The Autographs of the New Testament Books
There has always been the question of the original autographs written personally by the writers of the New Testament documents. Where were they kept? Or, what happened to them? Since Eusebius places such emphasis on the Mother Church of the Christian faith on the Mount of Olives after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and before the time of Constantine, this would have been the logical place for them to have found a security. Whatever the case, copies had to be made of them from time to time to supply the various Christian congregations with these important books. Certainly, there was an autograph originally of each Gospel or epistle (or, perhaps, several copies prepared by the writers).
Doubtless each of the books and epistles, when originally written, was in scroll form or, by the end of the 1st century, the books would have been produced in codex form. The use of the codex, in the first place, was to make it possible to reproduce a number of copies in a convenient form in order to send them to various Christian communities. This is why Peter and John must have had the originals copied as the early Jews copied scrolls under Ezra when the Old Testament was canonized. The books were transcribed into codices and sent to several congregations for reading and reference. In actual fact, there was no reason for maintaining the originals once the apostle John (and the Elders) put their final authority on the contents of the several codices that must have been produced in the late 1st century.
This procedure also had the effect of telling the Christian communities which letters of the apostles were selected to be a part of the divine canon and which ones were not. If, for example, a congregation or an individual had a genuine letter of an apostle, that letter would in no case be considered as divinely inspired if it had not been selected by John and his Elders for inclusion in the New Testament. And indeed, if such a genuine epistle might be found today, it could not be considered sacred literature no matter how interesting its contents might be because it was not canonized by the apostles in the first place. On the other hand, if John had felt it proper to include the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” (assuming such a story existed at the time, and no matter if there was not an ounce of religious teaching in it), it should be accepted today as divine scripture if one recognizes the authority of John.
This is exactly what Ezra did when he canonized the “Song of Solomon” in the Old Testament. There is not a shred of religious information in that document and the names and titles of God, or its derivatives, are not found once within its pages (except once in a clandestine way). More than that, the “Song of Solomon” seems to have, on the surface, an erotic theme that still offends the moral standards of some sensitive religious people.
Of course, John and the Elders did not include any “Little Red Riding Hood” in their New Testament canon, but they had the authority to do so (according to 2 Peter 1:12–21) if they thought it proper. This right of theirs also extended to the placement of documents within the canon that quoted noncanonical works after the close of the Old Testament period.
It is my personal belief that this quote from a lost
work only becomes
“scripture” to Christians because it is now found in the canon of
the New Testament, not because it had any intrinsic value from an inspired
point of view by standing alone and outside the canon.
Really, the inspiration of the New Testament compositions is not so much in the writing of the words themselves (though that was important), but the holiness of the documents comes from the authority of (at first) Peter and (then) John to canonize them. The same principle applies to the canon of the Old Testament. We have records of many inspired men of the Old Testament period who taught the Israelites either orally or through writing (and many are mentioned in the Book of Chronicles), but the only divine writings which represent the canon for Jews (and Christians) are those selected by Ezra the priest with the help of the Great Assembly.
If this principle regarding the authorization for canonizing the Scripture would be recognized in today’s theological world, many of the problems involving the current “infallibility” debate could be resolved, at least in my view. The fact is, many scholars today are more concerned with the details which they find within the canonical books (whether they are scientifically and historically accurate) rather than whether the books themselves are infallible by virtue of being in the canon. To me, Ezra, Peter and John had an infallible commission to produce a canon of Scripture by the infallible Yahweh Elohim (though they of themselves were fallible men). It is the books of the canon that allow the details within the books to be holy, and not the details themselves.
The present arguments regarding inspiration of the biblical books are similar to those of the Scribes and Pharisees who were more interested in details of a matter rather than “the matter” itself. Christ upbraided them for saying the gold of the Temple (that is, a detail of the Temple) was more important than the Temple which made the gold holy. The gift on the Altar (a detail of the Altar) was more significant than the Altar which made the gift holy (Matthew 23:16–22). And so it is with the canon. It is the canon itself which makes every jot and tittle within the books of the canon to be holy, no matter how mankind may judge the merits of the details. There is a main scriptural example which, to me, shows this principle.
Christ referred to the stone which honest and godly men had rejected from becoming a part of the holy Temple of God (Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20; and especially 1 Peter 2:4 7). The masterbuilders could observe, without doubt, that the external condition of the stone was in some way “imperfect” and this imperfection disqualified it from being used to make up the stones of the divine Sanctuary. But strange as it may seem, that is the very stone which God finally selected to become the chief cornerstone of a new Temple.
