaching of the apostles.

Criteria for receiving documents is one path to explore how the NT came to be canonized, but another path is the actual historical process by which the 27 books of the NT were received as Scripture using these three criteria. We must now turn our attention to the reception of the NT books in the history of the early church.

The Formation of the NT Canon

The early church in the 2nd C. A.D. generally accepted the criteria we have just looked at as a basis for canonicity.[16] But the process was not immediate of recognizing the NT canon, it was received over time as the church recognized it as the inspired word of God. A few witnesses in the history of the early church are important as we explore the canonization process of the NT.

2ND CENTURY A.D.

All canonized books of the New Testament were written in the first century but it took time for them to be recognized and received. In the 2nd Century A.D. we get a glimpse of the beginning of the canonization process. The earliest list of accepted books, known as the Muratorian canon, included 24 books that were considered authoritative for the Roman church, though it included many books that did not end up in the NT canon. This gives us a glimpse only 100 years or so after the first century documents were written as to the initial process of their reception as canon.

By the end of the 2nd Century A.D. a core “collection of New Testament books—twenty-one of the twenty-seven—was generally recognized.”[17] The books most readily accepted were that of the four Gospels, Acts, thirteen epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation. Those books which the church regarded as apostolic, catholic, and conformed to the apostolic teaching were beginning to be received as canon. It wasn’t long until all 27 books were recognized.

ORIGEN

By the 240s A.D. we see an incredible recognition of all 27 books of the New Testament by Origen, one of the Greek Fathers. Origen is the first in church history to acknowledge all twenty-seven books of the New Testament. However in the process Origen draws up lines between the universally acknowledged, or undisputed books of the NT, twenty-one in number, and those that were in dispute, six in number, namely Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude.[18] Therefore from Origen we get an incredible insight into the continuing process of the church’s reception of the particular inspired books of the NT, that the church accepted some without reservation while having reservation about others. A century later arguably the greatest event occurs for the history of the NT canon.

ATHANASIUS AND JEROME

The great bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, would write a yearly Easter letter to the churches for the encouragement of their faith. In his Easter letter of A.D. 367, Athanasius listed 27 books he considered to be the New Testament scriptures for the Christian church encouraging them of their canonicity.[19] He listed with no reservations, no distinction between undisputed and disputed, all 27 NT books that we have in our canon today. He is the first to do so. We have no witness of any clamor either, for “from that time on, Christians of all traditions—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant—agreed on the NT canon.”[20]

What followed Athanasius’ decree were three synods held in Africa. At “Hippo Regius in AD 393 and at Carthage in 397 and 419”[21] the 27 books were agreed upon as authoritative canon for the Christian New Testament. The canonization process was complete when the Latin Father Jerome enshrined the 27 books of the NT into his Latin Bible, the Vulgate, alongside the OT books. Thus by the end of the 4th C. A.D. with Jerome’s work we have the completion of the canon of the Christian church, Old and New Testament together.

The New Testament Today: Closed

But since the initial reception of the NT canon, many other apocryphal documents (not to be confused with the OT Apocrypha) have emerged such as the infancy narratives of Jesus, other Gospels—such as the one attributed to Thomas, as well as a whole host of gnostic texts. Should these be added to the canon of the NT?

If our NT canon was still open, which virtually no Protestant holds, then there might be warrant for searching the validity of these texts. But certain problems arise with our aforementioned criteria. If these texts were inspired why were they not generally recognized by the early church as the rule of faith and practice for their lives? More than that these texts all include theological discrepancies with the 27 books received as canon. Certain scholars are divided, but as to the apostolic nature of the authors of these texts there is no doubt that they were removed from the apostolic circle.

So we declare emphatically that the NT canon is closed, even if a text were to arise that met the criteria, because it has not been inspired and so orchestrated by God to be received into the NT canon. Furthermore we have the great declaration of the close of the canon from the Apostle John in Revelation 22:18-19,

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

Thus with the close of the NT canon we have the close of the entire corpus of Christian Scripture. Both the OT and NT are the divine word of God received and declared to be canon, the authoritative word of God for every person.



[1] Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 310.
[2] Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al. (Wheaton: Crossway 2012), 81.
[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, Ford Lewis Battles trans. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.7.2.
[4] Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al., 83-84.
[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 153.
[6] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1988), 256.
[7] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 153.
[8] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010), 137.
[9] Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al., 82-83.
[10] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 137.
[11] Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration, ed. Ethelbert D. Warfield et al. (New York: Oxford University, 1932), p. 455.
[12] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 261.
[13] Ibid., 260.
[14]  Ibid., 260-261.
[15] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, footnote 4 on 137.
[16] Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 318.
[17] Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al., 84-85.
[18] Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al., 86; F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 192.
[19] See Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 316; Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al., 86; F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 209.
[20] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 136.
[21] Understanding Scripture, ed. Wayne Grudem et al., 86-87.