An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 2 - Section 38


§ 38. The Motives

1. An utterance of Theodoretus1 shows admirably how the great theologians of the later Church imagined the Canon to have come into being. He invites the opponents of his allegorical interpretation of Solomonʼs Song (according to which the Song treats symbolically of purely religious themes) to consider how much wiser and more spiritual than they were the holy fathers who added this book to the Divine Scriptures, canonised it as a work of the Holy Spirit, and recognised it as suitable for the Church; for on no other basis would they have numbered it with the Holy Scriptures. A remark of Origen on {the Prologue of Luke fully agrees with this: ʽAs in the Old Covenant the Charisma of distinguishing between Spirits prevailed, so now in the New Covenant many have desired to write the Gospels, but the “good bankers” have not accepted2 all, but have chosen some from among them . . . ; the Church of God gives the preference to four only.ʼ Men are thus already conscious that the Canon, the whole body of Divine Scriptures, was the outcome of a selective process, and that the Church, or rather the Holy Fathers, the great leaders and teachers of the Church, had decided on the selection. This view is not only ancient, itis in part correct. The New Testament Canon, in its foundation as in its final form, is the work of the Catholic Church; and since the Church existed only in men, and acted only through men, this meant the bishops and theologians of the second, third and fourth centuries. Nor must the influence of individual personalities upon the process be underrated; although the disposition and custom of a community had always to be considered, the decision lay, as a rule, with the official head of that community, especially in the case of the admission of fresh books. It stands to reason that in this matter a community would often conform to a praiseworthy custom prevailing in a neighbouring church. Nevertheless, such a far-reaching uniformity of selection during the rapid development of the Canon between the years 140 and 200 would be inexplicable (since it is quite certain that nothing like a compact was made between these later ʽmen of reputeʼ), if the general conditions had not forced the decision everywhere to follow the same lines, and if the point of view in the matter of canonisation had not been the same in one place as in another. No one about the year 170 would have added a book to the Divine Scriptures simply because he liked it and because it appeared to be edifying and blameless in its teaching. Certain conditions were indispensable: it must possess certain essential qualities if the question of its admission was even to be raised, and a knowledge of these qualities depends on our knowledge of the motives which induced the Church just at that time to create a new Canon. Let us see whether the first witnesses to the Canon themselves possessed such a knowledge.

2. The author of the Muratorianum was not blind to certain differences between the Four Gospels, and does not pass over the fact that all the Evangelists could not report as eye-witnesses; but for the faith of believers he regarded these differences as of no consequence, since the great facts of the history of salvation were imparted fully in all of them, by the one authoritative spirit (ʽuno ac principali spiritu declarataʼ), and the contents of all, including Mark and Luke, were vouched for throughout by one or other of the Apostles. As regards Johnʼs Gospel, the fact that he had been induced to compose it by the wishes of his fellow disciples and bishops, and had undertaken it in consequence of a special revelation to Andrew, was a very welcome ʽdonum superadditum.ʼ Great weight is also laid on the self-testimony of the Apostle in the First Epistle (i. 1-4) where he speaks of himself as visor, auditor and scriptor of all the wonderful works of God. Luke, in the Acts, limited himself strictly to the narration of what came within his own experience; it was for this reason that he was silent, for instance, as to the martyrdom of Peter, and the journey of Paul to Spain. The Pauline Epistles, from 1. Corinthians to Romans, were addressed in the first instance to seven separate communities, but were intended for the Catholic Church scattered all over the world, just as John in the Apocalypse3 used the number of the Seven Churches as a symbol of the perfect whole. The four Epistles to Philemon, Titus and Timothy could not be included in this category: they had been declared sacred in the Catholic Church, in spite of their private character, on account of their precepts as to ecclesiastical discipline. Pseudo-Pauline epistles, coloured by the doctrines of Marcion and others, could not be accepted in the Church any more than gall could be mingled with honey. Nothing whatever is said as to the contents or the status of the Catholic Epistles or the Apocalypse. The most interesting part, however, is the discussion concerning Hermas. His work should certainly be read (this evidently does not mean read aloud, for there is now no distinction between Anagnosis in public worship4 and canonisation; the Muratorianum only testifies that there was no doubt about the orthodoxy and usefulness of this ʽRevelationʼ), but it must not be proclaimed before the people in church; there was no room for Hermas either among the Prophets, whose number had long been complete, or among the Apostles of the latter days, since he came long after the age of the Apostles. What the fragmentist adds5 about the books of Valentine, about a new psalm-book of the Marcionites. and the like, is only intended to draw a sharp distinction between the Canon of the Universal, the Catholie Church, and that which held canonical rank in other communities, Christian only in name.

