Keith Hunt - Canonization of the New Testament #8 - Page Eight   Restitution of All Things

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Canonization of Paul's Epistles

Paul's request to Timothy

CANONIZATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT #8

by Ernest Martin


The Canonization of PAUL'S EPISTLES


     There was a common goal which dominated the last few months
of the lives of Peter, John and Paul. If one will read their
final works, when each was well aware that his death was on the
immediate horizon, it can be seen what their desires were. It was
most essential that a canon of divine New Testament Scriptures be
created which would last the world as a standard for Christian
teaching until the Second Advent of Christ. The apostles came to
realize that Christ was not returning in their generation, and
that a day in prophetic interpretation was a thousand years (2
Pet.3:3-13). 

(Ya, but the verse also says a thousnads years as a day, which a
lot of people neglect to say or read - Keith Hunt)

     This meant that many hundreds of years remained in human
history before the symbolic "Sabbath" called the Millennium
(Heb.4:11) could arrive. 

(There was no way the apostles could have known that hundreds of
years, even a few thousand, would go by till Jesus returned -
Keith Hunt)

     And with the great apostasies mentioned by Peter and John in
full swing (2 Peter 2 and I John 2:18,19; 4:1); with vast numbers
having rejected Paul (2 Tim.1:15); and with ministers abandoning
the authority of John (3 John 9,10), and especially with future
prospects for retaining the purity of the Christian Gospel being
more ominous (2 Tim.3:1-7; 4:2-4; 2 Pet.3:3), the apostles had to
take matters in hand to preserve the truths of Christianity! They
would have been remiss in their duties had they simply died and
left the world without a standard of righteousness to rely on.
This is why Peter came to the conclusion that he and John must
leave the Christian church with writings inspired by the Holy
Spirit to last them "until the day dawn" (2 Pet. 1:19). Thus, the
two prime apostles, who were eye-itnesses to the Transfiguration
of Christ and who heard the very voice of the Father Himself, set
about their task. In doing so, Peter mentioned that not only did
he and John possess the word of prophecy in a more confirmed way
than others (2 Pet. 1:19), but that Paul's epistles (the
ones being left with the church) were also as inspired as the Old
Testament Scriptures (2 Pet.3:15,16).

     Since it is clear that the apostles Peter and John reckoned
Paul's epistles as being a part of the sacred writings, we need
to ask ourselves if Paul felt the same way about his written
documents? Did he see a need to collect some of his own writings
to be part of the New Testament canon? Was it he who decided to
select fourteen of his letters for this purpose, and did he edit
them for inclusion in the canon? These are interesting questions,
and surprisingly, we can go a long way in satisfactorily
answering them! The truth is, Paul was quite aware of his role in
helping Peter and John to canonize the New Testament and just
before his death his main activity was to accomplish this task!
Let us look at the evidence.

(Certainly, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these
apostles would have been able to know that a New Testament canon
was desireable for future Christians - Keith Hunt) 

     Paul had long realized that the words that he was writing to
the people had the approbation of God and that they often
represented the very commandments of God. "If any man think
himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that
the things that I write unto you are the commandments of God" (I
Cor.14:37).
     Even more than that, Paul proclaimed to the Colossians that
he had been commissioned by Christ to fulfill (or to bring to the
top, to the very brim) the teachings of God. He knew he had the
job of helping to complete the word of God for mankind!

"Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of
God which is given to me for you, to complete the word of God;
even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from
generations, but now is made manifest to his saints" (Col.1:
25,26).

     It is interesting that this reference of Paul about
completing the word of God appears in the text to the Sixth
Church within the Pauline body of Scriptures. The next book in
the canonical collection was the Seventh Church (Thessalonians)
which had as its message the main New Testament teaching about
end-time events. In other words, in Paul's last doctrinal
discourse to the Christian church he said the Word of God was now
complete and that the next event to occur in the history of the
church would be that mentioned in his message to the Seventh
Church - Christ's return and the resurrection from the dead! With
Paul's discourse to the Sixth Church, the complete doctrinal
teachings for the Christian church had been given.

Paul's Last Responsibility

     Paul's final appeal to Timothy was that he remain steadfast
in teaching the true doctrines of Christ because the outlook for
the future was going to be that of teaching fables.

