The New Testament Canon and Manuscripts

Kruger-CanonRevisitedOver on the ETC blog, I wrote on some key ideas in chapter 7, “Manuscripts and Christian Book Production,” in Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. In this chapter, Kruger attempts to show what we can learn about New Testament canon formation from our earliest manuscripts. In the post, I interact with the following ideas: (1) What is the value of a relative large quantity of MSS for determining canon? (2) What is the significance of the codex for NT canon formation? Kruger believes both aspects are potentially significant, while I register a caution or two about these particular ideas.


A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)

Hahneman-book coverIn the last post, we looked at Geoffrey Hahneman’s reasons for a fourth-century date for the closing of the Old Testament canon. In this post, I supply some response to his interpretation of the evidence.

(1) Hahneman began with the evidence of the New Testament (74–5). Though NT usage of religious literature will continue to be debated, Oskar Skarsaune, in a significant essay in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. 1, concludes:

There has been much scholarly debate on the question of whether “circumstantial evidence” (i.e. the actual use of authoritative books) in the first century CE supports or contradicts the notion of a “closed” canon in that period. If quotation frequency is regarded as significant circumstantial evidence, the New Testament seems to indicate that its authors (with the one exception mentioned [1 Enoch in Jude]) quoted the Hebrew canon, and its books only, as Scripture (445).

According to formal quotation or citation, the NT only uses books from the Hebrew canon. Sundberg and Hahneman argue that NT authors reflect on books from a wider body of literature, but the question is whether that usage constitutes the same appeal to authority as direct quotation/citation. Skarsaune and most discern a difference. Continue reading “A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)”

A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 1)

Hahneman-book coverOne of the key elements of a modern definition of canon or a list is closure. The question of when was the canon or list of the Old Testament sacred scriptures closed has become the topic of much debate. Furthermore, some scholars have tied the closing of the New Testament canon to the question of the closing of the OT canon.

Geoffrey Mark Hahnman in The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon says:

The Muratorian Fragment as traditionally dated at the end of the second century contrasts greatly with the establishing of the Old Testament in the fourth century. The Fragment clearly represents a New Testament canon. To accept its traditional date would suggest that the Church was engaged in defining a New Testament canon more than 150 years before it began fixing an Old Testament canon. While this is not impossible, it is unlikely, and it must have been such a consideration that encouraged Sundberg to reconsider the date of the Fragment (83).

Hahneman is more concerned with the Muratorian Fragment and its significance for the NT canon than the OT canon. He relies heavily on the arguments of Albert Sundberg for the formation of the Christian Old Testament in this section. It is worth reviewing the lines of evidence he presents. Continue reading “A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 1)”

Canon, Codex, and Biblical Theory

Codex SinaiticusCanon and Codex. Surely, the alliteration indicates that these ideas are co-extensive, right? Depends on whom one asks. Armin Lange in the same article referenced here says:

I have also referred repeatedly to the invention of the mega-codices as a catalyst in the development of the Christian canon. It was only the mega-codex [full collection of Old and New Testament books] format that made it possible to combine all biblical Scriptures (Old and New Testament) into one book. Consequently, the question of which books should be included in such a mega-codex as the one Bible will have brought the issue of canon to the attention of Christian thinkers and officials…. It is all the more interesting that none of the three preserved mega-codices [Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus] corresponds precisely in its table of contents with any of the canon lists of the fourth century (pp. 74–5).

In this section, Lange cites an article by Robert Kraft, “The Codex and Canon Consciousness” (pp. 229–33) in the The Canon Debate (among other scholars). I presume he had these thoughts of Kraft in mind:

…I suspect that the new possibility (and concept) effected a major paradigm shift in how Christians henceforth thought about their “Bible” and its canonical cohesiveness. That is, “biblical canon” took on a very concrete meaning in the shadow of the appearance of the Bible as a single book in codex form (p. 230).

