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Canonization of the New Testament #5

The New Testament Pentateuch


by the late Ernest Martin (1984)

The New Testament Pentateuch

     There are five books in the New Testament which represent
the basic teachings of Christ within a historical framework. They
are called (to identify them in a literary sense) the four
Gospels and the Book of Acts. The first four books account for
the period when Christ taught in the flesh (both before and after
His resurrection) and the fifth occupies the period from the
conclusion of His earthly teaching (Acts 1:4-11) and continues
with the progression of that teaching (now directed from heaven)
until it reached the city of Rome!
     There is a unity of purpose and design within these five
historical books! Indeed, the Book of Acts is as much a "Gospel"
as the first four, though it is common to designate only Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John by the literary term "Gospels." This is
because the fifth book is simply a continuation of Luke's Gospel.
It would be perfectly proper to designate Luke's first
composition "The First Gospel of Luke," and the Book of Acts "The
Second Gospel of Luke." The internal evidence shows that both are
truly "Gospels" in the strict sense of the word. This means there
are really five Gospels in the New Testament, not four!
     This fact has been recognized by scholars. While Luke's
first Gospel deals with the teachings of Christ while he was in
the flesh, the second is the Gospel of the Holy Spirit directed
by Christ from heaven. Note the appraisal of Ehrhardt. "The whole
purpose of the Book of Acts ... is no less than to be the Gospel
of the Holy Spirit" (The Construction and Purpose of the Acts of
the Apostles, StTh, XII, 1958, p.55). Professor Guthrie also
agrees with this conclusion. "Since Luke-Acts must be considered
as a whole, and since the first part possesses the character of a
Gospel, the second part must be viewed in the light of this fact"
(New Testament Introduction, p.350 ). Indeed, Luke himself links
the two books together in a literary and structural manner. He
said his first work was written to describe what Jesus began to
do and teach (Acts l:l) and that he was simply continuing the
narrative in his second work!
     Professor van Unnik also expressed the view that Acts was a
confirmation and continuation of the Gospel message of Luke for
those who had no personal acquaintance with Christ while he was
in the flesh (Nov. Test., IV. 1960, pp.26-59). In simple terms,
the Book of Acts must also be acknowledged as a "Gospel." This
means, again, there are five Gospels in the New Testament:
Matthew, Mark, First Luke, John, and Second Luke! It is important
that these five books be reckoned as a unit - which could be
called the Pentateuch of the New Testament!

     These books were placed in a first rank position within the
New Testament canon for a purpose. They were not intended to be
biographies of Christ's life. Their main emphasis was to show the
progression of the teaching of the Gospel from its beginning in
Galilee (Acts 10:37) to Jerusalem, then from Jerusalem (the
capital of the Jewish world) to Rome (the capital of the Gentile
world). All five books when reckoned together provide people with
the historical proof that the Gospel was indeed preached to "all
the world" as a fulfillment of Christ's commission to the
apostles (Rom.16:26; Col.l:23; I Tim.3:16; 2 Tim.4:17). With this
as one of the bases for their inclusion in the canon, it can be
seen that the 22 books following the "New Testament Pentateuch"
present the rest of the doctrinal teachings which make the
Christian message complete and universal. That message was
designed to reach out and embrace all nations of the world, not
just the Jews! Thus, this Christian Pentateuch was written and
placed in first position within the New Testament canon to
represent the Christian "Torah" (the central "Law") of the whole

Why a New Testament Pentateuch?

     The Jews of the first century acknowledged the profound
authority of the Law of Moses above all other writings. There was
nothing that could remotely compare with that Law in matters of
importance or prestige. That Law was found in the first five
books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers
and Deuteronomy. When it came time to canonize the New Testament,
it must have occurred to the apostles that the New Testament
"Law" would most naturally be composed of five books. There would
have been nothing odd about this because many parts of the Old
Testament were constructed around the symbolic number five. It
was the number of "Law." For example, the 150 psalms which made
up the Book of Psalms were arranged by the Old Testament
canonizers into five divisions, and they paralleled the five
books of the Law! (See Appendix I for proof.) Even the basic law
itself, the Ten Commandments, was reckoned in the Jewish manner
as being five laws relating to God (the first five, including the
fifth dealing with parents) and the remaining five having to do
with human affairs.
     The number five in relation to Law is found in another way.
It should be remembered that the Old Testament laws were
symbolically required to be inscribed on the hand and in the
forehead (Exo.19:9, 16). The "head" represented the intellect
(with its five senses) and the hand symbolized work (with its
five digits) which indicated the performance of the Law in an
active and physical way.

