Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament -- By: Gary B. Ferngren

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 134:536 (Oct 1977)
Article: Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament
Author: Gary B. Ferngren


Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament

Gary B. Ferngren

[Gary B. Ferngren, Assistant Professor of History, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.]

Internal Criticism and the New Testament Canon

Since the earliest centuries of the Christian era, when the New Testament canon was being formed, questions have been raised about the authorship of the books of the New Testament. In the early church a tradition was transmitted from the subapostolic age that ascribed to the apostolic circle the authorship of the books that came to form the New Testament. Since inclusion of a particular work in the canon was based on its apostolic authority, if not authorship, it became important to test the traditions of authorship for writings under consideration for inclusion in the canon.

“The earliest recognition of the New Testament writings,” says F. F. Bruce, “was spontaneous and instinctive: the rationale of the canon came later.”1 Hence the later criteria of canonicity—apostolicity, catholicity, and orthodoxy—”were largely devised to justify a tradition which already existed. Authority precedes canonicity: that is to say, the various writings do not derive their authority from their inclusion in the canon: they were included in the canon because their authenticity was recognized.”2

Of course, disputes arose over the authorship of certain works. The traditional ascriptions were not always accepted: Origen

doubted that Paul wrote Hebrews; Jerome believed that Peter did not write 2 Peter; Dionysius of Alexandria believed that the Apostle John was not the author of Revelation. Eusebius divides those books that had a claim to canonicity into three groups: those that are commonly recognized (the four Gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles, 1 John, 1 Peter, Revelation); those that are disputed (James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John); and those that are spurious (the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and others including, by the reckoning of some, Revelation, which is placed in the first category by others).3 Nevertheless, the genuineness of even the disputed books eventually came to be accepted. Some doubts arose again at the time of the Reformation, partly because of the theological issues under discussion, but in large measure because of the critical scholarship fostered by Renaissance humanism. Luther questioned whether James the brother of Jesus wrote the epistle attributed to him, and Calvin doubted (on the basis of style) the Petrine authorship of 2 Pe...

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