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Canon Part II: The New Testament

August 8, 2011
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Unlike the Old Testament canon, the New Testament canon was commented upon early in its formation.  Unfortunately, there is quite a lot of nonsense floating around about the formation of the New Testament.  It is not uncommon, for instance, to hear that the New Testament canon was decided upon at the Council of Nicaea.  The decrees of this council (perhaps confusingly termed “canons”) have long been considered extremely important in all branches of the Church and they are readily available.  A New Testament canon is not among them.

Instead, canon lists that match the current ones appear at the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth.  In 367 A.D. Athanasius published his 39th Festal Epistle which agrees with the modern New Testament canon.  The Council of Hippo in 393 may have accepted Athanasius’ canon, although documentation is lacking.  The Third Council of Carthage in 397 issued a canon list with the same New Testament (although the list is sometimes dated to 419).  In 405 Pope Innocent I sent a similar list of the sacred books to a bishop in Gaul.

There is a significant body of writing that lies between the promulgation of these canon lists and the time of Jesus.  What follows is a brief summary.  For a more detailed discussion of this issue you may find the website http://www.ntcanon.org helpful, as well as the book The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance by Bruce Metzger which has come up a number of times in my research.

The best sources of information about the canon are canon lists or statements themselves.  However, the most abundant sources of information are the quotations and other usage of New Testament or other religious texts in the writings of the early Christians1.  Because there are several streams of early Christian thought one could follow and these streams do not seem to intersect (they consider each other to be heretical), I have chosen only authors from the stream that gave us the New Testament.  The question of whether this is the stream that most authentically preserves the teachings of Jesus will be handled in another article.

Three main bodies of works are cited in these texts: Old Testament material, New Testament/New Testament-era material, and Greek authors.  The Greek authors are normally cited in order to demonstrate the Greek beliefs.  For instance, a Christian author might say, “You accuse us of immorality but here’s your story about Zeus seducing someone by turning into an animal.”  Some quotes from New Testament-era material are also negative, as in, “The heretics say…”  However, the remaining citations, those which are cited in a manner similar to the Old Testament, are a good witness to what books the early Christians considered canonical or near-canonical.

I have compiled a list of these citations in two manners.  First, I read through the smaller texts, and several of the larger ones, looking for references.  Secondly, I checked the available lists that other people have provided for citations within these works.  In several instances I have deviated from these lists because I found the citations to be unconvincing.  In general, I took a fairly hard line with citations and rejected a number of usages that others had listed.  My policy was to exclude short phrases that might be coincidental overlap, unless they were prefaced with an introduction as a quote (“as the apostle says…”).  I also lumped uses together: if a phrase was used that was common to Luke and Matthew in a text that had already cited Matthew then I assumed that this use had come from Matthew.  I classed some of the better references I rejected as “possible”2.

The table below lists my results by canonical/non-canonical book (and this one by early Christian writing3).  All dates for the works these references came from are disputed and I generally picked a range that either covered most estimates or averaged them.  The table lists the name of the book, the first date I found it possibly cited, the first date it was clearly cited, and the number of times it was cited in the following format: “clearly cited:possibly cited”.  The books are arranged in order by the date they are first definitely cited and names of books that are not in the current canon are in bold text.

Book Date First Cited Date First Certainly Cited Number of Times Cited
Matthew 80-120 80-120 16:3
1 Corinthians 90-100 90-100 20:3
Luke 105-120 105-120 12
Acts 105-120 105-120 6:3
Colossians 105-120 105-120 6:1
2 Thessalonians 105-120 105-120 4:1
Hebrews 105-120 105-120 5:2
Galatians 105-120 105-120 10:3
Philippians 105-120 105-120 9:2
2 Timothy 105-120 105-120 7:3
Mark 110-140 110-140 8
John 110-140 110-140 17:1
Romans 110-140 110-140 10:1
2 Corinthians 110-140 110-140 8:2
Ephesians 110-140 110-140 10:2
1 Timothy 110-140 110-140 10:1
1 Peter 110-140 110-140 8:1
1 John 110-140 110-140 8
Revelation 110-140 110-140 7
1 Clement 175-185 175-185 2
Titus 105-120 180-210 5:1
1 Thessalonians 110-140 180-210 5:2
James 180-210 180-210 3
2 John 180-210 180-210 4
Jude 180-210 180-210 6
Barnabas 180-210 180-210 3
Shepherd of Hermas 180-210 180-210 4
Preaching of Peter 180-210 180-210 1
Revelation of Peter 180-210 180-210 1
3 John 110-140 200-250 1:1
Philemon 200-250 200-250 2
2 Peter 200-250 200-250 1
Didache 200-250 200-250 1
Gospel of Peter 200-250 0:1
Gospel of the Hebrews 200-250 0:1

