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The Definition of Canon

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 10, 2020 12:01 am

The Definition of Canon

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 10, 2020 12:01 am

Even in the earliest centuries of the church, Christians were reading books of the New Testament as inspired Scripture. Today, Michael Kruger helps us to define "canon" so we may better understand how God gave His Word to His church.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind. People make statements such as there was no canon in Christianity until the fifth century citizen scholar rolling her famous pastor status on ago we were not in a church in evangelical churches don't creation there was no canon to look at century think myself that's not quite accurate. Depending on what you mean by 10. We talk about the recruitment we need is the accepted list of books considered to be inspired by God. There were many books that claim to be inspired, but there are only a limited number than actually are.

So how can we be confident that the books we have are the right ones. That's the question Dr. Michael Kruger is addressing this week let's join while walking back everyone for session 2 we start time in session when talking about the problem of Canada's laying out the issues that face us as Christians and try to justify why these books and no others were alive as well as a formidable challenge. We've a lot of ground to cover ahead of us now in the second session will look at a second challenge we face as we talk about this issue. Canon that is the canons definition. What do we actually mean when we talk about the phrase the New Testament canon.

When we when we actually looking for in the stroke record. We look for the evidence in the stroke records. They all look there's there's there's a time when Christians had a New Testament canon.

If we say that what we really mean when we really looking for really important question right and truth be told I was not a question. We really thought much about most Christians use the phrase canon or the New Testament can distill broadly talk about the collection of books that God gave his church. What you see listed in the front your Bibles. Okay, fair enough. But you may not know that behind the scenes.

There is a sort of raging debate going on about what you actually mean by canon.

They may wonder why why why such the controversy and was at matter for us sitting here as we talk about this in the sessions. What are some reasons why this matters. We want to spend the session talking about the definition of canon. First and foremost I think it matters because whoever controls the terminology controls the debate right and this is an important fact of any discussion and you see this, our culture may look on the culture using certain phrases and certain change of words or use it just reframes everything a people use a words in different ways.

We make sure using words rightly and that we get to have a say in how words are used because you not make much progress in a disagreement if you don't have an agreement on terms getting the right words. Therefore, matters makes me think of a famous quote by Mark Twain talking about is the right terminology said this one time. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is a difference between lightning and lightning bug. Joyce was a great analogy there.

If you mess up the terminology even just a little bit they can mess up the whole debate is a second reason why this matters is a lot of people don't realize that the definition you have for canon what you think New Testament canon is is going to determine the date you give it another words the big hot topics in discussing today is but when did this happen how the early Christians have New Testament can depend which amoebae can enter as a phenomenon, you probably don't know about.

I want to share with you. There is an odd sort of phenomenon scholarship where scholars have all these wide-ranging views on the date of canon, but they're all looking at the same evidence.

This is really interesting.

Some scholars say we have a canon in the fourth century and other scholars say no canon in the second century in Wisconsin we have a kid in the first century, and the like are you all looking the same facts and answers yes got the exact same struggle evidence how you explain how you get such a wide divergence of dates for the canon. Whenever was looking at the same facts answer depends on the definition you start with K. Here's a lesson for you as we begin the second session that is the definition of canon in the way it affects the date of canon is a great object lesson in the way historical investigations often happen we to think historical investigations are neutral enterprises that I see the semesters all the time and even members of our church. There's a sort of idea that historians are guys that walk around the women the walker out these white lab coats on and they're just scientists by Dolly and all are doing is looking at the data in the data speaks for itself, and if the data speaks for itself and you can't quibble with my conclusions. Is it really true that data speaks for itself what you realize. Here is the data only makes sense when you read that there were certain lands and you reach certain conclusions from the database on where you start and when it comes in the definition of canon. What we learned very quickly is the definition you start with determines what day you get the canon. But here's the trick.

Historical evidence doesn't determine your definition, the definition has to come from somewhere else when you realize that is it. We start talking about definitions of canon. We have to start bringing in people's worldviews, people's theology was perspective about what canon could and couldn't be audibly we realize that is it's not so simple.

Look on the facts.

This is really important for you now because I see this all the time all over the Internet and websites and blogs people make statements such as there was no canon in Christianity till the fifth century citizens scholarly, rolling her famous pastor status only go we were not in a church in evangelical churches don't creation there was no canon to look at century think myself that's not quite accurate. Depending on what you mean by right and so often times people here that languishing a little nervous thinking while the church was stumbling around the dark for 400 years with no knowledge of what to read and it was only to look for century that I got resolve a summary company that he realized the second. That's not the whole story. When you say a statement like there's no canon to the fifth century, no Canada for century just depends on what definition you're using. So just hear this. The definition of canon is not something that comes from historical evidence of something that determines how you interpret the historical evidence we gotta get the definition from somewhere else and horses will argue here's the second part of what informs her definition is the Bible's own view of these books and there's nothing wrong with that. Using the whole Christian worldview informed how we should approach these things. So the reason I want to spend a session on this topic of definition, is it really does teach us how historical investigations work and there's nothing as good for you it's actually going on in the same strange is actually going to give you a really well-rounded perspective on this thing we call candidates can bounce it out and give you the big picture as we start talking about definitions of land out.

