[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
[Add the title only in the title field, not in the body of the post.]
Summary in 400 words or less:
John Wenham writes, about the subject herein, there is no “absolute certainty.” However, one can have “adequate evidence” in which their conviction can be “dynamic” (Wenham, 192). This soberness is especially valuable concerning the canon of the New Testament (NT) and its transmission.
Forthrightly, Scripture says it came from God (2 Tim 3:16) and human writers were guided by the Holy Spirit when composing it (2 Pet 1:21). Satisfactory this answer maybe for some, it is not for others who have questions that deserve an answer. Here are some potential ones:
Were Jesus’ words immediately written down?
Possibly at first as scribes were common (i.e. Rom16:22), but the majority of Jesus’ teachings were passed on orally. Craig Keener concludes, “Ancient Mediterranean culture valued orality more than modern western culture….Many of Jesus’ teachings are in the sort of readily memorizable forms” to be accurately repeated later (Keener, 161). Thus, for instance, Paul knew the gist of what Jesus had to say about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:22-23). Oral transmission carried the NT message until it was written down by the NT authors.
Do we have the originals?
No. However, textual criticism can lead us to what they most likely wrote. Essential doctrines (i.e. Deity of Christ) are not affected by variants between manuscripts.
What is the canon?
Canon means “standard” or “measuring rod.” It includes all 27 NT books.
Why and how did the canonization process proceed?
It predominantly started in the second century when heretics (i.e. Marcion) produced lists that were unorthodox thus forcing the Church to respond.
How the authoritative works were discovered was through three criteria.
First, in some way, be connected to an apostle. Second, a majority of churches recognized it as authoritative. Thirdly, the work was orthodox in teaching. Other books, like the gospel of Thomas, were weeded out because they, sometimes drastically, failed all three.
When applying this criterion, some books were accepted very early while others were not. A list in the late second century called the Muratorian Canon included all four Gospels, Acts, 13 of Paul’s epistles, Jude, 1st John, and Revelations. Moreover, some Eastern Church fathers were on board for all 27 books, though some stuck with 22 out of the same 27.
For the West (Rome, Africa), all 27 books were verified by the end of the 4th century by church father Athanasius (367) and the Council of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).
Scripture for YouVersion: Luke 1:1-4, 2 Peter 3:15-16, 2 Thes 3:17
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, one discussion question):
1. Many of Jesus’ teachings, for those who lived in the 1st century, could be committed to memory to be _________________ repeated later.
2. According to John Wenham, when it comes to the canonization and transmission of what Christians now call the New Testament, what is the best approach?
A) Absolute certainty
B) We have no idea!
C) We have some idea
D) Reasonable certainty based on adequate evidence.
3. For you, was any of this information studied in Sunday school or other settings? If not, do you see value in doing so, why or why not?
References for further reading:
Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.
John Wenham, Christ and the Bible 3rd ed. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009.
Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B.Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006), 15-166.
Collaborators: Jonathan Hanna, Frederick Choo
[Add your name here only if you have created this topic or contributed valuable content or editing to this topic.]
[Add a copyright-free, relevant image to the body of the post (click the Add Media button), as well as going back in and selecting it as the featured image.]
Type “YES” and contact Maryann when at least three collaborators agree this is ready to be shared with YouVersion: