The Bible--Part 6
Feb 05, 2009
For many years I assumed that some Church Council (perhaps in the 5th century or so) canonized the New Testament, based upon popular opinion about what had long been considered Scripture. Yet I never found out just what Church Council it was that did the canonization. I did not realize, until Dr. Martin pointed it out, that no such Church Council did any canonization.
The work that Peter and Paul had to do was to choose which of their letters to establish in the official canon. We know that Paul wrote more than what was included, even as there were also many OT writings that were not included in the earlier canon. Secondly, they probably wanted to update or clarify some of their writings in view of more recent events. After all, Ezra had done this, as evidenced by his statement, "unto this day."
The inspiration process, as I have observed over the years (personally and with others) is that the Word of God is spoken in our spirits (i.e., Most Holy Place). It comes through the soul (Holy Place), which adds the writer's personality. If the person has idols of the heart, the Word gets distorted and colored as it comes through. If God has worked to cast down those idols, then it comes through without distortion, although it still retains the personality of the writer.
The idea is for all things, including inspiration, to be established by the double witness. Hence, God does not normally bypass human agency. It goes back to the original statement in Gen. 1:26, "Let them have dominion," where God instituted man's authority in the earth. God did not give man sovereignty, but neither did He choose to do everything apart from man's will, mind, and personality. The idea was to establish a law of the double witness, wherein heaven and earth bear witness in order to "establish" all things.
Hence, Paul's philosophical training and personality come through clearly in His writings, while Peter's down-to-earth personality is clearly seen. John's grammar in the Book of Revelation is said to be pretty bad at times. But in all cases, even bad grammar turns out to be perfect in its gematria. It goes to show how God can work all things out for His purposes.
The work of canonization also included putting the books into a particular order. I suppose it is possible that this was done unconsciously. If so, that is fine. Regardless, however, there is an order to the NT canon that is progressive in its teaching:
A. Foundational Teaching for children:
2. 1 Corinthians
3. 2 Corinthians
Note: 1 Cor. 3:1, 2; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 3:24-29 and 4:1-10
B. Instructions and corrections for maturing children:
Note: Ephesians 4:12-14.
C. Meat for mature sons
1. 1 Thessalonians
2. 2 Thessalonians
Note: Heb. 1:1
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, which concludes Paul's well-known "Love Chapter," he says,
"But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
The original order of NT letters retains this order.
1. James focuses upon Faith and how it results in works (James 2:17. He uses pistis 19 times, which is the biblical number the means Faith.)
2. Peter focuses upon Hope in suffering (1 Pet. 1:3, 13, 21 and 3:15)
3. John focuses upon Love for the brethren (1 John has too many examples to enumerate.)
Also, when we look at the internal content of each book, we see that Paul does not deviate from the basic order of teaching found in Hebrews 6:1, 2,
"Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of . . . .
4. Laying on of Hands
5. The Resurrection of the Dead
6. Aionian Judgment
7. Maturity (the goal as stated at the start of the list)
Looking more closely at Paul's letter to the saints in Rome (i.e., the British royal family, who had been taken there as war captives), we see this order of teaching:
1. Repentance: Romans 2:4, "The kindness of God leads you repentance."
2. Faith: Romans 3 and 4.
3. Baptisms: Romans 6
4. Laying on Hands (i.e., callings): Romans 9-11, in regard to "Israel"
5. Resurrection: Romans 12:2, where it is applied spiritually as a renewal of the mind
6. Aionian Judgment: Romans 14:9-13
7. Maturity: Romans 15:14, ". . . you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another." This is necessary in order to preach the gospel effectively (15:16).
1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians are written as basic teaching for children, designed to ground new Christians in the Word. Galatians is written primarily to a Church with Jewish Christians who still had not understood the significance of Christ as the Final Sacrifice for sin. Those Jewish teachers were still trying to convert non-Jews to Judaism. They did not have a clear understanding of the New Covenant, and so they were trying to make Jesus the Head of the Old Covenant.
Galatians was written to make the point that justification does not come by the law--neither the Law Covenant nor one's ability to keep its vow: "All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do" (Ex. 19:8). This is one of the most basic truths of the New Testament--that the Old Covenant vow was impossible for man to keep, and if one's justification is based upon man's ability to keep his vow, then all are lost, for all have sinned.
Galatians does not despise the law, nor does it cast the law aside. It simply restores the law to its intended place from the beginning. The law was meant to define sin and righteousness, but it did nothing to give us the power to achieve its righteous standard. It takes the Holy Spirit working within us to fulfill the law, and even that is given to us in three measures: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. We do not receive the full ability to be obedient until the fullness of the Spirit is given at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Each of Paul's other letters is unique. He does not go through the entire 7-step maturation process in this, but yet the order of instruction is generally retained.
In the next section of Paul's writings, he instructs those who are maturing. The key passage is Eph. 4:12-14, where we are told not to be as children "tossed here and there by waves," but rather to come to the measure of the full stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ."
In the final section, Paul speaks of prophecy in regard to the second coming of Christ. This is considered to be "strong meat," which is also why the Book of Revelation is positioned last. Such things can be misunderstood, if one has not mastered the foundational teachings.
The original NT order of books and letters show an unmistakable design. Whether this was inadvertent or deliberately planned by Peter and Paul, we cannot say for sure, because we were not there. But these letters appear to have been sent with Mark and Timothy back to Ephesus so that John could later finish the work of canonization. 2 Peter 1:15 says,
"And I will also be diligent that at any time ["every time" you meet] after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind."
This is the final part of a series titled "The Bible." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones