Tag Archives: Canonization

What about all those other books that the Church left out the Bible?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

You may sometimes hear the objection that there were lots of other gospels and books floating around at the time when the 27 books of the New Testament were standardized. The right way to answer this problem is to ask for a particular book that the challenger would like included and then to take a look at factors like the date it was written, who wrote it, and where it was written. When you look at these factors, it becomes obvious why the other books were left out.

Consider an article by Dr. Charles Quarles, who has written against an early dating of a “left out” book called the “Gospel of Peter”. Why was it left out? Because Christian are mean? Maybe there’s a historical reason why these books are not included.

Excerpt:

An impressive number of clues suggest that this gospel [Peter] postdates even the latest New Testament book and belongs to the mid-second century. First, a close analysis of verbal parallels shared by the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew suggests that the Gospel of Peter postdates Matthew and utilized that Gospel as a source… an examination of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the two documents strongly favors the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew. Robert Gundry, one of the most respected experts on issues related to Matthew’s style, called the phrase a “series of Mattheanisms” (Gundry, Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 584). Similarly, John Meier noted “when it comes to who is dependent on whom, all the signs point to Matthews priority. . . . The clause is a tissue of Matthean vocabulary and style, a vocabulary and style almost totally absent from the rest of the Gospel of Peter” (Meier, Marginal Jews, 1:117). This is consistent with a number of other Matthean features appear in the Gospel of Peter that all point to the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew.

Second, other features of the Gospel of Peter suggest that the gospel not only postdates Matthew, but even postdates the latest book of the NT canon, the Book of Revelation. For example, although Matthew indicates that the Roman guard sealed the tomb of Jesus, Gospel of Peter 8:33 adds that it was sealed with seven seals. The reference to the seven seals conflicts with the immediate context. Gospel of Peter 8:32-33 states that all the witnesses present sealed the tomb. However, a minimum of nine witnesses were present leading readers to expect at least nine seals. The best explanation for the awkward reference to the seven seals is that the detail was drawn from Revelation 5:1. This allusion to Revelation fits well with the Gospel of Peter 9:35 and 12:50 reference to the day of Jesus’ resurrection as the “Lord’s Day” since this terminology only appears in Revelation in the NT and first in Revelation out of all ancient Christian literature. The reference to the “Lord’s Day” in the Gospel of Peter is a shortened form that appears to be a later development from the original form appearing in Revelation.

Still other features of the Gospel of Peter fit best with the historical data if the Gospel of Peter was produced in the mid-second century. The Gospel of Peter assumes the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to the dead. However, this doctrine first appears in the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150. The talking cross is a feature of other second-century literature. The Epistula Apostolorum 16 states that during the second coming Jesus will be carried on the wings of the clouds with his cross going on before him. Similarly, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter 1 describes the returning Christ as coming in a glory seven times as bright as the sun and with his cross going before his face. In a similar fashion, beginning in the late first century, Christian texts describe Christ as possessing gigantic stature. In an allegorical depiction of Jesus’ supremacy and authority over the church, Shepherd of Hermas 83:1 described Christ as of such lofty stature that he stood taller than a tower. 4 Ezra 2:43, a portion of 4 Ezra dating to the middle or late third century, referred to the unusual height of the Son of God. These shared compositional strategies and features make the most sense if these documents and the Gospel of Peter were composed in the same milieu.

It turns out that Quarles has actually debated the views he presents in this article against John Dominic Crossan, the main proponent of the view that the Gospel of Peter is early. You can buy the audio on CDs here, or you can get the book. The CDs are highly recommended, but the book leaves out all the dialog, so I don’t recommend it.

And you can read about two more rejected books, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, as well. The authors of those two articles are Craig Blomberg and Craig A. Evans, respectively. Craig Evans is also involved in the debate I mentioned with Crossan. He was able to debunk another “lost book of the Bible” called “Secret Mark”, which turned out to be a hoax.

10 Facts About the NT Canon that every Christian should memorize

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this must-read post about a series of 10 posts by New Testament expert Mike Krueger.

Here’s the list of 10 facts:

Mike Kruger, author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012) and the forthcoming The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (IVP, 2013), has a helpful series on the New Testament canon, linked below, “designed to help Christians understand ten basic facts about its origins.  This series is designed for a lay-level audience and hopefully could prove helpful in a conversation one might have with a skeptical friend.”

Here are the posts:

  1. “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess”
  2. “Apocryphal Writings Are All Written in the Second Century or Later”
  3. “The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”
  4. “Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”
  5. “The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century”
  6. “At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of Our 27 NT Books”
  7. “Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings”
  8. “The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council”
  9. “Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books”
  10. “Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books Were Self-Authenticating”

Here is one from the list that I did not know before. (#4)

Excerpt:

For Christians struggling to understand the development of the New Testament canon, one of the most confusing (and perhaps concerning) facts is that early Christian writers often cited from and used non-canonical writings.   In other words, early Christians did not just use books from our current New Testament, but also read books like the Shepherd of Hermas, theGospel of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas.

Usually Christians discover this fact as they read a book or article that is highly critical of the New Testament canon, and this fact is used as a reason to think that our New Testament writings are nothing special.  The literary preferences of the earliest Christians were wide open, we are told.  Or, as one critic put it, early Christians read a “boundless, living mass of heterogenous” texts.[1]

Because this fact is used to criticize the integrity of the New Testament canon, then all Christians should be keen to learn it.  While the fact itself is true—early Christians did read and use many writings not in the canon—the conclusions often drawn from this fact are often not.

