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The Definition of Canon

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
July 1, 2022 12:01 am

The Definition of Canon

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 1, 2022 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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People make statements such as there was no canon in Christianity until the fifth century citizens. Golly, 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 can myself that's not quite accurate. Depending on what you mean by human scripture. The common way we referred to the extent the list of boats considered to be inspired by God. Early church history. There were many books that claim to be inspired.

Only a limited number actually are the how do we get there.

How do we know that we have the right books is Dr. Michael Kruger while walking back everyone for session 2 we start time in session when talking about the problem of Canada's Lane out the issues that face us as Christians and try to justify why these books and no others were 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 the 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 one week when we actually looking for in the stroker record. We look for the evidence in the stroke reckons they all look there's there's there's a time when Christians had a New Testament canon, and 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 a 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 of 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 the famous quip 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 this happened, how the early Christians have a New Testament can what has what you mean by 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 you have a kid in the first century, and the like are you all looking the same facts and answers yes 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 and 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 which anything historical investigations or neutral enterprises away. I see this in my students all the time and even members of my church. There's a sort of idea that historians are guys that walk around our women the water 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 speak for itself, and if the data speak for itself and you can't quibble with my conclusions. Is it really true that data speak for itself what you realize. Here is the data only makes sense when you read it through 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 struggle.

Facts this is really important for you know 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 will only go we were not in a church in evangelical churches don't creation there was no canon to look at century think of myself. That's not quite accurate. Depending on what you mean by can write and so often times people here that languishing a little nervous thinking while the church was stumbling around the dark. 400 years with no knowledge of what you read and it was only to look for century that got resolved was not very comforting that he realized the second. That's not the whole story. When you say a statement like there's no payment of the fifth century are 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 the struggle. Evidence of something that determines how you interpret the historical evidence we gotta get the definition from somewhere else. And of course, as 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 has nothing to do 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 me the big picture because we start talking about definitions and land out. It really does allow you to dig down deep in question. Okay, so here's a real or perceived. You might think that the goal of the session that is needed is to pick a definition and defendant right to pick my favorite definition 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 round 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 the 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, warm, balanced view of what canon 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 to 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 my 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 the fine.

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 innocent on this first definition is it sure looks at canon at the end of the whole process you 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 tight in the list is made well and you can kinda like this in by Dolly. Now you finally have a Canon so this definition then this will be my call you're looking for a name for my cold is something like an exclusive definition okay and we mean that is it. This is when you have a list of books it excludes everything else is just these books. All the dust to settle in the process. And when you have some like a stroke record you can point to say 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 converse is 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 it'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 could 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 on the New Testament Canon. This definition rightly reminds you. Wait a second. This and having 24 hours is an hundred $40 or 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 for 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 is almost like if you just use this definition or impression would be is that suddenly the light clicked on the fourth century and now Christians knew what to read, but we look at historical evidence that wasn't all a case. In fact, I want are you a little bit that long before the fourth century Christians knew very well what to read. In fact, when are you 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.

So one 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 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 cornea 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, or the church created a Canon or that without the church doing something you have occasion 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 is Protestants, and certainly even 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 candor gives the side of the church automated 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 will now you by Dolly. You have a Canon suggest a second definition. This definition isn't 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.

Even if 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 reply: the functional definition one 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 emitters 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 not accountable for the midcentury. But what if you define Canon as just one book started being used in Scripture, then you have a Canon when you can 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 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 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 below it was a lesson or sermon series on Jude none. While right to me. If I think the governor sermon series on Jude. Your license will just 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 could ever say anything about this is an important thing. I think 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 furthers any of these so-called votes hear 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, what we see. According the second definition is books function to Scripture 200+ years earlier and apparently they did pretty much no words were little 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 at such an early day, you have the first definition you think things are in utter chaos in the first two centuries and is going the fourth century, the light clicked on with your reminders about the second of energy like what books are 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 weaknesses with the second definition I think so. We mention one. 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 is doing just fine. There 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 could call the ontology can. Here's what I mean. Neither 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 needs 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 Mazzella 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 to be still site was there 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 siblings as his third and last definition here because I love that big word on the stick with it. Ontological definition right the first definitions are exclusive definition, which is fixed final close list. The second definition well.

These pictures function scriptural the ontological definition 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 began 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 and he got his church and there something we can say is true about them 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 wouldn't think about for moment. If I had a definition of Canon that the books God gave us church will wind 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 is second the kid is identical. For centuries, like well you're only looking at from the perspective of reception. But if you look at it from the perspective of what God is doing with 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 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. I'm guessing that these all contribute something. The first definition reminds us Canada and happen instantaneously 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 is a core collection of books or well-established of Scripture, 21, 20 2/20 seventh never really in doubt. That's an important contribution in the Canon definition. 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 a Canon in his 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 Kim is not really a dog is like a line K Canon is like a process. This is why I suggested some time to be date is even really the right language they wish. Talk about stage of Canon rather date of care data came in coming as if that is only one option will stage a canner and realize there's several options. The upshot of all this is to recognize that all three options fit together in a commentary balance 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 these books and that is when he dies personal. That's Dr. Michael Kruger we been hearing portions of the series.

The New Testament Canon over the past couple of days your on Renewing Your Mind in six licensee enters the most common objections that we hear about how we ended up with the 27 New Testament books.

He gives us sound reasons for confidence in the word of God. I hope you'll contact us today and request this DVD will send it to you for your donation of getting about to litigator ministries.

You can find us online@renewingyourmind.org or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. By the way, Dr. Kruger is Pres. and New Testament professor at reformed theological seminary in Charlotte North Carolina. He also writes for a monthly magazine table talk.

The articles and devotional lessons you'll find a table talk both to enhance your daily Bible study. If you're not a subscriber. I hope you'll check it out. Just go to table talk magazine.com.

Next week we have the privilege of hearing selected messages from Dr. RC scroll series dust. Laura the full series is 57 messages covering the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Next week will concentrate on the ministry and miracles of Jesus, so I hope you'll join us. Beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind


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