In this assignment the aim is to explain how the New Testament came into its present form as a body and authoritative literature, so that the reader can develop confidence in it as a rule for faith and life, and can defend its authority. My personal conviction is that the books of the bible are inspired and complete and that God was involved in the process that the bible went through to come into its present form. Jesus Christ confirmed this in Luke 24:27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
” I aim to discuss this matter, starting by referring to the word “Canon” and briefly explaining its origin and use. The History, background and Formation of “Canon” Canon could be defined as “An authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture; the authentic works of a writer”(Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 2003). The bible consists of 39 Books in the Old testament the Hebrew Canon and 27 Books in the New Testament Canon.
The NT canon is not so much a collection of individual documents as it is a collection of collections: its major components are a collection of gospels, a collection of letters of Paul, a collection of “catholic epistles. ” Outside Acts and Revelation, each of these smaller collections has its own distinctive history, and must be treated individually. I believe that all scripture is inspired by God, thus I believe God revealed Himself and His thoughts through the writings of mortal men.
Inspiration is this “a combination of divine and human elements” (Pretorius 2003:15) Canonization is a process that is followed to determine which of the witlings of the scripture was indeed inspired by God Himself. The basis on which the canon was accepted was as follows: authenticating the Author; proving the books bear evidence of first century origin; and contains the apostolic message of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over what Period of time did the Canon emerge?
“The history of the NT canon, then, was a process extending from the composition of Christian literature in the 1st and early 2nd centuries, through the spread, use, and progressive esteem of these writings in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, to the determination of a fixed list of authoritative Christian scripture in the 4th and 5th centuries. This process was not only lengthy but also uneven, moving at a different pace and even in somewhat different directions among the religious constituencies of the ancient church” (Freeman and Noel 1996:853).
We see that some of the earliest books of the NT Canon were written between 45 and 55 A. D. The Canon emerges over a period of about three centuries. The New Testament Canon as we know it today was only established in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. This happened in a form of “An Egyptian document called “a letter from Athanasius” in 367A. D. In this letter of Athanasius we find the first known list of 27 books that form the NT. Why do we recognise the New Testament writings?
There are 3 important witnesses to the NT writings and because of this we can recognise the NT text: Manuscripts, Translations from the Greek, and Quotes from the Greek NT by patristic writers. The Manuscripts form part of a group of over 5000 items classified as Papyri; Uncial or “Majuscules” and Minuscule. These manuscripts contain at least fragments of the NT and have been catalogued. The first volume of the Greek NT was apparently the Gospel and was only later separated in to 4 books. These manuscripts play an important roll as witness of the NT text since they were passed down throughout the centuries.
Considering the early translations as soon as the Church grew to areas were Greek was not understood, the need arose to translate the NT. Sadly, as is the case with the original Manuscripts, we do not have the original but only copies. However it still plays an important role in determining the original text since there are translations that still contains some of the Greek for example the Greek and Latin translation. The Greek NT by patristic writers is most probably the best witness to give a true account. Consider the writings of all the church fathers, including the “heretics”.
There are so many quotes from Scripture in their sermons, commentaries and all their other writings that should the text of the NT disappear, there will be sufficient quotations to reconstruct the entire NT. In addition to this we also have the Lectionaries that were used in the church and during public worship. These Lectionaries’ books contain portions of scripture. Lectionaries are important witness to the NT and a great benefit in tracking the history of the NT Text. I addition to these three witnesses we also have the series of tests by different scholars handed down in ages.
Books were excluded if they: Where fraudulent in character, promoted inferior moral standards, contained fictitious history or promoted bad theology. “In the writings of the New Testament the resources of textual evidence are so vast, exceeding, as we have seen, those of any other ancient literature, sacred or secular, that the area of actual error is relatively quite appreciable, though it must be remembered that this very abundance of textual variety ultimately makes for the integrity and doctrinal unity of the teaching of the New Testament books” (Orr, James, M. A and D. D 1915).
The Different Manuscripts. There are 4 different types of ancient Manuscripts known today. Papyri are manuscripts written on a type of paper made of reeds. ”The books of the NT were no doubt written on papyrus. The Gospels, Acts, Revelation, and perhaps Hebrews were likely to have been written on papyrus rolls, the accepted form for literary publication in the 1st Christian century” (Bromiley, Geoffrey and Eerdmans 2002: 815). The Uncial or Majuscules Manuscripts is the NT written in a way similar to capital letters, usually written on a leather type surface.
”The Gospels, Acts, and some other books of the NT were therefore doubtless written in the literary, uncial hand. Although the Pauline Epistles might originally have been written in the cursive hand of private correspondence, they would very soon have been copied in uncials as literature. At any rate, even the earliest known MSS of all parts of the NT are in uncial handwriting” (Bromiley et al. 2002: 815). The Minuscule Manuscripts is literary hand writing developed in the 9th century out of the cursive writing. This writing was more formal than cursive.
Lectionaries are books that were used in the church and during public worship. ”Lectionaries were prepared, in which the NT was arranged not in its usual order of books and chapters but in the order of these readings for each day of the year or for each Saturday and Sunday of the year. Some 2 000 Greek lectionary MSS’s are known at present, two-thirds or more containing the Gospel lessons, some containing the Gospels and Epistles, and the remainder containing lessons from the Epistles” (Bromiley et al. 2002: 816).