Friday, March 16, 2012

Every New Testament book is the result of a number of theological traditions

No I'm not arguing for a documentary hypothesis that cuts up books of the Bible into ever smaller portions. Simply ruminating on the process of Canonisation.
Now, alot of Protestants have issues with the Church deciding what is Scripture. The counter argument is that the church simply received Scripture, rather than made it. And this is true to an extent, but nevertheless, the early church had to recognize the apostolic gospel in each of the writings.
I want to argue that this is a strength, that allows us to read each book with confidence. Each book can be read as the witness of 'the apostles (collective)', not just 'this apostle (or not)'.
Let me explain.
The early church arises as apostles go out and preach the gospel. We can pretty safely assume that individual church communities are heavily influenced by those who formed them. Of course there are cross overs and interactions, but there are probably going to be more 'Peter' groups, more 'james', more 'anonymous' groups etc
Now, when it comes time to canonize Scripture, all of these groups are involved. The decision must be accepted by all. We don't have all of Paul's letters in the Scriptures, only those judged by 'James' christians, 'John Christians' 'Peter Christians' and 'Anonymous christians' to be in accord with the teaching of the Apostles.

Paul's letters, then, are not simply an example of 'Pauline theology', but are accepted as congruent with all the Apostles teaching.
This allows the possibility that Apostles, like Peter, could say and write things that were a bit off, but that we don't find them in the Scriptures.
The authority of each book in the NT is not then simply that it was 'written by an Apostle', but that it is in accord with the collective witness of the Apostles.

1 comment:

byron smith said...

Yes, fine, in theory.

But the fact is, while we know that Paul wrote other letters (since he mentions them in his extant ones), we don't have copies of any. And we have no evidence that the early church did either (apart from the original recipient communities). So it's not like we have any evidence of early communities finding themselves picking and choosing between epistles that they know to be apostolic in origin. Being apostolic was simply enough. Other criteria were applied as secondary ways of discerning whether a disputed text was truly apostolic.