Results tagged “Canon” from Reformation21 Blog

The Canon of Scripture

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Be sure to listen to this week's Mortification of Spin. Todd, Carl, and Aimee examine questions like, how can we trust the books in the Bible to be the only Word of God, or "canon", to which no man should add or subtract? What exactly is the canon and why is it important? What are its fundamental flaws, (and if there are any), then how can we be confident in it? The canon can be an intimidating topic so naturally we spared no expense in bringing out the big guns: Michael Kruger. Dr. Kruger is President of Reformed Seminary Charlotte, Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, and author of numerous books. Listen at MortificationofSpin.org.

We were privileged to have Michael Kruger join us last April in Bryn Mawr for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology 2016 conference How Firm a Foundation: The Bible's Authority, Sufficiency, and Clarity. Michael spoke on the canonization of the New Testament in the pre-conference, Why These Books and No Others? Later he joined Philip Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Richard Phillips for the conference plenary sessions. The audio from PCRT 2016 is now available on ReformedResources.org via CD, MP3 on CD or MP3 download.

Text links
http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/podcast

http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2016-how-firm-a-foundation/why-these-books-and-no-others-the-canonization-of-the-new-testament-pcrt-2016-mp3-set/

http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2016-how-firm-a-foundation/how-firm-a-foundation-the-bibles-authority-sufficiency-and-clarity-pcrt-2016-cd-set/

http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2016-how-firm-a-foundation/how-firm-a-foundation-the-bibles-authority-sufficiency-and-clarity-pcrt-2016-mp3-anthology/

http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2016-how-firm-a-foundation/?page=1

Why These Books and No Others?

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Every year around this time you can no doubt find numerous documentaries on television or articles written about the "Real Jesus" or the "Lost Books of the Bible."  These are often little more than thinly veiled - or not so thinly veiled - arguments against Jesus as Lord and Savior and the New Testament canon.

What was once accepted in academia - Who wrote the New Testament? Who is Jesus? Why these books and no other? - is no more. And as the framework of scholarship has shifted, doubt about the authority and clarity of Scripture has led many in the Church to question. 

The 2016 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology addresses the topic of canon head on. We are greatly blessed to have our pre-conference seminar on the topic of the canon of Scripture, presented by two preeminent New Testament scholars today, Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a leading authority in this field, and by Charles Hill, the John R. Richardson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. Attending these sessions is sure to bolster not only your faith that the Bible is God's Word but also how it is God's Word.

We are excited to have PCRT return to Grand Rapids and Bryn Mawr. Our plenary sessions will feature the contributions of some of the most able preachers and scholars of our time, including Derek Thomas, Philip Ryken, and Drs. Kruger and Hill. We hope you will join us. Visit the PCRT web page for more information and to register.

Book Giveaway
InterVarsity Press has graciously sent us a number of copies of Michael Kruger's book The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate to giveaway.  The drawing closes on Thursday, April 21 so sign-up today. You can also order a copy at Reformed Resources.

Text links:
http://www.alliancenet.org/how-firm-a-foundation-the-bibles-authority-sufficiency-and-clarity
http://goo.gl/forms/dDdHgWmA4G
http://www.reformedresources.org/books/the-question-of-canon-challenging-the-status-quo-in-the-new-testament-debate/

An Apostolic Case for Sola Scriptura

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All historic Christians confess the Nicene Creed, which posits that we believe "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." However, one of the crucial differences between the Protestant tradition and the Roman and Orthodox varieties is how we reckon what it means to be "apostolic." These different views frequently center on understanding how the canon of Scripture was formulated and consequently what relationship the Church has to Scripture. The Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura is often denounced as a sixteenth century innovation by Roman and Orthodox apologists, but the Reformers themselves insisted that their doctrine of Scripture was the ancient, catholic, and truly apostolic teaching. They insisted rather, that it was the Orthodox and Roman communions that had departed from the apostolic doctrine of Scripture in so far as they set non-scriptural traditions, church councils, or particular church authorities on an equal footing as Scripture or even as an authority above it.

This essay sets out to sketch an answer to the question: What role did the apostles themselves play in the canonization of the New Testament Scriptures, and what clarity does our answer to that question shed on the apostolic understanding of the relationship between Scripture, the Church, and Tradition? This essay hardly scratches the surface of the vast conversation on this topic, but I hope its thesis is at least thoughtful enough to suggest further study.

