Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 22, 1966
NUMBER 33, PAGE 2b-3a

A Study Of New Testament Canon II.

Harry E. Ozment

In our last article, we established five important facts:

(1) A study of the canon is a Bible subject.

(2) A study of the canon is important to you and me.

(3) The canon refers to those books which rightfully belong to the Bible.

(4) There is a difference between a book's canonicity and its authority.

(5) There were several factors which Christians and churches uses in determining a book's canonicity.

In this article, and in succeeding articles, we want to follow the formation of the canon and see how the different books were either rejected or accepted. By about 400 A.D. there was universal agreement regarding the exact canon; therefore, there is no need to look upon the pages of history after 400 A. D. Hence, we shall limit our study of the development of the canon to the years between ca. 50 A. D. (when the first New Testament book was written (and ca. 400 A. D. (when the formation of the canon was completed). For the sake of convenience, we shall divide these 350 years into five different periods of time and study the formation of the canon within each of these five time periods. We shall arbitrarily name the five periods as follows:

(1) The Apostolic Age (33-95 A.D.)

(2) The Apostolic Fathers Age (96-150 A.D.)

(3) The Greek Apologists Age (151-180 A.D.)

(4) The Later Ante-Nicene Fathers Age (181-325 A. D.)

(5) Early Church Council Age (ca. 397 A.D.)

We will explain the names of the periods of time as we come to each age in our discussion.

The earliest point at which we can study the canon of the New Testament is a study of the New Testament itself -- the Apostolic Age (the age of the apostles).

Of course, the books of the New Testament were written in this period, although it must be remembered that almost twenty years elapsed after the ascension of Christ before the first New Testament book was written. During this time, the church had as its only written Scripture the Old Testament. In fact, the apostles and preachers of the day preached Christ many times using the Old Testament as the "launching point". Peter used and quoted the Old Testament in his sermons recorded in Acts two, three, and ten. Stephen used the Old Testament in Acts seven to show how Christ fulfilled the Law. Philip preached to the Eunuch, using Isaiah 53 as a starting point. Wherever the apostle Paul went, he almost always preached from or referred to the Old Testament.

Some churches began to depend heavily upon the Old Law too heavily. The gospel of Christ and Christianity was being adulterated with Judaism. It was at this point that Paul wrote his Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans to defend the gospel. In Ga1.3:23-25, Paul writes: "Before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor."

There was, then, understandably enough, no "canon" during this period. This situation was due to the fact that there existed apostles and prophets, who were the revealers and interpreters of divine scripture. There was no pressing need of a canon as long as these men lived and declared the revealed word of God. The gospel was first taught by word of mouth, not by pen in hand. When a community received the oral message, however, there was a need to have a written law to govern Christians. The Pauline and other epistles met this need. Paul wrote in Eph. 3:3-5: "By revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in f ew words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. " A short time later, there was seen the need for an accurate account of the life of Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written to satisfy this need. The Book of Acts supplied the need for an authentic history of some of the words of some of the apostles and a precise account of the early New Testament church, The Apocalypse (or, Revelation) was written to show the courage of the early Christians and the indestructibility of the kingdom of God.

In other articles, we shall study the development of the canon after ca. 100 A. D. In this article, we have learned:

(1) It took about 350 years to complete the formation of the entire canon.

(2) The Old Testament was the only written Scripture for the first few years of the church.

(3) Hence, there was no canon of the New Testament in the Apostolic Age.

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