As you can see, by the time we get to 140 A.D. only eight books of the New Testament have not been cited.  The last books to be cited are all very short, as well4.  Additional complications come into play when we consider that Clement of Alexandria knows of two Epistles of John, a larger one and a smaller one, but assigns quotations from both 1 and 2 John to the larger Epistle.  Perhaps this is a mistake, and perhaps Clement’s text has 1 and 2 John in one continuous text and 3 John as a separate letter.

Several of these authors also wrote commentaries on these works which is a very strong testament to the high regard in which these books were held.  While it is possible to imagine that one would write a commentary on non-canonical books, it is hard to imagine that one would write a commentary on a book about which one was ambivalent.  Clement of Alexandria wrote commentaries on 1 Peter, 1-2 John, and Jude and of which one can still read small parts. Further, he apparently wrote commentaries on many more books.  Eusebius claims that Clement wrote much more, “And in the Hypotyposes, in a word, he has made abbreviated narratives of the whole testamentary Scripture; and has not passed over the disputed books,—I mean Jude and the rest of the Catholic Epistles and Barnabas, and what is called the Revelation of Peter.”  Given Eusebius’ own thoughts on what is and is not disputed this would appear to include everything we current count as canon.  Origen wrote commentaries on Matthew, Luke, John, and Hebrews (and probably more, now lost).

By the end of the second century Christian writers were citing works in both a positive and negative manner.  Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, lays out this issue when he says that he receives “both Peter and the rest of the apostles as Christ Himself” but rejects “those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name”.  He then gives his judgment as to the validity of the Gospel of Peter (namely, that it isn’t genuine but it isn’t terrible heresy, either).  Ireneaus, Bishop of Lyons, is famous for defending the four gospels with some rather odd analogies.  However, his intent is clear: to prevent the heretics from adding additional gospels to the four accepted ones.  He also seems to consider The Shepherd of Hermas Scripture, although he strongly rejects the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Judas.  Notably, his appeal to 1 Clement is not that it is Scripture but that it demonstrates that the Gnostics are the new kids on the block and that the tradition Ireneaus is defending is the one passed down from Christ.  Origen comments on some of the disputes of his own day.  He thinks that the attempts to reject 2 Timothy are quite poor, and mentions that 2-3 John are disputed, as well as one epistle of Peter (given that he, and many before, quotes from 1 Peter it is probably 2 Peter that is disputed).  He also comments that he thinks The Shepherd of Hermas is divinely inspired, but he is at best ambivalent about The Preaching of Peter (which Clement of Alexandria quoted from) and is outright hostile to the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Twelve, the Gospel of Basilides, the Gospel of the Egyptians, and the Gospel of Matthias.  Tertullian also insists on four gospels and defends Acts and all the Pauline Epistles against Marcion.  He writes against a book called The Acts of Paul which he claims was forged and that the forger has admitted this.  His opinion about Hermas changes over time, but he accepted it before he became a heretic.

Finally, there are the canon lists themselves.  The Muratorian Canon is the oldest New Testament canon list5, dated to around 170 AD by its reference to the recent papacy of Pope Pius.   The beginning and end of the document are missing but it clearly once listed four gospels, as the first book it names is “the third gospel”, Luke, and then the fourth, John.  It also mentions Acts and names the following Epistles as Pauline, in what it says is the order they were written in: Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, Thessalonians, Romans, a second epistle to the Corinthians, and a second epistle to the Thessalonians.  It then adds, probably not in order, Philemon, Titus, and two epistles to Timothy, all as Pauline.  It also lists Jude, two epistles of John, and an Apocalypse of Peter (sometimes banned for church use) and an Apocalypse of John.  It also, strangely, mentions the Wisdom of Solomon, an Old Testament-era book.  The Shepherd of Hermas is referenced as a good book but not for church use as it was written during Pope Pious’ papacy.  It then lists the Epistles to the Laodiceans and Alexandrians as forged, bans the works of Arsinous, Valentinus, and Miltiades, and states that if any Pauline Epistles to churches not on the list it has given appear they are also false.