How far the unknown author here sets forth his own ideas must remain uncertain: in any case, he is influenced by the desire, not only, by drawing up a list of Canonical books, to state the point of view of his community with regard to them, but also to defend that view and to advance reasons for the choice it had made. The attempt was not brilliantly successful, and it may be said of the Muratorianum that in it the principle followed by the Church in the establishment of the new Canon is represented as the very absence of principle. From the remarks about Hermas we may conclude—and this is at bottom the authorʼs standpoint—that in his opinion only the writings of Prophets and Apostles could claim a reception by the Church; when he speaks of the Apostles ʽof the last times,ʼ when he applies the words ʽcompletum numeroʼ to the Prophets, his qualifying phrases are levelled against the Montanists and their vaunts of the new Prophecy, and imply that the number of canonical books admitted of no increase; the Prophets to whom the Church listened were even older than the Apostles, who signified the finis temporum, the definite end. Consequently Apocalypses of Christian times were not accepted merely because their authors were prophets, but only if they were Apostles: hence the Apocalypses of John and Peter alone are admitted. The fundamental condition for the admission of a document into the New Testament seems to be that it should be of Apostolic origin.

It was already well known, however, that many writings laid false claim to Apostolic rank, such as the pseudo-Pauline Epistles to Laodicea and Alexandria; nor was it historical criticism which established their spuriousness: their heretical contents betrayed them. And the Church, naturally, would not tolerate pseudo-Apostolic writings. But how then could she approve of the pseudoʽWisdom of Solomonʼ? True, there was nothing to object to in its contents, no taint of Marcionite poison; but if the contents and not the person of the writer were to set the standard, the whole argument concerning the orthodox Hermas, who was perhaps a friend of Paul—a man of the Apostolic times—falls to the ground. Again, Luke, the Acts and Mark are actually counted among the Holy Scriptures, although the author in each case was not an Apostle, not even an eye-witness for the contents of the Gospel, but only a collector from unknown sources (prowt assequi potuit). And, on the other hand, the equation Apostolic=Canonical appears not yet to be a matter of course with the author of the Muratorianum. This writer can only justify the reception through the whole Catholic Church of epistles written by Paul to individual communities by a piece of half arithmetical, half theosophical juggling; still less, then, could the letters of the Apostle addressed to individual persons belong to the Church, save for the fact that their contents referred to matters of ecclesiastical organisation. Private utterances of an Apostle, therefore, had nothing to do with the Canon. But again, did not Luke dedicate the Acts to the most excellent Theophilus, as Paul had dedicated an epistle to Philemon? And as far as the knowledge of the Muratorianum goes, the Apocalypse of Peter was not attacked as non-Apostolic; yet, in spite of this, many Catholics refused to have it read aloud in their churches. How, then, do these Apostole in finem temporum, who stand beside the ancient Prophets, look now? A motley gathering: Apostles and their disciples, writings addressed to the world and to individuals; while, on the other hand, books bearing an unimpeachable Apostolic stamp are left, perhaps, outside the Canon.

