Friday, April 23, 2004

The canon of Scripture-2

3. NT Intra-Testamental attestation:

i) Apostolic authorship:

If a book is by an apostle then it automatically merits inclusion in the canon. And this follows from the fact that the Apostles were divinely authorized spokesmen of the gospel. This is not the same as saying that apostolicity is a necessary condition of canonicity, but any surviving apostolic writing is necessarily canonical by virtue of its inspiration.

By traditional reckoning, this would cover Matthew and John, the Pauline, Petrine, and Johannine Epistles, and Revelation. And their apostolicity is attested by various lines of internal evidence.

ii) Common Authorship:

Insofar as various books of the NT share common authorship, they naturally group into cross-attesting blocs. This would include the Lucan corpus (Luke-Acts), the Pauline corpus (Romans—Philemon), the Petrine corpus (1-2 Peter), and the Johannine corpus (John; 1-3 John; Revelation). It would be unnatural in the extreme to evaluate the canonicity of each book on a strictly case-by-case basis. Such an atomistic approach cuts across the mutually supportive testimony presented by their shared authorship. In addition, cross-attestation extends to secondary as well as primary authorship (e.g. the Pauline and Petrine speeches in Acts).

iii) Common theology:

Insofar as certain doctrinal emphases bridge over different books by different authors, they are mutually supportive. Many examples could be cited. The Fourth Gospel’s christological reflections on the presence of God (1:14; 2:19-21; 4:20-24) hooks up with the pilgrim theology of Stephen (Acts 7:44-50), the typology of Hebrews, and a congruence of themes in Revelation (7:15; 21:3,10-11,22-23). Again, the paraenetic materials in James have many points of contact with the Sermon on the Mount. Or again, while all of the Paulines naturally share a core theology, we find a number of specific affinities—both in terms of the choice and treatment of topics—between Romans and Galatians (e.g. Abraham, justification, life in the Spirit, bondage & liberation), while the overlap is even more pronounced in the case of Ephesians and Colossians. Once again, there’s a highly antithetical strain running the length of the Johannine corpus with respect to how the author characterizes the nature of the spiritual conflict: God/Satan; truth/falsehood; children of light/darkness, &c. (which is a further evidence of their common authorship). The larger point is that various books of the NT have strings in each other. You can’t tug at one without jerking another. You can’t pull one thread without unraveling reams of fabric.

iv) Common Associates:

The NT authors share a number of contacts and go-betweens. Mark is an associate of both Peter and Paul (Acts 13:5; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24; 1 Pet 5:13). Timothy is an associate of both Paul and the author of Hebrews (Acts 16-20; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor 1:19; Col 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thes 1:1; 3:2,6; 2 Thes 1:1; 1-2 Tim; Heb 13:23). Luke is an acquaintance and/or associate of Paul, Mark, Mnason, Philip, and James (Acts 21:8;16,18; Col 4:10,14; 2 Tim 4:11). Barnabas is an associate of both Paul and the Jerusalemite apostles (Acts 4:36; 9:27;11-15; 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1,9, 13; Col 4:10). Silas/Silvanus is an associate of both Peter and Paul (Acts 15-18; 2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thes 1:1; 2 Thes 1:1; 1 Pet 5:12).

This sets up a network of associates who are in a position to crosscheck each other’s work. They are all well-connected in their access to genuine information on the life and teaching of Christ. None of the authors was a rogue writer, making up his theology to suit his own taste or his readership’s. An informal process of peer review was in place.

v) Common sources:

It is generally agreed that the Synoptics presuppose some form of literary interdependence. And literary interdependence is a form of cross-attestation.

2 Pet-Jude are also synoptic, although the direction of dependence is a matter of debate.

vi) Common kinship:

Leadership in the NT church operated along the lines of an extended family. This principle has OT precedent as well, for in some cases, canonical literature would have been preserved in family archives. For example, the "sons of Asaph" constituted a liturgical dynasty that stretches from the Davidic monarchy to the Restoration (1 Chron 25; 2 Chron 20:14; 35:15; Ezra 3:10; Neh 11:17,22; 12:25). It is fair to say that they exercised custody over the Psalms of Asaph (50,73-83). This sort of familial trusteeship is ignored in discussions of the canon.

