Friday, April 08, 2016

Who really wrote the books in the Bible?

It’s almost a joke that among Bible scholars, whatever name is on a book of the Bible is not the person they think actually wrote it. They rightly remind us that many ancient documents were put out (even knowingly) under a more famous name by that person’s students or admirers. However, there is a tendency in academia that feeds a need to make novel claims to get published and make one’s mark. I rarely find such arguments persuasive, more often defaulting to the traditional view about things like authorship.

One thing that came up in this week’s Bible Study was the early church’s view of authorship. When it came to the question of admirers publishing letters under the name of an apostle, the church fathers did not look as kindly as scholars. In fact, many documents were rejected from inclusion in the canon not so much because they contained strange or false teaching, but simply because everyone knew that it was not really written by an apostle.

In 2 Thessalonians (2:2; 3:17), the Apostle Paul warned them not to be fooled by forgeries in circulation claiming to be written by him. We know that there were letters supposedly from Paul to the Laodiceans and to the Alexandrines. How did the church fathers react to these? A document of the early church called the Muratorian Fragment rejected these two letters as “forgeries,” insisting that such epistles “cannot be received into the catholic church, since it is not fitting that poison be mixed with honey.”

The prime indicator of authentic revelation was apostolic authority. The source of the writing was the most important factor in determining a book’s inclusion in the canon of the Bible. Of course, we must remember that by including a book in the canon of the Bible and calling it “Holy Scripture,” the church was saying that the ultimate author is God, who inspired the human author through the inner light and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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