A fourth century text called the Codex Sinaticus contains the entire modern New Testament plus the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Finally, there are the lists in Eusebius which are not canon lists so much as compilations of other lists.  That is, Eusebius does not render definitive judgments in his lists but grades each work separately as universally recognized, disputed, spurious, or heretical.  As his lists do not agree with each other I have rearranged them so that any work on which Eusebius has two opinions is classed as disputed.  Eusebius lists the gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles (except for Hebrews), 1 John, and 1 Peter as universally accepted.  As disputed he lists Hebrews, 2 Peter, James, 2-3 John, Jude, and Revelation.  He lists the Didache, Barnabas, Hermas, the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Gospel of the Hebrews as spurious.  Finally, he lists the gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Matthias as heretical alongside the Acts of Andrew and John.  Hebrews and Revelation deserve special mention: Eusebius lists Hebrews as disputed once and accepted once, and Revelation as both accepted and spurious.  This probably has to do with his grading system.  Disputed works are “familiar to the majority”.  I suspect that Eusebius has found that Revelation is widely accepted in some areas and not accepted in others (the Syriac New Testatment, the Peshitta, lacks Revelation).

Making sense out of this material will be the task for the next article.


[1] Two websites, http://www.ccel.org/ and http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html have publicly-available translations of most of the works referenced here.  CCEL’s versions also have overly-enthusiastic marginalia from the 19th century that attempt to cross-reference everything, not always with great success.  However, this does make finding New Testament citations in these works somewhat easier.

[2] In more detail: references came in four kinds.  One is a quote where the author states that they are quoting something or someone.  These were always counted.  A second is a quote where the words match but the author does not tell us that they are quoting anything.  This is very common in, for instance, Ignatius, who scatters Biblical phrases and sentences throughout his Epistles.  In these cases I examined the reference.  If it was long and matched well I used it.  If it matched poorly I discarded it or listed it as “possible” depending on how bad the match was.  If it was very short I made a determination as to whether the phrasing was natural (possibly a coincidence) or odd (as in “the Word” for “Jesus”).  Odd phrases, even short ones, are likely lifted from the text they first occurred in.  The third form of reference is the interpretation.  For instance, an author might quote an Old Testament passage with an obscure meaning and then interpret it in the same manner as a particular New Testament book.  These were normally classed as “possible” unless the match was uncannily good.  Finally, an author might reference a story or fact from another text, or tell the story of how a given text was written.  Provided that this reference was clear enough (e.g., a mention of Zechariah the priest from Luke, a retelling of an involved metaphor from the Shepherd of Hermas, or Justin’s recounting of John writing a book that is clearly Revelation) it was counted.

My list is notably at variance with other lists I found in regards to Justin (I found a quotation in Chapter 61 of his First Apology that seems clearly Johanine) and Ireneaus, where I downgraded the citation from Hebrews to “possible”, although my notes state that I consider it probable, not merely possible.

[3] Some of these authors, you will note, eventually became heretics.  However, these lists do not include those works published after such a transition.  In fact, the only really notable transition is that Tertullian is sympathetic to The Shepherd of Hermas prior to his apostasy and comes to dislike it strongly afterwards.

