Keith Hunt - The Canonization of the New Testament #11   Restitution of All Things
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Canonization of the New Testament #11

What Canonization Means and the Order of the Books

CANONIZATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

by the late Ernest Martin
(published 1984)


The Meaning of Canonization

     It is unreasonable to imagine that the apostle Paul (or any
of the other apostles), only wrote the letters which we find in
the New Testament canon. Paul stated that he had the condition of
the various churches constantly in mind (2 Cor.11:28). Since he
was not able to appear personally to answer their questions and
give them spiritual guidance, the only way he could have
fulfilled their needs was through correspondence. This could have
been done by sending emissaries and/or by writing letters. Paul,
and the others, must have written numerous letters. He tells us
of at least one other to the Corinthians (I Cor.5:9). And when
one considers that most apostles had at least 30 or 35 year
ministries, it would not be unreasonable to believe that several
scores of letters were written to various churches or
individuals.

     The point we need to ask is this: What happened to all those
letters? Also, what happened to the original autographs of the
works that appear in our New Testament? The truth is, not a
fragment of the originals or of other letters has come down to us
today! Why is there no record of them? This is what we must
consider as a concluding thought.

     The answer to these questions involves an important point
regarding the canonization affected by Peter and finally by John.
Consider this. Both apostles had the authority to form the canon
of the New Testament. This meant that they were able to refuse or
to accept any writing that they wished! Obviously, if an apostle
had the power to select a book for canonization, it must
necessarily follow that he also had authority to reject books.
And this is what occurred when Peter and, finally, John canonized
the New Testament.

The Codex Form of Book

     It is now recognized that the modern form of a book (with
leaves attached to a spine and positioned between two covers) had
its origin in the last part of the first century. Indeed, the
earliest known form of such a book (called a codex, plural
codices) is a part of the New Testament. It could be said that it
was the creation of the New Testament itself that brought about
the modern codex form of book. Previous to the invention of the
codex the world's literature was mainly written on papyrus or
leather scrolls. But when it became necessary to preserve the
canon of the New Testament the codex was adopted. This had
definite advantages to it. One Gospel (say Luke's) could be
written on one scroll about 30 feet long (and there would have
been up to ten such scrolls to contain the whole of the New
Testament), but the use of the codex allowed the whole of the New
Testament to be written on both sides of the leaves and placed
between the covers of one book! Not only did this have the
convenience of compactness, it also kept the various books in a
proper order! Whereas ten or more scrolls could hardly be kept in
a consistent order (unless, like the Old Testament, they were in
the control of priests in the Temple who maintained the correct
arrangement), but if a codex was used, then each book could
follow the next and always remain in the same order. With such
positioning it would be easy to spot when pages were missing or
if extra (and unauthorized) pages might be somehow inserted. It
wasn't even necessary to number the pages (though this could be,
and was, done on occasion) because it would have been easy to
follow the text since the account simply went on from one page to
the next. 
     In the earliest codices the Greek words were written in
capital letters and there were no spaces between the words. Not
only did this economize on space but it was a deterrent for
inclusion of unauthorized words or phrases. A further hedge in
keeping the New Testament books in order was the fact that each
composition was able to end in the middle of a page and the next
book could simply continue on the bottom half of the page. And
though it must be admitted that no procedure could safeguard the
purity of the New Testament text in an absolute sense, the
combination of the factors we have mentioned (plus the fact that
the apostle John must have seen to it that there was a
distribution of the official codices among several of the
churches) is a reasonable guarantee that the canonized Scriptures
which were authorized by Peter and John would be properly
maintained. This must have been the manner in which many of the
Christian churches received their standard New Testaments.

     The canon was finally created in the region of Ephesus where
the apostle John spent his last days. And, from the historical
evidences we presently have available it seems that the codex
form of book had its origin (or at least its practical use) with
the formation of the New Testament in the region of Ephesus.
     Inventing the codex was an outstanding accomplishment of the
highest order! The next step in mass communications took place a
little over 1300 years later when the printing press was
invented. And while it appears that the first codex was the New
Testament, the first printed book was the Bible!
     It is not unreasonable to suspect that the apostles who saw
the need for the New Testament to be canonized (and realizing
that they had no official priesthood in a Temple to preserve it
properly) resorted to the codex as the method for preservation!
It may have been the apostle Paul himself who thought of the
idea. Recall that he asked Timothy and John Mark to bring with
them to Rome "the book case, the scrolls, and the parchments" (2
Tim.4:13). Paul had left these items with Carpus at Troas. The
residence of Carpus may be important to the matter. He lived at
the port city of Troas (the place for sailing to Europe) and
right next door to Pergamus, the center of the "book trade" in
the first century (an area just north of Ephesus).
     It may have been no accident that Paul's "book case" was in
the hands of Carpus. Using such an item may have been the first
step in the production of the codex form of book. Imagine Paul
using a type of folio case as a protection for single leaves of
papyrus or vellum on which he had written important teachings! If
there were twenty, forty, or a hundred such separate leaves
placed alongside one another in the folio case, and with easy
access from an opening on one of the narrow sides, it would have
taken but little imagination to see how easy it would be to sew
the leaves together at the back, then secure them with hard
covers on either side and bind them into a common bond at the
back. True, no one can know (at least at the present) if this is
what Paul's "book case" was, but still there is no reason to
refute the suggestion. Since it is certain that Christians in
various parts of the world began to use the codex form of book
from near the end of the first century, its creation has to be
assigned to the period of the apostles! It is my personal belief
that the codex was indeed invented for the express purpose of
producing the New Testament for easy distribution and for a more
reliable preservation!

