Bible, The, IV Canonicity

IV. Literary Growth and Origin--Canonicity.

Thus far the books of the Old Testament and New Testament have been taken simply as given, and no attempt has been made to inquire how or when they were written or compiled, or how they came to acquire the dignity and authority implied in their reception into a sacred canon. The field here entered is one bristling with controversy, and it is necessary to choose one's steps with caution to find a safe way through it. Details in the survey are left, as before, to the special articles.

1. The Old Testament:

Attention here is naturally directed, first, to the Old Testament. This, it is obvious, and is on all sides admitted, has a long literary history prior to its final settlement in a canon. As to the course of that history traditional and modern critical views very widely differ. It may possibly turn out that the truth lies somewhere midway between them.

(1) Indications of Old Testament Itself.

If the indications furnished by the Old Testament itself be accepted, the results are something like the following:

(a) Patriarchal Age:

No mention is made of writing in the patriarchal age, though it is now known that a high literary culture then prevailed in Babylonia, Egypt and Palestine, and it is not improbable, indeed seems likely, that records in some form came down from that age, and are, in parts, incorporated in the early history of the Bible.

(b) Mosaic Age:

In Mosaic times writing was in use, and Moses himself was trained in the learning of the Egyptians (Ex 2:10; Ac 7:22). In no place is the composition of the whole Pentateuch (as traditionally believed) ascribed to Moses, but no inconsiderable amount of written matter is directly attributed to him, creating the presumption that there was more, even when the fact is not stated. Moses wrote "all the words of Yahweh" in the "book of the covenant" (Ex 21:1-36 through Ex 23:1-33; 24:4,7). He wrote "the words of this law" of Deuteronomy at Moab, "in a book, until they were finished" (De 31:9,24,26). This was given to the priests to be put by the side of the ark for preservation (De 31:25-26). Other notices occur of the writing of Moses (Ex 17:14; Nu 33:2; De 31:19,22; compare Nu 11:26). The song of Miriam, and the snatches of song in Nu 21:1-35, the first (perhaps all) quoted from the "book of the Wars of Yahweh" (Nu 21:14 ff), plainly belong to Mosaic times. In this connection it should be noticed that the discourses and law of Dt imply the history and legislation of the critical JE histories (see below). The priestly laws (Leviticus, Numbers) bear so entirely the stamp of the wilderness that they can hardly have originated anywhere else, and were probably then, or soon after, written down. Joshua, too, is presumed to be familiar with writing (Jos 8:30-35; compare De 27:8), and is stated to have written his farewell address "in the book of the law of God" (Jos 24:26; compare Jos 1:7-8). These statements already imply the beginning of a sacred literature.

(c) Judges:

The song of Deborah (Jg 5:1-31) is an indubitably authentic monument of the age of the Judges, and the older parts of Jgs, at least, must have been nearly contemporary with the events which they record. A knowledge of writing among the common people seems implied in Jg 8:14 (American Revised Version, margin). Samuel, like Joshua, wrote "in a book" (1Sa 10:25), and laid it up, evidently among other writings, "before Yahweh."

(d) Monarchy:

The age of David and Solomon was one of high development in poetical and historical composition: witness the elegies of David (2Sa 1:17 ff; 2Sa 3:33-34), and the finely-finished narrative of David's reign (2Sa 9:1-13 through 2Sa 20:1-26), the so-called "Jerusalem-Source," admitted to date "from a period very little later than that of the events related" (Driver, LOT, 183). There were court scribes and chroniclers.

David and the Monarchy: David, as befits his piety and poetical and musical gifts (compare on this POT, 440 ff), is credited with laying the foundations of a sacred psalmody (2Sa 23:1 ff; see PSALMS), and a whole collection of psalms (Ps 1:1-6 through Ps 72:1-20, with exclusion of the distinct collection, Ps 42:1-11 through Ps 50:1-23), once forming a separate book (compare Ps 72:20), are, with others, ascribed to him by their titles (Ps 1:1-6; 2:1-12; 10:1-18 are untitled). It is hardly credible that a tradition like this can be wholly wrong, and a Davidic basis of the Psalter may safely be Assumed. Numerous psalms, by their mention of the "king" (as Ps 2:1-12; 18:1-50; 20:1-9; 21:1-13; 28:1-9; 33:1-22; 45:1-17; 61:1-8; 63:1-11; 72:1-20; 101:1-8; 110:1-7), are naturally referred to the period of the monarchy (some, as Ps 18:1-50 certainly, Davidic). Other groups of psalms are referred to the temple guilds (Sons of Korah, Asaph).

