The Nature and Formation of the New Testament

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1 The Nature and Formation of the New Testament Recommended Reading: Paul Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations. The Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 1968; especially ch. 7, I. What is the New Testament (NT)? A. The Bible is a collection of 66 sacred books 1. Old Testament (OT) = sacred books of ancient Israel (39 books) a. For Jesus and the apostolic Church, the OT was the Bible b. The NT cites the OT frequently and affirms its continuing authority as Scripture. c. The OT points forward to Christ 2. NT = sacred books of early Church (27 books) a. Gospels: 4 accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus b. Acts: records the spread of the early church from Jerusalem to the Gentile countries through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Second volume continuing the story of the Gospel written by Luke c. Epistles: letters sent from apostles to various local churches or individuals d. Revelation: an apocalypse (a symbolic revelation of the events of the end of history). God will dramatically intervene in history and bring in judgment and the new heavens and earth B. Why is it called the New Testament? 1. testament or covenant = an agreement between 2 parties. God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, David, Moses 2. The covenant with Israel made through Moses (Ex 19:5; 34:10, 27) a. Established Israel as God s special people. b. Specified how Israel was to live in order to experience God s blessings, their worship and sacrificial rituals, and their civil laws as a society 3. God promised through the OT prophets that he would create a new covenant with his people a. It would be different because God will place his Spirit within his people to empower them to obey, rather than through external and ritualistic obedience to laws (Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:26-27) b. At the Last Supper, Jesus said he would establish this new covenant through his death on the cross (Lk 22:20) 4. This covenant is new in several ways: a. God s will is fulfilled through the Holy Spirit working within God people, rather than through external laws b. The people of God include Gentiles, not just Jews c. It is established through Jesus sacrificial death on the cross and thus does not depend on human obedience to maintain. 5. In time Christians came to realize that the new covenant made the old covenant obsolete (Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24) a. Because Jesus death was an all sufficient sacrifice for sins, this covenant superceded the old covenant of the Law. Thus there is no more need for a sacrificial system. b. The Old Testament is still the Word of God, but the Christian s relationship to the terms of the Law are different than that of the Jews before Christ. 6. The New Testament is a record of the establishment, terms and implications of this new covenant. Copyright 2016 Dr. Harry A. Hahne

2 Nature and Formation of the NT Page 2 II. The inspiration and authority of the NT A. The NT says that Scripture is divinely inspired so it is the uniquely authoritative and inerrant message from God for humanity Tim 3:16-17: 2. 1 Pet 1:10-12: 3. 2 Pet 1:20-21: 4. Mt 5:18 5. Jn 10:35 B. Jesus words have divine authority 1. Mk 13:31: Jesus words will not pass away (same as for Scripture in Mk 5:18) 2. Jn 5:46-47: Jesus words on par with the Law of Moses 3. Jn 14:24: Jesus words are the Father s words C. The NT is treated as Scripture, with authority like the OT 1. 1 Tim 5:18: Jesus words in Lk 10:7 are quoted alongside Deut 25:4 as equally authoritative Scripture 2. 2 Pet 3:15-16: Peter calls Paul s letters Scripture, equal in authority to the OT D. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would reveal to the apostles truth from God and would remind them of what Jesus taught (Jn 14:26; 16:12-14) E. NT authors claim that the Spirit guided them to write authoritative revelation 1. Rev 22:9, 18: the angel classifies John with the prophets as one who writes an authoritative book 2. Eph 3:5: The Spirit revealed the mystery of the Church to the apostles and prophets 3. Apostles claim to write with an authority from Christ a. 2 Pet 3:2: command of the Lord through the Apostles b. 1 Tim 4:11; Tit 2:15: their teachings are to be commanded to the Church c. Gal 1:12: Paul received his Gospel message directly from God d. Gal 1:1: Paul writes as an apostle sent by God 4. See Geisler and Nix, ch 7