When scholars mention the Christian use of non-canonical writings, two facts are often left out:

1.       The manner of citation.  It is important to note that while Christians often cited and used non-canonical literature, they only rarely cited them as Scripture.  For the most part, Christians were simply using these books as helpful, illuminating, or edifying writings.  This is not all that different than practices in our modern day.  A preacher may quote from CS Lewis in a sermon, but that does not mean he puts Lewis’s authority on par with Scripture itself.

A good example of this phenomenon is the use of the Gospel of Peter by the church at Rhossus at the end of the second century.  Scholars often appeal to this story as evidence that early Christians had no established gospel canon.  However, there is no evidence that the church there used the book as Scripture.

When we ask the question about which books early Christians cited most often as Scripture, then the answer is overwhelmingly in favor of the books that eventually made it into the New Testament canon.

2.       Frequency of citation.  Another often overlooked factor is the relative degree of frequency between citations of New Testament books and citations of non-canonical books.   For example, scholars often appeal to Clement of Alexandria as the standard example of an early Christian that used non-canonical literature equally with canonical literature.   But, when it comes to frequency of citation, this is far from true.

J.A. Brooks, for instance, has observed that Clement cites the canonical books “about sixteen times more often than apocryphal and patristic writings.”[2]  When it comes to gospels, the evidence is even better.  Clement cites apocryphal gospels only 16 times, whereas, he cites just the gospel of Matthew 757 times.[3]

In sum, Christians need to memorize this simple fact about the New Testament canon: early Christians used many other books besides those that made it into our Bibles.  But, this should not surprise us.  For, indeed, we still do the very same thing today even though we have a New Testament that has been settled for over 1600 years.

How many of these did you not know? Check them out!

What about all those other books that the Church left out the Bible?

You may sometimes hear the objection that there were lots of other gospels and books floating around at the time when the 27 books of the New Testament were standardized. The right way to answer this problem is to ask for a particular book that the challenger would like included and then to take a look at factors like the date it was written, who wrote it, and where it was written. When you look at these factors, it becomes obvious why the other books were left out.

Consider an article by Dr. Charles Quarles, who has written against an early dating of a “left out” book called the “Gospel of Peter”. Why was it left out? Because Christian are mean? Because we’re hiding the decline using Mike’s Nature trick to avoid losing billions of dollars in taxpayer money? Not quite.

Excerpt:

An impressive number of clues suggest that this gospel [Peter] postdates even the latest New Testament book and belongs to the mid-second century. First, a close analysis of verbal parallels shared by the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew suggests that the Gospel of Peter postdates Matthew and utilized that Gospel as a source… an examination of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the two documents strongly favors the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew. Robert Gundry, one of the most respected experts on issues related to Matthew’s style, called the phrase a “series of Mattheanisms” (Gundry, Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 584). Similarly, John Meier noted “when it comes to who is dependent on whom, all the signs point to Matthews priority. . . . The clause is a tissue of Matthean vocabulary and style, a vocabulary and style almost totally absent from the rest of the Gospel of Peter” (Meier, Marginal Jews, 1:117). This is consistent with a number of other Matthean features appear in the Gospel of Peter that all point to the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew.

Second, other features of the Gospel of Peter suggest that the gospel not only postdates Matthew, but even postdates the latest book of the NT canon, the Book of Revelation. For example, although Matthew indicates that the Roman guard sealed the tomb of Jesus, Gospel of Peter 8:33 adds that it was sealed with seven seals. The reference to the seven seals conflicts with the immediate context. Gospel of Peter 8:32-33 states that all the witnesses present sealed the tomb. However, a minimum of nine witnesses were present leading readers to expect at least nine seals. The best explanation for the awkward reference to the seven seals is that the detail was drawn from Revelation 5:1. This allusion to Revelation fits well with the Gospel of Peter 9:35 and 12:50 reference to the day of Jesus’ resurrection as the “Lord’s Day” since this terminology only appears in Revelation in the NT and first in Revelation out of all ancient Christian literature. The reference to the “Lord’s Day” in the Gospel of Peter is a shortened form that appears to be a later development from the original form appearing in Revelation.

Still other features of the Gospel of Peter fit best with the historical data if the Gospel of Peter was produced in the mid-second century. The Gospel of Peter assumes the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to the dead. However, this doctrine first appears in the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150. The talking cross is a feature of other second-century literature. The Epistula Apostolorum 16 states that during the second coming Jesus will be carried on the wings of the clouds with his cross going on before him. Similarly, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter 1 describes the returning Christ as coming in a glory seven times as bright as the sun and with his cross going before his face. In a similar fashion, beginning in the late first century, Christian texts describe Christ as possessing gigantic stature. In an allegorical depiction of Jesus’ supremacy and authority over the church, Shepherd of Hermas 83:1 described Christ as of such lofty stature that he stood taller than a tower. 4 Ezra 2:43, a portion of 4 Ezra dating to the middle or late third century, referred to the unusual height of the Son of God. These shared compositional strategies and features make the most sense if these documents and the Gospel of Peter were composed in the same milieu.

Read the rest here.

It turns out that Quarles has actually debated the views he presents in this article against John Dominic Crossan, the main proponent of the view that the Gospel of Peter is early. You can buy the audio on CDs here, or you can get the book. The CDs are highly recommended, but the book leaves out all the dialog, so I don’t recommend it.

And you can read about two more rejected books, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, as well. The authors of those two articles are Craig Blomberg and Craig A. Evans, respectively. Craig Evans is also involved in the debate I mentioned with Crossan, and in the debate he also reveals that another left out book called “Secret Mark” is actually a 20th century hoax, and Crossan had no response to that revelation in the debate.