Biblical canon: Wikis

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A Biblical canon or canon of scripture[1] is a list or set of Biblical books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community, generally in Judaism or Christianity. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources.[2] The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example: the Masoretic Text is the canonical text for Judaism.

The canons listed below are usually considered closed (i.e., books cannot be added or removed[3]). The closure of the canon reflects a belief that public revelation has ended and thus the inspired texts may be gathered into a complete and authoritative canon.[4] By contrast, an open canon permits the addition of additional books through the process of continuous revelation.

These canonical books have been developed through debate and agreement by the religious authorities of their respective faiths. Believers consider these canonical books to be inspired by God or to express the authoritative history of the relationship between God and his people. Books such as the Jewish-Christian Gospels excluded from the canon are considered non-canonical — however, many disputed books considered non-canonical or even apocryphal by some are considered Biblical apocrypha or Deuterocanonical or fully canonical, by others. There are differences between the Jewish and Christian canons, and between the canons of different Christian denominations. The differing criteria and processes of canonization dictate what the communities regard as the inspired books.

Contents

Canonical texts

The word "canon" is derived from the Greek noun κανών "kanon" meaning "reed" or "cane," or also "rule" or "measure," which itself is derived from the Hebrew word קנה "kaneh" and is often used as a standard of measurement. Thus, a canonical text is a single authoritative edition for a given work. The establishing of a canonical text may involve an editorial selection from biblical manuscript traditions with varying interdependence. Significant separate manuscript traditions in the Hebrew Bible are represented in the Septuagint, the Targums and Peshitta, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Masoretic Text, and the Dead Sea scrolls.

New Testament Greek and Latin texts presented enough significant differences that a manuscript tradition arose of presenting diglot texts, with Greek and Latin on facing pages. New Testament manuscript traditions include the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Bezae, Codex Alexandrinus, Textus Receptus, Vetus Latina, Vulgate, and others, see Categories of New Testament manuscripts.

Jewish canon

Rabbinic Judaism recognizes the twenty-four books of the Masoretic Text, commonly called the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Evidence suggests that the process of canonization occurred between 200 BC and AD 200, indeed a popular position is that the Torah was canonized circa 400 BC, the Prophets circa 200 BC, and the Writings circa AD 100[5] perhaps at a hypothetical Council of Jamnia—however this position is increasingly criticised by modern scholars. The book of Deuteronomy includes a prohibition against adding or subtracting (4:2, 12:32) which might apply to the book itself (i.e. a closed book, a prohibition against future scribal editing) or to the instruction received by Moses on Mt. Sinai.[6] The book of 2 Maccabees, itself not a part of the Jewish canon, describes Nehemiah (around 400 BC) as having "founded a library and collected books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings" (2:13-15). The Book of Nehemiah suggests that the priest-scribe Ezra brought the Torah back from Babylon to Jerusalem and the Second Temple (8-9) around the same time period. Both I and II Maccabees suggest that Judas Maccabeus (around 167 BC) likewise collected sacred books (3:42-50, 2:13-15, 15:6-9), indeed some scholars argue that the Jewish canon was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty.[7] However, these primary sources do not suggest that the canon was at that time closed; moreover, it is not clear that these sacred books were identical to those that later became part of the canon. "The Men of the Great Assembly", also known as the Great Synagogue, was, according to Jewish tradition, an assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, in the period from the end of the Biblical prophets to the time of the development of Rabbinic Judaism, marking a transition from an era of prophets to an era of Rabbis. They lived in a period of about two centuries ending c. 70 CE.[1]

Among the developments in Judaism that are attributed to them are the fixing of the Jewish Biblical canon, including the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther, and the Twelve Minor Prophets; the introduction of the triple classification of the oral law, dividing the study of the Mishnah (in the larger sense) into the three branches of midrash, halakot, and aggadot; the introduction of the Feast of Purim; and the institution of the prayer known as the "Shemoneh 'Esreh" as well as the synagogal prayers, rituals, and benedictions.

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Samaritan canon

A Samaritan Pentateuch exists which is another version of the Torah, in this case in the Samaritan alphabet. The relationship to the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint is still disputed. Scrolls among the Dead Sea scrolls have been identified as proto-Samaritan Pentateuch text-type.[8] This text is associated with the Samaritans, a people of whom the Jewish Encyclopedia[9] states: "Their history as a distinct community begins with the taking of Samaria by the Assyrians in 722 B.C."

The Samaritans accept the Torah but do not accept any other parts of the Bible, probably a position also held by the Sadducees.[10] Moreover, they did not expand their Pentateuchal canon even by adding any Samaritan compositions.

Both texts from the Church Fathers and old Samaritan texts provide us with reasons for the limited extent of the Samaritan Canon. According to some of the information the Samaritans parted with the Jews (Judeans) at such an early date that only the books of Moses were considered holy; according to other sources the group intentionally rejected the Prophets and (possibly) the other Scriptures and entrenched themselves in the Law of Moses.