In Christian interpretation that very stone which the builders rejected, no doubt because of its outward imperfections, was an example of Christ Himself whom Isaiah the prophet had prophesied would be “marred above all men” and one who was not desired of men as handsome and perfect looking (Isaiah 52:13–15 and all of Isaiah 53). Chapter 16 in my book Secrets of Golgotha (pages 203–220) shows that Christ while he was a human was sickly in appearance and not at all good looking.
Though the scriptures show that Christ had not sinned once in His life, He was bearing the sins of the world throughout the whole period of His life (not only when He died on the tree of crucifixion). The consequence of this bearing of sins made Him appear as though His sins were causing Him to be afflicted. While Christ was able to heal the multitudes, the people looked on His physical frame and stated: “Physician, heal yourself” (Luke 4:23). Christ Jesus actually looked as though He was burdened with the weight of sin, which indeed He was. As John records: “Behold the Lamb of God who bears [Greek present tense] the sin of the world” (John 1:29 see Greek). This bearing of the world’s sins while He lived in the flesh made Jesus appear unhealthy and not full of vigor and vim as most people erroneously imagine Him to have been like.
Yet Christ was the stone that the builders rejected who became the head of the corner of a new and spiritual Temple, whom all people who experience salvation will have as their chief corner stone. On the surface, however, Christ appeared imperfect to the human eye. People would reject Him just like the builders of the Temple rejected one of the principal stones that they could see was marred and imperfect. Christ was not “good looking” at all while He was on earth.
While this is New Testament teaching, what does this have to do with canonizing the books of the Bible? Much in every way. A similar situation involves selecting the books that were to find an entrance into the Holy Scriptures. Let us note the comparison.
Suppose the early builders of the Temple had two stones that appeared identical in every way yet they only needed one stone to finish the Temple. One stone had to be chosen while the other was not. Using the illustration of Christ about the stone that the builders rejected, the rejected stone would have remained “unholy” while the accepted stone would have become holy in every way because it became a part of the Temple. On the other hand, if the two stones were switched (after all, they appeared identical to each other), then the matter of holiness in regard to the stones would have to be switched as well.
Look at another illustration. Suppose one of the two stones was a resplendent and dazzling diamond of great worth in the eyes of man yet it did not fit into the Temple properly as an ordinary stone would. If the ordinary stone would have been selected as acceptable for the Temple, it would have become “holy” by becoming a part of the Temple while the beautiful and expensive diamond would still be an ordinary stone without the slightest holiness attached to it (though it was of great worth in a monetary sense).
To carry the illustration further, what if there were two stones and one of them was marred and imperfect but for some reason the authorities building the Temple decided to use it to be a part of the Temple while the perfect stone was not selected? The marred stone would have become “holy” while the perfect one would have remained an ordinary stone without the slightest holiness.
This is the way it is with books that make up the Bible. Being selected to be a part of the Holy Scriptures makes each book to be “holy.” The book at first may not have had any holiness attached to it, but if it was selected to become a part of the divine canon of scripture, then immediately upon its acceptance into the canon, it became thoroughly holy and inspired of God.
As an example, once again look at the Song of Songs (or Canticles). It has not the slightest religious sentiment attached to it. The name of God or any reference to deity is not found in its pages (except once in an esoteric way). It is reckoned in some circles to be highly erotic and out of character with other books of the Bible. Yet the Song of Songs was selected by Ezra the priest to be a part of the Holy Scriptures, while other works that Ezra had in his possession did not find an entry into the Bible. This means that every word of the Song of Songs became inspired and is as holy as the Book of Genesis or the Gospel of John are holy. 1
But let us go one step further. Suppose a genuine epistle of the apostle Paul could be found and completely verified as being from his hand, and that it was one of his latest epistles. That epistle — no matter how interesting and valuable it would be from an antiquarian and historical point of view — it could not in any way be considered a part of the divine canon of Holy Scripture. This is because the apostle John did not select it at first to form a part of the New Testament. That newly discovered epistle would be no more holy in the sense of being divine scripture than the writings of any other ordinary person, including the writings of Ernest L. Martin.
Moreover, if some books of the Bible do not appeal to some people as proper, even though they are within the divine canon, they are still all equally holy and inspired of God. One book that has found numerous critics is the Book of Revelation. That book has some of the most atrocious grammar that can be found in any ancient literature. Scholars for generations have chastised the author of the book for his lack of even basic grammar usage. Yet that work is purported to be the very words of Christ Jesus Himself (Revelation 1:1–2). There is no doubt that Christ could have used impeccable grammar had He wished, but this is not found in the Book of Revelation. Does this make the book uninspired and quite fallible? Some grammarians might classify it that way, but because it appears in the divine canon in the manner it does (ungrammatical and all), it has become inspired scripture and is infallible in regard to the purpose of its messages. Even its misuse of grammar is an inspired “misuse” in the book.
