The Idea of Canon (Part 4) (The Covenant & the Cross #19)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Proverbs 2:1-5 which reads: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Martin Luther. He said: “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.”

Our topic for today is titled: “The Idea of the Canon (Part 4)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

It is important to realize that Christianity began with the assumption that the Jewish canon was authoritative. This point is often overlooked, but it is crucial. First, the concept of Messiah (or Christ) comes from the Jewish canon. Jews who knew Jesus measured His life against that standard. A number of Jews rejected Him, but that was because of preconceived notions of what the Messiah was to do. Many looked at the data and agreed that Jesus met the standards of the Old Testament. Those who accepted Him became the first church—a significant community of Jews. Second, early followers of the Messiah (or the Christ) measured New Testament writers against the Old Testament standard and used the same process of guidance by the Holy Spirit to validate the new writings.

So the New Testament was written and accepted in a manner similar to the Old Testament, but with several key distinctions. First, while the Old Testament was primarily written to God’s people when they were concentrated in the land of Israel, the New Testament was primarily written to groups of God’s people throughout the Roman Empire where they had scattered. For this reason, the New Testament books were written in Greek instead of Hebrew. These New Testament books also took somewhat longer to be accepted by the overall community of God’s people, for it was more widely dispersed. Second, while the Old Testament focused on God’s work of deliverance of the nation from Egypt and the implications of that event in terms of a future Messiah, the New Testament was written to demonstrate that the Messiah had already appeared as a historical figure and to explain the significance of His coming. The focus of the New Testament is therefore on the resurrection and the implications of that event for the relationship of humanity to God.

As mentioned before, the church accepted the Old Testament canon from the beginning. After all, the Christian community was totally Jewish for at least eight years and predominantly Jewish for another decade or so. Individual New Testament books were clearly accepted at a very early stage. By approximately 64 CE, Peter was referring to Paul’s letters, written mainly during the previous decade, as Scripture. This important detail is reminiscent of Daniel’s similar reference to Jeremiah.

The Epistles primarily deal with the implications of the gospel that was being proclaimed. Many of them pre-date the written Gospels, probably for two reasons. The early church was convinced that the return of Jesus was right around the corner and thus, at first, a written argument that He was the Messiah did not seem to be needed. Moreover, evaluating the implications of the gospel was the first need of the church. The Gospels, in the form they have come to us, were written down as the church gradually realized that the second coming of Christ was not going to be as soon as anticipated, and the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection began to be martyred and otherwise die off.

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