Let's begin with a sample Roman Catholic description of these matters:
The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council (The Catholic Encyclopedia)
And here's a short representative summary of the Orthodox position:
It is from the Church that Holy Scripture ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church, which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority (Father Demetrios Serfes)
While there are no doubt differences in how the Roman and Orthodox traditions speak of the formation of the canon and the Church's relationship to Scripture (I doubt the Orthodox recognize Trent as the completion of the canon), there is enough similarity to speak of their doctrine of Scripture (in this regard) as largely the same, which I summarize as: The complete canon of Scripture was not determined until centuries after the apostles, and the Church (led by the Holy Spirit) determined what the canon of Scripture was. Therefore, the Scriptures derive their authority from the Church. And I take it as given if the Church determined the canon and Scripture derives its authority from the Church, then there is no reason why the Church might not also grant a similar authority to other "apostolic" or ecclesiastical traditions. 

The problem with this understanding is that there are strong historical indications that this was not the understanding of the apostles themselves or the first Christians who made up the early church (despite the Catholic Encyclopedia's claims to the contrary).

In fact, there is a strong case to be made that the apostles and first Christians knew what books would form the New Testament canon very early on. The reason they knew was because the task of writing the New Testament Scriptures was one of the central purposes of the office of apostles. A popular caricature of the process of canonization (a somewhat problematic phrase in its own right) is that tons of early Christians wrote tons of stuff and that it was only after the deaths of the first generation of Christians (or so) when the subsequent generations of Christians suddenly woke up and began scrambling to collect as many meaningful looking scraps as they could find, like grabbing flecks of confetti blowing around in the wind. And the Holy Spirit led the Church to find all the right pieces and paste them all together just right. The wind blows where it wishes, and so does the Spirit, and so on. While I certainly grant that it could have happened that way, all the indicators are quite the opposite.

The center of the evidence for a largely completed canon by the death of the apostles is grounded in understanding the office of apostle itself. All three synoptic gospels make a big deal about who the original twelve apostles were (Mt. 10:2-5, Mk. 3:14, Lk. 6:13-16), and the apostles themselves indicate that they understood that this was a big deal when they replaced Judas Iscariot with Mathias (Acts 1:13, 21-26). Luke says that after Jesus rose from the dead He spent most of His time teaching "the apostles whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:2). While all of the disciples gathered in Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit to be poured out, Jesus gave this command directly to the apostles because they were to be a unique body of testimony, witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). All Christians are witnesses, all Christians are sent out in some sense, but the twelve apostles were the first witnesses, the authorized witnesses, the authoritative witnesses. This is why the ordinary requirement of an apostle was that he be a witness of the entire ministry of Jesus from His baptism to His ascension (Acts 1:22).

St. Paul indicates this unique role of apostle when he says that the Church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). Likewise, when John sees the New Jerusalem, the Christian Church, coming down out of heaven adorned as a bride, he sees that its foundation is inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:14). Of course many of the first Christians had been disciples of Jesus and they had witnessed His miracles and death and resurrection, but when the early church met together to fellowship, break bread, and pray, they gathered to hear the "teaching of the apostles" (Acts 2:42). Mary was there and surely her testimony played a significant role in informing the teaching of the apostles (cf. Acts 1:14), but nevertheless the church gathered to hear the "teaching of the apostles." This is very significant because as the early church grew and spread (which it did very rapidly), this "teaching of the apostles" would continue to be an essential element of Christian worship and life. And in order for that to continue and be preserved, there had to be some way of verifying and regulating what that "apostolic teaching" actually was.

In fact, this is precisely where the New Testament came from. This is hardly a controversial point, but what is contested is how conscious and intentional the apostles and first Christians were of this goal. Here, I argue that the apostles were quite conscious of this goal. Jesus had entrusted to them the "testimony" not merely for a small band of Jews in Jerusalem, but they were to be witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. How would that testimony reach the ends of the earth intact without devolving into an elaborate telephone game? The apostles and their assistants almost immediately began writing. This is because the apostles knew that their office was responsible for preserving and passing down the authoritative testimony of the gospel of Jesus. This is why every New Testament book was written or sponsored by an apostle.