The small community of the remnants of the Samaritans in Palestine includes their version of the Torah in their canon[11] The Samaritan community possesses a copy of the Torah that they believe to have been penned by Abisha, a grandson of Aaron.[citation needed]

Christian canons

The Biblical canon is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and thus constituting the Christian Bible.

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Marcion Canon

Marcion of Sinope was the first well-known heretic in the history of the early church. Marcion was the first Christian leader in recorded history to propose and delineate a canon (about 140 AD) which included 10 epistles from St. Paul as well as parts of the Gospel of Luke which today is known as the Gospel of Marcion. In so doing, he established a particular way of looking at religious texts that persists in Christian thought today. After Marcion, Christians began to divide texts into those that aligned well with the 'measuring stick' ('canon' is the Greek translation of this phrase) of accepted theological thought, and those that promoted heresy. This played a major role in finalizing the structure of the collection of works called the Bible. The initial impetus for the orthodox Christian project of canonization flowed from opposition to the 'false canonization' of Marcion.

Earliest Christian Communities

Though the Early Church used the Old Testament according to the canon of the Septuagint (LXX),[12] the apostles did not otherwise leave a defined set of new scriptures; instead the New Testament developed over time.

A folio from P46, an early 3rd century collection of Pauline epistles.

The writings attributed to the apostles circulated amongst the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating in collected form by the end of the first century AD. Justin Martyr, in the early second century, mentions the "memoirs of the apostles," which Christians called "gospels" and which were regarded as on par with the Old Testament.[13]

The first major figure to codify the Biblical canon was Origen of Alexandria.[citation needed] He was a scholar well educated in the realm of both theology and pagan philosophy. Origen decided to make his canon include all of the books in the current Catholic canon except for four books: James, 2nd Peter, and 2nd and 3rd epistles of John[14]. He also included the Shepherd of Hermas which was later rejected. The religious scholar Bruce Metzger described Origen's efforts, saying “The process of canonization represented by Origen proceeded by way of selection, moving from many candidates for inclusion to fewer.”[citation needed] This was the first major attempt at the compilation of certain books and letters as authoritative and inspired teaching for the Catholic Church at the time.

Needless to say there are various theologians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries that wrote a great deal of works and used the letters of the apostles as foundation and justification for their own personal beliefs. However, there was still the problem of the Roman Empire, and while the persecutions of the Roman Empire were many and extreme, the persecution still occurred and possibly interfered with the initial canonization of the New Testament. This period in church history writings is known as the "Edificatory Period" and was followed by the "Apologetic" "Polemical" and "Scientific" Periods. Some of the Christian writers of this edificatory Period are: Irenaus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome.[citation needed] This stagnation of official writings lead to a sudden explosion of discussions after Constantine I legalized Christianity in the early 4th century.[citation needed]

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Apostolic Fathers

A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus, c. 160.[15] By the early 200's, Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books found in modern New Testament editions, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and Revelation (see also Antilegomena).[16] Likewise by 200 the Muratorian fragment shows that there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the New Testament, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them.[17] Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the third century.[18]

Alexandrian Fathers

In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the New Testament canon,[19] and he used the phrase "being canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them.[20]

Latin Fathers

The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.[21] Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above,[19] or if not the list is at least a sixth century compilation.[22] Likewise, Damasus' commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West.[23] In 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church."[24] Thus, from the fourth century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today),[25] and by the fifth century the East, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon.[26]

Luther

Luther made an attempt to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the canon (echoing the consensus of several Catholics, also labeled Christian Humanists — such as Cardinal Ximenez, Cardinal Cajetan, and Erasmus — and partially because they were perceived to go against certain Protestant doctrines such as sola scriptura and sola fide), but this was not generally accepted among his followers. However, these books are ordered last in the German-language Luther Bible to this day.[27]

Closing of the canons

Nonetheless, full dogmatic articulations of the canon were not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism,[28] the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for British Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox.

Modern interpretation

Ethiopian and Syriac Churches

Some Christian groups do not accept the theory that the Christian Bible was not known until various local and Ecumenical Councils, which they deem to be "Roman-dominated",[citation needed] made their official declarations. For example, the Ethiopian and Syriac Christian churches which did not participate in these councils developed their own Biblical traditions. These groups believe that, in spite of the disagreements about certain books in early Christianity and, indeed, still today, the New Testament supports the view that Paul (2 Timothy 4:11–13), Peter (2 Peter 3:15–16, although it seems that not all the Syriac Church Fathers accepted this book itself as canonical,[29] and indeed it appears the Syriac Bible initially lacked all of the Catholic epistles as well as John's Revelation), and ultimately John (Revelation 22:18–19, but see the previous note) finalized the canon of the New Testament. Some note that Peter, John, and Paul wrote 20 (or 21) of the 27 books of the NT and personally knew all the other NT writers. (The books which are attributed to authors other than these three are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, James, and Jude. The authorship of Hebrews has long been disputed.)