(e) Wisdom Literature--History:

Solomon is renowned as founder of the Wisdom literature and the author of Proverbs (1Ki 4:32; Pr 1:1; 10:1; Ec 12:9; Eccl itself appears to be late), and of the Song (Song 1:1). The "men of Hezekiah" are said to have copied put a collection of his proverbs (Pr 25:1; see PROVERBS). Here also may be placed the Book of Job. Hezekiah's reign appears to have been one of literary activity: to it, probably, are to be referred certain of the Psalms (e.g. Ps 46:1-11, Ps 48:1-14; compare Perowne, Delitzsch). In history, during the monarchy, the prophets would seem to have acted as the "sacred historiographers" of the nation. From their memoirs of the successive reigns, as the later books testify (1Ch 29:29; 2Ch 9:29; 12:15, etc.), are compiled most of the narratives in our canonical writings (hence the name "former prophets"). The latest date in 2 Ki is 562 BC, and the body of the book is probably earlier.

(f) Prophecy:

(i) Assyrian Age:

With the rise of written prophecy a new form of literature enters, called forth by, and vividly mirroring, the religious and political conditions of the closing periods of the monarchy in Israel and Judah (see PROPHECY). On the older view, Obadiah and Joel stood at the head of the series in the pre-Assyrian period (9th century), and this seems the preferable view still. On the newer view, these prophets are late, and written prophecy begins in the Assyrian period with Amos (Jeroboam II, circa 750 BC) and Hosea (circa 745-735). When the latter prophet wrote, Samaria was tottering to its fall (721 BC). A little later, in Judah, come Isaiah (circa 740-690) and Micah (circa 720-708). Isaiah, in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, is the greatest of the prophets in the Assyrian age, and his ministry reaches its climax in the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2Ki 18:1-37; 19:1-37; Isa 36:1-22; 37:1-38). It is a question whether some oracles of an Isaianic school are not mingled with the prophet's ow n writings, and most scholars now regard the 2nd part of the book (Isa 40:1-31 through Isa 66:1-24) as exilian or (in part) post-exilian in date. The standpoint of much in these chapters is certainly in the Exile; whether the composition of the whole can be placed there is extremely doubtful (see ISAIAH). Nahum, who prophesies against Nineveh, belongs to the very close of this period (circa 660).

(ii) Chaldean Age:

The prophets Zephaniah (under Josiah, circa 630 BC) and Habakkuk (circa 606) may be regarded as forming the transition to the next--the Chaldean--period. The Chaldeans (unnamed in Zephaniah) are advancing but are not yet come (Hab 1:6). The great prophetic figure here, however, is Jeremiah, whose sorrowful ministry, beginning in the 13th year of Josiah (626 BC), extended through the succeeding reigns till after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC). The prophet elected to remain with the remnant in the land, and shortly after, troubles having arisen, was forcibly carried into Egypt (Jer 43:1-13). Here also he prophesied (Jer 43:1-13; 44:1-30). From the reign of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah consistently declared the success of the Chaldean arms, and foretold the 70 years' captivity (25:12-14). Baruch acted as his secretary in writing out and editing his prophecies (Jer 36:1-32; 45:1-5).

(g) Josiah's Reformation:

A highly important event in this period was Josiah's reformation in his 18th year (621 BC), and the discovery, during repairs of the temple, of "the book of the law," called also "the book of the covenant" and "the law of Moses" (2Ki 22:8; 23:2,24-25). The finding of this book, identified by most authorities with the Book of Deuteronomy, produced an extraordinary sensation. On no side was there the least question that it was a genuine ancient work. Jeremiah, strangely, makes no allusion to this discovery, but his prophecies are deeply saturated with the ideas and style of Deuteronomy.

