Evangelicals and the Canon of the New Testament -- By: M. James Sawyer

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 11:1 (Spring 1990)
Article: Evangelicals and the Canon of the New Testament
Author: M. James Sawyer


Evangelicals and the Canon of the New Testament

M. James Sawyer

The conservative American evangelical apologetic for the shape of the New Testament canon has been historically the weakest link in its bibliology. Arguments for the shape of the canon have been built upon unexamined theological assumptions and historical inaccuracies. Contemporary evangelical apologists for the New Testament canon have downplayed the reformers doctrine of thewitness of the Spirit for assurance of the shape of the New Testament canon, appealing instead to historical evidences for the apostolicity of the New Testament documents and to a theological argument of providence for the closure of the New Testament canon in the fourth century. There are, however, methodological weaknesses with each of these appeals. It is suggested the evangelicals reassert the doctrine of thewitness of the Spirit as a key feature in their apologetic for the New Testament canon rather than rely exclusively upon historical arguments.

The Problem of Canon Determination for Evangelicals

Over the past two decades American evangelical scholarship has risen ably to the defense of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible as a touchstone upholding the historic position of the Church of Jesus Christ with reference to its authority. While volumes have been penned discussing the nature of biblical inspiration and the consequent authority of the scripture, it seems curious that in all the bibliological discussions one crucial issue is scarcely mentioned: the issue of canon. Apart from R. Laird Harris’s Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible,1 Wilber T. Dayton’s article, “Factors Promoting the Formation of the New Testament Canon,”2 David Dunbar’s chapter, “The Biblical

Canon,” in Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon,3 Geisler and Nix’s discussion in their General Introduction to the Bible,4 Merrill Tenney’s chapter in his New Testament Survey,5 and a recent series of articles in Christianity Today,6 American evangelicals who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture7 have had little to say concerning the shape of the canon.8 The twenty-seven books which compose the New Testament scriptures together with the Jewish scriptures are assumed to be the complete written revelati...

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