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New Testament

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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NEW TESTAMENT.—The expression ‘New Testament’ (καινὴ διαθήκη) has a double meaning. (1) The New Covenant itself (Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6 etc.). See artt. Covenant and Testament. No other meaning is possible in the Bible. (2) The books that contain the New Covenant. The latter is the subject of this article.

1. The genesis of a NT literature.—This is to be assigned, humanly speaking, to the slowly developing needs of the Christian society. The Apostles were commissioned not to write but to preach. The OT, interpreted in the light of its fulfilment in Christ, contained both for them and for their earliest converts the whole deposit of Divine truth (2 Timothy 3:15 etc.). (a) Epistles, as a class, were needed first, in order to settle questions that soon arose on the conversion of Gentiles (Acts 15). Many of the Epistles plainly show their ‘occasional’ origin (1 Corinthians 7:1, 2 Corinthians 9:1, Galatians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:1 f. etc.). Formal communications were evidently no new thing in Jewish communities (Acts 9:2; Acts 28:21). (b) Narratives of Christ’s words and works, such as the Gospels, were not at once so necessary. Men were looking for Christ’s speedy return (2 Thessalonians 2:2), and eye-witnesses of His ministry were at first plentiful (Acts 1:22, 1 Corinthians 15:6). The demand for written and authentic narratives was forcibly realized only when Apostles and eye-witnesses began to pass away (2 Peter 1:15 ff., 2 Timothy 4:6 ff.), and irresponsible persons took in hand to supply the want (Luke 1:1 f.). Yet even in the next generation there lingered a preference for traditional reminiscences, cf. Papias (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 140) ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39. On the shortest reckoning no Gospel was committed to writing in its present shape within twenty-five years after Christ’s Ascension.

2. The canonical reception of NT writings.—This may be said to have passed through three stages, not wholly separable in point of time.

(1) The first stage is that of collective recognition (extending roughly to a.d. 170). Christian writers of this period exhibit—(a) Coincidences of language with NT expressions: e.g. Clem. Rom. [Note: Roman.] (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 95); Ign. (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 110); Polyc. (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 116); Barn. (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 70–130); Didache (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 90–165); Herm. (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 140–155); Heges. [ap. Eus.] (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 155).—(b) Anonymous references—which seem to have been the set rule for all writers of ‘Apologies,’ whatever their custom in other works: e.g. Just. M (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 150); ad Diogn. (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 170?); also 2 Ep. Clem. (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 140).—(c) Direct references: e.g. Clem., ad Cor. xlvii., alludes to 1 Co.; Polyc., ad Ph. iii., to Philippians; Papias (before a.d. 150), ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39, mentions a record of Christ’s words and deeds by Mark, and ‘logia’ (originally in Hebrew) by Matthew; Just. M., Dial, ciii., speaks of ‘Memoirs by Apostles and those that followed them,’ and refers to the Apocalypse (Dial. lxxxi.) by name.—(d) Dogmatic recensions: Tatian, Diatessaron (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 150), harmonized the four Gospels; Marcion (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 140) mutilated Luke and (acknowledging ten Pauline Epistles) rejected the three Pastoral Epistles.—(c) Catalogues: e.g. the Muratorian fragment (composed c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 160), which, according to Westcott, gives ‘a summary of the opinion of the Western Church on the Canon shortly after the middle of the 2nd century.’