"I charge thee before God and Christ Jesus, who by his appearing
and Kingdom shall judge the living and the dead. Preach the word;
be urgent at favorable times or unfavorable ones; reprove,
rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For a time
will come when they will not endure the sound teaching; but,
having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their
own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn
aside unto fables. But be sober in all things, suffer hardship,
do the work of an evangelist, fully bear the responsibility of
your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink
offering and the time of my departure is come. The good fight I
have fought, the course I have finished, the faith I have kept.
One thing remains: The crown of righteousness which is laid up
for me, the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day;
and not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his
appearing" (2 Tim.4:1-8).

     The main desire of Paul was that sound doctrine be
continually preached after his death because there was going to
be a great falling away from the truth and people would begin to
believe fables. These fables were also a major concern of Peter
and John. This is why Peter said that in the documents he and
John were leaving the Christian church, they were not going to be
like the fables that were beginning to be published and taught.
Knowing also that his own death (like Paul's) was imminent, Peter
said:

"And I think it right as long as I am in this tabernacle [this
mortal body], to stir you up by reminder; knowing that the
putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord
Jesus Christ also showed me. But I will also give diligence that
at each time ye be able after my decease to call these things to
remembrance. For not by following cunningly devised FABLES, made
we known to you the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we [Peter and John] were eye-witnesses of his majesty" (2
Pet.l:13-16).

     It was the circulation of fables, and the prospect of more
being published, that convinced Peter, John and Paul (in the last
months of their lives) to do something about the preservation of
the true doctrines of Christ. With this in mind, let us now look
at what the apostle Paul did to play a part in this respons-
ibility.

Paul's Canonization

     Realizing that his death was very near, Paul asked Timothy,
his faithful worker in Christ, to urgently meet him in Rome. Paul
considered Timothy's journey to be of utmost importance and he
was urged to expedite it as soon as possible. "With speed come to
me quickly" (2 Tim.4:9). Paul was in immediate need of
assistance, and this was especially so since most of his
colleagues had either abandoned him or had journeyed to other
regions of the Empire. He was practically left alone in Rome.
"Only Luke is with me" (verse 11).

     With this pressing situation in mind, notice the two
requests that Paul instructed Timothy to accomplish. For one, he
wanted John Mark (the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark) to come
with Timothy to Rome because he had a service [a particular
ministry] that he wanted him to perform. And secondly, Paul
desired Timothy to "bring the cloak I left at Troas with Carpus,
and the scrolls, especially the parchments" (verse 13).
     These two requests were very important to the canonization
of Paul's epistles. Note carefully that Paul urgently needed John
Mark and some important documents that Timothy knew about. Let us
first look at the reason he wanted John Mark to accompany Timothy
to Rome.

     John Mark was a very prominent person in the early history
of Christianity. And in the matter of canonization, he
significantly appears at a crucial time. We are told he was a
cousin of Barnabas (Col.4:10), which may indicate he was a Jew
with Levitical prestige (Acts 4:36). At any rate, he occupied a
prime social position in the Jerusalem church and his mother's
home was the place where it was common for the apostles to meet
(Acts 12:12-17). And though there was a disagreement between Paul
and Mark in their early careers (Acts 15:36-41), this was not a
permanent thing and Paul later called John Mark his "fellow-
laborer" (Co1.4:10,11). And Paul's appeal to Timothy was for John
Mark to accompany him to Rome so that he could perform a special
service (ministry) for Paul. What was this service?

     This is where the apostle Peter enters the picture. Though
John Mark was often an associate of the apostle Paul in his
ministry among the Gentiles, history and tradition attest to his
closer relationship with the apostle Peter. In his first epistle,
Peter refers to Mark as "my son" (I Pet.5:13). Peter must have
been a frequent visitor to the home of John Mark in Jerusalem
(that is, his mother's home). Peter no doubt took Mark under his
wing while he was a young man and he became a close assistant of
Peter. Papias of the late first century said that John Mark was
Peter's "interpreter" or his official secretary and the writer of
the Second Gospel. As we have pointed out in a previous chapter,
the Gospel of Mark really has the earmarks of being the Gospel of
Peter. And indeed, it was! This means that John Mark was the one
who helped Peter in his literary efforts and other ministerial
duties. We find him with Peter in "Babylon" (a cipher for
Jerusalem, not Rome or the Babylon on the Euphrates) (I
Pet.5:13). 