     The number "five" was also associated with Old Testament
canonization in another way. The Festival Scroll (known as the
Megilloth) was made up of five books (Song of Solomon, Ruth,
Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther) which were ordained to be
read at the five Jewish festivals (Passover, Pentecost, 10th of
Ab, Tabernacles, Purim). As a further significance to the number,
the middle book of the Megilloth (Lamentations) was also divided
into five distinct sections. Even in the New Testament itself,
scholars have found that the Gospel of Matthew has a fivefold
arrangement. "It has been suggested that Matthew's fivefold
scheme was patterned on the fivefold character of the books of
the Law, the idea being that the author was attempting to provide
a 'Pentateuch', as the new law for the community of the new
Israel, that is, the Christian Church" (Guthrie, New Testament
Introduction, p.31).

     Whatever the case, the fivefold symbolic characteristic
associated with matters of Old Testament Law is well known by
biblical scholars, and the apostles could not have been unaware
of its unique numerical significance. And with the "historical"
books of the New Testament (that is, the Gospels and the Book of
Acts) being five in number, and that they provide a logical and
consecutive narration on the progress of Christian teaching from
Nazareth, to Jerusalem, and then to Rome, the arrangement of
these books into a fivefold unit by the canonizers must be
reckoned as not a matter of chance. There was a deliberate design
intended by using this procedure.

(The number FIVE is more correct to understand GRACE. See the
studies on this Website under "The Numbers of God" - "grace" or
"forgiveness" is the "key stone" of the New Testament, we are
saved by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The books of Moses - five in number - can indeed refer to "law"
while the five books of the NT Pentateuch refer to "grace" -
hence the salvation plan of God is NOT law OR grace, it is law
AND grace - Keith Hunt)

Why the Gospel Arrangement?

     While the orthodox Christians recognized the first four
Gospels as canonical, there were some of the third and fourth
centuries who proposed a change in the manuscript order. Because
John and Matthew were original apostles of Christ (while Mark and
Luke were not), a minority were prone to place the Gospel of John
right after Matthew because of apostolic rank. This was, however,
only an academic suggestion which found no permanent approval.
There was no reason for such a change because it can be shown
that Mark and Luke were simply the secretaries for two apostles:
Peter and Paul. It was common in the first century for men of
authority to have amanuenses (official secretaries) to write
their letters or books for them. Paul used such people on many
occasions. His writing of the Book of Romans is an example. "I
Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord"
(Rom.16:22). Most, if not all, of Paul's epistles were actually
written by amanuenses whom he maintained on his staff of
transcribers. Since Luke was a companion of Paul, it is perfectly
proper to assume that Luke's Gospel and the Book of Acts were
actually the historical record which Paul called "my Gospel" in
Second Timothy 2:8.
     As for the Gospel of Mark, it has long been known that John
Mark was recognized as the secretary, or amanuensis, of the
apostle Peter. Indeed, in the Gospel of Mark the great humility
of Peter is conspicuous in all parts of it. Where anything is
related which might show Peter's weakness, we find it recorded in
detail whereas the other Gospels often show Peter's strengths. In
Mark there is scarcely an action by Christ in which Peter is not
mentioned as being a close observer or communicant. All of this
affords a reasonable deduction that the writer of the Gospel of
Mark was an eyewitness and close observer of the events recorded
about Christ's life from the baptism of John to his crucifixion
in Jerusalem. The ancient testimony of Papias, in the early
second century, that Mark was the secretary of the apostle Peter
(and not the actual eyewitness himself) has such good
credentials, and the internal evidence of the Gospel itself is so
compatible to this view, that it seems evident the Gospel of Mark
is really the Gospel of Peter!

