26 February 2008

The Evolution of Canon

Posted by at 1:04 AM Read our previous post
Accepted as canonical.
Author accepts, others dispute.
Author disputes.

Some time ago I made a rough copy of a chart that I had come across which shows the development the canon underwent in formation. I'm glad I sketched it out, as it comes in handy in this discussion now. :)
So I made a quick color-coded gif to post here. The chart actually extends to the right some, to include books like The Shepperd of Hermas, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Wisdom of Solomon, among others, which were generally accepted as genuine and authoritative by the early commentators, but I kept it to these twenty-seven books for the sake of brevity here.

I did a bit of searching and found sufficient citation to support my argument from the previous post's comments.
I have emphasized the relevant bits in the following citations:.

Re Tertullian:

According to [Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1987.] p. 159:
In another treatise Tertullian cites a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews (6:4-8), which he attributes to Barnabas as the author, 'a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul had stationed next to himself'. (De pudic. 20)

Re Origen:
Throughout Origen's writings he quotes from the Epistle to the Hebrews more than 200 times, and in the vast majority of his references he is content to attribute it to Paul as its author. But near the close of his life (after 245 CE), where Origen is speaking as a scholar, he admits that the tradition of its authorship is wholly uncertain. From the composite account in [ Eusebius. The History of the Church (Ecclesiastical History)]:
In addition he makes the following statements concerning the Epistle to the Hebrews, in his Homilies upon it: 'That the character of the diction of the Epistles entitled 'To the Hebrews' has not the apostle's rudeness in speech, who acknowledged himself to be rude in speech (2 Cor. 6:6), that is, in style, but that the Epistle is better Greek in the framing of its diction, will be admitted by everyone who is able to discern differences of style. But again, on the other hand, that the thoughts of the Epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged writings of the apostle, this also everyone who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit'. Further on he adds, If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the style and composition belong to some one who remembered the apostle's teachings and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore, if any church holds that this Epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this also. For it is not without reason that the men of old time have handed it down as Paul's. But who wrote the Epistle in truth, God knows. Yet the account that has reached us [is twofold] , some saying that Clement, bishop of Rome, wrote the Epistle, and others, that it was Luke, the one who wrote the Gospel and the Acts. (6.25.11-14)

I find it curious that someone would express shock at my positing Marcion as evidence that Hebrews is not Paul's work, I think it is quite adequate and sufficient evidence—think about it, Marcion the collector and freak of all things Pauline, probably the man who inspired the "church" to establish a canon more than anyone else (the move toward establishing a canon was arguably a direct response to Marcion, in fact) has never heard of the epistle to the Hebrews. Why my suggestion (i.e. that Marcion's omission speaks against Pauline authorship) would elicit a "Wow!" is beyond me. Being that the epistle does reflect some aspects of pauline thought, there's no reason to think that Marcion knew of it but rejected it. Likewise for the Muratorian canon. Nowhere is this epistle mentioned there. So . . . why has Marcion never mentioned this text. The answer clearly is that he has never heard of it (though there IS reason to think that it predates Marcion, which only means that it wasn't attributed to Paul until right before Irenaeus's day—though even HE disputed its authenticity). This deserves more than a glossing over and dismissing it out of hand. I would welcome any alternate explanations for the silence in both Marcion and the Muratonian fragment regarding Hebrews and also for the controversy reflected in the texts regarding its authorship, where even as late as the time of Eusebius the matter is not yet either settled or even a necessary belief. Notice that this argument against Pauline authorship of Hebrews is completely independent of any analysis of the Greek subjunctives. When multiple independent trajectories of research all come to a conclusion (a kind of interdisciplinary planetary alignment) the very fact of these independently-arrived-at agreements reinforces that conclusion.




  1. I think you're misunderstanding my "wow". The "wow" was because in tandem with the "different Greek", you say Marcion's work is the "smoking gun". Hardly, I think. These two arguments are not nearly enough. That's where the wow comes from.

    Other than the fact that we interpret the "stationed next to Paul" comment different (e.g. I take it as him being Paul's scribe, much like Luke often was) here are some other evidences (some of which you 'allude' to):

    Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History, 3.3, 6.14, 6.25.

    Origen: (overwhelming evidence!), De Principiis 1, 3.2.4, 4.1.13, 4.1.24, 2.7.7, 2.3.5, 3.1.10, Against Celsus 3.52, 7.29, To Africanus 9. (Despite: Eusebius, VI, xxv)

    Jerome: Epist. Ad Evang. 125

    Beyond this, I would direct you to commentaries and other such resources pertaining to Hebrews. Others have dealt with this at much more length than I wish to here.

    As for arrogance, I'm sorry you interpret my replies that way. Despite this, I still think it is quite possible to suggest I'm right/you're wrong and even state my case strongly and still be civil, peaceful and un-arrogant. Either way, if I've offended you up to this point, I do hope you will accept my apology.

    As for Marcion and Hebrews, if time allows I may write on this at Pisteuomen. Thanks for you challenges and thoughts, I'll surely think on them.

  2. It's all good, bro.

    But . . . you are still wrong about Origen. If you re-read my post, you will see that I accept that he even goes as far as quoting Hebrews. But if even he, in the end, had to admit that it is unlikely that Paul wrote it (see the quote via Eusebius in my post)— and knowing about Origen's eventual admission of ignorance regarding its authorship—I think that would be dishonest to keep insisting that Origen believed that Paul wrote Hebrews. No matter what De Principiis or Against Celsus says. :)

    I am more familiar with the patristic writers and with relevant commentarors than you probably imagine me to be.



  3. q,
    I have no assumptions about your level/amount of knowledge of the fathers/patristics, etc. You just asked me for some evidence and I gave it, that's all. If anything, you do seem to have knowledge of them and that's a good thing. As far as Origen, I don't think we can take the admission, which I alluded to as well, as fact that he rejected it. I don't think it's an issue of dishonesty. I think that above all, it shows that he, at best, was not 100% positive--but then again, who is?

  4. Oh . . .

    And to me, either one of those two (the argument from the divergent styles involved OR the argument from omission/controversy in the early 'canons') IS sufficient, by itself, to persuade me that Paul did not write Hebrews. (like I said, two smoking guns are better than one)

    You obviously need a third or fourth opinion, though, and I guess that's cool, but I maintain that my position IS not only tenable, but probable.

    Twelfth: ;)
    It would even be difficult to argue that it is the work of an amenuensis, considering that any similarity with "authentic" Pauline letters is mostly superficial, thematic, and not fundamental. But that's for another post, I suppose.



  5. Be careful, Michael, lest you start making the mistake of thinking that merely quoting Hebrews is evidence of Pauline authorship.

    I don't see the relevance of many of the new citations you offer to our focus here, i.e. the provenance of Hebrews.

    And not only is Nicea not useful in determing the authorship of Hebrews . . . Nicea was in 325, not 315.

    But hey . . . at least you dropped Tertullian from the list. That's something.



  6. Sorry about the gap in the comments, for some reason your last comment did not go through.

    My last comment was a response to Mike Halcomb's:

    "Add to that list: Hilary, Ambrose, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, and Athanasius. Not to mention the councils: the synod of Antioch (A.D. 264), the council of Nicea (A.D. 315), the council of Laodicea (A.D. 360), the council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the third council of Carthage (A.D. 397), and the sixth council of Carthage (A.D. 419). All quite early, I must say."

  7. Nice visualization Quixie. However, I would love to see the visualization with the Shepherd of Hermas et al. :)

  8. Thanks Eric.

    When I get a free moment later, I might do the more inclusive version and post it here as well.




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