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The Canonization of the New Testament

It Started in the 60s A.D. with the Jewish/Roman War

CANONIZATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

From the 1984 book "The Original Bible Restored" by the late
Ernest L. Martin


THE JEWISH/ROMAN WAR AND 
CANONIZATION

Chapter 11


......At Pentecost in A.D.66, however, the sign of God's
abandonment of the Temple at Jerusalem was given to the 24 chief
priests who ministered in the inner sanctuary: "We are leaving
from here." This was a signal to Peter (and to the remaining
Christians in Jerusalem) to flee the city. And they did! Most
retired to Pella about 60 miles northeast of Jerusalem, from
where they probably were quickly transported by their Greek
neighbors into safer areas. In some regions east of the Jordan
the Gentiles "escorted to the frontiers any who chose to
emigrate" of those Jews "who showed no revolutionary designs"
(War, L480).
     The apostle Peter may have been with these last remnants of
Christians to leave Judaea. But he did not remain in Pella, or
any area of the Middle East. He had an important mission to
perform before he died. The apostle Paul was at that time in
prison at Rome. And since it was then apparent that Christ was
not returning in that generation (in the life time of Paul and
Peter is more like it - Keith Hunt) it became imperative to bring
together a set of standard books (like those of the Old
Testament) which would have the authority of the apostles behind
them. The maintenance of purity within Christian doctrine
required a diligent effort of the leading apostles to provide a
canon of New Testament Scriptures which would last "until the day
dawn" (2 Pet.1:19). Thus, it appears that Peter in the summer of
A.D.66 journeyed, via Ephesus, to Rome to see the apostle Paul
about this very matter! Indeed, there would have been no other
reason for Peter to have gone to the capital city of the Empire,
other than to consult with Paul before his death concerning the
canonization of the New Testament - the most important endeavor
that the apostles could leave for future generations.
     There can really be no doubt that Peter finally went to Rome
and that he and Paul conversed together shortly before their
deaths. About A.D.170 Dionysius, who was the minister in charge
of the Corinthian church, mentioned that both apostles "taught
together in Italy and were martyred about the same time"
(Eusebius, Eccl.Hist 11.25.8). Irenaeus also said that the church
of Rome was established and founded "by the two most glorious
apostles Peter and Paul" (Against Heresies,111,3.1-3). Then there
was Gains, a Roman elder who lived near the end of the second
century. He said that it was possible to point to the very tombs
of the apostles Peter and Paul in the vicinity of Rome. These
were the tombs "of those who founded this church [the church at
Rome]" (Eusebius, ibid. IV.22.3). Really, there is hardly a
scholar today who would not say that the historical evidence for
both Peter and Paul to have been in Rome in the last years of
Nero's reign is very strong indeed. True enough, when Paul wrote
his last epistle to Timothy, Peter was not yet in Rome (nor is
there any solid evidence that he had ever been there before), but
there is every reason to believe that Peter finally went to Rome
just before Paul's execution, and that he met the same sentence a
short time later. The fact that Peter went to Rome is important
because he must have gone there FOR A PURPOSE. What was the
reason that he went so far away from his Palestinian home to go
to Italy?
     The historical evidence suggests that Peter went to Rome in
A.D.66. Since there was no longer any need for him (or other
Christiana) to remain in Jerusalem after the final Pentecost sign
in A.D.66, the summer of that year would have been the most
logical time for his trip. Jerusalem and Judaea were thus
deserted by the Christians in the early summer of A.D.66. Then by
late summer, Peter found himself in Rome in conference with the
apostle Paul. They had only one reason to be together, and both
of them were intent on performing the responsibility that lay
before them.
     After being in Rome a few weeks before the martyrdom of Paul
(and recognizing that his own execution was near), Peter wrote
his second epistle to those in Asia Minor - the former area
assigned to Paul and where the apostle John was then in
residence! It was in that epistle that he spoke about the
canonization of the New Testament, but he also prophesied of the
coming war between the Jews and the Romans! The whole of Peter's
second chapter describes an apostasy from the truth, and it was
to be a widespread lapse of former Christians into a rebellion
against God and against all constituted authorities no matter who
they were. He even warned that the revolt would eventually occur
among the readers of his second epistle and it would result in
the many (not the few) turning away from the true teachings of
Christ into a state of utter depravity and rebellion to God and
their abandonment of human authority.
     It should be noted, however, that Peter's prophecy of what
was to happen, had not yet occurred when he wrote his second
epistle. He told his readers that he was giving them "advanced
knowledge" of the sedition so that those who were true to Christ
would be on guard against the coming errors (2 Pet.3:17). By
early Autumn of A.D.66 the major problems had not yet surfaced,
but they would! Peter said there "will be false teachers" (2
Pet.2:1); who "will bring in destructive sects" (v.1); and that
many (not the few, but the many) "will follow their acts of loose
conduct" (v.3); and that "they will make their way into your
midst" (v.3); and that people "will be corrupted" (v.12). Note
that all of Peter's references were for the future!.
     Though Peter was aware that such depravity was forthcoming,
it was not yet a fullgrown reality when he wrote his second
epistle in the Autumn of A.D.66. But the case was different when
Jude, the brother of James (and also of Jesus), wrote his letter
to those who had received Peter's second epistle. If one will
read Jude's short letter carefully, it reveals that he was
starting to write to his readers about the common salvation which
all people had in Christ, when all of a sudden a disaster had
begun to happen which caused him to postpone that particular
instruction. Something just erupted which rendered it urgent to
communicate with them about the immediate situation. What had
happened? The answer is simple. Jude followed closely what Peter
had predicted. Here was Peter saying what will occur, but Jude
was now saying it is presently erupting.! It was nothing less
than the outbreak of the Jewish war against the Romans. He was
making a hurried appeal that his readers not be caught up in the
error!