The Order of the Four Gospels

     The first Gospel in the canonical order is that of Matthew.
Why should his Gospel come first in order? Though Matthew was
certainly of lesser rank ("FUNCTION" is the better way to view it
- Keith Hunt) within the Christian authority dispensed by Christ
than Peter and John, there is another side of the story. The
actual name of Matthew was Levi (Luke 5:27-29). This shows that
he was of Levitical descent, and in an Old Testament order of
priority this would have accorded him a first position among
ordinary Jews! Besides that, it can be easily seen that his
Gospel was oriented to Jewish people, not to the Gentile world.
His reference to the "kingdom of heaven" rather than the "kingdom
of God" is a sure sign of this. In the Jewish world of the first
century, it was illegal to utter the divine name of Yahweh in
public. Only the High Priest was able to say it on the Day of
Atonement (or in private when no one would hear the sound of the
august name). Matthew abides with this belief by adhering to the
custom. There is even traditional evidence that the Gospel was
first written in Hebrew (or Aramaic) which the Jews of Palestine
found more suitable to use in their holy writings. (It may be a
tradition of some sort, but the fact is NOT ONE single MSS or
portion of a MSS has been preserved - the Greek is the preserved
MSS God saw fit to hand down to us - Keith Hunt) Matthew was also
the ideal person to bridge the gap from the Old to the New
Testament because the preservation of the earlier revelation had
been committed to the priests (Deut.31:9) and Matthew was both a
Levite and an apostle!
     The Gospel of Matthew is a perfectly good account of the
life and works of Jesus which was designed to satisfy the queries
of those with strong Jewish persuasions! It may be that Matthew
(Levi) was the amanuensis of James, the brother of Christ, and
leader of all Jewish Christians when the Christian church was
established in Jerusalem. If this is the case, it was important
that Matthew was a Levite. To Jews this gave him a precedence in
rank over Peter (responsible for the Gospel of Mark) who was only
a Galilean Jew of ordinary stock.

(Hummmm, I don't think God was much concerned about "Jewish"
thoughts of "rank" or "Jewishness" per se when inspiring Matthew
to write his Gospel. The Lord did inspire much to be written
about "no rank of authority" in His NT church; see all my studies
on "Church Government" to prove that point - Keith Hunt)

     But there is one other point why Matthew's Gospel must be
accorded a position of first rank among the Gospels. The apostle
Paul made it abundantly clear that Christ's teachings were
designed to go to the Jewish people first (Rom.2:9,10). Paul,
when speaking to the Jews in Galatia, said: "It was necessary
that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you" (Acts
13:46). This principle is consistently followed by Paul and the
other apostles in their preaching of the Gospel to those
throughout the world. Paul was keenly aware of this need. This is
just another reason why the "Jewish" Gospel of Matthew had to
appear first in the divine library of the New Testament. And, of
course, that is exactly where we find it in the manuscripts.

(No, do not think so. No Hebrew MSS exists of Matthew, the Greek
MSS do, many of them. Greek was the common language of the Roman
Empire. Writing is NOT preaching in the person to people as such.
What a person does and who he first goes to, is one thing, but
the written word does not follow the same path. Yes, the Gospel
was first preached in person to the Jews, but the written
parchment can go to anyone at anytime and anywhere. Ernest Martin
here postulates on the Gospel of Matthew, and draws a conclution
that is based upon a different set of priorities - physical
persons going to talk to physical people - which the written word
does not follow - Keith Hunt)

     It should be easy to understand why the next Gospel should
be that of Peter (Mark) followed by that of Paul (Luke). Peter
was the apostle to the Jews (though with Gentile connections),
while Paul was the one to go primarily to the Gentiles.