And again:

But once it was possible to produce and view (or visualize) “the Bible” under one set of physical covers, the concept of “canon” became concretized in a new way that shapes our thinking to the present day and makes it very difficult to recapture the perspectives of earlier times. “The canon” in this sense is the product of fourth-century technological developments. Before that, it seems to me, things were less “fixed,” and perceptions, accordingly, less concrete (233).

Kraft and Lange, among others we could cite, define the Christian biblical canon in terms of what books were placed between physical covers. No doubt, Christian scribes and bishops made choices on which books to include and exclude from the codex and no doubt the new physical form changed the concept of the Bible. The question, however, pertains to (1) whether codex technology and physical form actually motivated the fixing of the canon in the fourth century and (2) whether the discrete books within the codex were all viewed as having equally authoritative status.

For whatever change in perception of the material form of “the Bible” these developments brought—I assume change in perception did occur—there is very little evidence that would suggest that these codices brought about the fixing or concretizing of the canon. There’s not space to detail the similarity between the few second- and third-century lists and the later fourth-century lists that would actually show a remarkable conservatism (with some change of course) in canon formation in these centuries. Therefore, it remains unclear to me what kind of “change” did occur once Christians put their books between two covers. Certainly, the codex would have come as a wonderful advance from the standpoint of hermeneutics and being able to organize knowledge and concepts more efficiently. But whether it brought development to the canon or not still remains fuzzy and less concrete to me.

Many Eastern lists contain the books of the narrower Hebrew canon (see post on Epiphanius). Some fourth century lists, both Western and Eastern, contain those canonical books and “useful scriptures” in distinct categories. It is probable that the drafters of these canon lists would have no difficulty with codices that contained these books between two covers since the distinctions between books would still be conceptualized. Another possibility could be that the codices agree with later Latin lists which attest the wider canon; that is, they include the six deutercanonical books. But at this point it is insightful to look at the specific books in these codices to see if their compilers considered these deuterocanonical books as stable as the canonical ones.


Codex Sinaiticus: 1. PENTATEUCH (defective); 2. JDG (defective), CHRON (defective) EZRA–NEH, ESTHER, TOBIT, JUDITH, 1 & 4 MACCABEES; 4. ISAIAH, JER + LAM, EZEK (defective), SUS + DANIEL + BEL (defective), THE TWELVE; 3. PSS, PROV, ECCL, SONG, WISDOM, ECCLESIASTICUS, JOB.


The three codices agree on inclusion of Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, and Ben Sira / Ecclesiasticus though not on their order and placement. They do not all contain the books of Maccabees with only two including 1 and 4 Maccabees and only Alexandrinus containing 2–3 Maccabees. The later Latin canon lists of Augustine and Innocent I, for example, do not include 3–4 Maccabees, only 1–2 Maccabees. Thus the codices and those lists do not agree on these books, and therefore the codices may not be a stable guide to canon regarding them. But what about the other four books? It is possible the compilers considered these books canonical because they chose to include them. But in the absence of explicit statements to this effect, it might be more reasonable to conclude with the majority of the canon lists (most of the early ones) that these books are simply useful scriptures and were not considered to be authoritative in matters of doctrine. That is, codex does not equal canon.

Modern canon scholarship has emphasized the codex and manuscripts in general for determining the Christian canon and describing how that canon was conceptualized. No doubt, the invention of the codex brought development to the concept of the Bible. But moderns continue to envision the canon lists in tension with the codex, perhaps irresolvable contradiction (see Lange’s statement above). However, have we committed anachronism? Have we read the canonical significance and conceptualization of our physical Bibles back into the ancients’ codex? If we have, how would we know? The main line of evidence that may offer a corrective and a way forward is the ancients’ statements themselves. Serious consideration of those statements and lists need to be reintroduced into the conversation so that a more balanced and reasonable, though no less complex, picture may emerge.

What is a Septuagintalism and why is it important to NT Studies?