3 Nature and Formation of the NT Page 3 F. Some implications of divine inspiration of the Bible 1. The message can be trusted 2. The message is authoritative for the church and requires obedience 3. Inspiration gives the Bible a unique unity of message, unlike any other collection of writings G. Some implications of the fact that the Bible was written by multiple human authors 1. There are human characteristics that are unique for each author: grammar, vocabulary, literary style, characteristic themes and perspectives. 2. We should not be surprised to find both unity and diversity theologically in the Bible. a. Allow each author to speak for himself with a unique contribution. b. Look for the overall message of Scripture which has a unity due to the divine author. c. Conservative Christians tend to ignore the human dimensions of Scripture and flatten all passages to say one thing. d. Liberals tend to ignore the divine inspiration and the resulting unity of message, so they force unnecessary contradictions. 3. Many liberal NT scholars read the Bible as a purely human book or a record of human encounters with God, rather than the Word of God in itself a. If there is a difficulty, they assume it must be a contradiction. b. We can learn much from liberal commentaries about language, theology, comparative religions and historical background. But their presuppositions make them skeptical about the historicity of Scripture and cause an overemphasis on the differences rather than integrity of the Bible. H. How does the fact that the Bible is a divinely inspired book written by diverse human authors affect the way we read the Bible? 1. Inspiration: 2. Human side: III. How did we get the NT? A. Although the early Christians accepted the inspiration of the OT, their supreme authority was Jesus Christ. 1. Jesus fulfilled the Law and Prophets (Mt 5:17) 2. Jesus said you have heard it said..., but I say to you (Mt 5:21, etc.). a. He claimed his authority was greater than the teachings of the Rabbis (the oral Law) and even the written Law of Moses itself b. He said he was greater than David or Moses. c. People were amazed that he taught with such authority, unlike the Scribes and Pharisees. 3. Jesus gave authoritative pronouncements about the true meaning of the OT. a. At times he extended and refined the teachings of the OT b. At other times he repealed parts of the OT, such as food and uncleanness laws (e.g. Mk 7:19)

4 Nature and Formation of the NT Page 4 B. The apostles bore witness to Jesus Christ and his teachings. 1. Jesus commissioned the apostles with authority to teach in his name. 2. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles to remember his teachings and would teach them additional truth that would be authoritative for the Church (Jn 14:26; 16:12-14) C. Initially the words of Jesus and stories of his life were passed along orally 1. This early oral transmission is not as much a problem for the reliability of the Bible as it might seem a. This was a largely oral culture in which people learned to memorize quickly and easily b. Most of Jesus sayings were in forms that were pithy and powerful and easily remembered. c. The stories quickly assumed fixed forms so mistakes could be detected by listeners much like a child can tell if you change a favorite story d. Many eyewitnesses were alive to affirm the stories and teachings (e.g. 1 Cor 15:6) 2. The Gospels were written perhaps years after Jesus death. Why did it take a long time before the teachings of Jesus were written? a. The early apostles focused on spreading the Gospel. b. They expected Jesus to come again quickly. c. There were probably earlier written collections of sayings of Jesus prior to the Gospels (Lk 1:3; Mt and Lk may have used a common written source ( Q ) containing sayings of Jesus). D. As the church grew and spread throughout the Mediterranean countries, the need for written books grew. 1. Paul and other apostles wrote letters to address doctrinal and moral problems in the churches they planted. Some of these letters are the earliest parts of the NT. 2. Since the apostles could not be physically present in all places, an accurate and authoritative account of Jesus and the apostles teachings was required. 3. The Greco-Roman world was a highly literate society, so written Gospels would be more persuasive E. Originally the various books of the Bible were written for various communities. 1. But it was not long before Christians began copying the apostolic writings and circulating them 2. Even when they were copied, each book circulated independently originally 3. In the apostolic era a given local church would have at most a few of the books. F. As the books were circulated and collected by the churches, they were almost immediately recognized to be authoritative Scripture. 1. They were read aloud in the Churches as a message from God 2. Collections began even during the lifetime of the Apostles (Col 4:16; 2 Pet 3:15-16) a. Paul urges his letters to be circulated to other churches (Col 4:16) b. Peter refers to a collection of Paul s letters and calls them Scriptures (2 Pet 3:15-16) c. Paul quotes from Luke as Scripture (1 Tim 5:18) 3. By the 2 nd century most churches possessed and acknowledged as Scripture the 4 Gospels, Acts, 13 letters of Paul, 1 Peter and I John. a. The Muratorian Canon of AD 190 is a good example of what books were accepted at that time b. There were a very small number of disputed books: (1) A few were accepted by some but rejected by the majority of the Church. (a) Post-apostolic writings: 1 Clement, letter of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Didache (b) The Muratorian Canon mentions the Wisdom of Solomon and the Pseudepigraphal Apocalypse of Peter, but it admits these are rejected by many. c. Seven books took time to be universally accepted: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation. The Eastern Church accepted Hebrews and Revelation earlier than the Western. 4. By the 4 th century there was little further dispute about the books to include. a. Eusebius (AD 325) lists the books we accept today, although he mentions 5 that are widely, but not universally accepted. b. The 4 th C. church councils merely affirmed what had already been widely accepted as Scripture. 5. Responding to heresies was one driving force behind clarification of the lists. a. E.g. Marcion (AD 140) rejected the OT and all Gospels but Luke