This same principle also applies to certain books that some scholars may deem to have historical, chronological or scientific errors. Men may indeed wish to reject them because of so called “imperfections.” 2 Yet even the books in the divine canon of scripture, if they contain what we feel to be inaccuracies, all of their teachings are inspired, are holy, and infallible within the biblical contexts in which their messages are given. In similar fashion, all the stones, furniture and artifacts which made up the Temple of God were equally inspired, holy and infallible in regard to the functions which they all had.
Let us put it this way. Some people have asked me if I feel that the Bible and its teachings are inerrant in every way. My answer is this: “I believe the Bible to be completely inerrant, including its errors.” Perhaps I ought to say, “including the errors that people think the Bible has.” There are numerous kinds of features which some people call “errors.” But even errors in language (or historical and/or scientific facts) can sometimes be shown not to be errors at all when one understands the context of the writer and when the words he uses are fully comprehended in the manner the author intended.
For example, some modern scientists have criticized the biblical statement that the earth has its foundation on pillars. “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he has set the world upon them” (1 Samuel 2:8). There is, of course, no scientific justification for believing that the earth actually rests on pillars. Indeed, even the biblical writers knew that such a statement was a figure of speech. The Bible shows the earth is actually circular in its dimensions (which answers to a sphere) and that it “hangs on nothing” (Isaiah 40:22 with Job 26:7). Yet, to state that the Lord has set the earth on pillars is an “error” if taken literally.
This should hardly cause anyone to stumble because in the most sophisticated astronomical journals I have found modern astronomers using statements like: “Just after sunset you can see the stars come out on cloudless days.” The fact is, any scientist knows that the sun does not actually “set” (it is complete error to state such) and the stars do not “come out” at night (“come out” of what, one might ask?). These are simple figures of speech that are well understood by all literate people, though the terms in themselves are presenting errors to the readers if taken in the absolute literal sense. The Bible contains numerous “errors” of such nature (they are figures of speech like we all use today), just as the Bible uses standards of measurement that we no longer use or understand, and which may appear wrong to us.
The fact is, the literature of the Bible was not given to satisfy grammatical, historical or scientific critics and their classifications as to what is proper and what is not. The books of the Bible were intended to give proper messages to people from God in the manner that He thought best. And because a book that we might question appears within the divine canon, that book is still as holy and as proper as any other book in the canon. It is up to us to understand God’s reason for putting such books in the canon. It is not up to us to use our own criteria for selecting or not selecting certain books of the Bible or whole sections of books. That was already accomplished by Ezra for the Old Testament and by the apostle John for the New Testament.
What mankind should do is to recognize the authority of God the Father and Christ Jesus to select the books of the Bible (and the men they selected to do the physical work of placing them in the hands of us all). We should then approve of their selections. There is enough information within the biblical revelation itself to show that God picked certain men that He authorized to canonize the Holy Scriptures for us.
One of the main criterion for authorizing the special books to make up the divine canon was the fact that the canonizers were to be priests of the line of Aaron. It was into their hands (and the elders of Israel) that God placed the authority to select and to maintain the Holy Scriptures (Deuteronomy 31:9). The apostle Paul recognized that it was the Jewish nation that had the priesthood to perform such a job for the Jews and the world.
“What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much in every way: chiefly, because unto them were committed the oracles of God.”
For the canonization of the Old Testament, Ezra was a priest and fully authorized to put together the first 22 books of the Holy Scriptures. This canonization by Ezra was fully accepted by Christ himself (Luke 24:44).
For the New Testament, Peter said that he and the apostle John were going to leave the Christian family with documents for teaching purposes because they had the “more sure word of prophecy” that was to last until the second advent of Christ to this earth (2 Peter 1:12–20). It was after Peter’s death that the apostle John (whom we now know was himself a priest and qualified for the task) finally put all the 27 books of the New Testament together and attached them to the Old Testament.
Those 49 books as they are properly numbered for the Old and New Testaments give a remarkable message to people of all nations that the world truly has the divine scriptures that God wishes all humans to have. Those 49 books comprise His instruction book for mankind. It is up to us whether we accept it or not. I hope that we will.
1 As mentioned earlier, if the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” would have found a place within the pages of the Bible, its message would be inspired and holy within itself and also holy within the context of other books of the Bible. Of course, “Little Red Riding Hood” does not occur in the Bible, so it still remains uninspired from the point of view of giving divine scripture to the world.
2 Some of those so-called “imperfections” which people of the past have thought to be in the books have turned out to be scientifically accurate through our modern scientific discoveries.
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