The Place Of The Apocalypse In The Canon Of St. Gregory Nazianzen -- By: Frank Thielman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 49:1 (NA 1998)
Article: The Place Of The Apocalypse In The Canon Of St. Gregory Nazianzen
Author: Frank Thielman


The Place Of The Apocalypse In The
Canon Of St. Gregory Nazianzen

Frank Thielman

After explicitly naming every other New Testament book but the Apocalypse, St. Gregory Nazianzen closes his poetical list of ‘the genuine books of the inspired scripture’ with the statement, ‘You have all. And if there be any outside these, it is not among the genuine books’ (Πάσας ἔχεις. εἴ τι δὲ τούτων ἐκτός, οὐκ ἐν γνησίαις).1 Studies of the New Testament canon commonly understand the omission of any clear reference to the Apocalypse in the list and these definitive closing statements to mean that Gregory did not view the Apocalypse as canonical.2 If so, then Gregory, whose list comes from sometime in the 380s, did not agree with Athanasius’ judgement in his famous Easter letter of 367 but took the position of many in the fourth-century eastern church that the Apocalypse stands among the excluded books. Three pieces of evidence, however, should caution against coming to this conclusion too hastily.

First, although the list does not mention the Apocalypse explicitly, it contains a clear allusion to it, and this allusion implies that Gregory believed the Apocalypse to be an apostolic document. The allusion comes directly after Gregory’s list of the gospels and connects the Apocalypse with John’s gospel:

Now Matthew wrote the marvelous works of Christ to the Hebrews, and Mark to Italy, Luke to the Greeks, and John, great preacher, entrant of heaven (οὐρανοφοίτης), to all.3

John enters heaven only in the Apocalypse,4 and so from this brief reference we can conclude that Gregory believed that John the apostle wrote both the fourth gospel and the Apocalypse. If Gregory considered the Apocalypse to be an apostolic document, however, it is difficult to see how he could have intended to include it in his statement at the end of the list that any work left unmentioned is not genuine (γνήσιος).

Second, it is possible that Gregory intended his reference to John as one who entered heaven to cover the Apocalypse. The reference closes Gregory’s list of gospel writers and, if it refers to the Apocalypse, agrees with an ancient order of the New Testament books that placed the Apocalypse directly after the gospels. The Crawford Manuscript of the Peshitta (12th or 13th century), a Harclean manusc...

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