How Did the Early Christians View the Books of the Bible?
The early Christians saw that the Old Testament was incomplete, and they realized that Jesus had fulfilled it. Thus, they expected that the New Testament would be written and quickly recognized the divine authority of these books. In this brief clip from his series The New Testament Canon, Michael Kruger explains that the canon wasn’t a late development; it was built into Christianity from the very start.
These books, as soon as they were written, would have borne the authority of the apostles, and people would have recognized that from the very start.
Now, if that’s the case, then you don’t need to wait 200, 300 years to have a New Testament canon, because you have books written with the authority of an apostle even in the first century that people would have known bore that apostle’s authority, and therefore you would have had books with the authority of Christ from the very get-go. So when someone comes along and says, “Oh, Christians could never have conceived of a new collection of authoritative books,” I’m thinking to myself, “But what about the books the apostles wrote? They would have been seen as a new collection of authoritative books, and you wouldn’t have had to wait for a church council to tell you that. You wouldn’t have to wait for some vote to tell you that. You don’t have to wait 400 years to know that. You know that in the very moment that Paul wrote his letter and sent it to you, and Paul even acknowledges, ‘You better listen to my letter. I speak with the authority of Christ.’” These books would have been inherently viewed as canon from the very get-go.
Now, what does that mean, then, when we tie all three of these theological beliefs together? These three sort of form a package deal. Remember, what I’ve argued here is, they create this perfect soil, right, out of which the canon can grow. Christians thought that the Old Testament story was incomplete and that Jesus had completed it, and we would expect that last chapter to be written, so to speak. Christians believed that He started a new covenant and covenants always come with written documents. And then thirdly, Christians believe in the authority of the apostles, and the authority of the apostles was manifested in written documents even in the 50s of the frst century, if not the 40s. So for someone to come along and say, “Oh, Christians could never have anticipated the New Testament canon. That was the furthest thing from their mind,” I would suggest to you that it was not the furthest thing from their mind. I would suggest to you that it was built into the DNA of Christianity from the very start.
I want to suggest to you that the canon was put in the soil of Christianity like a little seed, was always there. Took some time for it to grow, when it had been watered, but it grew up. The canon is not transplanting a plant from somewhere else, digging a big hole, and slamming it down in there going, “Okay, here’s a canon for you.” No, it was always there from the start, and here’s the payof of that. If that’s true, that’s going to afect the way we view the historical evidence. Now we don’t have to wonder, “Well, is it fourth century or ffth century?” No, there’s something built into Christianity about the authority of these books. There’s something inherent, something organic, something natural. From the very start, Christians would have expected these books to have authority, so when we talk about Christians having a canon and having a reliable canon, we don’t have to speculate about what they would have thought 300 years later. We can think and see that they would have understood there to be a collection of books as authoritative from the very beginning. And if that’s true, we have much more reason to think they would have gotten it right, because they didn’t have to think 300 years later about it. They would have been standing right there looking at Paul in the face, and they would have had very good reasons to know that these books are in fact the books that Christ gave His church.