"Beloved one, though I was making every effort to write you about
our common salvation, I found it of urgent necessity to write you
encouraging you to put up a hard fight for the faith which was
once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

     While Peter was fully aware that such a condition of
insurrection and debauchery would develop among many of the
Christians to whom he wrote, Jude put the actions into the
present tense. Note how he said they had now begun to occur.
People were now "denying Jesus Christ" (v.4); they "are defiling
the flesh," they "are disregarding high offices," and they "are
blaspheming the ones of glory" (v.8); they "are blaspheming
things that they know not" (v.10); they "are unreasoning animals"
(v.10) and "are corrupting themselves" (v.10). They are also the
ones who "are in your love feasts" and are shepherds who "are
feeding themselves without fear" (v.12). They "are murmerers,
complainers about their lot in life" and they "are admiring
people for their own gain" (v.16).
     How could such evil be connected with God-fearing
Christians? It almost seems like a contradiction. Why were so
many of Peter's and Jude's readers involved? How could these
filthy dreamers, corrupters of human rights, despisers of people
in authority, and denying Christ and even counteracting the
heavenly powers themselves find a lodging within the Christian
community? And worse yet these reprobates were even participating
with Christians in their love feasts (2 Pet.2:13; Jude 12). This
rank and file rebellion seems so counter to the first principles
of belonging to the Christian faith that hardly anyone imagines
that such a thing could happen in a regular Christian
environment. And this is true. In no way could such a widespread
upheaval of insubordination take place in a Christian church
today, and especially for the church members to allow such
reprobates to continue feasting with them in their religious
ceremonies!
     What in the world was happening? Why did the revolt occur so
suddenly (yet it was prophesied by Peter that it would develop)?
The answer is clear if Bible students today will only realize
what Peter and Jude were talking about. It was nothing less than
the revolt against the Romans in Palestine, and the potential for
insurrection was beginning to spread, at first, even among the
Jews in other provinces! It was Peter and Jude warning the true
Christians not to take part in the national revolt against the
Roman Empire. But Peter prophesied that such warning would fall
on deaf ears as far as the majority were concerned! Peter said
that it would be the many (not the few) who would relinquish
their faith in Christ and begin to participate in the war against
Rome (2 Pet.2:1). And Jude was now saying that the defiance had
started!