(h) Exilian and Post-Exilian:

The bulk of Isa 40:1-31 through Isa 66:1-24 belongs, at least in spirit, to the Exile, but the one prophet of the Exile known to us by name is the priestly Ezekiel. Carried captive under Jehoiachin (597 BC), Ezekiel labored among his fellow-exiles for at least 22 years (Eze 1:2; 29:17). A man of the strongest moral courage, his symbolic visions on the banks of the Chebar alternated with the most direct expostulation, exhortation, warning and promise. In the description of an ideal temple and its worship with which his book closes (chapters 40 through 48), critics think they discern the suggestion of the Levitical code.

(i) Daniel, etc.:

After Ezekiel the voice of prophecy is silent till it revives in Daniel, in Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors. Deported in 605 BC, Daniel rose to power, and "continued" until the 1st year of Cyrus (536 BC; Da 1:21). Criticism will have it that his prophecies are product of the Maccabean age, but powerful considerations on the other side are ignored (see DANIEL). Jonah may have been written about this time, though the prophet's mission itself was pre-Assyrian (9th century). The rebuilding of the temple after the return, under Zerubbabel, furnished the occasion for the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah (520 BC). Scholars are disposed to regard only Zec 1:1-21 through 8 as belonging to this period--the remainder being placed earlier or later. Malachi, nearly century after (circa 430), brings up the rear of prophecy, rebuking unfaithfulness, and predicting the advent of the "messenger of the covenant" (Mal 3:1-2). To this period, or later, belong, besides post-exilian psalms (e.g. Ps 124:1-8; 126:1-6), the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronciles, Esther and apparently Ecclesiastes.

(j) Preexilic Bible:

If, in this rapid sketch, the facts are correctly represented, it will be apparent that, in opposition to prevalent views, large body of sacred literature existed (laws, histories, psalms, wisdom-books, prophecies), and was recognized long before the Exile. God's ancient people had "Scriptures"--had a Bible--if not yet in collected form. This is strikingly borne out by the numerous Old Testament passages referring to what appears to be a code of sacred writings in the hands of the pious in Israel. Such are the references to, and praises of, the "law" and "word" of God in many of the Psalms (e.g. 1; 19; 119; 12:6; 17:4; 18:21,22), with the references to God's known "words," "ways," "commandments," "statutes," in other books of the Old Testament (Job 8:8; Ho 8:12; Da 9:2). In brief, Scriptures, which must have contained records of God's dealings with His people, a knowledge of which is constantly presupposed, "laws" of God for the regulation of the heart and conduct, "statutes," "ordinances, " "words" of God, are postulate of a great part of the Old Testament.

(2) Critical views.

The account of the origin and growth of the Old Testament above presented is in marked contrast with that given in the textbooks of the newer critical schools. The main features of these critical views are sketched in the article CRITICISM (which see); here a brief indication will suffice. Generally, the books of the Old Testament are brought down to late dates; are regarded as highly composite; the earlier books, from their distance from the events recorded, are deprived of historical worth. Neither histories nor laws in the Pentateuch belong to the Mosaic age: Joshua is a "romance"; Judges may embody ancient fragments, but in bulk is unhistorical. The earliest fragments of Israelite literature are lyric pieces like those preserved in Ge 4:23-24; 9:25-27; Nu 21:1-35; the Song of Deborah (Jg 5:1-31) is probably genuine. Historical writing begins about the age of David or soon thereafter. The folklore of the Hebrews and traditions of the Mosaic age began to be reduced to writing about the 9th century BC.

(a) The Pentateuch:

Our present Pentateuch (enlarged to a "Hexateuch," including Josh) consists of 4 main strands (themselves composite), the oldest of which (called Jahwist (Jahwist), from its use of the name Yahweh) goes back to about 850 BC. This was Judean. A parallel history book (called E, from its use of the name Elohim, God) was produced in the Northern kingdom about a century later (circa 750). Later still these two were united (JE). These histories, "prophetic" in spirit, were originally attributed to individual authors, distinguished by minute criteria of style: the more recent fashion is to regard them as the work of "schools." Hitherto the only laws known were those of the (post-Mosaic) Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:1-26 through Ex 23:1-33). Later, in Josiah's reign, the desire for centralization of worship led to the composition of the Book of Deuteronomy. This, secreted in the temple, was found by Hilkiah (2Ki 22:1-20), and brought about the reformation of Josiah formerly mentioned. Deuteronomy (D), thus produced, is the third stra nd in the Pentateuchal compilation. With the destruction of the city and temple, under the impulse of Ezekiel, began a new period of law-construction, now priestly in spirit. Old laws and usages were codified; new laws were invented; the history of institutions was recast; finally, the extensive complex of Levitical legislation was brought into being, clothed with a wilderness dress, and ascribed to Moses. This elaborate Priestly Code (PC), with its accompanying history, was brought from Babylon by Ezra, and, united with the already existing JE and D, was given forth by him to the restored community at Jerusalem (444 BC; Ne 8:1-18) as "the law of Moses." Their acceptance of it was the inauguration of "Judaism."

