Monday, May 18, 2009

Chuck Hill in JETS

Charles E. Hill, “The New Testament Canon: Deconstructio ad Absurdum?” JETS 52 (2009), 101-119.

In this excellent and interesting article Hill interacts with recent discussions of the NT Canon (especially those of Dungan and McDonald) which emphasise the idea that the fixing of the canon in the fourth century was rather discontinuous with earlier attitudes and represents a new idea: the fixed and closed canon collection. He also notes the impact of these ideas on popular culture. He writes:
"We are left in any case with the present NT as a collection of writings which,
while still serving as religious authorities to many, are increasingly seen as
indistinguishable from a larger class of similar texts, a set of writings not
originally written to be Scripture, but selected to be such for us by people of
a remote time and culture, who used principles of selection now considered
indefensible and obsolete." (p. 104)
Hill begins responding with a section entitled "The Scriptural Self-Attestation" - arguing along lines marked out by G. Vos that since in the OT God's redemptive action goes hand in hand with revelatory word, and since the OT looks forward with expectation to a new redemption act, it follows that "when the long-awaited redemptive action of God came, through a heralded messianic figure, that a new installment of word revelation should result" (p. 106). In addition the OT looks forward to new authoritative words (Deut 18.15-19; cf. Acts 3.22f); Jesus predicted gospel preaching as fulfilling the prophecies that God's word would go to the world (Luke 24.44-47; cf. Is 2.2f; 49.6; 52.7; 61.1f); and Jesus chose, equipped and commissioned the apostle-witnesses who wrote "in the performance of their commissioned apostolic ministries" (p. 112) as the deliberate construction of an authoritative written legacy. The idea of NT scriptures is basically the inevitable consequence of the appearance of the Messiah. And the NT documents - all the books that survive - are "the artifacts of that original commission delivered by Jesus to his apostle-witnesses" (p. 113 and early post-apostolic writings like 1 Clement; Ep Barn; Hermas, Ignatius and Polycarp: "expressly distinguish themselves from this unique apostolic authority", p. 113).

Hill then turns to discuss "Recognition of the New Covenant Scriptures" which basically consists of brief citations and discussion of early witnesses not to individual writings, but to the concept of "a closed corpus of Scriptures" (p .113):
  1. Muratorian Canon
  2. Tertullian, de pudicitia 10
  3. Clement of Alexandria's lost work on "the Covenantal Scriptures" (acc. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. VI.14.1-2)
  4. Anonymous anti-Montanist cited in Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. V.16.3)
  5. Irenaeus of Lyons on the complete collection of the Scriptures (Adv. Haer. IV.33.8)
  6. Melito of Sardis catalogued the OT scriptures (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. IV.36.13) so may have had a similar conception of the NT.

Hill observes that the early church spoke of receiving and recognising certain books, not of selecting or choosing them.

PMH: This is well worth reading. It is noteworthy that Hill does not try to construct a more conservative argument from the history of reception without first sketching Scriptural reasons for a NT canon and the importance of the apostles. There is clearly more work to be done on the NT side of this in terms of the relationship between the apostle-witnesses and the actual authors (e.g. Luke 1.1-4 looks like a non-apostolic attempt to preserve the original apostolic witness - this model could apply to other NT books). One or two of his arguments could be questioned (e.g. the appeal to Melito is obviously an argument from silence determined by a pre-existing view of things); the process of tracing the actual history of the reception of the different documents is still necessary. It would be interesting to hear from Hill a list of areas that he thinks we should focus on in the next decade or so.


  1. Is this online? Where can one find this article?

  2. I have seen it with ink printed on paper and bound together into a codex form.