The Autographs

     There has always been the question of the original
autographs. Where were they kept? Or, what happened to them?
Certainly, there was only one autograph of each Gospel or epistle
(or, perhaps, several copies prepared by the writers). Doubtless
each of the books and epistles, when originally written, was in
scroll form. It would have been impractical to place such
autographs into a codex form in which the New Testament was
canonized. The use of the codex, in the first place, was to make
it possible to re-produce a number of copies in a convenient form
in order to send them to various churches. This is why Peter and
John simply had the originals copied (as the early Jews copied
scrolls under Ezra when the Old Testament was canonized). The
books were copied into codices and sent to several churches for
reading and reference. In actual fact, there was no reason for
maintaining the originals once the apostle John put his final
authority on the contents of the codices.

     This procedure also had the effect of telling the Christian
church which letters of the apostles were selected to be a part
of the divine canon and which ones were not. If, for example, a
church or an individual had a genuine letter of an apostle, that
letter would in no case be considered as divinely inspired if it
had not been selected by Peter and John for inclusion in the New
Testament. And indeed, if such a genuine epistle might be found
today (which is highly unlikely), it could not be considered
sacred literature (no matter how interesting its contents might
be) because it was not canonized by the apostles in the first
place. On the other hand, if Peter and John had felt it proper to
include the story of "Little Red Riding Hood" (assuming such a
story existed at the time, and no matter if there was not an
ounce of what we call religious teaching in it), it should be
accepted today as divine Scripture if one recognizes the
authority of Peter and John! Actually, this is exactly what Ezra
did when he canonized the "Song of Solomon" in the Old Testament!
There is not a shred of religious information in that document
and the name of God, or its derivatives, is not found once within
its pages. More than that, the "Song of Solomon" seems to have,
on the surface, an erotic theme that still offends the moral
standards of some sensitive religious people!
     Of course, Peter and John did not include any "Little Red
Riding Hood" in their New Testament canon, but they had the
authority to do so (according to Second Peter 1:12-21) had they
thought it proper. This right of theirs also extended to the
placement of documents within the canon that quoted non-canonical
works after the close of the Old Testament period. Jude thought
it perfectly proper to cite a section from the Book of Enoch
(Jude 14,15), but this did not sanction the totality of "Enoch."
The apostle Paul quoted from the Greek classics. The proverb
"evil communications corrupt good manners" found in I Corinthians
15:33 is from Menander's "Thais," ultimately derived from a lost
play of Euripides. Then there is "the prophet" of the Cretans
(Titus 1:12) who was Epimenides, and Paul's quote is from his
work called "Minos." There are, in fact, numerous illusions
throughout Paul's writings to Jewish and Greek works which were
circulating in the Mediterranean world at the time. The Book of
James has a quote from a source that is totally unknown (4:5),
and James referred to it as "Scripture." Yet, it is my personal
belief that this quote from a lost work only becomes "Scripture"
to Christians because it is now found in the canon of the New
Testament! The apostle Paul also quoted a text from a Greek
inscription devoted to "the Unknown God" (Acts 17:23), but it is
not to be imagined that Paul agreed with the rest of the text (if
it had any) or the theological implications surrounding the use
of the inscription.

     Really, the inspiration of the New Testament compositions is
not so much in the writing of the words themselves (though that
was important), but the holiness of the documents comes from the
authority of Peter and John to canonize them! The same principle
applies to the canon of the Old Testament. We have records of
many inspired men of the Old Testament period who taught the
Israelites either orally or through writing (and many of them are
mentioned in the Book of Chronicles), but the only divine
writings which represent the canon for Jews (and Christians) are
those selected by Ezra the priest with the help of the Great
Assembly.