(b) Histories:

In its theory of the Pentateuch the newer criticism lays down the determinative positions for its criticism of all the remaining books of the Old Testament. The historical books show but a continuation of the processes of literary construction exemplified in the books ascribed to Moses. The Deuteronomic element, e.g. in Josh, Jgs, 1, 2 Sam, 1, 2 Ki, proves them, in these parts, to be later than Josiah, and historically untrustworthy. The Levitical element in 1, 2 Ch demonstrates its pictures of David and his successors to be distorted and false. The same canon applies to the prophets. Joel, e.g. must be post-exilian, because it presupposes the priestly law. The patriarchal and Mosaic histories being subverted, it is not permitted to assume any high religious ideas in early Israel. David, therefore, could not have written the Psalms. Most, if not practically all, of these are post-exilian.

(c) Psalms and Prophets:

Monotheism came in--at least first obtained recognition--through Amos and Hosea. The prophets could not have the foresight and far-reaching hopes seen in their writings: these passages, therefore, must be removed. Generally the tendency is to put dates as low as possible and very many books, regarded before as preexilian, are carried down in whole or part, to exilian, post-exilian, and even late Greek times (Priestly Code, Psalter, Job, Proverbs, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Second Isaiah, Joel, Lamentations). Daniel is Maccabean and unhistorical (circa 168-167 BC).

It is not proposed here to discuss this theory, which is not accepted in the present article, and is considered elsewhere (see CRITICISM; PENTATEUCH). The few points calling for remark relate to canonical acceptance.

(3) Formation of the Canon.

The general lines of the completed Jewish canon have already been sketched, and some light has now been thrown on the process by which the several books obtained a sacred authority. As to the actual stages in the formation of the canon opinions again widely diverge (see CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT).

(a) Critical Theory:

On theory at present in favor, no collections of sacred books were made prior to the return from Babylon. The only books that had authority before the Exile were, perhaps, the old Book of the Covenant, and, from Josiah's time, the Book of Deuteronomy. Both, after the return, were, on this theory, embodied, with the JE histories, and the Priestly Code, in Ezra's completed Book of the Law (with Joshua(?)), in which, accordingly, the foundation of a canon was laid. The fivefold division of the law was later. Subsequently, answering to the 2nd division of the Jewish canon, a collection was made of the prophetic writings. As this includes books which, on the critical view, go down to Greek times (Jon; Zec 9:1-17 through Zec 14:1-21), its completion cannot be earlier than well down in the Zec 3:1-10rd century BC. Latest of all came the collection of the "Hagiographa"--a division of the canon, on theory, kept open to receive additions certainly till the 2nd century, some think after. Into it were received such late writings as Ecclesiastes, the Maccabean Psalms, Daniel. Even then one or two books (Ecclesiastes, Esther) remained subjects of dispute.

(b) More Positive View:

It will appear from the foregoing that this theory is not here accepted without considerable modification. If the question be asked, What constituted a right to a place in the canon? the answer can hardly be other than that suggested by Josephus in the passage formerly quoted--a real or supposed inspiration in the author of the book. Books were received if men had the prophetic spirit (in higher or lower degree: that, e.g. of wisdom); they ceased to be received when the succession of prophets was thought to fail (after Malachi). In any case the writings of truly inspired men (Moses, the prophets, psalmists) were accepted as of authority. It was sought, however, to be shown above, that such books, many of them, already existed from Moses down, long before the Exile (the law, collections of psalms, of proverbs, written prophecies: to what end did the prophets write, if they did not mean their prophecies to be circulated and preserved?); and such writings, to the godly who knew and used them, had the full value of Scripture. A canon began with the first laying up of the "book of the law" before Yahweh (De 31:25-26; Jos 24:26). The age of Ezra and Nehemiah, therefore, is not that of the beginning, but, as Jewish tradition rightly held (Josephus; 2 Macc 2:13; Talmud), rather that of the completion, systematic delimitation, acknowledgment and formal close of the canon. The divisions of "law, prophets, and holy writings" would thus have their place from the beginning, and be nearly contemporaneous. The Samaritans accepted only the 5 books of the law, with apparently Joshua (see SAMARITAN PENTATEUCH).

