The Canon Of The New Testament -- By: Simon J. Kistemaker

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:1 (Winter 1977)
Article: The Canon Of The New Testament
Author: Simon J. Kistemaker


The Canon Of The New Testament*

Simon J. Kistemaker

In the last decade, interest in the canon has increased significantly. Such interest, of course, comes to expression in numerous articles and books on the subject. Even publishing houses get in on the act. I am thinking of the so-called ecumenical Bible published in 1973 by Collins in New York City. This Bible is the Revised Standard Version, which has in addition to the OT and NT the apocryphal and deuterocanonical books. On the cover the term “Common Bible” appears, obviously to promote sales among Protestants, Catholics and members of the Greek Orthodox communion. Strictly speaking, however, this ecumenical Bible is not so “common,” because Protestants do not accept the apocryphal and deuterocanonical books as canonical.

Nevertheless, some scholars believe that the shape and content of the canon needs revision. David L. Dungan has surveyed the articles and books written of late on the canon of the NT. He mentions such areas as recently discovered apocryphal gospels at Nag Hammadi, Septuagintal studies, Greek NT MS collections, and ecumenical concerns. He notes—somewhat prophetically—”intense activity which will sooner or later precipitate a massive series of changes regarding the shape and content of the Bible which would rival for creativity the Reformation period, if not the second through the fifth centuries.”1 Whether such activity will indeed materialize remains to be seen.

The question of what books are to be in the NT canon arose, of course, in apostolic times. In those days the Church asked what books were to be received as the very Word of God. Though some books like the gospels were readily accepted by the entire Church, others like the general epistles of James, Peter, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation were not universally received until the fourth century.

I. Apostolic Times

A. Apocryphal Literature

When in 1958 the Gospel of Thomas was published, and the British press called it the “fifth gospel,” the average reader knew that another apocryphal gospel had been discovered. And when some years later Kurt Aland published his synopsis of the four gospels,2 he did not add the Gospel of Thomas as a fifth gospel. He incorporated it as an

*Simon Kistemaker, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi, delivered this presidential address at the 28th annual meeting of ETS, December 28, 1976.

appendix. The Gospel of Truth, which like the Gospel of Thomas is part of the Nag Hammadi library, did not even come ...

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