Author Work Date Mentions/Uses Possibly mentions/uses
Unknown Didache 80-120 “The gospel”
Barnabas Barnabas 80-120 Matthew
Clement of Rome 1 Clement 90-100 A synoptic gospel, 1 Corinthians
Ignatius To the Ephesians 105-120 John, 1 Peter Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy
Ignatius To the Magnesians 105-120 Luke, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy Acts
Ignatius To the Trallians 105-120 Matthew, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Titus
Ignatius To the Romans 105-120 John, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians
Ignatius To the Philadelphians 105-120 Matthew, Luke, John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Timothy 2 Timothy, 1 Peter
Ignatius To the Smyrnaeans 105-120 Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Ephesians,Colossians, 2 Timothy, Revelation
Ignatius To Polycarp 105-120 Matthew, Ephesians 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians
Papias Fragments 110-140 Mark, John, 1 Corinthians, Revelation Matthew
Polycarp To the Philipians 110-140 Synoptics, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, 1 John Acts, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 3 John
Unknown 2 Clement 140-160 Matthew, Mark, 1 Corinthians
Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 140-160 A synoptic, 1 Corinthians, Revelation Galatians, 2 Thessalonians
Justin Martyr Discourse with the Greeks 140-160 Galatians
Justin Martyr On the Resurrection 140-160 A synoptic John, Acts
Justin Martyr First Apology 147-161 A synoptic, John
Athenagoras A plea for the Christians 150-190 Matthew
Athenagoras Resurrection* 150-190 1 Corinthians
Mathetes to Diognetus 150-200 John, 1 Corinthians
Tatian 155-165 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John 1 Corinthians, Ephesians
Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus 170-185 Matthew, Luke, John Romans, 1 Corinthians
Ireneaus Against Heresies 175-185 All NT books except Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude.  Additionally, 1 Clement, Hermas Hebrews
Clement of Alexandria Exhortation to the Heathen 180-210 Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus Hebrews
Clement of Alexandria The Instructor 180-210 Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, 1 John, Jude, Revelation
Clement of Alexandria Stromata 180-210 Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 John, Jude, Barnabas, Hermas, Clement to the Corinthians, the Preaching of Peter, a quote from Paul not found in a canonical book
Clement of Alexandria Fragments 180-210 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1-2 John, Jude, Barnabas, Revelation of Peter
Clement of Alexandria Salvation of the Rich Man 180-210 Mark, Luke,1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Peter, 1 John Matthew
Tertullian 180-220 All but James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John.  Also Hermas.
Origen 200-250 All, plus Didache, Barnabas, Hermas, and 1 Clement Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews

* may not be authentically Justin’s

[4] One of these, Philemon, is cited by Marcion in the middle of the second century, earlier than its citation in any orthodox work.  I have avoided citing works by groups deemed heretical since they appear to have been in the process of developing parallel bodies of Scripture.  However, Philemon was clearly around in the middle of the second century for Marcion to cite and it was probably held in some esteem as all the works Marcion used (in edited form) are ones orthodox Christians also cited.

[5] Marcion’s canon list is older but is clearly not in the line that lead to the current New Testament.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2011 2:54 am

    The manuscripts we have of writings by guys like Tertullian, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome…none of them actually dates to the times when these guys lived. Clement supposedly wrote in 100, Ireneaus in 170, Tertullian in 208. Yet none of our manuscripts of their writings dates any earlier than the Nicene council. It is assumed that despite the manuscripts themselves all being post-Nicean, the works as found in these post-Nicean manuscripts must be true representatives of works actually written by these men in the times in which tradition claims they wrote them. But there is no reason to believe this. This is why your orthodoxizing dogmatic statements will never convince anyone who uses their rational faculties, that Nicea is not when and where the canon was set. Since all the manuscripts of the supposedly pre-Nicean writers are actually post-Nicean, there was plenty of time for these writers to be invented and for their writings to be created. Certainly, we find evidence of a similar situation in the New Testament itself. We are supposed to believe that the Pauline epistles were written by a man named Paul in the 50s to 60s of the first century. Yet in one of the epistles, he mentions the idea that “wrath has come on the Jews to the uttermost” which could not be written until the events of 70 AD (the destruction of the temple) and which, actually, seems more likely to be referring to the events of the 130s and the crushing of the rebellion of Bar Cochba. If the Pauline epistles are forgeries pretending to have been written in 50-60 when in fact, they could not have been written prior to 70, then how much moreso the writings of Tertullian. In Tertullian’s text you will sometimes see discrepancies in the internal evidence of when the text was written (i.e. what ruler ‘Tertullian’ says is reigning during his time). This sort of anachronism shows that much like the forger of the Pauline corpus, the forger of the Tertullianic corpus forgot what period of time he was supposed to be portraying his fiction as having been created in.