This unique office of apostle is underlined by Paul's unusual apostleship, which he himself noted repeatedly throughout his writings (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:8-9). He saw himself as the "least of all the apostles" -- the apostle "untimely born." It's highly instructive and somewhat amusing that such a large portion of the New Testament was written by an "apostle" who was not part of the original twelve. His name is not on any of the lists. But far from negating everything we've just said, it's actually the sort of exception that helps to prove the rule. Everywhere Paul went he ran into controversy and accusations, and one of the most frequent objections was the fact that he wasn't a real apostle. He's constantly defending the authenticity of his apostolic calling (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12, 1 Cor. 9:1-5). Not only was Paul not among the original twelve, but clearly he had an inordinate influence in the early church. He "worked harder than any of them" (1 Cor. 15:10). And the real clincher in this is how Paul walked the very fine line between acknowledging the other apostles and simultaneously not needing their approval (Gal. 2:5-6). Paul did not need to get permission from the other apostles to preach Jesus to the Gentiles. He respected their apostleship and sought to labor alongside of them, but Paul insisted that he had been directly commission by Jesus Himself no less than any of the other apostles (Gal. 1:11-12).

Part Two...

This exception helps to prove the rule because Paul insists on a similar criteria for being an apostle (chosen by Jesus and a witness of His resurrection, e.g. 1 Cor. 15:8-9) and clearly insists on the exact same authority -- His words are to be received as the very words of God (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13). And here is where we dive right back into our apostolic case for Sola Scriptura. Paul says that what he received from the Lord (specifically here, the Lord's Supper), he delivered to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:23). First off, note that even though Paul wasn't at the Last Supper, he says he received the authority to pass the Lord's Supper on to the Corinthians from Jesus. This is startling, and yet ministers frequently read these words of institution at the Table of the Lord without reeling from the glorious irony of that claim. Particularly in Protestant contexts, this really is glorious. It's a standing apostolic claim that Jesus is free to work outside some kind of strict apostolic succession. Secondly, Paul insists that Jesus sent him specifically to the Gentiles to deliver that "tradition" by spoken and written word (2 Thess. 2:15, Gal. 2:7). Now the Roman and Orthodox like to make a big deal about this oral tradition that Paul refers to, but unfortunately, in my experience, few of them read Paul very carefully on this point. Of course the Thessalonians could remember specific oral instructions that Paul had spoken, but in the course of things, they were also receiving reports from others about other oral traditions from Paul (or other apostles or pseudo-apostles). Apparently, they had received prophecies purporting to contradict what Paul had said and even letters claiming to be from Paul or the other apostles. (2 Thess. 2:2). It's in that context that Paul insists that they must adhere only to the true apostolic traditions. But this begs the question: How do they know which ones are the "true" ones? Paul tells them: "If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed" (2 Thess. 3:14, emphasis mine). And not only that, knowing that there were other written letters purporting to be from him, Paul closes the letter very deliberately: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write" (2 Thess. 3:17). In other words, Paul insists that his written words trump all other reports, and his written words can and should be verified by the mark of his signature (cf. Gal. 6:11, Col. 4:18). Paul insists that his written words are the gold standard by which all other received traditions must be tested. This is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

This phenomenon would have hardly been unique to Paul, and therefore, anything anybody heard about the "teaching of the apostles" would have needed to be verified and tested. And the apostolic standard or "canon" by which all traditions were tested was what they wrote. Given the messiness of the first century church, this is why there's good reason to believe that the New Testament canon was largely settled by the death of the apostles.

Another piece of the evidence comes indirectly from Randolph Richards' helpful historical study Paul and First Century Letter Writing. As the title indicates, Richards carefully explains the nature of letter writing in the first century, and among many gems, Richards notes that every letter of any significance would have been carbon copied for the author to keep for his records. Given distances and time, the opportunity for forgeries and corruption was high, and so precautions were taken to prevent it. Authors ordinarily kept copies of every significant communication so that all claims might be verified. When Paul begs Timothy to bring the parchments with him when he comes, there's a high degree of likelihood that these would have included his personal copies of his letters that would make up his corpus of the New Testament (2 Tim. 4:13). Given the fact that Peter ended up in Rome at around the same time as Paul, and Luke is there already with Paul, and Mark is on his way (2 Tim. 4:11), we have all the indications that one of the first apostolic New Testament canon committees was holding session there in Rome in the mid 60s A.D. And if all that weren't enough, don't forget the fact that Peter refers to Paul's letters as Scripture right around the same time (2 Pet. 3:15-16). In other words, the apostles knew what they were doing. Think about it. Luke apparently has access to the other gospels (Lk. 1:1), has written his own, and has just finished up the book of Acts, add in Peter's own letters, Mark's presence, Paul's personal copies of his letters, and we've got most of the New Testament accounted for. Peter or Paul might have easily had copies of James and Jude from their time in Jerusalem. Add in John's gospel, letters, and apocalypse, and we're there.