(Again, purely speculative thinking by Martin. There is no proof
anywhere as to the thoughts he gives here - Keith Hunt)

     What then, about the Gospel of John? Why is it last, and
intervening between the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts which
were written by Luke (for Paul) and are clearly two books that
should normally be placed in parallel to each other? The fact is,
John was the last to write his Gospel. His work is more of a
summing-up of events that the others skimmed over or did not feel
important to relate. And even the fact that John's Gospel
separates Luke's Gospel from the Book of Acts is a sure sign that
his Gospel was written last. It also helps to show that the final
canonization of the New Testament was accomplished by the apostle
John. It will be later shown that John's Gospel and the Book of
Revelation (and perhaps his three epistles) were written and put
into final form at the close of the first century. This late date
could help explain why John's Gospel seems to be "wedged" between
Luke's Gospel (First Luke) and the Book of Acts (Second Luke).

(The best way to explain John's Gospel is to simply see that
John, writing at the end of the first century, was presenting
Jesus Christ is a completely different way than Matthew, Mark,
and Luke. It would be fitting and correct to have John's Gospel
after the other three writers of Christ's life, and certainly
before Acts, as that book is the Gospel of the Holy Spirit as it
led the Church of God on the path of evangelization after the
earthly ministry of Christ was completed - Keith Hunt)

     In summation, let us look once again at the New Testament
"Pentateuch." First priority of position is accorded to the
Gospel of Matthew who wrote primarily to the Jewish people. He
was a Levite whom the Jews would respect as one with Old
Testament authority to write the truth of God to Israel. Second
comes the Gospel of Mark, which is actually Peter's Gospel. It
has both a Jewish and Gentile emphasis. Recall that Peter started
out in his Christian experience by preaching only to Jews and
other circumcised peoples closely akin to the Jews, but it was he
whom Christ directed to go first to the Gentiles. At the end of
his life, Peter was finally in Rome (with the apostle Paul) and
the Gentile emphasis to the preaching of the Gospel was also
recognized. Thirdly comes the Gospel of Luke. It was by a Gentile
(the physician Luke) on behalf of the Gentile apostle, Paul. This
is the reason it is in third rank in the official positioning of
the Gospels. In fact, in the first canonization made by Peter and
Paul in Rome somewhere near the end of A.D.66, it may well be the
case that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were positioned
in tandem to one another. But this was not the end of the story.
The apostle Peter sent the canonical books which he and Paul had
arranged to the apostle John in Ephesus! That is when John wrote
his Gospel. Then John, at a later date, simply moved aside the
Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (which normally should be
placed directly next to each other) and wedged his Gospel between
them. Since it was the last official Gospel written, it was also
accorded last place.

(All of this is purely the speculation of Ernest Martin. It is
more likely that John, the last of the apostles, arranged the
order of the books at the end of the first century, after he
wrote his Gospel, and hence the order of the books had nothing to
do with Paul or Peter per se, as they had died about 3 decades
before John wrote his books and letters and Revelation - Keith

     There is another reason for this placement. John's Gospel is
thoroughly Gentile (or Samaritan) in its environment. Though the
Jews are often mentioned, the descriptions of them are always
unflattering. Whereas the Gospel of Matthew is so careful not to
offend Jewish sensitivities in matters of religion, (I think
Martin must have forgotten about Matthew 23 - if that would not
offend Jewish leaders I do not know what would - Keith Hunt) the
other Gospels progressively become less Jewish in their
orientation and the Gospel of John abandons any desire to please
a Jewish audience! 

(Again, thoughts of Martin here. There is MUCH in all gospels to
offend "Jewishness" of false religion. Jesus at times in ALL
Gospels, pulled no punches to denounce false traditions of
Jewishness religion - Keith Hunt)

     Nevertheless, it is plain to see that the principle "to the
Jew first" is adhered to in the arrangement of the first four
     It went from the thoroughly Jewish emphasis (Matthew) in a
progressive way to the thoroughly non-Jewish (John).

