Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Historical Argument For The New Testament Canon

My last post cited Charles Hill's Who Chose The Books Of The New Testament? (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2022). The book makes a lot of good points (e.g., the manuscript and patristic evidence that the canonical gospels were more widely accepted and viewed more highly than the non-canonical ones in the earliest centuries of Christianity).

However, his focus when discussing canonical criteria is on the self-authenticating nature of scripture, and he doesn't provide what I consider the best argument for the canon. See here for a series I wrote in 2009 that makes a historical argument for the canon on the basis of the criterion of apostolicity. Some parts of that series are somewhat dated, and you can find more recent material in our archives (e.g., I've written substantially more about 1 Timothy 5:18 since then, like here). But the 2009 series provides the general parameters and many of the relevant details.

One of the good aspects of Hill's book is that he cites the existence of our 27-book New Testament canon in Origen more than a century before it appears in Athanasius. But Hill doesn't go into much depth when discussing the subject. See here for my article on the topic, which covers a lot of details Hill doesn't mention, some of which I haven't seen anybody else bring up. As I explain in that article, there are multiple lines of evidence that the 27-book canon predates the letter of Athanasius that's typically cited. People ought to stop citing that letter or Athanasius as an individual as the first source supporting the canon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Should we trust the histories written by skeptical winners?

Scholars like Ehrman cite in this regard the well-worn adage: "It's the winners who write the histories." That is, those who get to write the histories are those who have already won the cultural battle. Thus they write history in a way that favors their own party, and puts any rivals in a bad light. The winners who wrote the histories were biased, often so biased, they couldn't even see their own biases. So, when we read early orthodox [Christian] writers today, we need to adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion, and read against the grain.

This is what the history books are telling us today. But then, isn't history always written by the winners? And aren't the winners often so enmeshed in the reigning cultural narrative that they can't see their own bias? Which is why we ought to read today's historians with the same sort of critical suspicion as they recommend we apply when reading the ancient writers.

(Charles Hill, Who Chose The Books Of The New Testament? [Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2022], approximate Kindle location 99)