Two other pieces of evidence give this thesis even more credibility. First, an argument from Jewish tradition. Many of the first Christians were Jews who came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Jesus Himself was a Jewish rabbi who valued the written Scriptures as evidenced by the numerous times He began sentences with the statement, "It is written..." Jesus and his first disciples had a deep understanding of the significance of a written standard for truth. This went all the way back to the law given at Sinai, the Torah, the Testimony. If the pages of the Old Testament were full of the promises of Messiah, there's no doubt that the first believers understood that a New Testament had to be written as an official record that this had in fact come to pass. Nothing less than a written record and standard would suffice. Anything less would fail to match the high claims of the gospel.
And finally, the extra biblical historical evidence for this thesis is considerable. Despite some argument and variation in the early church on the exact table of contents in the New Testament, the astonishing thing is actually how unified and likeminded the early Christians were immediately following the death of the last apostles. The earliest post-apostolic indication that the canon of Scripture was well known and accepted very early on is seen in the rejection of the heretic Marcion who lived around 110 A.D. He rejected the entire Old Testament and accepted only a highly edited version of the gospel of Luke and a collection of ten letters considered Pauline. But faithful Christians objected to Marcion's deracination of the New Testament. It would have made no sense at all for Tertullian and others to object to Marcion's canon if the Church was still trying to decide what it was.

Irenaeus insists on the authority of all four gospels by around 160 A.D., and the Muratorian fragment is typically dated to around 170 A.D. based on the internal references to Hermas and Pius 1, the bishop of Rome. While the fragment omits Hebrews and 3 John, the rest of the canon is accounted for. Thus, by 170 A.D., we have record of a nearly complete list of the New Testament books. If the table of contents was so up for grabs, so disputed, so unknown, the historical record should indicate far more variation, but instead we have enormous agreement on most of the canon of the New Testament with a couple of exceptions, which, as in the example of Paul's apostleship, actually help to prove the rule. 

The primary argument will be over verifying the authenticity of those exceptions. Can they be proven to have been written by or sponsored by one of the apostles? And when they were, they were received as Scripture. But this indicates not that the Church determined the canon centuries after the apostles, but rather it was the authority of the apostles that conferred scriptural status on particular writings and not others. Of course the apostles were the foundation of the Church, and in that limited sense, the Church determined the canon. But this is hardly what is usually meant by that claim. It is more accurate to say that the apostles are the foundation of the Church through their permanently inscribed testimony in Scripture. In other words, Scripture is the apostolic foundation of the Church. The Church derives its authority from Scripture, and not the other way around.

Far from the New Testament canon being something that needed to be figured out over many centuries, all the indicators are that Jesus appointed twelve men to be His official witnesses, and it was their job to pass down an authoritative testimony of the essential gospel of Jesus. All other traditions and rumors, however helpful or contradictory stand or fall at the written words of the apostles. This is the apostolic faith, and this is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Those churches that yield true and humble submission to those words and instructions are the faithful adherents to the apostles.


Toby Sumpter serves as pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho where he lives with his wife and their four children. He's the author of A Son for Glory: Job Through New Eyes and Blood-Bought World: Jesus, Idols, and the Bible

Follow the links to read the introduction and part one of this series.

"In forming a catalogue of Scripture," Calvin writes, "they [the Roman Catholic Council of Trent] mark all the books with the same chalk, and insist on placing the Apocrypha in the same rank with the others." Thus Calvin summarizes the second of the four points he discerns in Trent's teaching on Scripture. There is little need to repeat Trent's words in their entirety. The decree in question provides "a list of the Sacred Books" comprising those books that Protestants are accustomed to finding in their Bibles and some books, commonly called Apocryphal (or Deuterocanonical), that they are not -- namely, 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. The decree concludes by anathematizing any and all who "shall not receive these entire Books, with all their parts ... as sacred and canonical," thereby despising "the foresaid traditions" -- a reference back to those "unwritten traditions" which, alongside of Scripture, has already been identified by Trent as a unique source of Christian doctrine.