(c) Close of Canon:

There is no need for dogmatism as to an absolute date for the close of the canon. If inspired voices continued to be heard, their utterances were entitled to recognition. Books duly authenticated might be added, but the non-inclusion of such as a book as Sirach (Ecclesiasticus: in Hebrew, circa 200 BC) shows that the limits of the canon were jealously guarded, and the onus of proof rests on those who affirm that there were such books. Calvin, e.g. held that there were Maccabean Psalms. Many modern scholars do the same, but it is doubtful if they are right. Ecclesiastes is thought on linguistic grounds to be late, but it and other books need not be so late as critics make them. Daniel is confidently declared to be Maccabean, but there are weighty reasons for maintaining a Persian date (see DANIEL). As formerly noticed, the threefold division into "the law, the prophets, and the rest (ta loipa, a definite number) of the books" is already attested in the Prologue to Sirach.

2. The New Testament:

Critical controversy, long occupied with the Old Testament, has again keenly attached itself to the New Testament, with similar disturbing results (see CRITICISM). Extremer opinions may be here neglected, and account be taken only of those that can claim reasonable support. The New Testament writings are conveniently grouped into the historical books (Gospels and Acts); Epistles (Pauline and other); and a Prophetic book (Rev). In order of writing, the Epistles, generally, are earlier than the Gospels, but in order of subject, the Gospels naturally claim attention first.

(1) Historical Books:

The main facts about the origin of the Gospels can perhaps be distinguished from the complicated literary theories which scholars are still discussing (see GOSPELS). The first three Gospels, known as the Synoptics, evidently embody a common tradition, and draw from common sources. The Fourth Gospel--that of John--presents problems by itself.

(a) The Synoptics:

The former--the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)--fall in date well within the apostolic age, and are, in the 2nd century, uniformly connected with the authors whose names they bear, Mark is spoken of as "the interpreter of Peter" (Papias, in HE iii.39); Luke is the well-known companion of Paul. A difficulty arises about Matthew, whose Gospel is stated to have been written in Aramaic (Papias, ut supra, etc.), while the gospel bearing his name is in Greek. The Greek gospel seems at least to have been sufficiently identified with the apostle to admit of the early church always treating it as his.

The older theory of origin assumed an oral basis for all 3 Gospels. The tendency in recent criticism is to distinguish two main sources: (1) Mk, the earliest gospel, a record of the preaching of Peter; (2) a collection of the sayings and discourses of Jesus, attributed to Matthew (the Eusebian Logia, now called Q); with (3) a source used by Luke in the sections peculiar to himself--the result of his own investigations (Lu 1:1-4). Mt and Lk are supposed to be based on Mk and the Logia (Q); in Luke's case with the addition of his special material. Oral tradition furnished what remains. A simpler theory may be to substitute for (1) a Petrine tradition already firmly fixed while yet the apostles were working together in Jerusalem. Peter, as foremost spokesman, would naturally stamp his own type upon the oral narratives of Christ's sayings and doings (the Mark type), while Matthew's stories, in part written, would be the chief source for the longer discourses. The instruction imparted by the apostles and those taught by them would everywhere be made the basis of careful catechetical teaching, and records of all this, more or less fragmentary, would be early in circulation (Lu 1:1-4). This would explain the Petrine type of narrative, and the seeming dependence of Matthew and Luke, without the necessity of supposing a direct use of Mark. So important a gospel could hardly be included in the "attempts" of Lu 1:1.