Such blood-ties are hardly surprising in an organization that began with a small core group (cf. Acts 1:15), and was originally situated in a tribal society. Mary was a relative of Elizabeth (Lk 1:36). Elizabeth belonged to the Aaronic clan (Lk 1:5), which implies that Mary was also of priestly lineage. Based on Mt 20:20, 27:56, Mk 15:40 and Jn 19:25, it appears that Mary and Salome were sisters or sisters-in-law. Salome was the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. This would make the Apostle John a cousin of Jesus. Although this identification is not a sure thing, it would explain a couple of otherwise puzzling details. Why did Jesus entrust his mother to John (Jn 19:26-27)? Granted that his half-brothers were not yet converts to the cause (cf. Jn 7:5), but why turn to John? But if Mary is John’s aunt, then all is clear. How is it that John enjoys entrée with the high priest (Jn 18:16)? But if John is also of priestly pedigree—vis-a-vis the Elizabeth-cum-Mary-cum-Salome connection, we have a place to start. James and Jude—authors of the respective letters bearing their names—are brothers, and half-brothers of Jesus. Mark and Barnabas were cousins (Col 4:10). Paul had a sister and nephew in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16). We could chart other relatives but this will suffice for present purposes.

By virtue of this familial matrix, the NT authors would have access to inside information. Jesus and John were probably childhood playmates. Given Paul’s former connections, it is not surprising that his sister had some well-placed informants. Luke could have gotten some of his information via Paul or by interviewing his sister. Barnabas, Mark, Mnason and Philip would be excellent sources on the Church of Jerusalem. The dominical family would have been the obvious and even exclusive source of information for the Lucan nativity accounts. Given the affinities between Lk 6:20 and Jas 2:5, or Lk 6:24-25; 12:16-21,33 and Jas 4:13-5:2, it’s not hard to guess which family member he tapped for details. Indeed, we have direct confirmation for a fact that Luke met with James—and other members of the Mother Church—on the occasion of one of Paul’s journeys (Acts 21:18).

vii) Common timeframe:

All of the NT writings are either by first or second generation Christians. The Apostolate had an inbuilt time limit (Acts 1:21-22). This consideration alone knocks all the NT apocryphal out of bounds.

The books of the NT canon enjoy a chain-of-custody extending back from the present day to the 2C or in many cases the late 1C. That is to say, it is possible to document the continuous existence and identity of these books on the basis of patristic usage, the MS tradition, versions, lectionaries, catalogues, &c.

Paul is a partial exception, but an exception that proves the rule, for he is acutely sensitive to his anachronistic status, like the issue of a miscarriage (1 Cor 15:1). Paul is a paradigm of grace, and not Apostleship (1 Tim 1:15-16). As such, this special case sets no precedent for an open canon, and indeed militates against pseudonymity.

The fact that the NT writers were also contemporaries establishes a webwork of accountability relationships. In principle, any author of a NT book would be answerable to his fellow apostles or associates. To be sure, inspiration is not subject to appeal. The point, rather, is how this dynamic would cut against inauthentic writings. A pseudonymous book, or anonymous book by an unqualified spokesman, would never be accepted by churches under Apostolic jurisdiction. It is not without reason that the NT apocrypha all fall outside the lifetime of the Apostles and their associates. When someone tried to palm off a letter under an assumed name, the alias was shot down by the fact that Paul was still on the scene (2 Thes 2:2; 3:17).

viii) Common affiliation:

Many of the NT writers are affiliated with the mother church in Jerusalem, either as members or via members. An outstanding example is Mark. It is generally asserted, without much by way of argument, that Mark was not an eyewitness to the events recorded in his Gospel. But conservatives often lean on the tradition that he wrote his Gospel under the direction of Peter. Whatever stock we place in this tradition, there are firmer clues to his sources and resources. I’m surprised by the lack of systematic attention to Acts 12:12ff. Here we learn several suggestive details regarding the background of Mark. The family home was in Jerusalem, and it was also a house-church. The fact that the topographical indicators intensify in Mark’s gospel as the narrative nears Jerusalem and environs reinforces that identification. It is also the first destination after Peter’s jailbreak, and its members have the ear of James, then head of the Jerusalem Church (v.17).

This opens up a rich vein of possibilities. To begin with, since the family home was in Jerusalem, there is no reason to suppose that Mark either couldn’t or wouldn’t have been an eye-witness to the public ministry of Christ in Jerusalem. Jesus always drew a crowd. He was easily the most interesting religious phenomenon to visit Jerusalem within living memory. As a charismatic and iconoclastic figure he would prove irresistible to a young man like Mark. Even if Mark were not at that time a follower, sheer curiosity would compel him to join the spectators whenever Jesus came to town. So I think it likely that parts of his Gospel were based on personal observation. A highly parochial reference like Mk 15:21 suggests personal knowledge. The fact, moreover, that the family home was also a house-church whose members were on a first name basis with Peter and James suggests that Mark’s family may well have been in on the ground floor of the Christian movement.

