Why Are There 27 Books In The New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.

One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.

Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.

Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.

The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.

Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.

Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).

 

References

Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

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Guest Post: Typology in the Bible

Today’s post is a guest article written by Catholic Apologist Eric Shearer.  Eric has a blog titled On This Rock Apologetics.  He is doing great work for the church and you will be richly blessed by his writing.  So go on over and give him a follow.  Enjoy the article!

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I’m often told that I’m the spitting image of my dad, less about 30 years. And not just because I’m his lookalike. The similarities continue through our interests, tastes, and even career. By all accounts, I’d imagine any fair observer might look at the two of us and think, “Yup. That makes sense.”

Many people approach the Old and New Testaments of the Bible looking for a similar resemblance. The Old Testament tells us of God creating the universe, calling Israel to be His people, and leading them into the days of Christ. The New Testament tells us about Jesus and His ministry, provides us with instruction on how to live a Christian life, and even gives us a glimpse of heavenly worship. Yet sometimes people struggle to see how the two connect.

There are many different ways in which we can relate the two testaments, but I would like to focus on just one right now. As St. Augustine put it eloquently: “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”1 The study of this relationship between the Old and New Testaments is called Typology.

What is Typology?

Typology is the study of how various things in the Old Testament prefigured what was later fulfilled in the New Testament. And these “things” we call types (from the Greek typos). Scripture Scholar Scott Hahn describes a type as a, “real person, place, thing, or event in the Old Testament that foreshadows something greater in the New Testament.”2

In this light, we see in the Old Testament not only the progress of salvation history, but many divine analogies to greater New Testament realities.

The New Adam
We see this in St. Paul’s description of Adam as a type of Jesus. He explained that “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14, emphasis added). Paul viewed Jesus as a new Adam. Among many other similarities, they were both born in a state of original innocence, they both faced off with Satan, and they both impacted the whole of humanity.

Though with this comparison we can see just how superior the new Adam is when compared to the old. The first Adam failed where Jesus succeeded. “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Rom 5:15).

Other Types of Types
Not all types refer to Jesus. As I plan to demonstrate in future articles, typology can be applied to other things in the New Testament.

We can see an example of this when the author of Hebrews describes the Old Testament tabernacle as a, “shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” (Heb 8:5). (Or click here to see an example of Eve as a type of Mary).

It’s important to note, as Hahn said earlier, that a type is always inferior to its fulfillment in the New Testament. What was once a shadow is revealed in all its glory in the New Testament.

Learning from the Master

Some might be interested to hear that this method of reading scripture isn’t new. Christians have seen the typological relationship between the Old and New Testaments for centuries. And for good reason too. Jesus himself read the Old Testament in this way.

Take the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Two of Jesus’ followers were walking on the road to Emmaus shortly after reports of Jesus’ resurrection began to spread. The two encounter Jesus on the road, but they didn’t recognize him. The three talked for a while, and we’re told that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). How great of a Bible study would that have been!

Now remember, at this time there was no New Testament. They were still living it. The “scriptures” referred to the Old Testament. And from the Old Testament, Jesus showed “the things concerning himself.”

Why Study Typology?

Some may think of typology as a highfalutin method of biblical study reserved for academics in halls of higher education. And no doubt it could be. But the value of typology is more than that. It’s how the first Christians approached the scriptures. It’s how Jesus himself approached the scriptures.

By reading the New Testament in light of Old Testament types, a whole new dimension of the Bible opens up to us. We can see the brilliance of the divine analogies that were made so long ago. So much of Biblical history spells out the heavenly realities that we now know in the Christian era. And we can use these Old Testament types to shape our understanding of Christian doctrine.

Last, but certainly not least, typology allows us to approach the Bible with a new appreciation as we see the handy-work of a master storyteller unfold.

 

Sources

  1. St. Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch 2.73; and Catechism of the Catholic Church 129.
  2. Hahn, Scott W. Hail, Holy Queen: the Mother of God in the Word of God. Image Books, 2006, pp. 23.

 

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The Jewishness of Christ

Within theology there are many different topics.  One such topic is known as Christology, and it deals with who Jesus is.  It deals with his nature, divinity, and how it is portrayed within the New Testament.  There are many views of Christology that have been debunked over the years, and some are still taught today.  Who was Jesus, and how does his Jewish heritage affect our understanding of the New Testament? 

When we read the New Testament, we tend to read it through modern eyes.  We read the Gospel accounts and see the divinity of Christ, but we often overlook key aspects that assist us in understanding him in a deeper way.  We may have a good understanding of the doctrines that Christ preached, but pay little attention to his relationships and social interactions (Carter 150).  In fact, understanding the Jewishness of Christ will have a big impact on our exegesis of the New Testament.  By viewing the Jewishness of Christ, we are removing the presuppositions of western culture, and placing the New Testament back into its cultural and societal context.