Evangelical Protestant view

Evangelicals tend not to accept the Septuagint as the inspired Hebrew Bible, though many recognize its wide use by Greek-speaking Jews in the first century. They note that early Christians evidenced a knowledge of a canon of Scripture, based upon internal evidence, as well as by the existence of a list of Old Testament books by Melito of Sardis, compiled around 170 A.D (see Melito's canon).

Many modern Protestants point to the following four "Criteria for Canonicity" to justify the selection of the books that have been included in the New Testament:

  1. Apostolic Origin — attributed to and based upon the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their close companions).
  2. Universal Acceptance — acknowledged by all major Christian communities in the ancient world (by the end of the fourth century).
  3. Liturgical Use — read publicly when early Christian communities gathered for the Lord's Supper (their weekly worship services).
  4. Consistent Message — containing a theological outlook similar to or complementary to other accepted Christian writings.

The basic factor for recognizing a book's canonicity for the New Testament was divine inspiration, and the chief test for this was apostolicity. The term apostolic as used for the test of canonicity does not necessarily mean apostolic authorship or derivation, but rather apostolic authority. According to these Protestants, apostolic authority is never detached from the authority of the Lord.[citation needed] See Apostolic succession.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ McDonald & Sanders, editors of The Canon Debate, 2002, The Notion and Definition of Canon by Eugene Ulrich, page 29 defines canon as follows: "...the definitive list of inspired, authoritative books which constitute the recognized and accepted body of sacred scripture of a major religious group, that definitive list being the result of inclusive and exclusive decisions after serious deliberation."; page 34 defines canon of scripture as follows: "...the definitive, closed list of the books that constitute the authentic contents of scripture."
  2. ^ McDonald & Sanders, editors of The Canon Debate, 2002, The Notion and Definition of Canon by Eugene Ulrich, page 28; also from the Introduction on page 13: "We should be clear, however, that the current use of the term "canon" to refer to a collection of scripture books was introduced by David Ruhnken in 1768 in his Historia critica oratorum graecorum for lists of sacred scriptures. While it is tempting to think that such usage has its origins in antiquity in reference to a closed collection of scriptures, such is not the case." The technical discussion includes Athanasius's use of "kanonizomenon=canonized" and Eusebius's use of kanon and "endiathekous biblous=encovenanted books".
  3. ^ Athanasius Letter 39.6.3: "Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these."
  4. ^ McDonald & Sanders, page 32-33: Closed list; page 30: "But it is necessary to keep in mind Bruce Metzger's distinction between "a collection of authoritative books" and "an authoritative collection of books." "
  5. ^ McDonald & Sanders, page 4
  6. ^ McDonald & Sanders, ed., The Canon Debate, page 60, chapter 4: The Formation of the Hebrew Canon: Isaiah as a Test Case by Joseph Blenkinsopp.
  7. ^ Philip R. Davies in The Canon Debate, page 50: "With many other scholars, I conclude that the fixing of a canonical list was almost certainly the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty."
  8. ^ The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 6: Questions of Canon through the Dead Sea Scrolls by James C. VanderKam, page 94, citing private communication with Emanuel Tov on biblical manuscripts: Qumran scribe type c.25%, proto-Masoretic Text c. 40%, pre-Samaritan texts c.5%, texts close to the Hebrew model for the Septuagint c.5% and nonaligned c.25%.
  9. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Samaritans
  10. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Sadducees: "With the destruction of the Temple and the state the Sadducees as a party no longer had an object for which to live. They disappear from history, though their views are partly maintained and echoed by the Samaritans, with whom they are frequently identified (see Hippolytus, "Refutatio Hæresium," ix. 29; Epiphanius, l.c. xiv.; and other Church Fathers, who ascribe to the Sadducees the rejection of the Prophets and the Hagiographa; comp. also Sanh. 90b, where "Ẓadduḳim" stands for "Kutim" [Samaritans]; Sifre, Num. 112; Geiger, l.c. pp. 128-129), and by the Karaites (see Maimonides, commentary on Ab. i. 3; Geiger, "Gesammelte Schriften," iii. 283-321; also Anan ben David; Karaites)."
  11. ^ JewishEncyclopedia.com - SAMARITANS
  12. ^ McDonald & Sanders's 2002 The Canon Debate, page 259: "the so-called Septuagint was not in itself formally closed." — attributed to Albert Sundberg's 1964 Harvard dissertation.
  13. ^ Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) pp. 302–303; cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology 67.3.
  14. ^ Prat, Ferdinand. "Origen and Origenism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 Jul. 2008.<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11306b.htm>. According to Eusebius' Church History 6.25: a 22 book OT [though Eusebius doesn't name Minor Prophets, presumably just an oversight?] + 1 DeuteroCanon ["And outside these are the Maccabees, which are entitled S<ph?>ar beth sabanai el."] + 4 Gospels but on the Apostle "Paul ... did not so much as write to all the churches that he taught; and even to those to which he wrote he sent but a few lines."
  15. ^ Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) pp. 301; cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.11.8
  16. ^ Both points taken from Mark A. Noll's Turning Points, (Baker Academic, 1997) pp 36–37
  17. ^ H. J. De Jonge, "The New Testament Canon," in The Biblical Canons. eds. de Jonge & J. M. Auwers (Leuven University Press, 2003) p. 315
  18. ^ The Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1) eds. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 308
  19. ^ a b Lindberg, Carter (2006). A Brief History of Christianity. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 15. ISBN 1405110783. 
  20. ^ David Brakke, "Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria's Thirty Ninth Festal Letter," in Harvard Theological Review 87 (1994) pp. 395–419
  21. ^ Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) p. 320; F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 230; cf. Augustine, De Civitate Dei 22.8
  22. ^ F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 234
  23. ^ F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 225
  24. ^ Everett Ferguson, "Factors leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon," in The Canon Debate. eds. L. M. McDonald & J. A. Sanders (Hendrickson, 2002) p. 320; Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origins, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) pp. 237–238; F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 97
  25. ^ F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 1988) p. 215
  26. ^ The Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1) eds. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 305; cf. the Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the New Testament
  27. ^ http://www.bibelcenter.de/bibel/lu1545/ note order: ... Hebr�er, Jakobus, Judas, Offenbarung; see also http://www.bible-researcher.com/links10.html
  28. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the New Testament
  29. ^ Thomas Nicol, http://www.bible-researcher.com/syriac-isbe.html, retrieved 12/16/2009