(No, not a cipher of anything. Peter was in the old ancient and
literal Babylon - Keith Hunt)

     But we also find him in attendance with the apostle Paul
just a little earlier in time (Co1.4:10,11). These indications
may show that John Mark was a type of liaison between Peter and
Paul - one time he was with Peter and the other with Paul. And
just before his death, Paul makes his urgent request for Timothy
to bring John Mark with him to Rome. He also wanted Timothy to
bring along some important items that Paul called "the cloak, the
books, and especially the parchments."

     In effect, Paul was asking for Peter's right hand man to
come immediately to Rome for a special service! Though Paul did
not ask for Peter himself to journey to the capital of the
Empire, the fact that he was asking for John Mark was practically
tantamount to the same thing! Paul knew that only the apostles
Peter and John were the remaining witnesses to the Trans-
figuration, and this gave them a special commission for the
preservation of divine truth which would last the church through
the spiritual corruptions which were prophesied to take place in
the future.

The Cloak, The Scrolls and The Parchments

     Timothy and John Mark were asked by Paul to fetch three
important items and bring them to Rome. "When you come, bring the
cloak [Greek: phelonen] I left with Carpus, and the scrolls,
especially the parchments" (2 Tim.4:13). It is interesting that
the phelonen, usually considered to be a heavy outer garment, is
mentioned alongside the paper scrolls (actually scrolls made from
the papyrus plant) and the parchments (these were animal skins on
which permanent documents were normally written). It seems odd
that a heavy coat would be mentioned along with literary
documents. Most scholars, however, point out that Paul wanted
Timothy and Mark to hurry to Rome before winter (verse 21) and
that he probably wanted the phelonen which he left with Carpus in
order to keep himself warm when the cold would set in. This may
be the case, but there are some difficulties with this
interpretation. The truth is, the word 'phelonen' had another
meaning in the Greek world at the time, and it is one that is
intimately connected with scrolls and parchments!

     Vincent, in his "Word Studies in the New Testament," has
this to say about the word phelonen.

"Hesychius explains it as originally a case for keeping the
mouthpieces of wind-instruments; thence, generally, a box.
Phrynicus, a Greek sophist of the second half of the third
century, defines it as 'a receptacle for books, clothes, silver,
or anything else.' Phelonen was a wrapper of parchments, and was
translated figuratively in Latin by toga or paenula 'a cloak,'
sometimes of leather; also the wrapping which a shopkeeper put
round fish or olives; also the parchment cover for papyrus rolls.
Accordingly it is claimed that Timothy in 4:13 is bidden to
bring, not a cloak, but a roll-case. So the Syriac Version"
(p.326).

     The fact is, the word 'phelonen' can mean either a cloak
(and it is used that way time and again in Greek literature) or
it could mean a receptacle for the placement of scrolls and
parchments. It is the context which must determine what the
apostle Paul meant by the use of 'phelonen' in 2 Timothy 4:13.
Since the word is found right next to scrolls and parchments, the
immediate context would suggest a "book cover" a "book case" or
"book slip" into which scrolls or pages of books were placed. As
Vincent stated, the Syriac Version of the New Testament
understood it in that manner. Chrysostom, in the fourth century,
commented on this very reference of Paul's and stated that some
thought Paul meant a "book case" - a receptacle for books (Hom.
in loc. vol.XI, p.780, ed. Gaume). Even Jerome mentioned this
point (Epist.36, ad Damasum).
     What is meant can only be determined by the context, because
the word can signify either a heavy outer coat, a book case or
some outer cover for books! Even in our modern times we have
problems in interpreting similar words unless a proper context is
provided. Let me give two illustrations to show the difficulty.
     In these examples we will consider the modern words jacket,
wrap and cover. Suppose a letter were found in which a woman
college student wrote her mother. She said that she wanted her
mother to "go to the closet and get out my heavy jacket and send
it to me. It will provide the cover I need from the cold. I am
now using the wrap you gave me for my birthday and it is not warm
enough." If such a letter were found, the context makes it clear
that the girl is talking about outer garments in all instances.
But what if the following letter were found. "Go to the bookstore
and buy the latest fiction book you wrote me about. Take the
jacket off, because dust wraps on the books annoy me. Make sure,
however, that the book has a hard cover because I don't like
paperbacks."