     If this principle regarding the authorization for canonizing
the Scripture would be recognized in today's theological world,
many of the problems involving the current "infallibility" debate
could be resolved, at least in my view. The fact is, many
scholars today are more concerned with the details which they
find within the canonical books (whether they are scientifically
and historically accurate) rather than whether the books
themselves are infallible by virtue of being in the canon. To me,
Ezra, Peter and John had an infallible commission to produce a
canon of Scripture by the infallible Yahweh Elohim (though they
of themselves were fallible men). And it is the books of the
canon that allow the details within the books to be holy, and not
the details themselves!

     The present arguments are similar to those of the Scribes
and Pharisees who were more interested in details of a matter
rather than "the matter" itself. Christ upbraided them for saying
the gold of the Temple (that is, a detail of the Temple) was more
important than the Temple which made the gold holy. The gift on
the Altar (a detail of the Altar) was more significant than the
Altar which made the gift holy (Matt.23:16-22). And so it is with
the canon. It is the canon itself which makes every jot and
tittle within the books of the canon to be holy, no matter how
mankind may judge the merits of the details. There is a main
Scriptural example which, to me, shows this principle.
     Christ referred to the stone which honest and godly men had
rejected from becoming a part of the holy Temple of God (Psa.118:
22; Matt.21:42, Eph.2:20; esp. I Pet.2:4-7). The masterbuilders
could observe, without doubt, that the external condition of the
stone was "imperfect" and disqualified from entering the
"perfect" Sanctuary of God. But strange as it may seem, that is
the very stone which God Himself selected to become the chief
cornerstone of the whole Temple. Indeed, that particular stone
was what imparted holiness to the Temple itself! Yet even proper
priestly authorities (who were ordained to build the Temple with
as "perfect" stones as they could meticulously observe) had to
cast that stone aside as "imperfect" and unable to become a part
of the Temple. But God looked at things differently. That stone
became the head of the corner. Thus, all canonical books are holy
regardless of their "imperfections."


Epilogue

     There will be some major criticisms leveled at the
conclusions reached in this book. The main ones will revolve
around my belief that Ezra, Peter and John were the three men
commissioned to form the Old and the New Testaments. It is
normally assumed by most scholars that the books of the Bible in
some way simply "came together" without any rhyme or reason and
that no person was in charge of the process. I find this
difficult to believe if the Holy Bible is truly "Holy" and that
it is the authoritative "Word of God." Admittedly, all belief in
the holiness of the Bible must eventually rest on faith! I have
no hesitancy in acknowledging this fact. But in view of the
evidences presented in this book, I also see a literary and
historical basis for that faith. To me, the factors go a long way
in showing that the 49 books of the biblical revelation are truly
divine! I will now briefly answer four of the main criticisms
that may be given.

Criticism One: 

Martin, are you so naive as to believe that the apostle Peter
actually wrote First and Second Peter and that the apostle John
was the one who wrote John's Gospel, the three epistles of John
and the Book of Revelation? Don't you realize that top university
scholars are in dispute over these matters and that you are at
odds with them? Surely you can't believe that the apostles
actually wrote the New Testament books bearing their names?

Answer: 

I see no reason not to believe it! There is not a particle of
historical evidence that proves otherwise! Prof. John A.T.
Robinson of Trinity College Cambridge, England (who died in late
1983 I am sad to say) provided excellent evidence to show that
all the New Testament books, as far as historical and documentary
evidence is concerned, could have been written before A.D.70. And
he was right! Although it appears to me that the Book of
Revelation and the Gospel of John were written (at least in their
final form) in the last decade of the first century, Prof.
Robinson's evidence vindicates the fact that all the New
Testament books could have been composed within the lifetimes of
the apostles. Since the books bearing the apostles' names were
written to a wide community of Christians (and buttressed by the
testimonies of many eye-witnesses), I see no reason for not
accepting their authenticity, and there is not a scholar in the
world who can prove this appraisal wrong!

Criticism Two: 

Martin, virtually every New Testament scholar who has studied the
development of the New Testament canon feels that the canon was
only created gradually and that the 27 New Testament books could
not have formed a complete body of books until the late second
century at the earliest and early fourth century at the latest.

Answer: 

Yes, that is what most scholars attest, and this is exactly where
they are wrong! The first chapter of Second Peter makes it
abundantly clear from the writings of the apostle Peter himself
that he and the apostle John were the responsible ones to
canonize the New Testament. They also inform us that a body of
Paul's letters were as inspired as are the Old Testament
Scriptures. To me, it appears utterly absurd that Peter, John and
Paul (knowing that they were soon to die and that Christ was not
returning in the first century) would have simply died and left
it to some unknown church members to form a New Testament canon
in a gradual and haphazard fashion some 50, 100, or 200 years
after the apostles' deaths! This would have been a dereliction of
duty of the highest order! Thankfully, we have the Second Epistle
of Peter which describes in detail that Peter and John were the
authorized ones to canonize the New Testament and I have complete
confidence that they did. It is my conviction that scholars
should start with what Peter said as the truth and then proceed
from that point forward in history in order to find out how the
church came to use the canon of the New Testament, not how the
church supposedly brought the books together themselves in some
unknown and arbitrary way a hundred or so years later. In my view
it has been a major mistake for scholars to begin their
investigations on the development of the New Testament with the
fourth century (when everyone knows the church had the complete
canon), and work backwards from that time in trying to discover
how the books entered the canon. Just the opposite should be
done! We should start with what the apostles themselves said
about their roles in establishing the New Testament and then look
for the historical reasons why the early Christian fathers until
the fourth century failed to mention a few of the canonized
books!