3. The same result is obtained by a study of the writings of well-known Doctors of the Church, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement, who were contemporary with the Muratorianum. The Church is founded on the Apostles, and through the unbroken succession of her bishops (this is a favourite idea in the Western Church) her inheritance is preserved from corruption: she scarcely needed a written Canon when she possessed so unassailable a tradition; but it was well that a comparison of the teaching and ordinances of the Church with the records of Apostolic preaching should demonstrate the identity of the original with the later Christianity. It was the Apostles who connected the Church with Christ; their works were the guarantee for the Christianity—that is to say, the Divinity—of all that pertained to the Church. It had long been impossible to imagine any antagonism between the Apostles, just as it would have been impossible to conceive an antagonism between a saying of Christ and a saying of an Apostle. The Apostles being dead, they had left behind them in their writings a substitute for oral preaching, as the foundation and corner-stone of the faith. The Spirit of God, which dwelt continually in those Apostles endowed with the potestas evangelii, spoke in their writings, and these, therefore, contained the unerring truth, whether they told the story of Jesus, or warned the flock against false doctrine, or gave counsel as to the ordering of the Church. Such a chain of thought is familiar to all the Fathers of the Church from Irenaeus onwards; we might therefore expect the idea: as all that the Prophets wrote forms the Old Testament, so all that the Apostles left behind them in writing forms the compass of the New. But no: we do not attain to so clear and uniform a definition of the qualities which fitted a book for admission into the Canon; now it seems to be the absolute trustworthiness of an eye-witness, or even of the disciple of such a one; now a specific Apostolic charisma, with which, however, Mark and Luke could not properly be credited; now— in order to satisfy possible doubts—a complete agreement with the universally acknowledged tradition. The question as to whether the Canon included everything recorded by the Apostles, and whether all was made equal use of, the compilers did not even venture to raise, while writings of obviously later origin, such as Hermas at least, are treated with almost the same reverence as the Apostolic. Hence it follows that all reasoning as to the conditions of canonisation—the statement of principle—only came later, when the object which was to be defined was already in being; it was not till men already possessed a New Testament that they began to consider why they had it in precisely that form. The Church created the new Canon unconsciously, not according to any principles. Indeed, one might even say that it was shaped in that state of super-consciousness in which all the fruits of genius grow and ripen, nor can we expect to be admitted into the secret workings of this creation by the teachers of the Church. None of the men of that time could have told us why the New Testament made its appearance just then, with such rapidity and in that particular form, or rather compass; for they never suspected the part that they played themselves in the great onward movement, and at the best only made fair terms with the accomplished fact; we, surveying all the factors concerned from the vantage-ground of distance, can solve the enigma more accurately than they.

4, A new religion, such as, in spite of its close connection with the Old Testament, Christianity was, could not be permanently content with the Canon of the old religion—which, moreover, it could have dispensed with more easily at first than later. Some witness to its own spirit, some record of the new covenant, some authentic revelation of perfect piety was needed, if only to derive from it the real Christian interpretation of the old ʽScriptures,ʼ or to attest them anew. Such a necessity is usually most pressing when religious fertility begins to fail. So long as men had Jesus and his Apostles, so long as in every community there were prophets and teachers to picture the Kingdom of Heaven and to repeat the Gospel, no one thought of such things as New Testament Books; when the first enthusiasm was over, when speakers were often lacking, and there were none whose authority in questions of life and learning6 could be considered incontestable, on whom the Spirit of God undoubtedly rested —then compensation was sought in the fragments remaining from an earlier and aricher time. The more keen the feeling of the present poverty, the stronger would be the inclination to idealise the past, to retain at least what still remained in written form of the treasures of that earlier generation, to judge everything new by those treasures, and to raise them to the position of a standard—a Canon. If men perceived that they received a keener stimulus, a quicker kindling of faith and hope, from these early Christian writings than even from the songs of David or the eloquence of Isaiah—not to mention the poor rhetoric of the contemporary teachers—it followed inevitably that the ʽnewʼ books should be ranked with the ʽold.ʼ There is some truth in the saying that the hymn-book is the Bible of the common people; at certain times and in certain circles the religious life of the world has in truth been far more strongly influenced by Lutherʼs writings, by the ʽAugustana,ʼ by Spenerʼs and Scriverʼs edifying works, or by Irvingʼs tractates, than by all the Books of the Bible put together: they, too, might have been canonised and declared sacred, if a dogma had not stood in the way, the dogma—maintained by the very men who received such enthusiastic veneration—of the sole authority of the Old and New Testaments. Now, the Lutherans of about 1650, or a genuine pietist of 1760, or even an enthusiast of to-day, can forego the canonisation of their favourite books, because they are convinced that these books only paraphrase the contents of the Bible, that it is there that they will find the truth and the Lord, on whom all depends; but in 150 it would have been very much more difficult for a Christian to console himself with the Old Testament. Only by means of the artifices of a trained exegesis did the theologian find all that the era of fulfilment had brought, foretold and prefigured in the Old Testament; for the multitude this nourishment was not sufficient: they did not wish to dig and delve, but to see and hear. And the richer in thought a religion is—the more it lays claim to a perfect grasp of the truth—the more indispensable it is, as soon as the substance of this truth is fixed and systematised in detail, to possess what is peculiar to it in unequivocal, norm-giving records; a Christian Church permanently satisfied with the sacred books of Judaism would have been a monstrosity in the history of religion.

