The Formation of the New Testament Canon No. 5
D.—Introduction to Individual Books
(In Chronological Order of Writing)
[Pauline Epistles.—Fourteen of the twenty-seven books written by Paul, counting Hebrews. General relation of these letters to each other well established, though unanimity lacking among scholars as to precise dating in all cases. Clearly divided into four groups: (1) 1 and 2 Thessalonians (c. 52, 53), on second advent, and written during second missionary journey; (2)
1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (c. 57, 58), during third missionary journey, on Judaizing heresy that sought to fasten ceremonialism and legalism on Christianity; (3) Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians (c. 61-63), during first Roman imprisonment, on person of Christ as opposed to Gnostic heresy, which degraded Jesus and His true place in the Godhead; (4) 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy (67, 68) during Paul's last journey, and 2 Timothy during second Roman imprisonment, on practical problems of church order, doctrine, and life. Leading Epistles formed nucleus of New Testament, constituting background as it were, as will be seen from chart.
Their usual order in the canon originally based on length, and supposed importance—those to churches placed first, and afterward those to individuals. Composition ranges over a period of sixteen years. Impossible to certify date of some, due to incomplete account in Acts. Pauline Epistles universally acknowledged until comparatively recent period of rational criticism. Even early heretical sectsEbionites, Encratites, Severians---never questioned genuineness. Rationalists have rested on subjective rather than historical considerations. Ten Pauline books listed in gnostic Marcion's first catalogue (130), thirteen in Muratorian Canon (170), all—including Hebrews—in Peshito-Syrian (c. 160), and Old Latin (c. 170). Only Philemon omitted—because of minor importance—from full list by Irennus, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian. Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius list all thirteen (aside from Hebrews). The canons of the Councils of Laodicea (363), Hippo (393), and Carthage (397), likewise.]
1 Thessalonians.* 52 A. D., from Corinth (Acts 18:5-11). Paul's first epistle, written some eighteen years after his conversion. Dispatched to Thessalonica in midst of second missionary tour (51-54), shortly after leaving this free city of two hundred thousand, governed by seven politarchs under a prefect. Location central and commanding. Near Mt. Olympus, fabled home of the gods. One of the busiest ports on iEgean, on military highway between east and west, constantly traversed by Roman officers of state. Capital of Macedonia. Rebuilt by Cassander, who named it in honor of his wife, Thessalonice, half sister of Alexander the Great. Inhabitants chiefly Greeks, with mixture of Romans, and large colony of Jews, Church planted by Paul, after memorable visit and expulsion from Philippi. Chiefly Gentile, and strongly missionary. Acts 17. Paul compelled to leave because of disturbances incited by Jews. Filled with anxiety for them, he sent Timothy from Athens to inquire after them. 1 Thess. 1:1; 2:17ff; 3:1-6.
Epistle written because word brought by Silas and Timothy showed Paul's position on second advent misunderstood, and to confirm new converts in foundational gospel truths already taught them. Paul doubtless dictated letters to scribe who took down words on wax tablets, and then copied them on rolls of papyrus, to be sent by messengers. Very general agreement as to date.
(Authenticity or genuineness established by unbroken line of witnesses, back to Ignatius, c. 115 A. D. Attested by Irennus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Found in Marcion's catalogue (130), Muratorian Canon (170), Syrian (160), and Old Latin (170). Challenged only by destructive critics of past century.)
II Thessalonians. 52 or 53 A. D., from Corinth. To clarify meaning of "sudden," in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Followed but few months after first epistle, Silas and Timothy still being with Paul on second tour. Acts 17:1-9; 18:1-11. Probably occasioned by return from Thessalonica of bearer of first epistle. Written to further correct misunderstanding and misapplication of Paul's words concerning imminence of second advent. Discloses great intervening events, especially reign of antichrist. Strongly prophetic. The "man of sin" the great climax of the warning. Warns against forged epistles, showing how they can identify genuine letters. Italic note at close an evident mistake,—an addition based on Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 3:1. Sojourn at Athens a past event. Joined by Silas and Timothy at Corinth.
(Unbroken line of witnesses authenticate it, not a single voice in early church opposing. Challenged by modern critics more than first epistle.)
1 Corinthians. C. 57 A. D., from Ephesus. Written on third missionary tour, on eve of second visit to church he founded. Acts 18. Before Pentecost, and so in spring. 1 Cor. 16:8. Had been in Ephesus nearly three years (Acts 20:31) ; hence letter probably written in 57 A. D. Corinth, capital of Achaia, called "the eye of Greece," and practically its capital. Inhabitants mixed, though chiefly Greek. On isthmus forming highway between Asia and Italy. Great commercial center of over half a million, notorious for vice, and famed for learning and philosophy. Military point of importance. Inhabitants great lovers of disputation. Two thirds of population slaves; rest living in riotous luxury.
