The Idea of Canon (Part 6) (The Covenant & the Cross #21)


Today’s passage of Scripture is John 1:14 which reads: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Abraham Lincoln. He said: “I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this Book that you can by reason and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man. It is the best Book which God has given to man.”

Our topic for today is titled: “The Idea of the Canon (Part 6)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

Because most of the New Testament books are letters to various churches throughout the Mediterranean region, it took some time for all of the churches in various cities to amass a complete (or nearly complete) collection. For example, Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Colosse with instructions for them to pass it on to the church in Laodicea (and likewise for the Colossians to read the letter to the Laodiceans). Similarly, the letter we call Second Corinthians was also addressed to all of central Greece. Each individual church that received a letter would either hand-copy it and then forward the copy or have the other church send a scribe to make a copy to take back. In this manner, copies of the individual letters gradually spread throughout the early church. By 70 AD there apparently were local churches all the way from Spain to India and from England to Ethiopia.

As can be imagines, hand-copying these letters would be a slow process. Still, indications are that by early in the second century, most of the local churches within the Roman world were largely in agreement as to which writings should be included in the New Testament canon. This agreement was not formalized, however, until the third council of Carthage in 397.

The authors of the Old Testament canon are often considered prophets, that is, God’s spokesmen. (Prophets performed other roles besides giving predictions about the future, so books written by them were not necessarily “prophetic,” that is, predictive in character.) This concept also applies to the New Testament authors, although for them we generally use the term “apostle” (“sent one”), which usually refers to the original twelve disciples of Jesus. Paul was not part of this circle but was marked out as an apostle in his calling. Not all of the New Testament books were written by apostles, however. Mark and Luke were were two key authors who do not appear to meet any criteria of apostleship, although they are often considered spokesmen for the apostles Peter and Paul respectively.


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