     Though these two illustrations use exactly the same words
they signify opposite things. Obviously, no one would get
confused over what was intended in either case, because the
contexts are plain as to what was meant. But let us return to our
word 'phelonen' in 2 Timothy 4:13. It could mean either a book
case, a book wrapper, a book jacket, a book cover, or it could
mean a heavy outer garment. Vincent in his Word Studies had no
objection to it being an ordinary cloak because, like many other
modern translators, he noted that Paul asked Timothy and John
Mark to come to Rome before winter (verse 21). To many scholars
this provides the context in which to interpret 'phelonen,'
though admittedly the reference to winter is eight verses away
from the use of the word. On the other hand, the word 'phelonen'
is found in the very verse which mentions the scrolls and
parchments that Paul needed! Contextually, it would seem more
logical to think of 'phelonen' as being associated with literary
documents. Indeed, it is even better to consider it that way
because Luke was still with Paul in Rome and surely he could have
secured for Paul any protective garment to keep away the cold
during the approaching winter. Would it be necessary to fetch one
all the way from Troas to keep Paul covered for the short time he
was to remain alive? The fact is, Paul's reference to winter
(verse 21) is by context too far away for the 'phelonen' to mean
an actual cloak. But with the word intimately connected with the
literary documents which Paul was urgently requesting Timothy and
John Mark to bring with them, it seems more probable that the
interpretation of the Syriac Version, along with the suggestions
found in Chrsysostom and Jerome, happen to be correct. It appears
that Paul wanted his important book case (his receptacle for
carrying books) to be brought at once to Rome - and the request
was one of pressing necessity!

What Was In The Book Case?

     It is unreasonable to assume that the book case contained
papyrus scrolls or parchments of the Old Testament Scriptures.
There were always a large group of people with Paul wherever he
travelled, and their baggage would no doubt have contained a copy
(or copies) of the Old Testament. Besides, Paul could refer to
the earlier Scriptures by reading them in the various synagogues
in the areas he visited. Of course, Paul was in prison when he
wrote Timothy and could not attend the synagogues to consult the
Scriptures. Yet, Luke was with him. Could not Luke have done this
for him, or even to have brought the Old Testament to him in
prison from the baggage they had? And besides, what would Paul
need with the Old Testament in an urgent way just before he was
to be killed? Had he not memorized almost all of it over his 35
years of ministry?

     But it was of utmost priority that he obtain "the book case,
the papyrus scrolls, and especially the animal skin volumes."
Note the definite articles in front of each of the three items!
Since Paul gave no further description about them, it appears
that Timothy and John Mark knew exactly the specific things Paul
meant, and they realized that it was important that they be
brought immediately to Rome! There is no doubt in my mind that
some particular scrolls and parchment documents were being kept
safely by Paul in a specially constructed carrying case or book
cover. It also makes sense that they were his own writings which
he had brought together and left in Asia Minor with Carpus. Paul
now needed them dispatched to Rome immediately! This must be the
reason why Paul requested John Mark to accompany Timothy.

The Role of John Mark

     John Mark was Peter's assistant, his right hand man! He was
also his secretary and the one who wrote literary documents for
Peter. The service that Paul wanted John Mark to perform may have
concerned the disposition of some of Paul's writings. This is as
good a reason as any why Paul wanted John Mark in Rome! If it was
not to take Paul's letters to Peter, then it was to talk over the
matter of the letters and have Peter come to Paul in Rome. Since
it seems that Paul wrote Second Timothy in the late Summer or
Autumn of A.D.65, John Mark's journey to Rome, then back to
Jerusalem where Peter probably was, could have been accomplished
by late Spring of A.D.66. And with the miraculous events
concerning the Temple starting to happen just before Passover,
A.D.66 and continued until Pentecost, A.D.66 (when God abandoned
the Temple at Jerusalem), it would have been possible for Peter
to have reached Rome by the late Summer of A.D.66. If this is the
case, Peter's only reason for going to Rome was to see the
apostle Paul relative to the matter of the New Testament
canonization. This could have been the main reason that John Mark
was involved in the issue since he was the literary assistant to
Peter. And recall, Paul was urgently admonishing Timothy to bring
the written documents with John Mark! The historical scenario
that is provided by Paul's last chapter of Second Timothy demands
that something of a highly important literary activity was under
way!

