This past March I spoke at the Ligonier National Conference. My plenary address was on “The Truth about Marriage” (you can watch here), and I also did an enjoyable sit-down interview on the subject of the origins of the New Testament canon. You can watch below!
Whenever I speak on the origins of the New Testament canon, I am regularly asked about whether there are brief, accessible books on the subject—the kind that could be given to lay folks in the church. Unfortunately, my books on canon usually don’t qualify (e.g., Canon Revisited clocks in at over 300 pages).
For years, I have been asked to write a shorter version, but just haven’t had the time. Thankfully, others have stepped in to fill that gap. Let me mention two wonderful little books that have just come out in the last few years.
Just this year, Chuck Hill, professor emeritus of New Testament at RTS Orlando, has released, Who Chose the Books of the New Testament? (Lexham, 2022). This little volume is part of the Questions for Restless Minds series edited by D.A. Carson.
In 81 short pages, this book covers a lot of ground. It deals with the Walter Bauer-inspired idea that the canon is merely the result of politics and power, as well as the popular evangelical approach which argues that we can solve the canon problem merely by adopting so-called “criteria of canonicity.”
Instead of either of these approaches, this volume advocates a self-authenticating model of canon where these books, in some sense, imposed themselves on the church because of their distinctive qualities. Then, Chuck shows how the historical data supports this idea that the books were received naturally and early within the burgeoning Christian movement.
The other volume is A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible (Christian Focus, 2018), by Greg Lanier, Associate Professor of New Testament at RTS Orlando.
In just 107 pages, this little volume also packs a punch. It approaches the origins of the canon in a very similar way as Chuck Hill above, but this volume offers two distinctives. For one, it also covers the OT canon—a subject which is quite complex and always needs attention.
And second, it also covers the issue of textual transmission. In other words, Lanier asks not only whether we have the right books, but also whether we have the right words. For those looking for a brief introduction to the issue of textual reliability, this is a good place to start.
Both of these little volumes are excellent pathways into the world of the biblical canon. If you are looking for something short and to the point—for yourself or for a friend—then you will want to get a hold of each of them.
On March 22, 11AM-2PM, Dr. Gathercole will be giving two lectures (with a provided lunch in between) on the theme of “Jesus in Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels.”
Certainly this lecture will be of great interest to all who want to understand what makes our gospels unique as opposed to the variety of apocryphal gospels in existence. I am particularly interested in this topic myself as I did my Ph.D. research on an apocryphal gospel fragment, P.Oxy. 840 (see my book, The Gospel of the Savior).
Dr. Gathercole’s first degree was in Classics and Theology in Cambridge, after which he pursued doctoral research under the supervision of James D.G. Dunn in Durham. He also studied for short periods at the University of Tübingen and the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. He previously taught in the University of Aberdeen (2000-2007). He was editor of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament for a number of years and is now a co-editor of the journal Early Christianity.
His main academic interest is the interpretation of the New Testament. Having begun as a classicist and also worked in the field of early Judaism, he is particularly fascinated by the connections between the New Testament and the literature contemporaneous with it. His principal theological interests are christology, and the doctrine of the atonement.
Dr. Gathercole has published numerous book, most recently The Apocryphal Gospels (Penguin Classics, 2022).
Dr. Harold O.J. Brown, after whom the lectures are named, served as John R. Richardson Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the Charlotte campus from 1998 to 2007. Dr. Brown was a leading evangelical voice in the pro-life movement immediately after Roe v. Wade, co-founding the Christian Action Council (now Care Net) with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in the 70s. Dr. Brown was a widely respected evangelical scholar during his professional life, writing books, essays and articles in the areas of culture, science, theology and politics.
Past lecturers include Carl Trueman, Rosaria Butterfield, Michael Horton, Russell Moore, Oliver Crisp, Mark Dever, Derek Thomas, Al Mohler, Mark Noll, and George Marsden. In 2020, RTS Charlotte hosted Phil Ryken for our lectures.
If you are interested in joining us for this special event, please register here. Hope to see you there!
Since next month I will be speaking at the Ligonier National Conference in Orlando, FL, I thought I might highlight a video series I did for Ligonier a few years ago. It is a six-part video series (available here in either digital or DVD format) on the origins, authority, and development of the NT Canon.
One of the most common questions I am asked is whether I have introductory, lay-level material on the origins of the NT canon that people can use in their churches. For small group Bible studies or Sunday School classes, most people simply won’t read Canon Revisited or any of my other books.
So, my hope is that this video series will meet a need for churches looking to do something on the canon but not knowing where to turn.
If you want an overview, here is a short video where I introduce the series and provide a quick summary of why we can trust the NT canon: [Read more…]
In modern studies of the NT canon, there is a lot of discussion (maybe even obsession!) with so-called ‘lost’ books of the Bible. So, we have recent book titles like Lost Scriptures, Forgotten Scriptures, and The Lost Bible.
In fact, scholar Philip Jenkins even wrote a whole book documenting (and critiquing) the academic community’s fascination with this theme: Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way.
So what do we with these other books of the New Testament? A few quick thoughts.
First, most of these books weren’t really ‘lost.’ The early church fathers were very much aware of these other books. Indeed, they knew them well enough to recognize they were not authentic apostolic writings.
So, no one hid or suppressed these books. On the contrary, early Christians were quite open about the problems with these books and overtly stated why they should be rejected as part of the biblical canon.
Second, most of these ‘lost’ books weren’t really that popular. Unfortunately, many modern studies of canon give the impression that early Christians read these lost books in droves. It was only when later church authorities decided to clamp down, we are told, that the popularity of these books waned.
But the historical evidence says otherwise. [Read more…]