The Fictions of This World

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I’m not actually going to link to Salon for this. You can go find it there yourself. The reason I’m not going to link to it is because Salon is a for profit corporation of barely any stock value. It depends on fomenting outrageous pieces of writing, including defenses of pedophiles, to generate traffic to help its stock value. I won’t participate in that. But this latest piece is worth nothing because it is written by a contributing editor of The Atlantic, a supposedly reputable publication. The guy writes this:

The Bible is brimming with rank absurdities that insult our intelligence and affront our dignity as twenty-first-century, post-Enlightenment humans residing in one of the most developed countries on Earth.

Get this? Essentially he is claiming smart people should not believe the Bible. He then goes on to provide a litany of leftwing literary critiques that wring true to hipster atheists and not much else, including that God raped Mary.

He has no place in his life for miracles because science cannot explain them, never mind that if God is real, he’d be outside a human understanding of science (and he is real).

But my favorite is that he flat out rejects the idea that Jesus’s associates wrote about him. This point is worth dwelling on.

Bizarrely, and certainly suspiciously, not one of the “savior’s” close associates thought to publish memoirs of said colloquies or even take notes, thereby leaving the so-called Word, purportedly critical for the salvation of our species, to be recorded by unknown scribes decades later. Worse, the “savior” spoke Aramaic and probably some Hebrew, but his eventual, long-after-the-factoid biographers wrote in Koine (common) Greek. The result: a mishmash of inconsistent accounts (the Gospels) that were composed in a language other than the original, and eventually translated into English, that, beautiful as it may be in the King James version, is nevertheless replete with errors. Subsequent interpretations may have eliminated some of these mistakes, but not the contradictions in the Gospels.

This puts the writer at odds with most historians who do recognize the authenticity of works by Paul, John, Peter, etc. In fact, the reason it took time was the Apostles were busy both establishing churches and running for their lives. To claim Jesus is fictional means that John is fictional, which means that Polycarp and Ignatius are fictional, which means Irenaeus is fictional, etc.

It’s like claiming Socrates is fictional because he never wrote about himself.

As I noted in my term paper in seminary last year, every book of the New Testament was written prior to 100 AD, which is when the Apostle John is documented to have died. That puts everything as written in less than 70 years from Christ’s death.

But all of this is wasted effort and bytes because the contributing editor of the Atlantic who had to go to Salon for his tirade to be published really does not care. He’s just trying to smear Republicans for having faith in something other than themselves.

By the way, though I can’t render the footnotes here so the references are removed, this might prove helpful to you.  It was my term paper in systematic theology on the doctrine of scripture.

 

Mark’s gospel accounts as Jesus’s brother.  Jude’s letter refers to him as “the brother of James.”  Jude is likewise referenced by Eusebius as commonly recognized to be the author of the Book of Jude and also the half-brother of Jesus and full brother of James.

 

Based on the foregoing, with the exception of Hebrews, all the authors of the New Testament canon corroborate each others’ existence in various forms, each of the primary Apostolic writers, i.e. Paul, Peter, and John, are identified by other early church fathers who vouch for their existence, and they, through their writings cite each other, reference each other, and cite from each other.

 

Based on the foregoing, we can conclude that the very early church, in the first century, had an Apostolic basis for recognizing what was and was not legitimate scripture.  However, there were other supposed letters written by the apostles that did not form the canon and, from those rejections, modern conspiracy theories have grown.

 

III.Based on the writings of post-Apostolic first, second, and third century writers, the existence of the New Testament canon is complete and was known.

 

The early church history is filled with noted figures who either studied under and worked with the apostles or studied under those men who had direct contact with the apostles.  Within a few decades of the death of John, New Testament canon was quoted extensively by the apostles’ students and recognized as the present and exclusive list we now  have by those students’ own students.

 

A.  The first major church leaders after the apostles quoted as scripture the books of the New Testament.

 

Eusebius identifies several early, post-Apostolic fathers of the Christian church.  There were men whose separation of degree from Jesus was two, i.e. they had relationships with the apostles themselves.  Clement of Rome, mentioned by Paul in Philippians, is identified as “the third bishop of Rome” and “was Paul’s coworker and cocombatant.”  “At Antioch…Ignatius was becoming famous.”  Eusebius notes that Ignatius was “a famed name as second after Peter to succeed to the bishopric of Antioch.”  Ignatius, as mentioned above, studied under the apostle John with Polycarp.  “Celebrated at that time in Asia was a companion of the apostles, Polycarp, who had been appointed Bishop of Smyrna by the eyewitnesses and ministers of the Lord,” wrote Eusebius establishing Polycarp’s first degree of association with the “eyewitnesses…of the Lord.”

