The Scriptures, Tradition and Canon

I’ve thought about writing this for a long time. We’ll see where this goes. Cane and Moose have been discussing some of these things, which prompted me to take another look at it.

Jesus, for the most part, almost always lambasted the tradition of the Pharisees. In particular, this occurred on multiple occasions such as the washing of hands and honoring their father and mother (Matt 15, Mark 7). Both Paul and Peter also do this as well decrying the tradition of men (Col 2, 1 Pet 1). Tradition is generally referred to in the Greek as G3862 paradosis, which is transmission of a precept or law.

Alternatively, Paul does refer to what they have given to Church plants as tradition in a few circumstances:

2 Thess 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you [f]keep away from every brother who [g]leads an [h]unruly life and not according to the tradition which [i]you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to [j]follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat [k]anyone’s bread [l]without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would [m]follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast [a]the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you [b]as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to [c]James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as [d]to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

What we have here is an understanding that what the Churches received from the apostles, especially concerning the gospel of Jesus and godly living, is tradition.

Going back a bit, the “Scriptures” of the OT to which Jesus refers to are what should be adhered to but not specifically the traditions of men. Obviously, we believe that what the apostles transmitted, at the behest of Jesus in the Great Commission (Matt 28), are true words about the gospel message and not simply the tradition of men.

2 Timothy 3:14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Peter 3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

By the time that that 2 Timothy and 2 Peter are written, these “tradition” writings that have been transmitted are known to both Paul and Peter as the “Scriptures.” Scriptures are what Jesus refers to, and what both Paul and Peter refer to including the gospels and Paul’s epistles. The word used here for Scriptures is G1124/1121 graphe/gramma, which Jesus also uses in the gospels in red letters.

Now, the canonization of the Scriptures into the Bible as it exists today is a very interesting process. I am by far not an expert in this area, but here is the general timeline of everything that happened.

  • 33 AD — Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Typical dates say Friday April 7, 30 AD or Friday April 3, 33 AD, with most convincing arguments for 33.
  • 33-34 AD — Pentecost, miracles, and the Church grows mightily (Acts 2-6)
  • 34-35 AD — Stephen stoned (Acts 7)
  • 34-36 AD — Paul’s conversion (Acts 9)
  • 36-38 AD — Paul visit to the disciples in Jerusalem and stays with Peter 15 days (Gal 1). Picks up the “tradition” creed in 1 Corinthians 15 quoted above (Acts 9)
  • 38 AD — Paul flees Jerusalem and starts preaching in the countryside (Acts 9).
  • 39 AD — Peter also starts to preach in the countryside (Acts 9).
  • 39-40 AD — Conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile converted (Acts 10).
  • 43 AD — Church at Antioch planted. Believers are first called “Christians” (Acts 11).
  • 40-45 AD — Apostles James martyred by beheading via Herod Agrippa (Acts 12).
  • It’s likely that James’ martyrdom along with the establishment of Gentile believers, GentilesChurches, and the moniker “Christians” ushers in Christianity not a sect of Judaism but as a stand alone religion.
  • 46-49 AD — Paul’s first missionary journey
  • 48-49 AD — Galatians written.
  • 48-55 AD — Gospel of Mark written. Compiled by Mark based on Peter’s experiences.
  • 49 AD — Council of Jerusalem dispute in Acts 15
  • 50-52 AD — Paul’s second missionary journey
  • 50-60 AD — James written by James (Jesus’ half brother) who was later martyred.
  • 50-58 AD — Hebrews written
  • 51-52 AD — 1 and 2 Thessalonians written.
  • 53-58 AD — Paul’s third missionary journey
  • 54 AD — Apostle Philip martyred by torturing and crucifixion.
  • 55-56 AD — 1 and 2 Corinthians written.
  • 57 AD — Romans written.
  • 57-62 — Gospel of Luke written
  • 60-62 AD — Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, imprisonment, and move to Rome. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon written.
  • 62-63 AD — Acts written.
  • 63 AD — James (Jesus’ half brother) martyred by throwing him off the top of the temple.
  • 63-64 AD — Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy written.
  • 64 AD — Apostle Peter martyred by upside down crucifixion
  • 64-68 AD — 1 and 2 Peter written
  • 65-67 AD — Apostle Paul’s rearrest and beheading by Nero.
  • 65-80 AD — Jude written by Jude (Jesus’ half brother)
  • 70 AD — Second temple is destroyed.
  • 70 AD — Apostle Andrew martyred by crucifixion.
  • 70 AD — Apostle Doubting Thomas martyred by impaled by pine spears, red hot plates, and burned alive.
  • 70 AD — Apostle Bartholomew martyred by flaying and crucifixion.
  • 70 AD — Apostle Matthias martyred by crucifixion and stoning.
  • 70-80 AD — Gospel of Matthew written.
  • 72 AD — Judas (not Iscariot) martyred by being beaten with sticks.
  • 74 AD — Apostle Simon martyred by crucifixion.
  • 80-90 AD — Apostle Matthew martyred by beheading.
  • 85 AD – Gospel of John written
  • 90s AD — 1 and 2 and 3 John, and Revelations written.
  • 95-100 AD — John dies without being martyred.
  • 100-150 AD (90-175 AD) — P52 manuscript of Gospel of John is the earliest known manuscript of New Testament texts.
  • 125 AD Polycarp — refers to Ephesians as Scripture.
  • 140 AD Marcion — proposes a canon of 10 Pauline epistles and a [heretical] version of the Gospel of Luke
  • 150 AD — Justin Martyr mentions memoirs of the Apostles including Pauline epistles. Held up as authority for living on par with OT Scriptures
  • 170 AD — earliest currently known list of books of the NT the Muratorian fragment includes the 4 gospels, Acts, 13 Pauline epistles, and a few others including the Apocalypse of John. Not mentioned were Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, James, and perhaps a few of the latter books of 1 and 2 John.
  • 180 AD — Irenaeus asserts that there are only 4 legitimate gospels
  • Early 200s — Origen proposes canon of all current NT books except with some dispute over James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John.
  • 325 AD — First Council at Nicaea.  Substantial progress since Origen had been made. Eusebius recognized all NT canon but was doubtful on James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2,3 John.
  • 350 AD – Cyril of Jerusalem all NT canon minus Revelation plus gospel of Thomas (only inclusion of gospel of Thomas in canon every).
  • 367 AD — Athanasius of Alexandria lists all 27 books of the current NT and uses “being canonized”
  • 382 AD — Council of Rome Pope Damasus issued identical list of NT canon
  • 383 AD — Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Bible
  • 390 AD — Gregory of Nazianus has 27 canon
  • 393 AD — Canon of Trent accepts present Catholic canon
  • 394 AD — Jerome has 27 canon
  • 397, 419 AD — Council of Carthage under St. Augustine accepts canon of Trent
  • 5th century (400s) and onward — Western Church NT canon is the same