To ask when the establishment of a Canon was first thought of, is to ask when the need for authority, the feeling of dependence on those who went before, outweighed the first fresh consciousness of power: that this point is almost reached as early as the second generation after the Apostles does not seem to meat all astonishing, considering the spread of the new faith in districts which were sometimes not in the least prepared for it; nor must the influence which Gnosticism and Montanism had upon the process be exaggerated. Naturally, a religious community that has to pass through great internal confusion has much more need to prove its rights by what may be called legal means, by documents which even its opponents must recognise, than a Church that lives in peace and unity; and since only God can decide in matters of religion, every document must be traced back to God. But such strife would not have been spared the Christian Church even without Gnosticism and the Phrygian prophets. If there had never been a Gnostic, the Christian books for public reading of about the year 100 would probably have become sacred before 200, sharing the infallibility of the Old Testament, because both the feelings of the layman and the brain of the theologian in reality placed the former before the latter. The dispute between the Church and the Gnosties had only the special effect of making the former more careful in the business of changing her favourite writings into Divine Books, and of confining her very soon to those which were absolutely unassailable and especially fitted to form the foundation of doctrine; that between the Church and Montanism resulted in an imperative demand for the one true mark of the primitive —i.e. Apostolic origin—and in a withdrawal of favour from books of an apocalyptic character. It is true that another interest worked in the same direction, that of the defenders of the new faith before the State and Gentile culture. It can be no mere chance that the first trace of a New Testament appears, of all writers, in Justin, the Apologist of Christianity before the Emperor and the Senate. The man who sought to teach the jealous enemies of the new religion what it and its aims actually were, could not refer them to Jewish books alone as the final sources of knowledge, nor, on the other hand, to all that had ever been written under the banner of Christianity, for that would have been to give away his own cause, especially at a time when Gnosticism was flourishing. It was therefore the best policy to bring forward very little as authentic, but that little such as every Christian must be proud of, and such as stood in immediate relationship with the highest Christian authorities.

5. Thus the stage of sanctification followed that of regular reading in the services of the Church, and how the transition between these two conceptions was brought about we can easily perceive from the Muratorianum. But surely, not all the books thus used from the beginning finally passed into the Canon? On this point it is usual to speak of a great process of separation, which, when certain favourite Christian writings were canonised, crowded out a great number of others from the Church--devoured, as it were, a host of victims. There is some truth in this, but it borders on exaggeration. When the new Canon grew up within the Church from the year 140 onwards, the Church trod down many a flower growing closely around it, in order to complete the process of enclosure. A similar process had, however, gone on before, when the books for public reading were handed on from one community to another, and a decision had to be made for or against any book that was proffered; for most communities the formation of the New Testament certainly meant an increase rather than a diminution of their material for religious instruction. Poverty itself had preserved them from obtaining all available Christian writings for their services, and even at a much later date there were many churches well aware of the extent of the new Canon, but not possessing copies of all the New Testament Books. No considerable reduction was undertaken in the number of the original reading-books, and the efforts necessary, after the recognition of a new Canon, to enforce the utmost uniformity as to its contents in all communities, had long ago—and likewise mainly through processes of completion and enrichment—been prepared for by the removal, through the lively intercourse maintained between the communities, of the most conspicuous differences in their usage. The irregularity of the boundary lines in the New Testament is not to be denied—in the Old Testament it needs no explanation, for there all the remains of Hebrew national literature were collected, while the New Testament represents a selection,—but it is to be explained by the fact that selection did not mean the rigorous exclusion of everything not answering to a fixed standard; on the contrary, practically everything which had already been established and approved was maintained, and only those parts let go which absolutely could not be retained longer. In my opinion, the selective process on the part of the Church did not take place—or did so at least to a very limited extent-—contemporaneously with the process of forming the Canon. The rejection and admission of writings went on chiefly at the time, when the primitive form of our New Testament did not yet exist. The unconscious action of the canonisers was not guided by the motto ʽAs little as possible,ʼ but by that of ʽIf possible, allʼ of that which had been used for edification in the worship of the Church.