(2) The second stage is that of unique authority.—(a) A succession of contrasts is drawn by Christian writers. (α) Apostles and themselves: cf. all the Apostolic Fathers—Clem. Rom. [Note: Roman.] viii, xlvii.; Polyc. ad Ph. iii; Ign. ad Rom. [Note: Roman.] iv. (‘not as Peter and Paul’); Barn, i, iv (‘not as a teacher’). (β) Apostolic records and traditions: Justin M., ap. i. 33, says the Memoirs of the Apostles relate ‘all things concerning Jesus Christ.’ ‘These words (Westcott observes) mark the presence of a new age.… Tradition was definitely cast aside as a new source of information.’ (γ) Canonical (ἐνδιάθηκοι) and un-canonical (ἀπόκρυφοι) books: generally, e.g. Dionysius of Corinth (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 176), ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica iv. 23, says, ‘the Scriptures of the Lord … and those that are not of the same character’; and in detail, e.g. Clem. Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 165–200) ib. vi. 14; Origen (a.d. 286–353), ib. vi. 25; Dionys. Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 248) ib. vii. 25—representing the opinion of Alexandria; Tertullian (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 160–240), de Pudic. 20, that of Latin Africa; Caius (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 213), ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica vi. 20, that of Rome; Irenaeus (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 135–200), ib. v. 8, cf. Iren. Haer. iii. 7, that of Asia Minor and Gaul; Serapion (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 190), ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica vi. 12, that of Syria. These exhibit substantial agreement, together with variety in detail. From Tertullian’s time the general estimate was much as it is to-day.

(b) Illustrations of this developing consciousness are seen in two matters arising from constant use of the books. (i.) The descriptive titles. Barnabas, Ep. iv., is the first to use the formula ‘as it is written’ in quoting words taken from the N.T. [ = Matthew 22:14]. In Justin M., ap. i. 66, the term ‘Gospels’ is first applied to books. Melito of Sardis (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 170), ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica iv. 26, refers to ‘the books of the Old Testament,’ implying undoubtedly by contrast ‘the books of the New.’ The latter description is expressly used by Irenaeus, Haer. ii. 58, and the two Testaments are from that time on a level. Chrysostom is said to have been the first to adopt the expression ‘Bible’ (τὰ βιβλία) for the two Testaments as one whole. (ii.) Public reading. For some considerable time (varying much in different places) profitableness seems to have been the only absolute test required. Dionys. of Corinth (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 170–175), ap. Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica iv. 23, refers to the public reading of a letter from Soter, as well as to the better known instance of the Ep. of Clem. of Rome. Eusebius (ib. iii. 3) relates that Hermas had formerly been read in public on account of its usefulness for ‘elementary instruction.’ Apostolic nature (i.e. practically ‘inspiration’) was subsequently the regular test: cf. Eus. l.c. and Cyril of Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 340), Catech. iv. 33–36. Hence δημοσιεύεσθαι under the former conditions refers merely to the fact of public reading; under the latter it is a declaration of canonical authority.

(3) The third stage is that of formal definition.—Diocletian’s persecution (a.d. 303–311), directed against the Christian Scriptures, proves that their unique position and influence was a matter known to the heathen throughout the Roman Empire. It also made the identification of those Scriptures, as distinct from other Christian books, a vital matter (cf. the history of the Donatist schism on the question of ‘traditores’). Ensebius, writing a.d. 313–325, sums up the general consent of that time (Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 3, 24, 25), in three classes of books—‘acknowledged,’ i.e. of undisputed authenticity and Apostolic power; ‘disputed,’ i.e. defective in either of those qualities; and ‘heretical.’ The Emperor Constantine (a.d. 331) caused to be prepared, under the direction of Eusebius, fifty copies of the Divine Scriptures for use in the churches of Constantinople (cf. Eus. Vit. Const, iv. 36). These must have become a standard in the Greek Church. It may be added that the evidence of ancient versions, old Latin, Syriac, and Egyptian, is of great importance; but it is of too complicated a nature to be briefly discussed. Succeeding Councils dealt with the Canon, esp. that of Laodicea (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 363) and the third of Carthage (a.d. 397). The catalogue of canonical books which bears the name of the former is held to be spurious: to the catalogue of Carthage Christendom adheres to-day.

Literature.—The NT (as a whole or its separate portions) forms the subject of well-known ‘Introductions,’ Commentaries, etc. For special information see Sanday, Inspiration; Wright, Synopsis (oral theory); Westcott, Canon of NT and Bible in the Church; Moffatt, The Historical NT. A work on the ‘Canon and Text of the NT’ (Gregory) is to form part of the International Theol. Library series.

F. S. Ranken.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'New Testament'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​n/new-testament.html. 1906-1918.
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