Calvin offers a two-pronged response to Trent's "admitting" of "all [these] Books promiscuously into the Canon." The first prong advances his preceding argument from Christian tradition itself against recognition of tradition as an infallible source of unique Christian doctrine. Calvin now observes how un-traditional the inclusion of these Apocryphal books in the Canon is: "I say nothing more than it is done against the consent of the primitive Church."

In support of this claim, Calvin references the writings of two late-fourth/early-fifth century Church Fathers: Jerome and Tyrannius Rufinus. Oddly enough, Calvin doesn't seem all that interested in the opinions of Jerome and Rufinus per se regarding the Apocryphal books. He's interested, rather, in the testimony these Fathers provide in their writings to even earlier Christian judgments about the canonicity of the books in question. Thus he cites Rufinus's assertion in about 408 that "our fathers" -- that is, Rufinus's "fathers" -- judged the books in question to be "not Canonical," named the same "Apocrypha," and "would not have [them] read in the Churches" (The Creed of Aquileia, para. 38). With regard to Jerome: "It is well known," Calvin observers, "what [he] states as the common opinion of earlier times." Presumably Calvin has in mind something like Jerome's observation that "the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures." Jerome made numerous, similar statements about the Church's historic stance towards the other Apocryphal books.

Calvin could, of course, have made further appeal to Jerome's own opinion. Jerome, after all, cited "the common opinion of earlier times" in defense of his own very clear denial of canonical status to the Apocryphal books (as seen, for instance, in the prefaces he drafted for his Latin translation of the Bible). Jerome did, however, include -- with a clear disclaimer regarding their non-canonical status -- the Apocryphal books in his Vulgate, presumably in deference both to the merits of said books as ancient and useful (albeit uninspired) writings and to the opinion of those who disagreed with him about the canonicity of the books in question.

And there were, as Calvin himself readily acknowledges, some who defended -- contra Jerome and Rufinus -- the canonicity of the Apocryphal books, among them the famous contemporary of Jerome and Rufinus, Augustine of Hippo. Calvin seems to think the opinion represented by Jerome and Rufinus has an older pedigree than that represented by Augustine, but he doesn't press the point. He concludes rather modestly with "let us assume that the point was then undecided."

The ambiguity in early judgments about the Apocryphal books ran substantially deeper than Calvin seems to realize. In fact, it pre-dated Christianity as such. The books in question were denied canonical status in the Hebrew Bible by Palestinian Jews, but afforded canonical status by Hellenistic Jews (Greek speaking Jews living outside Palestine) and so included in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures completed in Alexandria (the Septuagint). In the second century following Christ's birth, the Jews finally reached consensus among themselves in favor of the narrower canon (that which excluded the Apocrypha).

Their disagreement lingered on, however, in Christianity, with Eastern Christians typically following the Palestinian Jews in denying canonical status to the Apocrypha, and Western Christians typically following the Hellenistic Jews in affording canonical status to the Apocrypha (Jerome and Rufinus constituting two notable exceptions). Those who defended the canonicity of the books in question, for example Augustine, typically bought the now largely discredited story about seventy 3rd-century B.C. Jews translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek independently of one another and -- miraculously -- arriving at the very same (inspired) translation. In other words, their preference for the Septuagint's canon was informed by rather misguided assumptions about the Septuagint's nature and origins.

Calvin, had he only known, could have included such Eastern luminaries as Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gregory of Nazianzus among the ranks of Fathers who denied that the Apocryphal books belong to the Bible. In truth, however, ambiguity in early Christian judgments about the Apocryphal books is all that Calvin needed to discredit Trent's teaching on the issue. Trent, after all, in claiming that the "sacred and canonical" status of the Apocryphal books has the (infallible) authority of "unwritten tradition," presumes that some largely univocal tradition concerning the Apocryphal books actually exists. Either the Roman Catholic Fathers at Trent purposed to deceive in this regard, or they made a rather unfortunate historical blunder on the basis of their own ignorance. The implicit claim of a univocal "tradition" on the Apocrypha is a historical blunder not, perhaps, on par with the Book of Mormon's populating the Americas with horses hundreds of years before their (re)introduction there by European explorers, but it's not too far from the same. And, critically, it's a historical blunder in a place where no such blunder should exist -- the canons and decrees of an (infallible) ecumenical council.