(b) Fourth Gospel:

The Fourth Gospel (Jn), the genuineness of which is assumed (see JOHN,GOSPEL OF ), differs entirely in character and style. It is less a narrative than a didactic work, written to convince its readers that Jesus is "the Son of God" (Joh 20:31). The gospel may be presumed to have been composed at Ephesus, in the last years of the apostle's residence there. With this its character corresponds. The other gospels had long been known; John does not therefore traverse the ground already covered by them. He confines himself chiefly to matters drawn from his personal recollections: the Judean ministry, the visits of Christ to Jerusalem, His last private discourses to His disciples. John had so often retold, and so long brooded over, the thoughts and words of Jesus, that they had become, in a manner, part of his own thought, and, in reproducing them, he necessarily did so with a subjective tinge, and in a partially paraphrastic and interpretative manner. Yet it is truly the words, thoughts and deeds of his beloved Lord that he narrates. His gospel is the needful complement to the others--the "spiritual" gospel.

(c) Acts:

The Acts narrates the origin and early fortunes of the church, with, as its special motive (compare 1:8), the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles through the labors of Paul. Its author is Luke, Paul's companion, whose gospel it continues (1:1). Certain sections--the so-called "we-sections" (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1 through 28:16)--are transcribed directly from Luke's journal of Paul's travels. The book closes abruptly with Paul's 2 years' imprisonment at Rome (28:30,31; 60-61 AD), and not a hint is given of the issue of the imprisonment--trial, liberation or death. Does this mean that a 3rd "treatise" was contemplated? Or that the book was written while the imprisonment still continued? (thus now Harnack). If the latter, the Third Gospel must be very early.

(2) The Epistles.

(a) Pauline:

Doubt never rested in the early church on the 13 epistles of Paul. Following upon the rejection by the "Tubingen" school of all the epistles but 4 (Rom, 1, 2 Cor, Gal), the tide of opinion has again turned strongly in favor of their genuineness. An exception is the Pastoral epistles (1, 2 Tim, Tit), still questioned by some on insufficient grounds (see PASTORAL EPISTLES). The epistles, called forth by actual needs of the churches, are a living outpouring of the thoughts and feelings of the mind and heart of the apostle in relation to his converts. Most are letters to churches he himself had founded (1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians(?), Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonains): two are to churches he had not himself visited, but with which he stood in affectionate relations (Romans, Colossians); one is purely personal (Philemon); three are addressed to individuals, but with official responsibilities (1 Timonty, 2 Timothy, Titus). The larger number were written during his missionary labors, and reflect his personal situation, anxieties and companionships at the places of their composition; four are epistles of the 1st Roman imprisonment (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon): 2 Timothy is a voice from the dungeon, in his 2nd imprisonment, shortly before his martyrdom. Doctrine, counsel, rebuke, admonition, tender solicitude, ethical instruction, prayer, thanksgiving, blend in living fusion in their contents. So marvelous a collection of letters, on such magnificent themes, was never before given to the world.

The earliest epistles, in point of date, are generally held to be those to the Thessalonians, written from Corinth (52, 53 AD). The church, newly-founded, had passed through much affliction (1Th 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4, etc.), and Paul writes to comfort and exhort it. His words about the Second Coming (1Th 4:13 ff) led to mistaken expectations and some disorders. His second epistle was written to correct these problems (2Th 2:1-3; 3:6, etc.).

Corinth itself received the next epistles--the 1st called forth by reports received at Ephesus of grave divisions and irregularities 1 Cor (1:11; 3:3; 11:18 ff, etc.), joined with pride of knowledge, doctrinal heresy (15:12 ff), and at least one case of gross immorality (chapter 5) in the church; the 2nd, written at Philippi, expressing joy at the repentance of the offender, and removing the severe sentence that had been passed upon him (2Co 2:1-10; compare 1Co 5:3-4), likewise vindicating Paul's own apostleship 2 Cor (chapters 10 through 13). The date of both is 57 AD. 1 Cor contains the beautiful hymn on love (chapter 13), and the noble chapter on resurrection (chapter 15).