One thing that many see Jesus as doing is abolishing the law, but is this really accurate?  Certainly, there are some things a that are no longer applicable under the New Covenant, but Jesus tells us himself that he came to fulfill the law in Matthew 5:17.  This seems to indicate that He recognized his Jewishness and embraced it.  Regarding this Gerald Collins writes, “We throw away any right to comment on the way Jesus perceived reality, if we ignore the earthly particularity of his language (Collins 47).

Jesus spoke in a manner in which his Jewish audience would understand.  Like other Rabbis of the time, he taught lessons by telling a story.  One example is His example of putting new wine into old wineskins in Luke 5:36. A surface reading of the text suggests a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees in regard to Jewish dietary laws.  These parables give us peeks into Jewish culture, and a proper understanding of them assists us in understanding the New Testament in a fuller way.

As previously stated, we tend to read these parables within the context of our western culture, but to do so is to miss the point.  By reading scripture in this manner we run the risk of coming to a conclusion that in totally foreign to the intention of the text.  That has ramifications for how we engage the rest of the New Testament. 

Jesus was Jewish, and the first Christians were Jewish.  The worshipped in the synagogue, kept kosher dietary laws, and strove to keep other aspects of the law.  Most Christians are gentiles, and as a result it becomes hard to imagine Jesus as a Jewish man.  We say it, but it is something that comes from our mouth with little understanding of the ramifications.  This means that the Gospels should be seen as a conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of his day, particularly in regard to the interpretation of the law.  It also means that we measure what Jesus said with the understanding that he was a Jewish Rabbi in 1st century Palestine.  These two things may be difficult for us to grasp, but when we do so we see the New Testament in its proper context, and the message of scripture become more fully alive.

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Works Cited

Carter, Warren. “Proclaiming (in/against) Empire Then and Now,” Word & World 25/2 (2005) 149-158.

O’ Collins, Gerald. Jesus: A Portrait. New York: Maryknoll, 2013

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Christ’s Fulfillment of the Covenants

Throughout the Old Testament there are several instances of God establishing a covenant.  He did so with Adam in the Garden, with the nation of Israel through Moses where the Law was delivered, with Noah after the great flood, with Abraham and his descendants, and lastly with King David.  These covenants are a part of salvation history that prepared the world for the coming of the Messiah.  Each one of these covenants was important and significant, and each one was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  This covenant is known as the new covenant, and it is everlasting.  Regarding this the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son, in whom he has established his covenant forever. The Son is his Father’s definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him” (CCC para 73).

The Adamic covenant is the first that the Lord had established.  As its name states, it was established with our first parents on behalf of all humanity.  We read in Genesis 1:26-31 about the creation of mankind, and how God rested on the seventh day.  The number seen in the Hebrew language is the number of covenant (Lecture Notes).  However, there is a second part of the covenant that applies after the fall.  God gives the first Gospel pronouncement which is known as the protoevangelium.  Genesis 3:15 states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (NRSV).  Christ is the fulfillment as his death, burial, and resurrection redeemed us from the sin of our first parents.

 

After the great flood mentioned in Genesis, God made a covenant with Noah never to destroy the Earth with water again (Lecture Notes).  The rainbow became a sign of the covenant that God made with Noah.  This can be seen in Genesis 9:13 which states, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (NRSV).  Man will still struggle with sin, but Christ gives strength in the battle.  The Vatican II document Gaudium Et Spes states, “But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out the prince of this world” (Ostrowski 18).  It also brought into focus the issue of capital punishment in Genesis chapter nine.  It took on a new meaning when Christ was crucified.  The covenant is for all time and for all people, as is the sacrifice of Christ.

God continued in his promise and made a covenant with Abraham.  Genesis 12:2 states, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (NRSV).  God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars, and this included those by adoption (Lecture Notes).  This was fulfilled in Christ, because having faith in Christ we adopted sons of Abraham as Galatians 3:29 states.  In the Mosaic covenant, God made a covenant with the people of Israel.  Regarding this Dr. Koehne writes, “Through the leadership of Moses, God freed His people from slavery, then made a covenant with them on Mount Sinai” (Lecture Notes).  Christ fulfills the covenant by showing us how to live the law and calling to a higher standard of living as Christians.  This can only be done through his grace and mercy.

Lastly, God made a covenant with King David and said that through his lineage the Messiah would be born.  The promise can be seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 which states, “ When  your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (NRSV).