5 Nature and Formation of the NT Page 5 b. Since Christians were persecuted for their faith, they wanted to make certain which books should not be handed over to the imperial soldiers. G. How were the books selected for the NT canon? 1. Canon a. Literally refers to a ruler or measuring rod. So it means a way of measuring something. b. The biblical canon is the collection of books which are received as divinely inspired and therefore authoritative for faith and life (Bruce Metzger, The NT, Its Background, Growth and Content, p. 273) 2. The early Church did not select the books of the canon, but they recognized these books to be inspired and authoritative and thus the true Word of God. So the Church discovered the canon, it did not determine it. 3. Not all ancient Christian books were accepted into the canon a. Many books were rejected because they were not genuinely written by an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle or they contained doctrine that contradicted Scripture b. Even a few apostolic writings were not preserved (1 Cor 5:9: Paul wrote 3 letters to the Corinthians) c. Many good and helpful books were deemed not to be inspired, although still useful for reading 4. Criteria used to by the early church Fathers to recognize writings as Scripture a. Apostolic authorship or approval (1) Jesus commissioned the apostles with authority as authorized eyewitnesses of his ministry and teachings (2) In some cases books written by people closely associated with the apostles and therefore bearing their authority were accepted: e.g. Luke (associated with Paul), Mark (traditionally wrote his Gospel based on Peter s reminiscences) (3) This is one problem with the views of critics that reject the apostolic authorship of books like Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastoral Epistles and 2 Peter. (a) If a writing claimed to be written by an apostle but was not, it was rejected by the Church Fathers as Scripture. (b) Paul warns about forged letters that were circulating in his name (2 Thess 2:2; 3:17). b. The teachings agree with Scripture and apostolic teaching ( rule of faith ) (1) The book must agree with apostolic teaching, i.e. orthodox, normative theology (2) Many books written in the name of apostles (but forgeries) were rejected because they contradicted apostolic teachings (3) The assumption is that Scripture comes from God and therefore cannot contradict itself. c. Universal acceptance by both the Eastern and Western Church (1) The Apocryphal books were only added to the Roman Catholic canon at the Council of Trent in 1546 and did not enjoy universal acceptance d. The book has the marks of divine inspiration and authority. (1) It contains a sense that thus says the Lord (2) Scripture is self-authenticating (a) There is the inward witness of the Holy Spirit to its truth. (b) Reading it results in a transformed character (3) Although this is the most basic quality of Scripture, it is the most subjective criterion. 5. Discuss: Read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (probably AD 2 nd C). If you were an early church leader, would you accept this as Scripture? Why or why not? How is it similar to and different from the Gospels accepted as canonical by the early Church?

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