In the following year (58 BC) Paul penned from Corinth the Epistle to the Romans--the greatest of his doctrinal epistles. In it he develops his great theme of the impossibility of justification before God through works of law (Ro 1:1-32 through Ro 3:1-31), and of the Divine provision for human salvation in a "righteousness of God" in Christ Jesus, received through faith. He exhibits first the objective side of this redemption in the deliverance from condemnation effected through Christ's reconciling death (Ro 3:1-31 through Ro 5:1-21); then the subjective side, in the new life imparted by the spirit, giving deliverance from the power of sin (Ro 6:1-23 through Ro 8:1-39). A discussion follows of the Divine sovereignty in God's dealings with Israel, and of the end of these dealings (Ro 9:1-33 through Ro 11:1-36), and the epistle concludes with practical exhortations, counsels to forbearance and greetings (Ro 12:1-21 through Ro 16:1-27).

Closely connected with the Epistle to the Romans is that to the Galatians, in which the same truths are handled, but now with a polemical intent in expostulation and reproach. The Galatian churches had apostatized from the gospel of faith to Jewish legalism, and the apostle, sorely grieved, writes this powerful letter to rebuke their faithlessness, and recall them to their allegiance to the truth. It is reasonable to suppose that the two epistles are nearly related in place and time. The question is complicated, however, by the dispute which has arisen as to whether the churches intended are those of Northern Galatia (the older view; compare Conybeare and Howson, Lightfoot) or those of Southern Galatia (Sir Wm. Ramsay), i.e. the churches of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, in Paul's time embraced in the Roman province of Galatia (see GALATIA; GALATIANS). If the latter view is adopted, date and place are uncertain; if the former, the epistle may have been written from Ephesus (circa 57 AD).

The 4 epistles of the imprisonment all fall within the years 60, 61 AD. That to the Philipplans, warmly praising the church, and exhorting to unity, possibly the latest of the group, was sent by the hand of Epaphroditus, who had come to Rome with a present from the Philippian church, and had there been overtaken by a serious illness (Php 2:25-30; 4:15-18). The remaining 3 epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon) were written at one time, and were carried to their destinations by Epaphras. Ephesians and Colossians are twin epistles, similar in thought and style, extolling the preeminence of Christ, but it is doubtful whether the former was not really a "circular" epistle, or even, perhaps, the lost Epistle to the Laodiceans (Col 4:16; see LAODICEANS,EPISTLE TO THE ). The Colossian epistle has in view an early form of Gnostic heresy (compare Lightfoot, Gal). Philemon is a personal letter to a friend of the apostle's at Colosse, whose runaway slave, Onesimus, now a Christian, is being sent back to him with warm commendation s.


Latest from Paul's pen are the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus), implying his liberation from his first imprisonment, and a new period of missionary labor in Ephesus, Macedonia and Crete (see PASTORAL EPISTLES). Timothy was left at Ephesus (1Ti 1:3), Titus at Crete (Tit 1:5), for the regulation and superintendence of the churches. The epistles, the altered style of which shows the deep impress of advancing years and changed conditions, contain admonitions to pastoral duty, with warnings as to perils that had arisen or would arise. 1 Timothy and Titus were written while the apostle was still at liberty (63 AD); 2 Timothy is from his Roman prison, when his case had been partly heard, and the end was impending (2Ti 4:6,22,22).

(b) Epistle to the Hebrews:

These are the Pauline Epistles proper. The Epistle to the Hebrews, though ascribed to Paul in the title of the King James Version, is not really his. It is an early writing (probably before the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD) of some friend of the apostle's (in Italy, Heb 13:23-24), designed, by a reasoned exhibition of the superiority of Jesus to Moses and the Levitical priesthood, and of the fulfillment of Old Testament types and institutions in His person and sacrifice, to remove the difficulties of Jewish Christians, who clung with natural affection to their temple and divinely appointed ritual. It was included by Eusebius, with others in the East (not, however, by Origen), among the epistles of Paul: in the West the Pauline authorship was not admitted. Many, nevertheless, with Origen, upheld a connection with Paul ("the thoughts are Paul's"). Ideas and style suggest an Alexandrian training: hence Luther's conjecture of Apollos as the writer. There can be no certainty on the subject. The value of the Epistle is unimpaired, whoever was the author.