Guardian goddess of city symbolized lust, in whose temple three thousand priestesses lived in impurity. Licentious dances at public festivals. Venus and Astarte worship based on sensualism. Explains corruption of Corinthian church, and vehemence of apostle's rebuke. Apollos had gone from Ephesus to Corinth. Serious division arose over priority of Apollos, Paul, or Christ. Divided by party spirit. Letter deals with grave factions, moral laxity, lawsuits, conduct of women, festivity, Lord's supper, denial of resurrection, celibacy, idol meats, spiritual gifts, and collections. Titus may have been bearer.
(Genuineness conclusively established. Almost universally admitted. Unbroken line of witnesses—Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Poly-carp, Justin Martyr, Irenus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian.)
II Corinthians. 57 A. D., from Macedonia, possibly Philippi. Written a few months after leaving Ephesus, and proceeding to Troas, still on third tour. Acts 19:21, 22; 20:1; 2 Cor. 2:12f; 7:6, 13f. Had received report from Titus, indicating church susceptible to spiritual guidance. Designed to correct and deepen impressions of first letter. Titus apparently bearer. 2 Cor. 8:6, 12, 23f. Reveals personal character of Paul_ Least doctrinal--of all PatrPs epistles. Hortatory, explanatory, and apologetic. Had suffered extreme anxiety caused by situation at Corinth. Some Corinthians won to views so ably advocated, but minority became stubborn and outspoken against Paul. These were Judaizers who constantly opposed him. Urges claims upon those resisting his apostolic authority.
(Even radical critics concede Pauline authorship.)
Galatians. C. 57 A. D., from Corinth, on the basis of South Galatian theory,—certainty of year not being possible. Some would date before Corinthian letters, and have it written from Antioch or Ephesus. Difference, however, varies only four years, or between 54 and 58
Acts. In Acts, "Galatia" not used to denote whole province, but the district inhabited by Galatians—principally Pisidian Antioch, Derbe, and Lystra. Epistle singularly lacking in positive data for time and place, so subjective considerations must decide.
Only letter addressed to group of churches. Paul had visited province on first and second missionary tours, three years apart, Acts 13: 14f; 16:1-5. Inhabitants largely descendants of Gauls. Greek the language chiefly spoken. Fickleness their striking characteristic. Soon converted, they soon relapsed. Impulsive, they easily responded to the apostle, and as easily to false teachers. Judaizers had come after Paul's visit, perverting converts and undercutting his character and labors. Paul declares someone had bewitched them. 3:1. Views they accepted had been repudiated by Jerusalem Council, which declared freedom of Gentiles (Acts 15:28, 29), but made no direct reference to Jewish Christians. Brands such Judaizers and proponents of circumcision as heretics, seeking to enslave them again. 1:6-9.
Bugle call for freedom from Jewish ceremonialism and legalism. 5:1-6. Strongly controversial, as there was systematic opposition to teachings of Paul. Necessary to assert and demonstrate his apostolic authority. Galatians epitomized his whole message, and the universality of the gospel. Defends grace as against legalism. Law cannot disannul a salvation that rests upon antedating covenant. Shows converted will keep moral law. Later, Judaism and Paulinism pushed to extremes. The Nazarenes, observing the Jewish law, not favorable to imposing it on Gentiles, while the Ebionites held it likewise binding on Gentiles. On the other hand, the Marcionites carried Paulinism to excess, rejecting all New Testament, save mutilated Gospel of Luke and ten epistles of Paul. Both extremes repudiated by Christian church, and both disappeared. Luther used Galatians with tremendous force during Reformation. Through it his own deliverance was effected, and it enabled him to strike off fetters that had bound the church of the Middle Ages.
(Not slightest doubt as to authenticity and genuineness. Usual echoes and direct quotations in early Fathers, apologists, canons, and versions.)
Romans. Probably spring of 58 A. D., from Corinth, where Paul spent three months. Acts 20:2f. Tertius the scribe to whom Paul dictated epistle. 16:22. The sixth in chronological order. Phebe probably bearer. As Paul goes out in ever-widening circles of missionary journey, sets his face toward Spain. 15:24. Hopes to see Christians at Rome en route (15:28) ; meanwhile writes before he comes. 15:15. Still on third tour. Rome the center and mistress of world, where Nero reigns. Home of poets, philosophers, orators, artists. Thirty thousand Jews reside there, though church mainly Gentile, with difficulties among members. Has apprehensions about what may befall him at Jerusalem. Epistle has form of treatise. More exhaustive in discussion of doctrine than usual with Paul.