It really does allow you to dig down deep into that question. Okay, so here's a real or perceived. You might think that the goal of the session then is needed is to pick a definition and defendant right to pick my favorite definition. I will make my case for excess not wanting to do this.

Only probably a little surprising for you. I'm actually going to suggest three different complementarity definitions that in fact balance each other out and around each other outdoors also suggest you that this thing we call the New Testament Canon is such a complex phenomenon that I think it's best understood when you actually look at it from three different perspectives. Each of those different perspectives I think have a level of validity to them that each of those different perspectives is limited. Therefore, to pick just one of them, you're bound to distort your perception New Testament can, in fact, I think you only have a full normed balanced view of what canon it is when you look at all three definitions together as a package, and so on.

The suggestiveness session is or three different definitions out there. Canon and I think all 3 Have Their Pl. and actually we look at them as a whole thing together quite nicely give you a big picture of what this thing we call canon is okay so with the introduction let's talk about these three definitions. On the walk to them.

One of the time with you will start with the very first definition, the first definition want talk about is defining the New Testament Canon as a fixed spinal closed list. Some of define the New Testament Canon is a list of books that's fixed closed and you can't add anything to it and you can't take anything away when you have that. So the first definition says then you can say you have a Canon when that is been achieved when you have a fixed spinal closed list the church all agreed on the boundaries are tight, you know exactly what books are in exactly what books are out and when you have that will by Dolly. Now you have a Canon was missing on this first definition is it sure looks a Canon at the end of the whole process and get that other words, this says that you have a Canon when all the dust settles all the debates are over.

Although disagreements have been resolved when the boundaries are tied in the list is made well then you can kinda like this and by golly, now you finally have a Canon so this definition, then, is what we might call for looking for a name for my cold is something like an exclusive definition okay and we mean that is that this is when you have a list of books it excludes everything else. Just these books. All the dust to settle in the process. And when you have some like the stroke record you can point rose by Dolly.

There is now we have a Canon now. If you have the definition of canon can affect the way you dated if he asked the question when is it an early Christianity that we have this final fix close list if you will all the dust to settle in a little converses resolved well you probably don't really have much about the fourth or fifth century. So if you in fact have this definition of canon and end up probably with the date of canon around the fourth or fifth century. Now what I make of this first definition.

We just mentioned a couple positives and then one negative.

First, the positives of this definition.

One thing that's good about this definition is. It reminds us of something very important that is. The Canon took time for all was said and Don and all the dust to settle.

Let it happen overnight. It took some time, probably about the fourth century before you can say, the edges of solidified and we have the sort of clear unanimity around these books is important to know that if you know something about an adjustment can this definition rightly reminds you. Wait a second. This and having 24 hours is an hundred $40 or some natural historical processes that went on here and took some time for this to get resolved and that's certainly one of the positives of this definition, but this definition also has some negatives and let me just mention why I don't think this should be the only definition we use because of her. The only definition we use these negatives really become real negatives will not bring those out the first and most important negative hear of this definition is it gives the impression that before the fourth century, the church was in the dark tenant symbols like if you just use this definition we impression would be is that suddenly the light clicked on the fourth century and now Christians knew what to read, but when you look at historical evidence that wasn't all a case of fact, I want are you a little bit that long before the fourth century Christians knew very well what to read.

In fact on when are you in just a minute that there was what we could call a clear collection of New Testament books, maybe 21 22/27 that had been in place for hundreds of years before the fourth century some of the weaknesses of this first definition as it misses that entirely doesn't is this impression that the church was tripping and falling some around the dark didn't have a clue what to read in the fourth century came around suddenly. Thankfully everyone as a Canon Stockwell worked in so this definition has limitations want to be careful about that as a second limitation is a second critique I have of this definition. I want you to know and this is I think in some ways even more important is it. If you only use this definition to get the impression that you have the Canon because of something the church did in the fourth century that the church did something in the fourth century, that created the can wouldn't do well to scholars it closed it and put it on a list drew up a long list of books and said these are no others, and then you have a Canon like that is because the coming of the impression that the church made the can for the church created a Canon or that without the church doing something you don't have a Canon right but that's a little misleading is a very sad for generations before this, Christians are reading books of Scripture just fine. Can't be quite what we mean. Right certainly is as Protestants and certainly been more than out as reformed Protestants, we believe it.

