A Closed Canon

Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures   In 1934, Walter Bauer argued that there was no clear line between heresy and orthodoxy in the early church, but since the orthodox were stronger, their views eventually prevailed in what we now call the New Testament (a sort of survival of the fittest).  Bart Ehrman has taken this thesis and run with it.  Similarly, others like Hal Taussig are talking about “A New New Testament” made up of other early religious writings.  These men and their ideas essentially cast loads of doubt on the historic New Testament canon that Christians have always accepted, studied, believed, defended, and died for.

In light of Bauer’s thesis, it’s important to have a biblical and apostolic view of the New Testament canon.  Authentic diversity should not be the standard that leads us; rather, apostolic doctrine is what we Christians should hold tightly.  After all, the apostles are the foundation and Jesus is the cornerstone (Eph 2.20).  We accept the apostles’ words because Jesus commissioned and sent them in his name and by his authority (Mark 3:14, 6:7-13, etc.).  In the Old Covenant there were prophets and prophetical writings; in the New Covenant there are apostles and apostolic writings.  I appreciate Herman Ridderbos’ words on this topic.

“When understood in terms of the history of redemption, the canon cannot be opened; in principle it must be closed.  That follows directly from the unique and exclusive nature of the power the apostles received from Christ and from the commission he gave them to be witnesses to what they had seen and heard of the salvation he had brought.  The result of this power and commission is the foundation of the church and the creation of the canon, and therefore these are naturally unrepeatable and exclusive in character.”

“The closed nature of the canon thus rests ultimately on the once-and-for-all significance of the New Testament history of redemption itself, as that history is presented by the apostolic witness.  All the more, then, the New Testament cannot be qualified fundamentally as a witness to the faith of the early church.  Such thinking not only fails to understand the revelatory nature of the canon, it also destroys the principle distinction between the canon of the church and the subsequent faith of the church.  The closed character of the canon, in contrast, fully preserves this principial distinction between faith and revelation” (Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, p.25).

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re interested in the study of the NT canon, I highly recommend Michael Kruger’s work – specifically Canon Revisited and The Heresy of Orthodoxy (with A. Kostenberger).  These books, along with Ridderbos’ aforementioned work, are great resources to refute the recent attacks on the NT canon and the emphasis of diversity.

rev shane lems


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