Wrote to give true concept of gospel, lest it be construed as a new law, just as at Corinth it was misunderstood to be a new philosophy. Promises to Israel reconciled with promises to Gentiles. Salvation by faith presented as opposed to works, a redemption as broad as the need. Profoundest book ever written, reducing Christian faith to a system. All New Testament truth culminates here.
Roman Catholic tradition contends that Peter founded church at Rome, and was its bishop for twenty-five years. This without historical basis, and contrary to fact. Origin of church not known; but not planted by Peter, and existed before Paul's first visit. God foreknew later arrogant pretensions of Church of Rome, with its blasphemous assumptions, and founded church at Rome through unknown men. In this epistle, though salutations are many, none mention Peter. In Paul's four prison epistles, written from Rome, there is no allusion to Peter. Church chiefly Gentile (1:3; 11:13; 15:15, 16), some of whom may have already been converts to Judaism (4:1, 12; 7:1). Early Roman church not Latin, but Greek. So-called Roman "Fathers"—Clement of Rome, Hermas, Justin Martyr—wrote in Greek. Christian "Apologies" to Roman emperors written in Greek, which was spoken in Rome as much as Latin. Not until close of second century did a Latin version and literature arise, chiefly for benefit of churches in Northern Africa.
(One of the best attested books of canon. Although authenticity undisputed, critics have persistently attacked last two chapters. But these are in all principal manuscripts and codices, including Sinaitic, Vatican, Ephrami, Claromontanus, Syriac, and Vulgate.)
[Foul Gospels.—The four were written by two apostles, and two companions of apostles. The gospel had been propagated orally by thousands of witnesses in many sections before any of the four put it into written form. Written Gospels therefore not cause but effect of apostolic witness; that is, are the authentic, inspired,—and therefore authoritative,—records of the life, teachings, and works of Jesus. Three immediate classes to be met—Jews, Romans, and Greeks—as well as all humanity. Each Gospel has a specific object, and presents selected portions of Saviour's life; but all set forth same Being—both Son of man and Son of God. Three Synoptics written approximately thirty years after cross, while John's Gospel not for another thirty years. Most wonderful of all books for simplicity, beauty, and power. If Jesus did not say and do the things narrated, writers greater geniuses than Shakespeare. Bear indisputable stamp of truthfulness and historical accuracy. Existence of the four witnessed by Papias (120), Justin Martyr (150), Tatian's Diatessaron, or Harmony of the Gospels (160), the Muratorian, Old Latin, and Syriac canons (c. 170), Irenmus (180), Clement of Alexandria (190), and Tertullian (200).1
Mark. Probably just before 60 A. D., and perhaps from Rome. Mark, nephew of Barnabas. Col. 4:10. Scholars not united on precise dates of Synoptics, which term means, "having a common view." Have common plan and agreement, though each wrote independently, following special purpose and not influenced by others. Facts in life of Christ had acquired fresh importance through controversy between Jew and Gentile. Mark written before Peter's death (so declares Clement of Alexandria, as quoted by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. VI, 14), and of course before destruction of Jerusalem. Briefest and simplest, and believed oldest. So declared by early Christian writers. Deals chiefly with Galilean ministry, and events connected with Christ's death and last week of life. Has no introduction. No information about birth and infancy of Jesus. Not generally chronological. Characterized by force and action—deeds instead of words. Style abrupt. Stresses Christ's human side. World of the day was Roman, so written especially for Gentile Romans, whose ideal was power, with little interest in Jewish prophecy. Presence of purely Latin words, defining Jordan to be a river, and explaining word "corban" to mean gift, show group for whom designed. Stresses conquest over nature, disease, and death. Only twenty-three verses distinct from Matthew and Luke. Christ's work pictured in miracles rather than parables, only four being noted; in events instead of discourses. Synoptics stress what Jesus said, and did in Galilee, while John deals more with Jerusalem and Judea. Papias (130 A. D.) declares Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, who unquestionably had some connection with writing. Justin Martyr refers to it as Memoirs of Peter. Peter's speech in Acts 10:38 an approximate outline. All incidents in which Peter is praised significantly omitted; those in which blamed, retained.
(At least ten writers in second century are witnessess to authenticity.)