     The very things that Jude said were beginning to occur were
what Josephus said that many of the Jews in Palestine adopted in
their rebellion to Rome (War, IV.238-365). The reason the
revolutionaries had denied Christ (as Peter said they would) is
because they were saying that Christ was not coming back to
earth.

"Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell
asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of
creation" (2 Pet.3:4).

     When it is realized that Peter was foretelling the revolt
against Rome and that many (again, it should be noted, NOT THE
FEW, but the many) would abandon their faith in Christ and
participate in the war effort against Rome, the description of
Peter makes sense. This is the only reasonable explanation which
can account for true Christians having to put up with reprobates
sharing a part in their festivals without being excommunicated
from their midst! Such feasts were the national festivals
ordained by Moses which all Jews everywhere participated in.
There would have been no way for a few Jewish Christians to
prevent a great number of people within any predominantely Jewish
community from observing the national feasts.
     No one can rationally explain how true Christians could let
rebels of the nature mentioned by Peter engage in a celebration
of their festivals unless they were the national feasts of Moses
that were being discussed. All Jews shared in such festivities,
and these would have been celebrated by all even in times of
civil or national wars. Observe that in the American Civil War it
was common for soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy to
keep the same Christmas and the same Easter. And even if some of
the soldiers had no personal religious convictions of their own,
it would still have been common for all of them to share in any
Christmas dinners (if they were able to have them). In times of
war it is even normal for the participants to forget temporarily
their sectarian differences and to join hands to overcome the
common enemy. The Jewish people who fought the Romans (though
they were in various political camps) shared one Temple, singular
religious festivities, and were (so they thought) defending the
common traditions of them all! It is interesting that Josephus
said that throughout most of the war, and even among the
different political divisions, the various groups in Jerusalem
allowed worshippers of all camps to have free passage into the
Temple to offer their religious devotions to God
(War.V.15,98,99).

     Certainly, the whole nation kept the feasts ordained by
Moses in Jerusalem and throughout all Judaism. Jewish Christians
observed these days as well, and Peter along with Jude told true
Christians to beware of those denying Christ who were
participating in the ceremonies of the holydays and yet
advocating war against the Romans. The cry of the revolutionaries
was "come over to the cause of liberty" (War,IV.282); fight for
the "defense of liberty" (IV.273); become "the champions of
liberty" (IV.272). This is exactly what Peter said the rebels
described in his epistle would tell the people. They were also
"promising them liberty" (2 Pet.2:19).
     While the quest for liberty may have seemed a noble gesture
in itself, the men who were saying such things were anything but
noble. The very things that Peter said would take place, and that
Jude said were then occurring, were what Josephus said happened
in Jerusalem once the war got under full sway! Jude said that the
rebels "are setting at nought dominions, and rail at dignitaries"
(Jude 8). Josephus records: "Every law of man was trampled
underfoot, every requirement of religion was ridiculed by those
who scoffed at the oracles of the prophets as rogue's stories"
(War,IV.386). They thought nothing of the sanctity of the Temple
or the priests who conducted the services therein. They "railed
dignitaries." Josephus: "These men converted the Temple of God
into their stronghold and refuge from popular upheavals, and made
the Holy Place the center for their tyranny. To these horrors was
added a vein of ironic pretense more galling than the actions
themselves. For, to test the complete subservience of the people,
and to show their own power, they dared to appoint high priests
by lot.... to them this sacrilege was a subject for jests and
ribald mirth, but the other priests watching this mockery of
their law from a distance burst into tears and bemoaned the
degradation of their ceremonies" (War, IV.151-153,157). "These
dregs and the scum of the whole country have squandered their own
property and perpetrated their lunacy first upon the towns and
villages around, and finally have poured in a stealthy stream
into the holy city, these scoundrels are so utterly impious that
they have desecrated even holy ground. They can be seen,
shamelessly getting drunk in the Temple and spending what they
have stolen from their victims to satisfy their insatiable
appetite" (War, IV.241-242).