 

“Ignatius…refers to some people who refuse to believe anything that is not recorded ‘in the archives’ (or ‘in the charters’, meaning presumably the Old Testament scriptures), even if it is affirmed ‘in the gospel,’” writes F. F. Bruce.  He continued, “When Ignatius replies ‘It is written’ or ‘scripture says’ (presumably meaning a gospel writing), they retort, ‘That is the question’ — in other words, ‘Is the gospel scripture?’  Ignatius … affirms that his ultimate authority is Jesus Christ,”in other words that the gospels are scripture equivalent in authority to the Old Testament.  Clement too referred to the gospel, specifically Matthew, as “scripture.”

 

Polycarp, F.F. Bruce notes, quoted Ephesians as early as between A.D. 110 and 120.  Likewise, a gnostic leader and “younger contemporary of Polycarp,” named Basilides “was well acquainted with several of the documents which came to be included in the New Testament,” including Romans and Corinthians.  Dionysius, the bishop of Corinth, seemingly quoted Revelation 22:18 in a letter around A.D. 170.

 

Polycarp quoted the New Testament scripture extensively.  In his Letter to the Philippians, Polycarp cites Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 John, and 3 John.  The surviving writings of Ignatius, who died around A.D. 110, also quoted scripture extensively including Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians,  and 1 Thessalonians.

 

“In the name of the church at Rome, Clement composed one recognized epistle, long and wonderful, and sent it to the church of the Corinthians,” notes Eusebius.  In his first letter, Clement references the apostle Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and makes direct or indirect citation to Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Hebrews, and possibly Acts, James, and I Peter.  Clement likewise refers to Matthew, Mark, and Luke but Clement’s language suggests he believed “the Pauline Epistles were not Scripture, though he obviously regards them as possessing a certain kind of authority.”

 

It is notable that Clement’s letter most likely preceded the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp by a decade.  Though Clement seemed not to treat Paul’s letters as scripture, within a decade it appears Ignatius and Polycarp did.  Additionally, the apostle Peter clearly labels Paul’s writings as scripture.

 

B.  The students of Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and other early church leaders solidified what was and was not the New Testament Canon.

 

Tertullian, in his Against Heresies, recounted “Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.”  Trajan’s reign was from January 28, 98 to August 8, 117.  John’s death occurred during that time and most likely around A.D. 100.

 

As mentioned above, Ignatius and Polycarp were writing sometime around A.D. 110 and Clement’s first letter was in the last half of A.D. 90-100.  That puts considerable overlap between the apostle John, a number of the first church fathers to succeed the apostles, and the students of those students.  Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, lived from A.D. 130-202, and  wrote in a letter to Florinus, 

 

When I was still a boy I saw you in Lower Asia with Polycarp….  I can even picture the place where the blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, his comings and goings, his character, his personal appearance, his discourses to the crowds, and how he reported his discussions with John and others who had seen the Lord.  He recalled their very words, what they reported about the Lord and his miracles and teachings — things that Polycarp had heard directly from eyewitnesses of the Word of life and reported in full harmony with scripture.

 

“Irenaeus nowhere in his extant writings sets down a list of New Testament books, but it is evident  that he has a clear notion of their identity,” F.F. Bruce opined.

 

Irenaeus is the first among patristic writers who makes full use of the New Testament. The Apostolic Fathers re-echo the oral tradition; the Apologists (such as Justin and Athenagoras) are content with quoting the Old Testament prophets and the Lord’s own words in the Gospels as proof of divine revelation; but Irenaeus shows the unity of the Old and New Testaments in opposition to Gnostic separation of the two. Unlike his predecessors, his citations from the New Testament are more numerous than those from the Old Testament.

 

In fact, the only books of the New Testament not quoted by Irenaeus in Against Heresies are 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude.  Irenaeus recognized the four gospels as being the only gospel accounts and treated Paul’s works as scripture too.  “[I]n Irenaeus we have evidence that by the year 180 in southern France a three-part New Testament of about twenty-two books was known. The total number will vary depending on whether or not we include Philemon (as we probably should) and Hermas (somewhat doubtfully).”