Natalio Fernandez Marcos, author of The Septuagint in Context, says, “Nowhere in the New Testament is the need for a Semitic Vorlage demanded by the evidence, and most of the Hebraisms invoked by philologists are more easily explained as indirect Hebraisms or Septuagintalisms through the sub-language that was created for the Scriptures by the translations of the Bible in Greek” (Septuagint, 333).

In my study of Greek Job, I have come across at least two examples of the use of προσθείς + finite verb which translates Hebrew יסף + infinitive, “to X again”, in which the action to be repeated is carried by the infinitive. In Job 27:1 and 29:1, Job takes up his parable/discourse again. The OG renders this construction as προσθείς + εἶπεν: lit. having added/furthered, Job said… Or “Again, he spoke his discourse.” LSJ lists this meaning for προστίθημι only for LXX and NT. A simple example from the NT comes from Luke 19:11: Ἀκουόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ταῦτα προσθεὶς εἶπεν παραβολὴν, “Now after hearing these things, he again spoke a parable…”

Since there is some debate over whence this NT construction comes (Hebrew or Aramaic Vorlage or LXX influence), it is interesting to compare it to Aquila’s revision of Job 27:1: καὶ προσέθηκεν Ἰὼβ ἆραι τὴν παραβολὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ εἶπε (lit. And he added Job to take up his parable and he said). Predictably, Aquila renders every word of his Hebrew source into Greek, even preserving the exact Hebrew word order. He has translated the Hebrew verb ultra literally, which preserves the Hebrew parataxis, whereas the OG translator created a hypotactic construction. Nowhere do the NT authors use the construction of Aquila to my knowledge, but they do use the construction of the LXX with some frequency.

This observation and the phenomenon of Septuagintalisms in general (see the list in Marcos on pages 333-35) indicate probably that the NT authors were influenced by the LXX and perhaps in some cases the early revisers, but might it also indicate that they did not have much recourse, if any, to a Hebrew parent text and that they were not very influenced by its linguistic makeup? If they had recourse to the Hebrew parent text of the Greek OT, would we expect more literal renderings such as we find in Aquila or Theodotion, who clearly had such an access? Of course there are more angles to this discussion, which I have left out (e.g. revision of the OG by the time of the NT, what was the exact form of the Greek OT during the first century AD? etc.). All I’m asking at this time is, do the presence of Septuagintalisms add to the growing consensus that the NT authors were more, if not exclusively, influenced by the LXX than the Hebrew text and therefore they may not have made ad hoc renderings from this text?

[Caveat: Text form does not indicate a different canon thus the NT authors’ dependence on the LXX does not mean that they were thinking in terms of the so called “wider canon” of the LXX. That such a conception existed at all is dubious according to a thorough examination of all of the evidence.]

Canonical Consciousness in the Prologue to Sirach


I mentioned the Prologue to Sirach in some of my comments in my last post on the canon in II Macc and I want to elaborate on this evidence regarding the tripartite structure and the closure of the OT canon. This post will first discuss the date of the Prologue, second the relevant texts in the Prologue, and third whether the Prologue gives indication of a closed canon. Continue reading “Canonical Consciousness in the Prologue to Sirach”

Canonical Consciousness in II Maccabees


The date of the closing of the OT canon has been and will continue to be an important topic of debate for biblical scholars, and the value of texts from the second temple period will continue to be discussed specifically with regard to the contents and shape of the canon during this time period.  In this post I want to list some of the references to the canon of the OT found in II Maccabees and provide come commentary on them. I cross-checked the terms used in Roger Beckwith’s chapter on the Titles of the Canon with the terms used in 2 Macc. The search yielded the following relevant terms: νομος, προφητης, βιβλος, βιβλιον, and Μωυσης. In this post my appreciation for Beckwith’s work, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, is evident. Continue reading “Canonical Consciousness in II Maccabees”