(No, do not think so. The Gospels were written for the WHOLE
world, Jew or Gentile. You take them as they come, and there is
much in all of them to CORRECT (even offend) people of all
nations and false religious practices and beliefs - Keith Hunt)

     With John's Gospel added to the other three Gospels, plus
Luke's Book of Acts, there became a fivefold canon of books which
amounted to a New Testament Pentateuch - just like Moses had
given his fivefold Pentateuch in the Old Testament! This allowed
22 Old Testament books to be flanked on one side of the New
Testament Pentateuch and 22 New Testament books to be flanked on
the other. This made a perfect balance of books on either side.
Thus, the fivefold books of the New Testament Pentateuch became
the center section - the divine fulcrum for all the books of the
Bible. Those five historical books present to mankind a divine
account of how the Gospel started from a town in Galilee called
Nazareth. How it finally went to Jerusalem. And from Jerusalem,
it reached out to the center of the Gentile world - to Rome

(Yes, I agree this is the overview of the Lord giving 5 books as
a form of NT Pentateuch, as the Lord had given 5 books to Moses
for the OT Pentateuch - Keith Hunt)

     From there, Peter and Paul sent the divine books which they
canonized back to the apostle John in Ephesus where he added his
own works. 

(Peter and Paul coming in here, is Ernest Martin's speculation as
he reasoned it. There is NO proof that it was so, as far as the
writings of the NT are concerned - Keith Hunt)

     John continued living some 30 years longer within the region
of Ephesus awaiting the prophesied vision about Christ's second
advent (the Book of Revelation) and finally writing his Gospel to
complete the canon. All of this occurred about A.D.96, and not
long afterward he died a martyr as predicted by Christ
(Matt.20:22,23). But before his death, John finalized the
writing, arranging and editing of the New Testament canon and
presented it to the Christian elders who lived in the area of
Ephesus. It was thus at Ephesus near the end of the first century
(not Jerusalem or Rome) where the canonization was completed.

(I would certainly agree that the canonization of the NT was
finished by the apostle John before he died. The inspiration and
leading of the Holy Spirit would certainly NOT leave it to human
men of the second, third, fourth, centuries .... the Roman
Catholic Church, to decide the canon of the New testament - Keith

     Since that time the world has had the 49 sacred books (7
times 7) which make up the Holy Bible. And the divine focal point
of that revelation is the New Testament Pentateuch!

     There is a most important principle which must constantly be
remembered relative to the canonization of the Christian
Pentateuch and the other New Testament books (and I do not
apologize for repeating it): The Gospel must always go first to
the Jews and lastly to the Gentiles. This factor of preeminence
is found in the positioning of the books of the Christian
Pentateuch and in all contexts of the New Testament! Everywhere
the apostles Peter and Paul preached, they went to the Jewish
people first (Acts 11:19; 13:14, 14:1; 17:1,10; 18:4; 19:8;
28:17). "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have
been spoken to you" (Acts 13:46). 

(That was ONLY for the very first years of the NT church. The
Gospel did need to go first to the Jews, and it did! After it was
introduced to the Gentiles, that first law of God (shall we say)
was no longer in effect. Once the Jews had had enough time to
have the Gospel preached to them, in the time frame God was
allowing, then that was the end of the matter. After that time
frame it was OPEN SEASON we shall say, to the WHOLE world.
Putting the Jews first was no longer required. It is only common
sense to put the books of the "Life of Christ" FIRST - He is the
focal point of the New Testament, nay the whole Bible - Keith

     This is why, as we will see in the next chapter, the seven
General "Jewish" Epistles (James, I and 2 Peter, I, 2 and 3 John,
and Jude) must precede the fourteen of the apostle Paul in the
New Testament canon. This is the exact arrangement maintained in
the early manuscript order of the New Testament books, and the
one that should be followed today.

(I believe those books should be read and studied FIRST, after
the Gospels, by new converts to Christianity. The letters of Paul
can, as Peter said, "some things hard to understand" and "which
the unlearned wrest to their own destruction." The foundation
should be established FIRST (Gospels, Acts, James, Peter, John
[except Revelation]) and then with that foundation you can tattle
and understand the books of Paul - Keith Hunt)


Entered on this Website May 2008

To be continued

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