References

  • Anchor Bible Dictionary
  • Ante-Nicene Fathers, Eerdmans Press
  • Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot-Harmer-Holmes, ISBN 978-0-8010-5676-5
  • Encyclopedia of the Early Church, Oxford
  • Beckwith, R.T. OT Canon of the NT Church ISBN 978-0-8028-3617-5
  • Brakke, David. "Canon formation and social conflict in fourth century Egypt," in Harvard Theological Review 87:4 (1994) pp. 395–419. Athanasius' role in the formation of the N.T. canon.
  • Bruce, F.F., Canon of Scripture ISBN 978-0-8308-1258-5
  • Davis, L.D. First Seven Ecumenical Councils ISBN 978-0-8146-5616-7
  • Ferguson Encyclopedia of Early Christianity
  • Fox, Robin Lane. The Unauthorized Version. 1992.
  • Gamble. NT Canon ISBN 1579109098
  • Hennecke-Schneemelcher. NT Apocrypha
  • Jurgens, W.A. Faith of the Early Fathers ISBN 978-0-8146-5616-7
  • Metzger, Bruce. Canon of the NT ISBN 978-0-19-826180-3
  • Noll, Mark A. Turning Points. Baker Academic, 1997. ISBN 978-0-8010-6211-7
  • John Salza, Scripture Catholic, Septuagint references
  • Sundberg. OT of the Early Church Harvard Press 1964

Further reading

  • Barnstone, Willis (ed.) The Other Bible: Ancient Alternative Scriptures. HarperCollins, 1984, ISBN 978-0739484340.
  • Childs, Brevard S., The New Testament as canon: an introduction ISBN 0334022126
  • Gamble, Harry Y., The New Testament canon: its making and meaning ISBN 0800604709
  • McDonald, Lee Martin, Forgotten Scriptures. the Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writings, 2009, ISBN 978-0-664-23357-0
  • McDonald, Lee Martin, The formation of the Christian biblical canon ISBN 0687132932
  • McDonald, Lee Martin, Early Christianity and its sacred literature ISBN 1565632664
  • McDonald, Lee Martin, The Biblical canon: its origin, transmission, and authority ISBN 9781565639256
  • McDonald, Lee Martin, and James A. Sanders (eds.) The canon debate ISBN 1565635175
  • Metzger, Bruce Manning, The Canon of the New Testament: its origin, development, and significance ISBN 0198261802
  • Souter, Alexander, The text and canon of the New Testament, 2nd. ed., Studies in theology; no. 25. London: Duckworth (1954)
  • Ned Bernhard Stonehouse, The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church: A Study in the History of the New Testament Canon, 1929
  • Wall, Robert W., The New Testament as canon: a reader in canonical criticism ISBN 1850753741
  • Westcott, Brooke Foss, A general survey of the history of the canon of the New Testament, 4th. ed, London: Macmillan (1875)

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