 

After Irenaeus, Tertullian was one of the most famous third generation church fathers and also first coined the idea of the trinity as made clear from the scriptural text.  Tertullian again did not fully document the canon of the New Testament, but he referred to the letters as books and the whole as the “instrument.”  He referenced all of the books of the New Testament except James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John.  Likewise, he did not treat Hebrews at scripture, claiming he had no authority to add it to the list, but attributed it to Barnabas and recommended its teachings.  Tertullian, more importantly, was a voice on what was not part of the canon.

 

A contemporary of Tertullian’s, Clement of Alexandria lived from A.D. 150-215.  Clement speaks of the Bible as having an Old and a New Testament.  He refers to the New Testament generally as “gospel” and the Old Testament as “scripture.”  In so writing, Clement of Alexandria “gave concise accounts of all scripture contained in the Testaments, including such disputed writings as Jude and the other catholic espistles, with the letter of Barnabas and the Apocalypse of Peter.”  F.F. Bruce suggests Clement may also have the earliest reference to 2 Peter, though not by name.  Nonetheless, Clement of Alexandria was a tutor to Origen who lived from A.D. 185-254.  Origen gives the first explicit reference to 2 Peter.  By Origen’s death, the New Testament canon is in place with Origen listing all the books, though noting that Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, James and Jude were disputed by some.

 

Based on the foregoing, within one hundred years of Christ’s resurrection, Polycarp had quoted most of the New Testament.  Within roughly one hundred additional years, Origen had listed all of the New Testament books.

 

IV.  The New Testament was well established by the Council of Carthage in in A.D. 397

 

Eusebius composed his Church History in approximately A.D. 324 during the reign of Constantine.  Though not always reliable, he clearly had access to writings subsequently lost to history.  In the course of his writings, Eusebius sets out to document the accepted works of the New Testament.  He writes,

 

At this point it may be appropriate to list the New Testament writings already referred to. The holy quartet of the Gospels are first, followed by the Acts of the apostles. Next 1 John, and 1 Peter. The Revelation of John may be added, the arguments regarding which I shall discuss at the proper time. These are the recognized books. Those that are disputed yet known to most are the epistles called James, Jude, 2 Peter, and the so named 2 and 3 John, the works of the Evangelist or if someone else with the same name.

 

In A.D. 367, Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, issued his annual Easter letter.  Athanasius was the first writer to use the word “canon,” and listed the New Testament as we know it now.  Augustine later repeated the lists of Athanasius as being the canon and “Augustine’s ruling supplied a powerful precedent for the western church from his own day to the Reformation and beyond.”  In A.D. 397, the Third Council of Carthage made the first formal pronouncement of the canon, which was the same list.

 

V.  Conclusion

 

B.B. Warfield noted, 

 

The Canon of the New Testament was completed when the last authoritative book was given to any church by the apostles, and that was when John wrote the Apocalypse, about A.D. 98.  Whether the church at Epehsus, however, had a completed Canon when it received the Apocalypse, or not, would depend on whether there was any epistle, say that of Jude, which had not yet reached it with authenticating proof of its apostolicity.…  The early churches, in short, received, as we receive, into their New Testament all the books historically evinced to them as given by the apostles to the churches as their code of law; and we must not mistake the historical evidences of the slow circulation and authentication of these books over the widely-extended church, for evidence of slowness of ‘canonization’ of books by the authority or the taste of the church itself.

 

There is merit to Warfield’s statement.  The apostles affirmed their own authority and recognized each other by name.  By clear evidence, the students of the apostles quoted their letters extensively and thoroughly.  By the third century, all the letters were being quoted and other writings were being excluded.  Within two hundred ninety-one years of the death of Christ, Eusebius had a full list of the canon and those books that were not in the canon.  Fifty years after that, the whole and complete list had been written and the word “canon” given to the list.

 

There was no conspiracy and there were no  “political” efforts to push the formulation of the canon in a particular direction.  There were the apostles, their writings, and their students who knew them and gave evidence to them and and their writings.  That alone, guided by the Holy Spirit, shaped the New Testament.

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Erick Erickson
By Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson

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