Criticism Three: 

Martin, the scholars who presently work with the texts of the New
Testament do not seem to be overly concerned about the
disposition of the books. Their interest is primarily in
restoring (if at all possible) the actual words written by the
New Testament writers by comparing the various manuscripts.
Having the proper words is far more important than presenting the
manuscript order of the biblical books.

Answer: 

True, in the scholarly and ecclesiastical worlds today there is
little enthusiasm expressed (certainly in a public sense) for a
return to the manuscript arrangement of the Biblical books, but
this does not make the apathy right. And while textual scholars
must be commended for their indefatigable efforts to restore as
best as possible the original "words" of the apostles, it should
also be recognized by them that those "words" require a proper
context to be adequately understood. Such contexts are not only
found in sentences and paragraphs but the relationship of books
one to another! Since textual scholars so carefully adhere to the
manuscripts in their judgments on what "words" probably made up
the original autographs, it is astonishing that an apparent blind
eye has (essentially) been turned to the early order of the very
manuscripts with which they work. Yet it is easily recognized
what the manuscripts show. When the pioneers in the field of
textual criticism (Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and
Hort) published their resultant editions for scholars, they were
united in showing the proper manuscript order (the one we are
advocating in this book). Indeed, even more important to the
issue was the appeal by Professor Caspar Rene Gregory in the
early part of this century (who is still recognized as an
outstanding authority in textual criticism) that all New
Testament versions today should be published in the original
Greek manuscript order ("Canon and Text of the New Testament,"
pp.467-469). But to this day his plea has gone unheeded (as well
as the clear evidences for the manuscript order provided by the
textual critics mentioned above). The general public know none of
these facts. (The only New Testament translation of which I am
aware that followed the proper order of the books was that of
Ivan Panin in 1935. But I know of no complete Bible of the Old
and New Testaments which follows the manuscripts in its
arrangement of books.) But I feel the time is long overdue to
correct this obvious oversight. Many scholars and laity would no
doubt agree that the time has come for a change. The present
apathy which apparently prevails among present publishers of
Bibles needs to be changed into one of enthusiasm for a return to
the original Bible of the manuscripts. Let them publish their new
translations, but in the proper order! The traditional
arrangement devised by Jerome in the fifth century with the
publication of his Latin Vulgate Version needs to be set aside
for the one maintained by the early Greek manuscripts. Such a
restoration would have the effect of presenting to the Christian
world the kind of Bible that the first Christians were used to.
It might also help people understand the Biblical messages in a
much better way. The rewards would be great indeed.

Criticism Four: 

Martin, you are exaggerating the worth of such a restoration. The
world has got along quite well with Jerome's fifth century
arrangement of the Biblical books and there is no need to change
the situation now.

Answer: 

The truth is, there is no better time to return to the original
Bible! Just because people have been used to the wrong order for
the past 1600 years is no excuse for continuing the error. This
is especially so because it is now evident (as shown in this
book) that the internal evidence from all parts of the Bible
supports a manuscript order of both the Old and New Testaments.
The present arrangement is clearly sectarian and provincial and
is late in origin. It follows the Egyptian order of the Old
Testament books and the "Western" advancement of Paul's Gentile
epistles over the Jewish epistles of the early Greek manuscripts.
This should not be.

But most importantly, look at this. The original manuscript order
of the Biblical books places the five books of the Christian
Pentateuch (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts) - which are the only
books describing the life and times of Jesus Christ, both on
earth and in heaven - as the CENTRAL part of the whole Bible.
This "Torah" of the New Testament in a natural and non-artificial
manner becomes the fulcrum of all the Biblical books as shown by
the arrangement provided by the manuscripts. Thus, the Word of
God (Christ) is the central part in the Word of God (the Bible).
To show this important and essential truth the world needs "The
Original Bible Restored."

                            ..................


THE END (I have not reproduced Martin's Two "Appendex" sections
concerning the book of Psalms and Proverbs - maybe at a later
date I will)

As time permits I will upload the first half of Ernest Martin's
book which deals with the canonization of the Old Testament.

Keith Hunt

Entered on this Website June 2008 

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