The church didn't create the Canon church recognized what was already there so you have a definition of candidate is assigned to the church for the inmate it will. That's a problem right to say about this first definition has one real big positive rightly reminds us, took a while but also has some negatives. If we only use this definition and no others would be left with those negatives right which is his idea that everybody was in the dark for 400 years will that's not true. So we need something else besides this first definition I think this is an important correction in this whole debate slowly mention then a second definition that I think really does help begin to doubt what we mean by cancer.

The first definition is Canon as a fixed final close list of books when you see that one now you by Dolly.

You have a Canon suggest a second definition. This definition is it that you have a Canon we have a fixed final close list of books. The second definition is that you have a Canon when you see books of the New Testament being used as Scripture by Christians when you see books of the New Testament being used by Christians as Scripture. Even if the boundaries are finalized in the edges are still little fuzzy on the Canon do we see New Testament books being used as Scripture. Once we see that on the second definition, we can say there is a Canon so for looking for a name for the second definition we pry: the functional definition when when we met out when books start functioning like Canon start being used as Scripture. We start having authority in the church, even if the boundaries on solidified and is not yet that final fix close list. Then we can say look there. We have a Canon now the scholarly world that second definition is been used a lot and guess what, it leads you to an entirely different date for the first definition accountable for the midcentury. But what if you define Canon as just one book started being used in Scripture then you can when you have a Canon now answer second century. In fact, you'll see this in a later session was on a show you this horrible evidence for this evening very early in the second century, we see this exact thing happening books being used as Scripture, and that predates the fourth century by nearly 200 years, and that's a very important fact to understand so lonely as well. What I think are some positives of the second definition of Artie just laid one of them out.

One of the positives, there is at this definition rightly reminds us that long before the fourth century as a core collection of books function as Scripture quite nicely.

In fact, probably about 22/27 books are preestablished by the second century and being used fully authoritative Scripture and is a few books that hovered around the edges. Books that typically are smaller books like second Peter, second, third John Jude tiny books right away when slicing your sermon series on Jude none. While right to leave. I think I don't think I've ever heard a sermon series on June sometimes books just to get overlooked and you can see why those might take some time and that's exactly what happened but in the midst of that what I want you see on the second definition is that there was a core collection books, running powerfully as Scripture in the life of the church. By the early second century was significant about the actors listen to me about that. This means that Christians actually had a pretty good idea what to read very well aware what books are Scripture long before the church can ever say anything about this is an important thing.

I think reformed Protestants want to acknowledge right is it Christian seem to have a pretty good idea what was in the Canon before there was ever church council there is ever church meeting about four there's any of these so-called votes here this on the Internet that someone voted somewhere that's not true there's no boats on the Canon but nonetheless before there is any declarations or less, by golly, when we see according the second definition books function Scripture for 200+ years earlier. Apparently they did pretty much no in the boardroom.

Fuzzy did pretty much know the score collection of books was there from the very beginning so I tell my students all the time and I'll tell you and people are often surprised to hear this for most of the king and there wasn't really any debate fact when it comes to things like the four Gospels just can always there from start letters of Paul.

You can always been there from the beginning.

A couple other key books. First Peter first John, Revelation, Hebrews, you are much from start fact all the so-called disagreements were actually only around about four, maybe five books that is why this second definition is so important. What reminds you of is actually how well advanced. The Christian canon was in such early day. The moment you have the first definition you think things are in utter chaos in the first two centuries and is owing for century the light clicked on with your mongers about the second of energy like what is agriculture functioning like Scripture for generations there preaching from these books they are reading these books they were memorizing these books they were studying them and it wasn't really in doubt, all the others.

A few small books there is debates about the generally speaking, things are pretty much in place. So the second definition is a really important balance now. Are there any witnesses with the second definition I think so. We mention what this is an important witness to acknowledge. In fact, this weakness is also shared by the first definition will explain what I mean. Neither the first definition nor the second definition of Canon address what we might call the ontology of Canon now know what's in your head right now your thing and did you have to really use that word really was doing just fine here were clicking along the uses were ontology of Canon and I'm gonna object that would hang with me for moment when I say that neither the first or second definition address what we can call the ontology can.

Here's what I mean. Neither of those first definitions address what the Canon is in and of itself, apart from anybody even knowing it exists. Think about for moment both the first definition in the second definition you are allowed to use the word Canon either.

When the church puts on a final close list or when the church starts using these books of Scripture.