     Jude said they "are murmers, complainers, walking after
their own lusts and their mouths speaking great swelling words"
(Jude 16). Josephua echoed the same things as occurring in
Jerusalem during the war. "Here are native born Jews, brought up
according to our customs and called Jews, strut where they like
over the inner sanctuary itself, with hands still reeking with
the blood of their countrymen" (War,IV.183). "Setting aside the
families from which the high priests had always been drawn, they
appointed to that office base persons of no family, in order to
gain partners in crime" (War,IV.148).
     Peter was well aware that many Jewish Christiana would be
tempted to join these "fighters for liberty." There were tens of
thousands of believing Jews in Judaea in A.D.56 (Acts 21:20) and
many of these did not migrate out of Palestine with the others
from A.D.62 to A.D.64. And only very few went to Pella after the
Pentecost sign of AD.66. The majority gave up the type of
Christianity that the apostles were teaching and stayed behind in
Palestine to war with the Romans. There were also many
Palestinian Jews who were among the Jews (and Christians) of the
Dispersion. It was these people that Peter and Jude were writing
about. They were warning the Jewish Christians in Asia Minor, and
elsewhere, not to follow in the rebellious ways of most of the
nation because they were going to come to a "swift destruction"
(2 Pet.2:1) and a "judgment of desolation" (v.3). He said their
cities would be turned into ashes just like the ruin of Sodom and
Gomorrah (2 Pet.2:6). And this is exactly what happened! Their
going to war in defense of what they considered their traditional
religion didn't save them! Not only did they lose their capital
city of Jerusalem and their holy Temple, but even their national
existence came to an end.

     When it is realized that Peter and Jude were describing the
ravages of the Jewish/Roman War of A.D.66 to A.D.70, we can then
date those epistles pretty closely. Since Peter was giving
"advance knowledge" of what would happen to the Jews, we can date
his epistle to about Autumn A.D.66, and since Jude said the
conflict Peter talked about had now begun, then sometime after
the period of Tabernacles (when the Roman General Cestius
retreated from besieging Jerusalem which caused the war effort to
begin in earnest) must be the time Jude wrote. Both epistles were
mainly designed to warn true Christians not to take part in a war
with Rome because it would lead to utter destruction. And, it
did! ....... The signs that preceded the war and the start of the
rebellion itself had a profound effect upon Peter, John, Jude and
the other Jewish apostles. They came to believe that God had
deserted the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. And the Jews who
put up a physical defense to maintain their traditional system of
religion, brought nothing but utter disaster to those in
Palestine. All the apostles were finally able to understand that
the teaching which Christ had granted to the apostle Paul was
indeed the correct one and that no longer was the outward
physical worship of the Temple the Christian way to
righteousness.

     In the next chapter we will see that the destruction of a
physical government centered at Jerusalem required that a
canonical edition of Christian doctrine be developed (like the
Old Testament Scriptures) in order that Christians would have a
proper standard for reference which would last them "until day
dawn" - until the time that Christ would actually return from
heaven. To that task Peter, Paul and John placed their efforts
and it resulted in a set of 27 books being bound together to form
what we call today The New Testament.

     It is most important to realize that the New Testament
itself records information about the formation of this holy
Scripture for the Christian church. Hardly anyone today pays
attention to what the apostles said about this canonization, but
we feel it is time to put the matter into proper perspective. It
was the apostles themselves who put together the New Testament
books - not some unknown church effort of the second and/or third
centuries! The next chapter will explain.

                            ..................

Entered on this Website April 2008


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