Matthew. C. 60 A. D., but after Mark, and probably from Palestine. Matthew represented most despised class of public men,—Jewish tax collectors for hated Romans. Arrangement topical rather than chronological. Various subjects treated in groups, as miracles, parables, discourses, etc. Marshaling of facts to prove to Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah of Old Testament, sent to lost sheep of Israel. Atmosphere distinctly Jewish. Traces genealogy to Abraham, hence numerous quotations from Old Testament, and their impressive fulfillment in Jesus. Stresses the kingdom, and Jesus as King. Also fulfillment of prophecy. Birth and infancy of Jesus given from point of view of Joseph. Some contend that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, with a later Greek translation. This, in fact, is uniform testimony of Papias (120), Irenmus (180), Origen (230), and Eusebius (325), Cyril (345), Epiphanius (348), Augustine (380), and Jerome (390). Possibly Matthew wrote in both Ara, maic and Greek, just as did Josephus with his history. This understanding would solve many a perplexing problem involved in reconciling all the facts. Both Aramaic and Greek were current in Judea and Galilee in the time of the apostles.*
(Twenty-one witness before close of second century to existence and use in all parts of Christian church.)
Luke. Probably c. 60 A. D., from Cwsarea,— if written while Luke was in Rome with Paul, —and of course before Acts. Both Gospel and Acts addressed to Theophilus. Luke said to be only Gentile writer in canon. Faithful companion of Paul. Longest of Gospels. Written for Greeks, in style and method of Greek historian. Beautiful in literary style, and correct in form. Over eight hundred words in Luke and Acts not found elsewhere in New Testament.
Luke the first Synoptist to have the historical purpose. 1:1. The "order" chiefly by grouping each series—parables, miracles, healings, et cetera. Had painstakingly gathered facts from sources (1:2), making use of other writings and oral testimony to correct inaccuracies of many memoirs current (1:1), and writing, of course, under the impress of the Holy Spirit. Luke called "father of church history." Contains more history than Mark or Matthew. Has some 541 verses peculiar to itself, including thirteen parables and seventeen miracles.
Mention should perhaps be made of recent revival, by Dr. C. C. Torrey, professor of Semitic languages at Yale, in "The Four Gospels" (Harper and Brothers ; 1933), of the tradition of an Aramaic original of the Gospels. But outstanding Greek scholars of America, conservative and liberal, reject the theory and repudiate the argument, which they declare is unproved and invalid. Dr. A, T. Robertson, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the foremost Greek scholars in North America, who for forty-five years has specialized in this field, says:
"There is no proof, in spite of Torrey's conjectures about certain words, that the Gospels in their present form are translations from original Aramaic books. . Besides, the Aramaic words retained in Mark and John prove to my way of thinking that the authors are writing in Greek, not in Aramaic."—The Review and Expositor, January, 1934, p. 113.
Dr. E. J. Goodspeed, noted liberalist, translator of the New Testament, writes decisively along the same vein. Because the apostles spoke Aramaic as well as, and probably better than, Greek, the theory is developed that the Gospels were written originally in that dialect, which was in turn translated quite literally into Greek, because certain perplexing phrases and forms of expression M. the Greek text, when turned back literally in the Aramaic, are smooth and comprehensive in that tongue. But no such missing documents have ever been discovered in the Aramaic as are designated by the author's letter "Q." There is virtually no supporting external evidence, as Dr. Torrey says, "The external evidence is practically zero, and there is the oft-quoted statement attributed to Papias of Hierapolis in Phrygia (early second century). . . . But neither the sources of this information nor the context in which it stands, can inspire confidence in its value. Nor is there any other statement regarding the composition, either of this Gospel or of any of its fellows, which appears to be based on genuine tradition."—"The Four Gospels," p. 253. Dr. Torrey's conclusions are reached on internal evidence, and reasoning, and the contention remains but a speculation. The real purpose of the theory is to remove supposed difficulties encountered in the Greek text.
Writes as scientist or physician. Describes diseases with minute accuracy, using technical terms.
Presents birth of Jesus from Mary's viewpoint, possibly obtaining information from Mary herself. Sets forth human side of Christ. Key phrase: "Son of man." Infancy and boyhood detailed. Arrangement, in the main, chronological. Presents Jesus as Saviour of both Jew and Gentile, Friend of publican and sinner. Many references to women. Traces genealogy back to Adam as progenitor of whole human family.
(Established by sixteen witnesses in second century. Universally accepted. Listed in Muratorian canon as "Third" Gospel. Even included in mutilated recension of Marcion.)
L. E. F.
(To be continued)