In St. Augustine’s great work the City of God he equates King David to an Old Testament prefigurement of Christ (Newadvent.com).  This covenant is fulfilled because he is proven to be in David’s lineage as is seen in Matthew Chapter one, and his kingdom will have no end.

Crucifixion

Works Cited

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2 ed.  New York:  Doubleday, 2003.  Print.

Ostrowski, Thaddeus ed., Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality.  Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2008, Print.

Dods, Marcus. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120117.htm&gt;.

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Brief Analysis (Very) of the Gospel of John

The Gospel of Saint John is very unique in that it does not rely on a primary source.  It varies greatly from the synoptics who relied heavily on Mark’s Gospel.  However, John is unique and mentions many events that do not appear in the synoptics.  The style of the Gospel is simple yet carries great theological depth.  This is of course no accident, and the John knew exactly what he was doing with his precise arrangements and wording.

The Gospel starts with a prologue that “encapsulates John’s view of Christ” (Brown, page 337).  John 1:1 quickly establishes the author’s intent.  John 1:1 states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  This parallels Genesis 1:1 and establishes that Christ existed from the beginning of time.  In fact the next few verses of the text go into that in more detail.  The prologue goes to great detail to unveil the divinity of Christ.  David Black states “John’s Gospel begins with a prologue that declares the preexistence and incarnation of Jesus as the word of God” (Black, page 159).

As previously the poetic undertones of the Gospel, especially the prologue, paint vivid images in the mind of the reader.  This would have been especially true in the mind of a Jewish reader.  One versed in the great details of the Old Testament would not miss the parallels that John was presenting.  According to Brown “This poetic description of the decent of the Word into the world and the eventual return of the Son to the Father’s side (1:18) lies in the Old Testament picture of personified Wisdom (especially Sirach 24 and Wisdom 9)” (Brown, page 338).

This very important introduction to the Gospel is interrupted two times by the insertion of John the Baptist.  He is mentioned as the one who will come before Jesus.  The ministry of John the Baptist was related to Christ’s in that He was preparing the way.  He was getting the people ready.  His testimony of Jesus is given just eight verses later and sets the tone for the rest of the Gospel.

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Works Cited

Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997

Gospel of John, New American Bible

Lea, Thomas D., and David A. Black.  The New Testament: Its Background and Message.  2d ed.  Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003

 

Episode 5: Do we need the Old Testament? Plus a look at Jesus in Hebrew Poetry.

Listen to this week’s episode here

On Google Plus the other day someone responded to one of my posts by saying that, as Christians, we no longer need to bother reading the Old Testament.  This show is a response, and shows why it is important because thee are so many things we can learn from it.  It is the story of salvation history.  I also look through the poetic books of Jon, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs and look at how Christ is in them.  This helps us see why the Old Testament is worth studying.  As Augustine said, “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old revealed in the New”.

Episode 1 of the Hope Within Radio Program

Book Review: NICNT The Letter to Philemon

One of my favorite books of the New Testament is the short letter of the Apostle Paul to Philemon.  Coming in at just over 250 words the letter is short, but full of power.  Never read it?  I encourage you to as it is a constant reminder on how to treat our fellow man.  In this commentary, author Scot McKnight, provides excellent insights into this underrated book.

The letter itself deals with the topic of slavery as Paul is writing to Philemon on behalf of Philemon’s slave Oneisimus.  McKnight gives an excellent account of slavery in ancient Rome, and in doing so he calls to mind the church’s job of reconciliation.  On page five he writes, “Reconciled people become agents of reconciliation”.  With this in mind McKnight calls Philemon to a new relationship as siblings in Christ with his runaway slave.

Intermingled in the commentary the author provides various essays and takes aim at the very real problem of slavery in the 21st century.  These essays alone are worth the cost of the book.  The message of Philemon applies to the modern travesty as well, and the church needs to be a place of reconciliation and justice.

Overall this commentary was very well written and researched.  It is a fairly short book and is only 114 pages long, but those pages are power packed.  This is an excellent resource for any serious student of the scriptures.  I highly recommend it!

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge from Eerdamans in exchange for an honest review.]

 

The Hope Within Episode 2: Bible Contradictions?

You listen to this week’s episode here.

In today’s episode I answer a listener question about how to answer an unbeliever when they say the Bible is full of contradictions.  I start off by discussing the reliability of the New Testament based on the number of manuscripts we have, then look at five common “contradictions”, then answer the question if Jesus ever claimed to be divine.  Send you questions to hopewithin18@gmail.com.

Episode 1 of the Hope Within Radio Program

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