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The Needs and Motive Forces that led to the Creation of the New Testament

If the trained observer surveys merely the Title and the Table of Contents of the New Testament, whether in its present form or in the older and shorter form of the close of the second century, and if he adopts the viewpoint of the Apostolic Age, he is faced by at least five great historical problems.

The Books of the New Testament
(or the New Testament).

The Gospel { according to Matthew
according to Mark.
according to Luke.
according to John.
The Apostolus { The Acts of the Apostles.
Thirteen Epistles of Paul.
The Epistle of Jude.
The lst and 2nd Epistles of John.22These two epistles have the testimony of the Murat. Fragment and of the Corpus Cypr. (In Tert., De Pudic., “in primore” is to be read in place of “in priore epistola [Joannis)”).
2The Apostolus { (The 1st Epistle of Peter).
The Revelation of John.
(The Revelation of Peter).
(The Shephard of Hermas).33The three bracketed works have a special history. In regard to 1 Peter it is not quite certain whether it belongs to the earliest form of the New Testament. The two Apocalypses may indeed be assigned to the most ancient form, but they were objected to at once, and this in the community of Rome, which, as we shall show, was probably the very birthplace of the New Testament. The opposition to the Revelation of Peter was at first the weaker of the two, but it very soon and completely attained it object, while in the case of the Shepherd of Hermas it was strong from the beginning but did not find complete success until later. In the earliest (Roman) list of Canonical Scriptures which we possess, mention is also made of a “Wisdom” of Solomon which we are told was composed by Christian admirers of Solomon. Probably “Jesus Sirach” is meant, which was also called “Ecclesiasticus.” We have here a singular phenomenon which we cannot quite comprehend. From the standpoint of the close of the second century no special importance need be assigned to the order of the Gospels nor to the position of the Catholic Epistles (Philastr., 88: “Septem epistulæ Actibus Apostolorum conjunctæ sunt”) which could also be placed before the Pauline Epistles. Only the precedence of the Gospels before all the rest of the writings and the placing of the Acts of the Apostles at the head of the second division in idea and soon in actual practice (Murat. Fragment, see also Irenæus and Tertullian) are firmly established. But it would be a mistake to imagine that at the end of the second century absolutely no interest was taken in the question of the number and order of canonical writings. The contrary is proved by the petition of the brother Onesimus to Melito, Bishop of Sardis, that he would give him information concerning the number and order of the books of the Old Testament. Melito responded to this request, and by a method of counting of his own set the number at twenty-one (Euseb., H.E., iv. 26, 13).

The five problems are these:—

1. What is the reason and how did it come about that a second authoritative collection of books 3arose among Christians? Why were they not satisfied with the Old Testament, or with a Christian edition of the Old Testament, or—if they must needs have a new collection —why did they not reject the old? Why did they take upon themselves the burden and complication of two collections? Finally, when did the idea of a fixed second collection first appear?

2. Why does the New Testament contain other works in addition to the Gospels, and thus appear as a whole with two divisions (Gospel and Apostle)?

3. Why does the New Testament contain four gospels and not one only?

4. Why could only one “Revelation” keep its place in the New Testament? Why not several or none at all?

5. Was the New Testament created consciously? How did the Churches arrive at one common New Testament, seeing that the individual communities, or provincial Churches, were independent, and that the Church was one only in idea?

From the standpoint of the Apostolic Epoch these five questions appear as just so many enormous paradoxes so long as one does not go deeply beneath the surface of events as they developed. I purpose to attempt a brief discussion of these questions; and it would be perhaps much to the point if future works on the history of the Canon of the New Testament started in the same way.

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