INTRODUCTION The point of these posts is to introduce to the reader four vitally important and related concepts that describe the historic Christian Doctrine of the Bible (also called bibliology): revelation, inspiration, canonization and preservation. In last time’s post we briefly defined and discussed the distinctions between the Biblical doctrines of revelation and inspiration. As I interact with people, both believers and doubters alike, there seems to be a blurring of the lines on these subjects. Oftentimes the terms will be switched or in some cases, denied altogether or in part. As a Christian who also pastors and preaches on a weekly basis, the Bible is my life and it is the chief document that I use in understanding life, eternity and communicating God’s truth in Jesus Christ to believers and unbelievers alike. It is hoped these posts will shed much needed light on these subjects for the reader. In today’s post we will focus attention on the area of the Bible’s canonization. To God be the glory!
CANONIZATION. Once each autograph or original manuscript was finished, the early Christians received each and for almost all of them immediately began using them in the churches. Biblical passages such as 1 Timothy 5:18 and 2 Peter 3:16 demonstrate that the Gospels and most of the epistles were immediately recognized and in use as authoritative scripture by the early church well before the end of the 1st century. The General letters were a little more slowly recognized but large pockets of the early church by the end of the 1st century and into the second century were using them. As early as 170 A.D we see a document called the “Muritorian Canon” listing out what we would recognize as the 27 New Testament books (Matthew and Mark are missing from the list due to a missing top part in the document, however they are generally assumed by scholarship to be included in the list).
This process of receiving and recognizing each book and using them as a recognized group of inspired writings became known as canonization. Much like when Sir Isaac Newton in the 16th century recognized, defined and explained the force of gravity in his book “The Principia” in 1687, so we see the early Christians doing the same with the scriptures. It wasn’t like people were floating in zero gravity before Newton came along – that is to say – Newton did not create gravity, rather the already existing phenomena of gravity influence and shaped his observations. Likewise, the church did not create the scriptures, rather the people of God came to recognize what was the already existing phenomena of sacred scripture that shaped and molded their faith. The Spirit’s providential work in the process did not dictate which way the books were to be organized, which is why different Christian bodies have different “canons”. Much the same process attended the Old Testament Canon, which by Jesus’ day was well defined and distinguished. (Luke 24:44) As the scriptures were being recognized as a authoritative collection or “canon”, a near simultaneous process was taking place, whereby scribes were copying down the sacred writings. Such a process would come to be deemed “preservation” or “transmission” of the Biblical text from the autographs to the copies and translations (or what are sometimes called “apographs”). Being that so many books being increasingly written about the integrity of the Biblical text today, we will devote tomorrow’s post to this final area of “preservation” or what is sometimes called “transmission” of the Biblical text.
MORE NEXT TIME…..