  2. Eric permalink
    August 8, 2011 7:03 am

    For that matter, none of our documents pertaining to the council of Nicaea actually date to Nicaea itself. If we take your method seriously why not propose that Nicaea itself was invented? After all, if someone is inventing a number of Church Fathers, or at least hand-copying and amending them all in sufficient quantity to ensure that we never get some variant manuscript without the added citations (and we do actually have variant manuscripts of Ignatius, long and short versions, but I’ve reported canonical citations for the short versions) why not propose that much more of history has been faked? There’s a Russian author who has done exactly that.

    I find your cut-off for faked history arbitrary. You seem to think we know things about Nicaea that make it a plausible cut-off despite the fact that what we know about Nicaea comes from the same sorts of sources as the ones you believe are all faked pre-Nicaea.

    There’s also the glaring issue of the faking itself. Why fake so many authors? Why believe that this is possible? Why do such a poor job of it – if you want to fake support for the canon don’t include any debates about the status of canonical books, make them all accepted from the “earliest” documents. There’s a reason no reputable scholar thinks that all the documentation is faked.

    There’s also the issue that the Syriac Peshitta doesn’t have an identical list of New Testament canonical books as the Bible we are more familiar with and so there must have been some debate at some time about certain books (like Revelation) for there to be this very similar but not perfectly matched alternate canon. It makes most sense to assume that this is the debate reflected in the documents that we have.

    I find your Pauline quote similarly unconvincing (and, yet again, there is scholarship in this area that you are ignoring or unaware of). Why must the wrath of God be the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD? Or the more complete destruction in 130 AD? (And why do you think it more likely to refer to the Bar-Kochba rebellion when the destruction of the Temple is a hugely important event in Judaism? You seem to be artificially inflating the age of 1 Thessalonians even within your own framework.) A number of scholars simply think that “the wrath of God” means God’s judgment, a rejection of Judaism and not a physical event. This is true even of scholars who have argued on other grounds that the section you cite is a later interpolation!

    Frankly, the whole idea of a giant swath of invented history, especially in an era where so few people would have been literate enough to get their history from books, strikes me as ridiculous and without the precedent you sought to establish in Paul.

  3. August 8, 2011 3:16 pm

    Eric, outstanding. Love worked into care. Just excellent. I returned here to your blog several times to read and re-read your O.T. stuff. And to learn. I hope to re-read this N.T. stuff many times too. And jump in! So you’re “establishing temporal parity”? Yeah, yeah …

    Jim

    ps – many, many thanks for reviewing my professional bio. Made many changes since your review. I think it’s .99+ done. Sick of it!

  4. Eric permalink
    August 8, 2011 4:16 pm

    Thanks, Jim. A lot of work went into this one.

    Your new bio looks good, too.

  5. Eric permalink
    August 8, 2011 4:23 pm

    Incidentally, on the topic of documentary sources, there are papyri that pre-date Nicaea (325) that include both canonical books themselves and also other early Church sources (including Ireneaus). A relatively long list can be found here: http://larryhurtado.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/christian-lit-texts-2nd3rd-cents.pdf

    I have not checked that list personally but it seems unlikely that it is simply made-up. Also, I lack the resources to do much of the checking necessary.

  6. August 9, 2011 9:10 pm

    “If we take your method seriously why not propose that Nicaea itself was invented?”

    It probably was.

    “(And why do you think it more likely to refer to the Bar-Kochba rebellion when the destruction of the Temple is a hugely important event in Judaism?”

    Wrath to the uttermost would better describe the time when circumcision itself became the badge of the ban against entering Jerusalem.

  7. Eric permalink
    August 10, 2011 12:50 pm

    There is no evidence for your thesis. You presented two points:

    1) That there were no physical documents reflecting the Church Fathers that I cited that could be dated to before Nicaea. Instead, there are at least two separate documentary fragments from before Nicaea that contain parts of Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies”.

    2) That we could demonstrate that the Pauline material post-dated the early first century. To demonstrate this you presented a section from one book, something that would, at best, bring the Pauline authorship of that book into question. This section has many potential meanings. It is only if we chose the one that you did, despite the clear selection bias you have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate, that is post-dates the early first century.