In any case, Mark was in a position to interview any or all of the Jerusalemite Apostles. His home was a clearing house of first-hand information, even before he set a foot outside the door. Apart from any literary designs, Mark would naturally pepper them with questions about Jesus at every opportunity. Wouldn’t you if you were on personal terms with Peter, James, John and the whole gang? Remember, too, it’s not just tradition that attributes the composition of this Gospel to Mark. All of our Greek MSS designate the same authors for the same gospels. If these designations were added after the death of the authors, it is unaccountable why there aren’t any variant designees.

Luke is also well connected. He knows Mark. He knows Mnason, who was a charter-member of the mother church. Presumably he crossed paths with Silas and Barnabas, both of whom were well-placed members of the Jerusalem Church. Of particular interest is his acquaintance with James, the Lord’s brother and the head of the mother church in Jerusalem. Manaen would be a direct source of information on the Herodian dynasty (Acts 13:1), especially if Luke were a member of the same congregation (Acts 11:28, Western Text).

No doubt our record is only skimming the surface. Luke’s circle of contacts would have included quite a number of first-hand informants he could draw on in writing his history of the Christ and sequel history of the Church. And for some of the episodes in the sequel he was an eyewitness in his own right. The fact that Paul could rattle off the names of 24 members belonging to a church he’d never even visited (Rom 16) affords us some hint of the living data-base that would also have been at Luke’s disposal. The further fact that Luke even had access to official correspondence (Acts 23:25-30), which is not altogether surprising given his high-ranking Roman patron, evidences the caliber of his contacts.

We must keep in mind that publication of a gospel by Mark or Luke presupposes some degree of sponsorship. Unless Mark’s gospel had official backing and a receptive audience, the project would get nowhere. The publication and distribution of NT literature would have been an in-house operation, requiring an elaborate subcultural infrastructure. Through word-of-mouth and informal transcription, copies of copies multiplied and spread abroad. Luke presumably dedicated his two-part history to Theophilus as a way of jump-starting the process.

ix) Independence Contacts:

Besides all this inside information, the record includes some parties who had their own informal channels. Luke’s two-part history is dedicated to Theophilus. "Most excellent" (kratiste) is an honorific title. While it was sometimes used as a polite form of address, in Lucan usage it is reserved for procurators (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). A number of high Roman officials figure in Lucan accounts (e.g. Pilate, Felix, Festus, Gallio), and Theophilus was in a position to double-check the accuracy of Luke’s story, or even supply him with key information. Other officials who were involved with the Christian movement, such as the Asiarchs (Acts 19:31), Erastus the Aedile (Rom 16:23; cf. Acts 19:22; 2 Tim 4:20), Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7,12), the Praetorian Guard (Phil 1:13), and members of the imperial household (Phil 4:16) were well poised to ask around.

x) Intertextuality:

We find a number of incidental correlations in the NT. 1 Tim 5:18 seems to be a verbatim quote from Lk 10:7. Since this Gospel and the Pastorals were both written prior to Acts, the chronology would be feasible. The alternative is to attribute this logion to some free-floating tradition. But a couple of impediments stand in the way of that alternative:
(i) It fails to explain why Paul’s wording follows the Lucan rather than Matthean form (cf. Mt 10:10).
(ii) Paul’s citation formula implies a written source, so that appeal to oral tradition is ruled out.

In his Eucharist formulary, where Paul is expressly drawing on tradition (1 Cor 11:23-25), he often agrees with the Lucan wording against the Matthean and Marcan parallels. Moreover, the eschatological aspect of communion is distinctive to Luke and Paul (Lk 22:16,18; 1 Cor 11:26). Paul’s precis of the Resurrection appearances also follows the order of Luke—first Peter, then the Twelve (1 Cor 15:4b-5; Lk 24:12,34,36), as does his appeal to Scriptural support (1 Cor 15:3-4; Lk 24:45-47). 1 Thes 2:15-17 recalls Lk 11:49ff., while 2 Thes 5:2-7 appears to be patterned after Lk 12:39-40; 21:34-36. Again, we're only grazing the surface.