Trent's apparent ignorance regarding those early Christians who -- in keeping with the more orthodox of Jewish traditions -- rejected the canonical status of the Apocryphal books, along with its subsequent anathematizing of all who reject said books as "sacred and canonical," has the further (and rather unfortunate) effect of damning such Fathers as Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Jerome, among others. That seems a rather un-catholic (not to mention uncharitable) gesture on the part of the "Catholic" Church.

The ambiguity in early Christian opinions about the Apocrypha also highlights the ultimate need to evaluate claims of the Apocrypha's canonicity by some higher standard than tradition. Thus Calvin introduces the second prong of his response to Rome, showing how the Apocryphal books, unlike Sacred Scripture, fail to testify to their own inspired and infallible status. Calvin points, for instance, to the concluding remark of the author of 2 Maccabees: "I ... will here make an end of my narration," the author writes, "which if I have done... not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me." The Holy Spirit, Calvin observes, begs no forgiveness for errors or faults in His words.

The author of Maccabees' words, it must be said, do seem a far cry from the confidence informing the Apostle John's rather dire warning against making additions or subtractions to his inspired text, and by implication at least, making additions or subtractions to the entire canon as such (Rev. 22:18-19).

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Jenkins on the Canon of the East

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In our circles, historian Philip Jenkins appears to be best known for his work on global Christianity, beginning with Next Christendom (Oxford, 2002; 3d edition, 2011--now part of his Future of Christianity trilogy). Just before that, however, he released Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford, 2001). Written by a serious historian, that work exposes the silliness of contemporary critics who would undermine our confidence in the New Testament canon and an embarrassingly mindless, sensation-obsessed media who popularizes their claims.

I was reminded of that earlier work recently while reading his 2008 offering, The Lost History of Christianity. In this book, Jenkins tells the fascinating, instructive, and tragic story of non-Chalcedonian Christianity in Asia and Africa. Along the way, he once again takes the opportunity to make his point on the integrity of the canon:

The Syriac Bible was a conservative text, to a degree that demands our attention. In recent years, accounts of the early church claim that scriptures and gospels were very numerous, until the mainstream Christian church suppressed most of them in the fourth century. This alleged purge followed the Christian conversion of the emperor Constantine, at a time when the church supposedly wanted to ally with the empire in the interests of promoting order, orthodoxy, and ecclesiastical authority. According to modern legend, the suppressed works included many heterodox accounts of Jesus, which were suspect because of their mystical or even feminist leanings.

The problem with all this is that the Eastern churches had a long familiarity with the rival scriptures, but rejected them because they knew they were late and tendentious. Even as early as the second century, the Diatessaron [Tatian of Assyria's harmony] assumes only four, authentic Gospels. Throughout the Middle Ages, neither Nestorians nor Jacobites were under any coercion from the Roman/Byzantine Empire or church, and had they wished, they could have included in the canon any alternative Gospel or scriptures they wanted to. But instead of adding to the canon, they chose to prune. . . . The deep conservatism of these churches, so far removed from papal or imperial control, makes nonsense of claims that the church bureaucracy allied with empire to suppress unpleasant truths about Christian origins.

Though not decisive, it's a compelling apologetic point and reminds me that support is sometimes found in unexpected places: Jenkins on the so-called lost gospels or scriptures in a work entitled The Lost History of Christianity comes to mind, as does the support he finds for the integrity of the canon among the Eastern communions. Even the idea (if not the characterization) that they were looking to "prune" the canon, not add to it, is helpful. It clearly suggests that the church understood the gravity of counting a particular work "scripture" and were loathe to do so if not absolutely convinced it was, in fact, scripture. The bias, we might say, was to exclude unless the piece proved itself worthy of inclusion.

New Resource on the Canon

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Since Trueman is showing some love to Cardinal Newman, click here for an excellent apologetics resource to answer the perennial questions Newman and his ilk raise against the Protestant canon - as well as more answers to other questions concerning this bedrock doctrine of Christianity.
HT: Triablogue