As far as we may venture to judge, the Church admitted into its new Canon only the best of its religious literature; what we know of the non-Canonical Gospels—we need only indicate the newly discovered Gospel of Peter—with their romantic fancies and their pompous, dogmatic tone, cannot be compared with the Canonical Gospels in their sublime simplicity; and the Histories of the Apostles (such as the Acts of Paul) which followed Lukeʼs are in proportion almost more pitiful. What a contrast, too, between the prolixity of the First Epistle of Clement, or the theological arguments of the Epistle of Barnabas, and the directness both of religious feeling and expression in the Epistles of Paul, in 1. Peter and 1. John! Indeed, the tact with which the early Church went to work in creating the New Testament was on the whole astonishing; she could not have demonstrated her fitness for such a task more brilliantly; but our admiration is due in a still higher degree to that older Church which chose the books for public reading, and left little room beside them for less valuable productions. The work of the ʽmanyʼ who wrote Gospels besides Mark and Matthew was not destroyed by an act of violence when the new Canon arose; it had been generally approved of in but few communities, for no ʽApocryphalʼ Gospel can be proved to have enjoyed any considerable circulation. No doubt the attempt was made to maintain some of them, but they could not long hold their ground in most places beside one or other of those which afterwards became the Four Gospels par excellence. A change of taste in the Church must be admitted in the case of Apocalypses only, though it must not be explained solely by an anti-Montanistic tendency. To the claims of higher culture this class of writing, most examples of which merely contained Jewish prophecies in a more or less Christian dress, appeared flat and vulgar, and only provoked sharp criticism. But otherwise the makers of the New Testament Canon did not work in a radical spirit, for they merely changed the already high authority of the approved books into the highest of all.

The natural consequence of this was a growing mistrust of local peculiarities; the question as to whether a certain document were Divine or not could not now be left, like that of its fitness or unfitness for public reading, to the decision of individual communities; the tendency towards uniformity was necessarily strengthened. But in order to convince a neighbouring community unwilling to give up doubtful customs it was necessary to have some reasons; these, again, required reflection as to the advantages of the right books over the wrong in use elsewhere; but not till the next period did such reasoning attain any important influence on the history of the Canon; the original Canon was essentially a codification and legalisation of the material handed down by tradition. After a while the Christian literature that in the last decades had served on Sundays for the edification of the leading communities—where, as we have seen, the new Canon arose in two main divisions—was treated as Divine Scripture, and designated as such; and the other communities, already prepared for the most part to follow the example of the greater, were induced, with more or less rapid success, to join them in this practice. There was never a time, however, in the history of the Books of the New Testament, when individual concessions were not made to considerations of policy. Hermas, for instance, could be given up (as in the Muratorianum), although he had till then been read in the churches as frequently as the Apocalpyse. His existence in the Canon made it too difficult to exclude other dangerous writings which forced themselves forward—though Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement did not so much as perceive this difficulty.