     With both Peter and Paul in Rome in the final weeks of
A.D.66 or in early A.D.67, they could have selected and canonized
the New Testament Scriptures which they had in their possession.
It seems certain that Paul even edited his own letters for
inclusion into the sacred canon of the New Testament. An example
of this are the last three verses of Romans in our present
versions. These verses are very close to the writing style of
Ephesians and Colossians, and they contain a reference that
Paul's teachings were then being called "the prophetic
Scriptures" (verse 26, Greek). Such a use of the phrase
"prophetic Scriptures" is a sure sign that Paul's letters were
then being considered as sacred and as inspired as were the
Scriptures of the Old Testament. Recall that Peter and John
considered themselves as having "the prophetic word more
confirmed" (2 Pet.1:18) and this was a reference to their written
works as being inspired of God (2 Pet.1:20). And now we have Paul
saying the same thing about his own writings. They were "the
prophetic Scriptures" (Rom.16:26). Paul wrote this editorial
remark at the end of Romans long after he had composed the actual
letter back in A.D.56. This is because he made it clear in the
editorial footnote that "all the nations" had now received the
teaching of his Gospel (verse 26). This could only have been
stated after he had returned from Spain in about A.D.62. This
reference dovetails precisely with that which Paul made in the
Book of Colossians (written about A.D.64) that the Gospel had now
been "preached in all creation that is under heaven" (Col.1:23).
These indications are enough to show that Paul edited the Book of
Romans. Since this was done to the ABC book of his collection, he
may have done it to others. But what is the purpose for such
editing? It is clearly to provide something for a later or
different audience, and to bring the earlier documents up-to-date
in the teaching of the Gospel. It is sensible that Paul, wanting
to make the Book of Romans of universal application, added his
brief reference to the advanced teaching of "the Mystery," which
he later revealed in Ephesians and Colossians. And importantly,
he was now saying that his writings were a part of "the prophetic
Scriptures" (Rom.16:26). Paul was simply preparing his epistles
for canonization!

(There is indeed strong evidence I believe to support Martin in
his conclusions of the noted verses he mentions. And with the
mighty power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that all the
apostles had in the first century, there is really no doubt these
important apostles [Paul, Peter, John] would have been inspired
to prepare and establish a New Testament canon of Scripture -
Keith Hunt)

The Final Act of Peter

     Just before Paul was martyred, the fourteen epistles of Paul
were placed in their proper order. Along with these were arranged
other New Testament works in the hands of Peter and Paul. It was
at this time, no doubt, that John Mark wrote his Gospel copying
down the words of Peter as he dictated them to him. Peter then
wrote his second epistle which mentioned this preliminary
canonization and that he and the apostle John were commissioned
by God to fill up the books of the sacred canon. Peter then sent
by the hand of John Mark his second epistle (along with the books
that were collected and arranged by himself and Paul) to the
apostle John in Western Asia Minor. This was the particular
service that Paul wanted John Mark to accomplish (2 Tim.4:11). A
short while later (probably in A.D.67) Peter himself was martyred
in Rome. Tradition has it that he was crucified upsidedown, and
there is no reason to dispute the possibility of this. But now,
the preliminary books were in the hands of the apostle John in
Ephesus to complete his prophesied role of finalizing the canon
of the New Testament.

     The formation of the canon remained within the
responsibility of the apostle John. Not for another 30 years or
so would it reach its final and complete status to be positioned
alongside the Old Testament to represent the full revelation of
God to man. In the next chapter we will show how the apostle John
fulfilled his prophesied commission.

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

To be continued


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