But that means that our definition of Canon means a church still has to do something for you to call something Canon almost makes it sound like books become Canon like before there nothing in the literature starts acting they become something they work. Otherwise, some Christians believe about the books.

We believe that when Paul wrote Romans. It was nothing really of significance until the church did something with or do we believe that when Paul wrote Romans. It was already something special already inspired already in effect Canon before anyone ever read it only put in a different way.

Let's imagine that God gave his Canon to his church and no one ever knew it existed. Can we still say it was there when I want to suggest to you is what's missing from these first two definitions is a sense that these books have authority in these books have a standing apart from other church even knew they were there. And why would they have that authority by virtue of the fact that God gave them to his church. Suddenly just his third and last definition here because I love that big word on the stick with it.

Ontological definition right the first definition is our exclusive definition, which is fixed final close list. The second definition well.

These pictures function. Scripture was the ontological definition will that's where we could define Canon is the books God gave his church and that means that the ontological definition you could sorta say looks at the Canon from God's perspective, leaving the side reception. Leaving aside when people begin to acknowledge and receive these books before that even started.

What we want to acknowledge theologically is it of God gave these books and he inspired these books is intent was that these are the authoritative books of the got his church under something we can say is true about the before anyone even existed. Followers want to say that you can have an ontological definition of Canon, namely, that you could say there's a Canon as soon as God gave these books. Now let's imagine that that was your definition can the books that God gave us church will be your date then. Well, it would actually be in the first century, when think about for moment.

If I had a definition of Canon that the books God gave us church will when you have that when God gave those books to his church, and when that happened well in the first century's ability Canon from a theological perspective from God's perspective. You have Canon even for centuries. Over the very famous Princeton theologian BB Warfield actually use this definition can. Here's what he said the canon of the New Testament was completed when the last authoritative book was given to any church by the apostles, and that was when John wrote the apocalypse about 98 A.D. while what is mortal sin Arkansas Donna 98 A.D. imagine someone without first definition, reason, handle what a second. The kid is identical for century like well you're only looking out from the perspective of reception. But if you look at it from the perspective of what God's doing that you have a Canon in the first century. By the way can you see now why theology determines your definition of Canon and therefore that actually determines the date.

This is what I want to see in this whole discussion is that the trial worldview. You're looking at the start with is going to determine where you go with this actually draw these three definitions together into a close.

Here's what were saying.

I'm not argue produce one of these oxidizing the bees all contribute something. The first definition reminds us Canada and happiness and tenuously took a while for centuries. When the dust settled, so it's legitimate second definition the functional definition reminds us of some important to that long for the fourth century there was a core collection of books or well-established of Scripture, 21, 2227, never really in doubt. That's an important contribution in the Canada finish. We just looked at ontological definition reminds us that actually these books have a standing member to the fact that God gave them and they would have been Canon from the moment they were written by virtue of the divine inspiration when you realize those three definitions as a package you know what you see you see a nice four picture of the way the can developed in here's how goes God gave his books as inspired books, you have a Canon in a sense, then his church begins to use these books as inspired Scripture and have a sense of akin in the church finally reaches a full consensus on these books in the fourth century and in a sense, you have a Canon so we look at all three definitions you know you realize he is not really Adonis like a line K Canon is like a process. This is why I suggested some time living date is even really the right language in which talk about stage of Canon rather date of care data Canon coming as if that is only one option would stage a painter and realizes several options. The upshot of all this is a recognizable all three options fit together in a commentary balanced way.

The beautiful picture of the history of Canon and the reminder that theology feeds how we look at this. We start with what we believe about his books and that is when he dies are still there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the Canada Scripture Dr. Michael Kruger's message today helps clarify so much. I hope it was helpful to you work during his series on this topic this week. Your on Renewing Your Mind in six lessons see enters the most common objections to the canonicity of the New Testament that provides sound reasons for confidence in the word of God. I hope you'll contact us today and request the complete series on a single DVD will send it to you for your donation of any amount to look at your ministries.

You can call us at 800-435-4343 to make your request can also do that online had Renewing Your

By the way, Dr. Kruger is a seminary president and professor and that one of the many trusted teachers who writes articles for our devotional magazine each month. Table talk deals with a specific theme.

For example, in March is the COBIT 19 became a pandemic. The theme providentially was fear and this month, the focus is on truth is I've mentioned before I begin subscribing the table talk your way back in 19 the idea that I have not missed an issue since if you like to learn more and subscribe just go to table talk Believe it or not there are scholars today who say that the New Testament was imposed on the church to oppress a certain sect of Christianity. We defend against that kind of thinking. I hope you make plans to join us Wednesday for Renewing Your Mind as we continue this series on the New Testament can

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