6. Let us now attempt to present a definite outline of the rise of our Canon in the first and second centuries.

In the eyes of believers ʽThe Lordʼ and his word were from the first the ultimate Court of Appeal. Most men, it is true, had knowledge of him only from the narratives of others, and the corruption which was to be feared from this method of propagation was avoided from about 65 onwards by the preservation in writing of his most important sayings. Before long the number of those who had received the words of Jesus directly from his actual hearers grew less and less, but Papias, assisted by his age, his good fortune, his numerous connections with the centres of Christian life and his industry in collection, was successful in making many a valuable discovery unattained by those who possessed written Gospels. Most of the communities of that period would have learnt very little about Jesus if they had followed Papiasʼs example in preferring oral to written tradition; if the latter had been strictly excluded they would scarcely have known more than we should now know of the Seven Yearsʼ War if no written records of it existed. The only course open to them was to read aloud the history of the Lord from the writings of Matthew, Mark, or any other writer available. At first a distinction was drawn clearly enough between the ʽmost holy Wordʼ of the Son of God, which was there preserved in writing, and the additions of those who reported that Word; but it was impossible to apportion accurately the different degrees of reverence due to what was read, according as it was the Lord or the Evangelist who spoke. As soon as the written word of Jesus had assumed the holiest place, its honours must soon be shared by the documents which contained it. In the long run it was impossible to keep the book and its contents separate, especially since the very name of the book, ʽεὑινγνγέλψον,ʼ made such a separation more difficult. The first generation that from its earliest years had only known Jesus in the Church from written Gospels, must simply, unconscious of any change, have transferred to these Gospels the extreme reverence due to the Word of the Lord.

The opposition of those who agreed with Papias—an opposition raised perhaps in view of the differences between the Gospels—was met with the declaration that it was impossible to be more sure of preserving the truth about Jesus than by holding firmly to what was reported of him by his Apostles, men like Matthew and John, for who would dare to impute ignorance or dishonesty to such as these? If others pointed to the strange heresies which certain obscure Gospels (not all of them, of course) had with evil intent invented and attached to the name of the Lord, this only made it the more necessary to separate the dross from the gold, and to determine where the genuine, true tradition about the Saviour was to be found. It was but natural that the Gospels written by the trusted friends of Jesus, the Apostles, and in the use of which the Churches had so long been blessed, should come to serve as a Canon; the Apostles had been charged with the task of preaching the Gospel to the whole creation, and surely they had fulfilled this task to the satisfaction of their Master. Other favourite Gospel writings, like those of Mark and Luke, did not belong to this particular class, but here a compromise was effected between reason and tradition; since their relationship with those which possessed full Apostolic dignity was unmistakable, it was possible, by a little exercise of skill, to endow them with indirect Apostolicity and eye-witness-ship. So, perhaps, one community would at first hold Matthew in high esteem, another Luke, another both of them, and so on; it would read them every Sunday and entirely forget that it had ever drawn a distinction between the Word of the Lord as manifested here, and the Word of God as spoken by the Prophets; elsewhere, again, the same thing would occur in the case of Gospels which are now lost; the Gospel, provided only that it was trustworthy, obtained in fact the consideration of a Holy Scripture. Now, it was precisely in the second century that all sorts of doubtful productions of this kind saw the light—productions not only emanating from Gnostic circles, where men prided themselves on a secret tradition, but also from within the Church, and written in all good faith. But the great majority realised the contrast between the ancient, well-attested Gospels and these new-fangled publications. They recognised the danger they portended of a splitting-up of the Gospel material, and now consciously renounced the use of Gospels whose authors could not be proved to be eyewitnesses, or else to be the disciples, interpreters or scribes of an eye-witness, even if the contents gave no occasion for suspicion. The first and immediate success obtained by our four Gospels on their appearance in the large communities, was the reason why in forty yearsʼ time they had become the standard by which all other Gospels were judged—and why they were held to represent the one Divine and well-authenticated Gospel.

