Not Impressed By Some Thoughts on Canon
So I was checking out some of the materials on the most recent patristics carnival over at Hyperekperissou (by the way Phil, are you aware of this other hyperekperissou blog?). As you know I have a keen interest in the development of the canon and other things in early/archaic Christian history, so the the couple articles on the topic caught my eye. One is here and the other is here.
Unfortunately, as I perused them, I found the former had very sloppy argumentation, assumed way too much, and in general came out way too optimistic in coming up with a second century canon. The second was okay, but left out a lot of important evidence that argues for a much wider use of materials as essentially canonical in authority. I’ll talk about them in reverse order
First is from the Brain Cramps for God site. He cites this as evidence for a development of the use of the NT the use of Matthew, Luke, Romans, Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, and Ephesians. That is true, but he also quotes from the Wisdom of Solomon a couple times and from an unknown source as authoritative in at least 17:6 and 46:2. So even though 1 Clement quotes the NT as authoritative, it quotes other documents in the same way. Throw in other books like 2 Clement ([UPDATE: Just to be clear, I’m not pointing to 2 Clement because I think Clement wrote it. I’m just pointing to it because it is a good example of this.]) and you get multiple quotes from gospels we do not know of now. Granted, what he said was accurate, but the evidence points to a wider range of accepted literature.
The article on the other site had a number of overstatements of evidence and assumptions. I will just mention a couple. For example, he takes 2 Timothy 4:9-12 as a statement that Paul wanted Timothy to bring him...well...here is the quote with comments by me in brackets:
Parchments are blank [always...are you sure that is what he means?] pieces of papyrus or animal skins used for preparing manuscripts. We don’t know what “books” Paul is referring to here. Some have suggested that Paul is referring to scrolls of the Old Testament. However, it is unlikely that toward the end of his life, Paul is asking two important bishops in the early church to take a dangerous journey to Rome before winter in order to prepare an edition of the Hebrew Scriptures[a) no particular reason to think they were Hebrew, b) why the assumption of a preparation of an edition]. It’s also improbable that Paul needed the Scriptures for some other purpose. Rome had Jewish synagogues with these writings and Paul, as a rabbi, would have also committed huge portions of scripture to memory. [yes...large portions...so why does this mean he would not want his own copy?]
Paul almost certainly meant his own writings [what? where are you getting that from?] and perhaps other Apostolic writings [where is he getting this?] that Timothy and Mark had assembled. It is thought that the “cloak” he refers to here is a large piece of waterproof leather used to wrap scrolls and parchments – sort of a first century book case that was used to protect parchment and papyrus when traveling [I’m not so sure about that either].
Second, a little later:
This is why Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch are able to quote freely from so many New Testament books as though they were already accepted as authoritativeury [sic] and by the late first century and early second century.
As I mentioned above, the early fathers quoted as authoritative books that are not in either the Old or New Testaments. So yes, some of these were definitely considered authoritative, but lots of other books were as well, and just acceptance of some books as authoritative does not a canon make. His conclusion makes this same mistake. I quote:
From this, I draw the conclusion that a New Testament canon existed at the very latest by the early-second century, and there is strong evidence that all 27 books of the New Testament were known as Scripture at the end of the first century by bishops such as Clement of Rome, Papias of Hierapolis, Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch.
If you are going to take every book that is quoted authoritatively, you are going to have to enlarge your canon. Also, just because one bishop quoted a work does not mean that any other bishops quoted a work. You need to prove wider acceptance.
So, in summary, though one of the articles did make some good points, the other was too full of assumptions to be considered accurate. From what I have seen, arguing for a 27 book canon in the second century is an impossibility since bishops in the church were debating various books up through the time of Eusebius, as he records. Yes, many of the NT documents were viewed as authoritative early, which is very important. But that is not the same as having a canon, and we ought to keep that in mind.