When Did the Gospels Become Scripture?

By Smith, D. Moody | Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

When Did the Gospels Become Scripture?


Smith, D. Moody, Journal of Biblical Literature


Bell & Howell Information and Learning Foreign text omitted ...

In teaching NT Introduction, I am fond of saying that the authors of NT books would have had no inkling that their writings would become part of something called the New Testament or the Christian Bible, which did not reach exactly its present form until the fourth century. Matthew did not know that his Gospel would begin the NT, although he would be happy to discover that it does. It is well suited for that position and purpose. John did not know that his Gospel would stand in the NT alongside three other, Synoptic Gospels, and that it would be the fourth, presumably to be read after the others. Some exegetes believe that John was actually written with the others in view, but that premise creates as many problems of interpretation as it resolves.l However that may be, the presumption of a historical distance, and consequent difference of purpose, between the composition of the NT writings and their incorporation into a canon of scripture is representative of our discipline.

The question When did the Gospels become scripture? is certainly not a new one. Understandably, it is ordinarily construed as a question about the formation of the canon, in this case particularly the four-Gospel canon. The latter question is important, interesting, and the subject of recent, relevant discussions. For example, in his 1996 S.N.T.S. presidential address Graham Stanton argued that the four-Gospel canon was formed sooner rather than later in the second century.2 More radically, David Trobisch has proposed that the entire NT as we know it was actually assembled, redacted, and published in the latter half of the second century.3 John Barton has argued that by that time the principal elements of the NT were already functioning as scripture, if not referred to as such.4 Needless to say, any discussion of canon or scripture stands on the shoulders of such contemporary figures as James Barr, Brevard S. Childs, and James A. Sanders, not to mention Bruce M. Metzger.s Their contributions and such proposals as I have just mentioned are significant as well as fascinating to me, but I want to pursue a somewhat different tack.

For the purposes of our discussion I accept the distinction between canon and scripture (as set out, for example, by William A. Graham and now widely accepted).6 Obviously "canon" presumes "scripture," that is, the recognition of certain writings as possessing peculiar status or importance. "Scripture" means "texts that are revered as especially sacred and authoritative."7 "Canon" refers to the delimitation of such texts. Significantly, "canon" (...) is not used of sacred writings in the NT, but "scripture" (...) of course is. In most, but not all, cases, "scripture" clearly refers to what Christians call the Old Testament. The existence of scripture as well as canon implies the existence of a religious community that accords status and authority to certain texts. It goes without saying that the community in question believes that such status and authority actually belong to, adhere in, the text because of its subject matter, God in relation to human beings.

The authors of the NT books refer to scripture, but we have assumeddo not think of themselves as writing scripture. We are accustomed to thinking of the Gospels as well as the Epistles as occasional documents generated in specific times and places to address issues of such times and places.a Of course, one generally acknowledges that the letters of the apostle Paul were the means of his apostolic presence among his churches, in which they would have been read aloud (1 Thess 5:27; Col 4:16; cf. 2 Cor 10:9-10). 2 Peter 3:15-16 suggests that they were regarded as scripture before there was a NT. The same may also be true of the Gospels, although that is more difficult to document. From Justin Martyr (First Apology 67) we learn that at least by mid-second century "the memoirs of the apostles" (i. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

When Did the Gospels Become Scripture?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.