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Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Did The Canon Happen?

How exactly did this canon that we now know as our Bible come to be? This is a contentious issue that neither the left or right theological sides are able to agree upon (less than surprisingly). This post is going to be a bit on the longer side, but I think it's an interesting one, and a topic I absolutely adore. Here is a time line I "stole" from Columbia University, that I consider to be pretty reliable.




"DEVELOPMENT OF THE BIBLICAL CANON

adapted from materials of Professor Paul Hahn of the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas

Development of the Old Testament Canon


1000-50 BC:
The Old Testament (hereafter "OT") books are written.
C. 200 BC:
Rabbis translate the OT from Hebrew to Greek, a translation called the "Septuagint" (abbreviation: "LXX"). The LXX ultimately includes 46 books.
AD 30-100:
Christians use the LXX as their scriptures. This upsets the Jews.
C. AD 100:
So Jewish rabbis meet at the Council of Jamniah and decide to include in their canon only 39 books, since only these can be found in Hebrew.
C. AD 400:
Jerome translates the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin (called the "Vulgate"). He knows that the Jews have only 39 books, and he wants to limit the OT to these; the 7 he would leave out (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach [or "Ecclesiasticus"], and Baruch--he calls "apocrypha," that is, "hidden books." But Pope Damasus wants all 46 traditionally-used books included in the OT, so the Vulgate has 46.
AD 1536:
Luther translates the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to German. He assumes that, since Jews wrote the Old Testament, theirs is the correct canon; he puts the extra 7 books in an appendix that he calls the "Apocrypha."
AD 1546:
The Catholic Council of Trent reaffirms the canonicity of all 46 books.

Development of the New Testament Canon

C. AD 51-125:
The New Testament books are written, but during this same period other early Christian writings are produced--for example, the Didache (c. AD 70), 1 Clement (c. 96), the Epistle of Barnabas (c. 100), and the 7 letters of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110).
C. AD 140:
Marcion, a businessman in Rome, teaches that there were two Gods: Yahweh, the cruel God of the OT, and Abba, the kind father of the NT. So Marcion eliminates the Old Testament as scriptures and, since he is anti-Semitic, keeps from the NT only 10 letters of Paul and 2/3 of Luke's gospel (he deletes references to Jesus' Jewishness). Marcion's "New Testament"--the first to be compiled--forces the mainstream Church to decide on a core canon: the four gospels and letters of Paul.
C. AD 200:
But the periphery of the canon is not yet determined. According to one list, compiled at Rome c. AD 200 (the Muratorian Canon), the NT consists of the 4 gospels; Acts; 13 letters of Paul (Hebrews is not included); 3 of the 7 General Epistles (1-2 John and Jude); and also the Apocalypse of Peter.
AD 367:
The earliest extant list of the books of the NT, in exactly the number and order in which we presently have them, is written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter letter of 367. [Note: this is well after the Constantine's Edict of Toleration in 313 A.D.]
AD 904:
Pope Damasus, in a letter to a French bishop, lists the New Testament books in their present number and order.
AD 1442:
At the Council of Florence, the entire Church recognizes the 27 books, though does not declare them unalterable.
AD 1536:
In his translation of the Bible from Greek into German, Luther removes 4 NT books (Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelations) from their normal order and places them at the end, stating that they are less than canonical.
AD 1546:
At the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church reaffirms once and for all the full list of 27 books as traditionally accepted."
 Source: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/a/canon.html  (Obviously, I don't own the rights to anything from Columbia University, I just thought it would be nice to provide a more tangible time line for people to view. All rights belong to their respective owner.)
Another time line for the New (or Second) Testament is provided by the Professor Dale B. Martin of Yale University. I've gone through his video series on the New Testament, and if you have the time, I would highly recommend it. If not, simply watching his lecture #2 "From Stories to Canon" would suffice. I won't paste this whole thing, but I will provide a link (it's a PDF format) to his note outline for the session which covers a much briefer, but more in-depth look at the early church and the canon. Here is a link to the session you can listen to, or even watch in a flash video.