And if once productions of Apostolic authorship were canonised at all, the way was opened which must lead to the canonisation of all Apostolic writings. If the Apostles were recognised in those narratives as unerring witnesses of the preaching of Jesus, how could their other writings, composed for the service of the Gospel, be held more lightly? Are we to believe that what Paul wrote to Corinth and to Rome, what the author of 1. John introduced so solemnly with the words, ʽThat which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes . . . concerning the word of life . . . these things we write that our joy may be fulfilledʼ—that all this did not belong to the Gospel? It was simply impossible to regard the man before whose mysterious wisdom, as expressed in the prologue to the Gospel, men bowed with awe, as being in his Epistle merely a true preacher like a thousand others, especially since men were accustomed to have this Epistle read out to them in the same tones and from the same place as the Gospel. After the Gospel Canon had arisen, and no doubt in connection with the trustworthiness of the Apostles, on which so much stress was laid during the process, a larger space than before was probably allotted to the other Apostolic writings in the common worship; on all sides the interest in them became more lively, in part because their readers were convinced that with their help they could beat back all the attacks of heresy, and saw the historical foundations of the Catholic Church secured by them against the subjectivity of Gnosticism and Montanism. Step by step—though there exists no evidence of this—they rose to a higher place in the Anagnosis, until at last all memory had faded away of a distinction between the Evangelistic reading-books which had reached Canonical dignity and the writings of the Apostles. And now another compromise is made between reason and tradition; the popular Book of Acts is retained, in spite of the fact that it was not written by an Apostle—but it dealt, after all, with the words and actions of Apostles—and in many instances Hermas, 1. Clement and others of the same kind also keep their place, having long been widely known in close connection with the Apostolic writings. The ʽApostolicumʼ was, in fact, a plant of spontaneous growth, and not the deliberate product of a Parliamentary Commission. Even if we had no data to go upon, we should not have allowed more than from thirty to fifty years for the transformation of the Gospel Canon into the Canon of all the Apostolic writings. The first generation of those who from their youth up had heard the history and letters of the Apostles regularly read aloud in the worship of the Church, side by side with their Gospels, who were, moreover, constantly referred in the sermons they heard to the Apostles, as the representatives of Christ, the founders and leaders of the Church, must have overthrown the barrier which separated the Gospels from the writings of the Apostles. Marcion the Gnostic had instantly drawn the inference that the writings of Paul, the man who stood surety for the genuine Gospel of Jesus, could not be treated as of less account than the Gospel itself; in the Church at large it was but a little longer before this inference was also drawn. Which community first felt the necessity of so doing will never be determined; it is certain that the Roman Church, with its wide-spread importance and its liking for settled forms and fixed authority, was one of the first to be concerned in it.

We can attempt no more than an imaginary reconstruction of the first decisive epoch of the history of the New Testament Canon; but it ought to satisfy the facts we possess and the demands of internal probability. And from this point onwards the march of events is clear. The process of canonisation could not be renewed after another fifty years in favour of post-apostolic literature, and so on again and again, for atthe same time that the Church proclaimed the original form of the new Canon, she proclaimed her earliest dogma, that of the unique quality of the Apostolic charisma, which must for ever bar the approach to productions of later times. ʽThe Prophets and the Apostlesʼ was the watchword of the old Catholic Church; to them all truth was revealed, and they had seen to it that in their writings it should be imparted whole and unimpaired to later generations. A Church could not recognise new truths; in her eyes no man of later times could be more highly gifted than her founders; it would, moreover, be doing them shameful injustice to believe that they had kept back from their Church any portion of the truth they possessed. So the Church of the year 200 already stood fast in the sufficiency of the revelation manifested in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, in the Gospels, and in the writings of the Apostles., From that time forward there was but one task left: to do away with the differences which were known to exist in the wide circle of the Church regarding the number of the new Canonical Books, and to carry the ʽApostolicumʼ to such a point that all writings left by the Apostles should really be included in it in their entirety, and all that was not Apostolic should be removed, even at the cost of well-established custom. ) Henceforward the work advances consciously in both directions. Reason founded on principle takes this important province into its own hands; it sets in order the spontaneous growth of former times; and it follows that the services it renders to the Canon are scarcely less momentous than those rendered by the labours of the two preceding periods.



1) See p. 494.

2) ἐνέκριναν: Ambrose translates ʽprobārunt;ʼ Jerome, ʽnon omnes recepti.ʼ

3) Chap. ii. fol.

4) ‘Legi in ecclesia.ʼ

5) Lines 81 fol.

6) See 1. Clem.