    Not only this, but your current defense of your interpretation draws on equally invalid reasoning. Yes, “uttermost wrath” would be a better defense of the Bar-Kochba rebellion if the author were considering both rebellions and deciding on terms. However, it’s a perfectly appropriate term for any manner of other things if the author is writing before the Bar-Kochba rebellion. Just as “The War to End All Wars” for WWI now sounds silly in light of WWII your thesis requires that the author be aware of the Bar-Kochba rebellion. In other words, you assume that you are right to prove that you are right.

    We should also note a number of serious problems with your thesis:

    1) There is no motive. Having erased early Christian history you leave the Church with no motives for any of these actions. In fact, you present the ludicrous idea of a Church that appears for no good reason inventing a history for itself (in the disputes they record) that is more plausible than the one you claim is real!

    2) Religious groups have created large bodies of Pseudopigrapha before. For all writings before 325 AD (or, with your new revision, who knows when – 1950?) to be faked they would have to be amazingly high quality fakes.

    3) Some of the same elements that would make these really good fakes makes them really bad propaganda. You would have us believe that the Church faked documents in which people argue about issues that the Church wanted settled – like the canonical status of the disputed books. Why write propaganda that doesn’t do a better job?

    4) You also require that any traces of pre-Nicaean Christianity be completely eliminated. Of course, it hasn’t (see the list of pre-Nicaean papyri) and that’s a ludicrous idea anyway. Plenty of groups deemed heretical managed to preserve some material that made it to the present day. Why not these pre-Nicaean Christians?

    5) There’s a large Syriac strand of documentary evidence, less well-known in the West, that generally supports the picture of early Christianity we get from the Western (Greek and Latin) documents.

    Frankly, you’re proposing a conspiracy theory. Both literally a theory about a conspiracy to re-write history and in the more general sense of a theory that ignores obvious explanations and seeks to connect data points in esoteric and agenda-driven ways.

  8. August 11, 2011 8:04 pm

    Eric – “For all writings before 325 AD (or, with your new revision, who knows when – 1950?) to be faked ….”

    Yes. I too privately wondered about how far to take suggestions of macro-inventions and forgeries. To your 1950’s – and partly off-topic. Former Supreme Court Justice Brennan was (for all we know) a devout Catholic. Who I admire as an extraordinary hero. Brennan scandalized legal hermeneutics by saying out loud what many kept secret, namely, that the Constitution serves as a Living Document. What’s less well known are Brennan’s private agonies in holding against prayer in public schools. The early 1950’s would be the Brown case (1954), just before Brennan got started (1956). The problem emerged in that Brennan’s Living Constitution provided fodder for conservative conspiracy theorists who insisted Brennan provided post-hoc justification for more Brown cases and for a wholesale revolution ignoring prior precedent. As if living-legal hermeneutics just made stuff up. Brennan now looks far more conservative and precedent-faithful than his own conspiracy theory accusers imagined. Eric, your treatment of the evidence, especially the papyri that pre-date Nicaea, seems patient and even handed. Your treatment seems to me the better extrapolation (known to unknown) than a nearly wholesale conspiracy interpretation. It seems to me that you’re open to Brennan-esque chaps at Nicaea who may or who may not have had a hand in re-interpreting pre-Nicaea documents in a rather Living Document way (this needs to be argued – not assumed), rather than lensing Nicaea as a radical creation ex nihilo. Good post. ~ Jim

  9. Eric permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:39 pm

    I’m certainly open to the idea that the Church in later centuries read earlier documents in light of their own controversies. Actually, my articles on Genesis start by asking that we not start by asking Genesis to resolve our current disputes but let it speak for itself (as much as possible), so I would say that’s something that still happens.

    I happen to think that Church Councils like Nicaea successfully navigated these controversies, but that’s not particular germane to whether or not they always read the documents in the originalist sense.

    Of course, I don’t think that narrative (which much of the Bible is) should be read much like law anyway and so these are perhaps bad categories for me to use.

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  1. Canon Part III: The New Testament Again « The Jawbone Of an Ass
  2. Canon Part IV: The Gnostics « The Jawbone Of an Ass

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