(c) Catholic Epistles:

Of the seven so-called "Catholic" Epistles, James and Jude are by "brethren" of the Lord (James, "the Lord's brother," was head of the church at Jerusalem, Ac 15:13; 21:18; Ga 1:19, etc.); Peter and John, to whom the others were ascribed, were apostles. James and 1 Peter are addressed to the Jews of the Dispersion (1Pe 1:1; Jas 1:1). The doubts respecting certain of these writings have already been mentioned. The early date and acceptance of Jas is attested by numerous allusions (Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Didache). Many regard it as the earliest of the epistles--before Paul's. Its tone is throughout practical. The seeming conflict with Paul on faith and works, which led Luther to speak slightingly of it, is only verbal. Paul, too, held that a dead faith avails nothing (1Co 13:2; Ga 5:6). 1 John, like 1 Peter, was undisputed (if the Fourth Gospel is genuine, 1 John is), and, on internal grounds, the shorter epistles (2 John, 3 John) need not be doubted (see JOHN,THE EPISTLES OF ). Jude, rugged in style, with allusions to Jewish Apocalypses (Ga 1:9,24), is well attested, and 2 Peter seems to found on it. The last-named epistle must rely for acceptance on its own claim (2Pe 1:1,21), and on internal evidence of sincerity. It is to be observed that, though late in being noticed, it never appears to have been treated as spurious. The style certainly differs from 1 Peter; this may be due to the use of an amanuensis. If accepted, it must be placed late in Peter's life (before 65 AD). 1 Peter and Jude, in that case, must be earlier (see CATHOLIC EPISTLES).

(3) Prophecy.

The Book of Revelation:

The one prophetic book of the New Testament--the apocalyptic counterpart of Daniel in the Old Testament--is the Book of Revelation. The external evidence for the Johannine authorship is strong (see APOCALYPSE). Tradition and internal evidence ascribe it to the reign of Domitian (circa 95 AD). Its contents were given in vision in the isle of Patmos (Re 1:9). The theory which connects it with the reign of Nero through the supposed fitness of this name to express the mystic number 666 is entirely precarious (compare Salmon, Introduction to New Testament, 245-54). The main intent is to exhibit in symbolic form the approaching conflicts of Christ and His church with anti-Christian powers--with secular world-power (Beast), with intellectual anti-Christianism (False Prophet), with ecclesiastical anti-Christianism (Woman)--these conflicts issuing in victory and a period of triumph, preluding, after a sharp, final struggle, the last scenes (resurrection, judgment), and the eternal state. When the visions are taken, not as poetic imaginings, but as true apocalyptic unveilings, the change in style from the gospel, which may be regarded as already written, can readily be understood. These mighty revelations in Patmos brought about, as by volcanic force, a tremendous upheaval in the seer's soul, breaking through all previous strata of thought and feeling, and throwing everything into a new perspective. On the resultant high keynote: "Amen: Come, Lord Jesus" (Re 22:20), the New Testament closes.

(4) New Testament Canon.

The principal steps by which the books now enumerated were gradually formed into a New Testament "Canon," have been indicated in previous sections. The test of canonicity here, as in the Old Testament, is the presence of inspiration. Some would prefer the word "apostolic," which comes to the same thing. All the writings above reckoned were held to be the works of apostles or of apostolic men, and on this ground were admitted into the list of books having authority in the church. Barnabas (circa 100-120 AD) already quotes Mt 20:16 with the formula "it is written." Paul quotes as "scripture" (1Ti 5:18) a passage found only in Lk (10:7). Paul's Epistles are classed with "other scriptures" in 2Pe 3:16. Post-apostolic Fathers draw a clear distinction between their own writings and those of apostles like Paul and Peter (Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabas). The Fathers of the close of the 2nd century treat the New Testament writings as in the fullest degree inspired (compare Westcott, Introduction to Study of Gospels, Appendix B). An important impulse to the formation of a definite canon came from the Gnostic Marcion (circa 140 AD), who made a canon for himself in 2 parts, "Gospel" and "Apostolicon," consisting of one gospel (a mutilated Lk) and 10 epistles of Paul (excluding Pastorals). A challenge of this kind had to be taken up, and lists of New Testament writings began to be made (Melito, Muratorian Fragment, etc.), with the results previously described. By the commencement of the 4th century unanimity had practically been attained as regards even the Antilegomena. At the Council of Nicea (325 AD), Westcott says, "the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were silently admitted on all sides to have a final authority" (Bible in Church, 155).


Bible Verses by Topic Nave's Bible Concordance McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online Bible KJV Dictionary

Scripture reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.