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Beckwith on the Relationship between the Testaments

In his magnificent book, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, Roger Beckwith writes (408):

The church was, of course, given its own authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament by Jesus and the apostles, but since Christianity was a thorough-going prophetic movement, claiming a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, withdrawn when prophecy ceased, the writings in which this interpretation was incorporated formed not just an appendix to the canon but a new body of Scriptures, which took its place alongside the old one, as its fulfillment, in the unfolding life of the church.

Beckwith’s book may be the most compelling volume I have ever read.

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Canon Revisited by Michael J. Kruger

When I teach biblical hermeneutics, before we actually get to biblical interpretation I try to put down three boundary stones within which we will seek to determine the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. The first of these has to do with clear thinking. This is a very basic introduction to logical and rhetorical fallacies. We want to be people who think well (here’s a helpful book). The third stone is inerrancy (on which I submit to you this essay), and the second stone is the subject of this post: the canon of Scripture.

The idea is that we have to think logically and well about the 66 books that have been recognized to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. These are the three boundary stones, the triangular space, within which we pursue the interpretive perspective reflected in what the biblical authors have written. In other words, this is the triangle within which we pursue biblical theology.

Michael J. Kruger has just published a book on the New Testament canon: Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.

I can tell you right now that this will be a recommended texts for my hermeneutics courses, so if you’ve already had the class and want to do more reading on this topic, you should check this one out. If you haven’t yet had the class (or won’t ever have it!) I’m confident that this book will help you think well through “the question about whether the Christian belief in the canon is intellectually justified” (11).

Congratulations and thanks to Michael Kruger and Crossway on this book!

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A New Fragment of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter

David Brakke has published a signifcant essay with a fresh translation of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter:

“A New Fragment of Athanasius’s 39th Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon.”  Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 47-66.

He points to some of the implications of a “new fragment of the Coptic text” of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter:

“When I read the letter in the mid 1990s, I argued that Athanasius’s promotion of a biblical canon supported a parish-based, episcopally-centered spirituality in opposition to other forms of Christian authority, namely, the teacher and the martyr. I still think that is the case, but the new fragment does suggest that I underestimated the specifically anti-heretical intent of the letter and of Athanasius’s canon. That is, Athanasius promoted a biblical canon not only—as I argued earlier—to support one form of Christian piety, social formation, and authority in opposition to others, but also to refute the specific teachings of persons and groups that he deemed ‘impious’ and ‘heretics.’”[1]

As for what’s new in the new fragment:

“ . . . . These other passages do not, however, include brief descriptions of each heresy’s distinct false teaching as the new fragment does.”[2]

“While the beginning and end of the fragment merely extend or supplement what we already knew of Athanasius’s argument, the brief catalogue of heresies with the biblical passages that refute them in its central section is genuinely new . . .”[3]

Brakke makes an observation that supports the notion that the early church rejected pseudepigraphy/pseudonymity, writing of Athanasius:

“. . . he devotes considerable attention to two particular themes. . . . The second theme is that no ‘apocryphal’ books really come from Isaiah, Moses, Enoch, or any other authoritative figure. They all published their teaching openly, and any ‘apocryphal’ books attributed to them must be recent inventions of heretics.”[4]

This comment adds to a lot of other evidence that when early figures in the church wrongly cited extra-canonical books as Scripture, they did so thinking that the attribution to some ancient inspired prophet was genuine. In other words, had they known the document was pseudepigraphical or pseudonymous, they would have rejected it. To my thinking this adds to the evidence that there were clear notions of authorship in the ancient world, that Jesus accepted the traditional claims about who wrote the books of the OT (e.g., Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Isaiah wrote Isaiah, Daniel wrote Daniel, etc.), and that the early church followed Jesus on this point.

Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter is not saying something new about the canon. Rather, Athanasius sees himself re-stating ancient tradition. Brakke writes:

“As Athanasius and others like him present the matter, when legitimate officeholders of the church (bishops) teach, they are faithfully passing on what Christ told the disciples, who subsequently informed their Episcopal successors, and so they are not really teaching at all. Athanasius claims this about himself in our letter: ‘I have not written these things as if I were teaching, for I have not attained such a rank. . . . I thus have informed you of everything that I heard from my father,’ that is, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.”[5]

Athanasius was a shepherd seeking to protect the flock from wolves:

“Although most scholars remain focused on the lists of books, the greater importance of the letter is that it reveals the role of canon formation in supporting one form of Christian piety and authority and undermining others. . . . The new fragment . . . makes clear that in establishing a defined canon Athanasius sought to undermine not only a general spirituality of free intellectual inquiry and its academic mode of authority, but also the specific false doctrines to which he believed such a spirituality gave rise.”[6]

A fresh translation of the entire letter, with a revised version of the new Coptic Fragment, follows on pages 57–66.


[1] David Brakke, “A New Fragment of Athanasius‘s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon,” Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 48.

[2] Ibid., 50.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 53.

[6] Ibid., 56.

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Still Sola Scriptura, My Essay from The Sacred Text

Thanks to Gorgias Press and to the editors of The Sacred Text, the Michaels Bird and Pahl, for permission to post my essay from the volume here:

Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical View of Scripture,” pages 215–40 in The Sacred Text: Excavating the Texts, Exploring the Interpretations, and Engaging the Theologies of the Christian Scriptures, ed. Michael Bird and Michael Pahl. Gorgias Précis Portfolios 7. Piscataway: Gorgias, 2010.

You can also get to the essay by clicking the cover of the book on the right hand side of the blog, or by going to the “Articles & Essays” page of this site.

As Jesus said, the word of God is truth, and may God sanctify us in that truth (John 17:17).

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Now Available: The Sacred Text

Newly released from Gorgias Press:

Michael F. Bird and Michael W. Pahl, eds. The Sacred Text: Excavating the Texts, Exploring the Interpretations, and Engaging the Theologies of the Christian Scriptures. Gorgias Précis Portfolios 7. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias, 2010.

Contents

Introduction: From Manuscript to MP3 – Michael F. Bird

The History of the Texts

The Septuagint as Scripture in the Early Church – Karen H. Jobes

Scripture in the Second Century – Tomas Bokedal

Scripture and Tradition: Seeking a Middle Path – Michael W. Pahl

Scripture and Canon – John C. Poirier

The Interpretation of the Texts

Scripture and Biblical Criticism – Jamie A. Grant

Scripture and Theological Exegesis – Thorsten Moritz

Scripture and Postmodern Epistemology – Robert Shillaker

Scripture and New Interpretive Approaches: Feminist & Post-Colonial – Jennifer G. Bird

The Theological Status of the Texts as Scripture

Catholic Doctrine on Scripture: Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Interpretation – Brant Pitre

Scripture in Eastern Orthodoxy: Canon, Tradition, and Interpretation -George Kalantzis

Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical Perspective on Scripture – James M. Hamilton Jr.

The Word as Event: Barth and Bultmann on Scripture – David Congdon

Can be ordered here.

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