Another important happening in the "early" church's history was the Council of Carthage (took place over multiple centuries, actually, through various synods or meetings). This essentially established a canon very similar to what he have in the modern day by solidifying what Athanasius (the Bishop of the church of Alexandria) had written to be scripture in 367. A more precise list of what was established at this council is:
  • The Council of Carthage, called the third by Denzinger,[4] on 28 August 397 issued a canon of the Bible quoted as, "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kingdoms, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, the Davidic Psalter, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Ezra, 2 books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 letter of his to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Jude, and one book of the Apocalypse of John."
Okay, okay, the information I've provided above has all been of the historical-critical tradition, and isn't typically what you would hear in church or consider "orthodox." To be completely fair to every perspective of the history of the Bible (Biblical canon), I'll provide a time line that is more orthodox. Here is the website for this, and I'll paste an excerpt for use here. As always, the rights of this information are the sole property of its owner(s). Legal blah, blah, blah.

"The New Testament

Autographs

45- 95 A.D. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts are all dated from 45-63 A.D. The Gospel of John and the Revelation may have been written as late as 95 A.D.

Manuscripts

There are over 5,600 early Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence. The oldest manuscripts were written on papyrus and the later manuscripts were written on leather called parchment.
  • 125 A.D. The New Testament manuscript which dates most closely to the original autograph was copied around 125 A.D, within 35 years of the original. It is designated "p 52" and contains a small portion of John 18. (The "p" stands for papyrus.)
  • 200 A.D. Bodmer p 66 a papyrus manuscript which contains a large part of the Gospel of John.
  • 200 A.D. Chester Beatty Biblical papyrus p 46 contains the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews.
  • 225 A.D. Bodmer Papyrus p 75 contains the Gospels of Luke and John.
  • 250-300 A.D. Chester Beatty Biblical papyrus p 45 contains portions of the four Gospels and Acts.
  • 350 A.D. Codex Sinaiticus contains the entire New Testament and almost the entire Old Testament in Greek. It was discovered by a German scholar Tisendorf in 1856 at an Orthodox monastery at Mt. Sinai.
  • 350 A.D. Codex Vaticanus: {B} is an almost complete New Testament. It was cataloged as being in the Vatican Library since 1475."
What I've provided is just a very brief excerpt from the website as I don't really want to "overload" my post with way too much information. Like in everything religious, everywhere you go, you're going to find a different opinion. Wrapping up this post, I think there are just a few things you need to know.
  • Canon -- a standard of measuring. In this case of a Biblical canon, this is the "standard" of the Bible, or the books that are included.
  • Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate are two common Bible translations that are historically quite important.
  • The Apocrypha is the group of books that are rejected by the Protestant and Jewish canon, but accepted in the Roman Catholic Canon (excepted as deuterocanonical [second canon] books).
  • And The Council of Carthage which establishes "finally" a canon that resembles something we are more familiar with.
  •  The Council of Trent re-establishes the authority of the apocryphal (deuterocanonical) books.
  • The history of the Bible and the various canons it has developed from is far from a well-paved, easy to travel road. Though what each church now holds as sacred is unlikely to change, there are variations in everyone's Bible depending on where they live.
For those of you who are curious, here is a link to a wiki about the various Biblical canons and the books included in them. Yeah, yeah, I know that wikipedia is "less than reliable," but I think this table is something difficult to find elsewhere, and is really interesting.

P.S. Many thanks to Paul. I've updated the post with a bit more information!

2 comments:

  1. The most important aspect of the canon is the authority that the Council of Carthage, held by a group of Catholic bishops, met to decide to canon of scripture. They had authority to decided which books belonged in the Canon and which didn't.

    This is from wikipedia:

    The Council of Carthage, called the third by Denzinger,[4] on 28 August 397 issued a canon of the Bible quoted as, "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kingdoms, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, the Davidic Psalter, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Ezra, 2 books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 letter of his to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Jude, and one book of the Apocalypse of John."

    This is the most important link in my opinion:
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/01/the-canon-question/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Paul! Thanks for the comment. I did leave out the Council of Carthage (mainly from forgetfulness), so I corrected that and added it there. However, I wouldn't consider it the most important aspect of canonical history. My personal feeling is that the history of the canon is a bit too flexible to truly have a "most important" aspect. However, I do admit that I can see where you're coming from.

    The Synod of Hippo beat the CofC by about four years in that it was the first real gathering of bishops in the Christian church to vote on a group of books as canonical or not (as Athanasius has called them).

    With that being said, I do admit that I would consider the Council of Carthage to be more "important" than Hippo in that it was a bit more wide-scale and its effects were a bit more concrete. As such, I updated the post to reflect that. Thanks for reading it critically though!

    ReplyDelete