None of this is intended to limit Paul’s source of knowledge to Luke alone, but merely to document his familiarity, either with the final published edition of the third Gospel—since we don’t know the interval between the composition of Luke and Acts—or a preliminary draft. And it stands to reason that Paul would be partial to Luke, for the "beloved physician" was an especially attentive and tenacious friend (e.g. 2 Tim 4:11). Again, the point is not to suggest that one gospel is more accurate than another, for each of the Evangelists is free to select, arrange, adapt and paraphrase the material without prejudice to its factual content.

The relationship between Mt 5:34-37 and Jas 5:12 affords another quite specific instance of intertextuality. An especially fulsome example is the series of parallels distinctive to Luke and John. There are also striking points of contact between James and 1 Peter (e.g. Jas 1:2-4,10-11,14; 4:6-10; 1 Pet 1:6-7,23-24; 5:5-6), which isn’t surprising given their intimate association.

Based on the above survey, I conclude that the books of the Bible intermesh in multiform ways, like a latticework of interlocking joints. Just as built-in redundancy is a safety feature in critical systems, the intersection of so many books at so many points means that the canon of Scripture is "overbuilt," and stands or falls as a unit rather than an aggregate. It is interwoven with threads of inspired allusion and attestation.

IV. Jude and Pseudepigrapha

Jude's use of pseudepigrapha has raised some eyebrows. The question is hampered by our lack of background materials. What was common knowledge for him and his audience is often lost to us. But a few observations are in order.

i) The fact that a sacred author quotes from an extracanonical source doesn’t commit him to accepting the source at face value. Moses offers a subversive reading of the Song of Heshbon (Num 21:27-30). It was originally an Amorite taunt-song. Now the tables are turned as Israel bests the Amorites and makes them eat their own words! The irony trades on a conspicuous contrast between the original context and its recontextualization.

For his part, Jeremiah (Jer 48:45-46) preserves the original referent (Moab), but time-shifts the terms fulfillment from past to future. So Moses and Jeremiah both disregard original intent as they adapt the material to score points. They make inspired used of uninspired materials. It is precisely because the material is uninspired that they indulge in such literary license. What is normative is not the primary source, but the use made of it in the secondary source.

ii) 1 Enoch is a sectarian document of Essene pedigree. (Cf. R. Beckwith, "The Earliest Enoch Literature and its Calendar," Revue de Qumran 39 [Feb 1981], 365-403.). As such, it would never have found its way into the Temple archive alongside the canonical scrolls—or from there into the synagogal lectionaries (cf. Lk 4:17; Acts 13:15,27; 15:21). (Cf. J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, vol. 1 [Ktav, 1971].) Josephus, a Pharisee who accompanied Vespasian and Titus when they captured Jerusalem and despoiled the Temple, indicates that the Temple was the repository for holy books of Judaism (Life 75; Wars 5.7). That would comport with OT precedent (cf. Exod 25:16; Deut 10:5; 17:18; 31:9,26; 1 Sam 10:25; 2 Chron 29:30). This official registry presumably set the gold standard for lectionary usage as well.

iii) Likewise, the Assumption of Moses betrays Essene and Pharisaic traits. (Cf. R. Beckwith, "Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming," Revue de Qumran 40 [Dec 1981], 521-542). Based on its studied allusion to the 34 year reign of Herod (6:6; cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.8.1), the Testament of Moses dates at the earliest to the turn of the 1C AD. It is extremely far-fetched to suppose that a mid-1C author like Jude would be appealing to such a novel document—with no representation in the Temple archives or synagogal lectionaries—as canonical writ. Indeed, R. Bauckham has proposed that the Assumption may be itself dependent on Jude, who is—in turn—dependent on the Testament of Moses. (Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church [T&T Clark, 1990], 235ff.)

iv) Nor do we find Jude employing standard scriptural citation formulas (e.g. "it is written," "scripture says"). Hence,, there is no formal reason for supposing that Jude ranked this material with Holy Writ.

v) In judging Jude’s estimate of Jewish pseudepigrapha, we must remember that his brother was a very traditional Jew, as is evident from his letter, his administration of the Jerusalem church (e.g. Acts 15), and his ultraist disciples (Gal 2:12ff.). Given this establishmentarian emphasis, it is unlikely in the extreme that he would have ranked sectarian (=Essene) literature on par with Scripture. Now it is no doubt possible that his kid brother was less conservative, but to assume that Jude was way out of the mainstream isn’t very plausible given the impact and position of his elder brother. This was a society in which primogeniture mattered.

vi) What’s more, the leadership of James over the Jerusalem church, which was the mother church of Christendom, was such that his kid brother could never have functioned in that body unless he enjoyed big brother’s approval. There would have been no receptive constituency for the very letter under review.

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