Here is one of the recent lectures on Mike Licona on evidence on veracity of the text, translation, and canon.

41:05 time stamp:

  • Undisputed (authoritative): 4 gospels, Acts, 10 Paul’s letters, 1 John, 1 Peter
  • Disputed but included: 3 of Pauls letters (Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy), Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation
  • Not authoritative, some historical: 1 Clement, Didache, Shepherd, Gospel of Thomas, Ignatius’ letters, Gospel of Barnabas, Polycarp
  • On the outside: Not even gnostics included in their canons — Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Hebrews, Acts of Paul, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Mary, Gospel according to the Egyptians

Note: Donalgraeme’s Tradition Thursday has been going through a lot of 3rd group on the list if you want to check it out. The Didache is interesting because it was how the early Apostles and disciples of Jesus practiced the commands of Jesus. Also, writings of many other fathers of the Church.

edit: Wintery Knight has a recent post on 2000 year old copy of the book of Leviticus that confirms accurate text to the versions we use today.

Overall, the process is one that is very interesting. Generally, the tendency is to exclude things that are doubtful rather than include. This eliminates as much heresy as possible, as can be seen from the early Church defense against gnosticism and other forms of heresy mentioned in Revelations.

Additionally, there is a tendency to include mainly writings that further the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than on extraneous knowledge or diversions. Paul expressly makes this point multiple times.

1 Cor 8:1 Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not [d]agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he [e]has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that [f]godliness is a means of gain.

2 Timothy 3:But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, [a]haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of [b]godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 6 For among them are those who [c]enter into households and captivate [d]weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the [e]knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as [f]Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.

The line between Scripture and tradition appears straight forward, even though the canonization of the Scriptures themselves are a result of tradition.

Debate over something like transubstantiation seems more and more like controversial questions that don’t help believers learn how to live a more fruitful life in Christ Jesus. We are commanded to take the Eucharist/Communion. We don’t necessarily need to know what actually happens to the bread and wine when we take it, even though questions like that could be interesting to know.

Jesus was able to sum up the Law and the Prophets into two commandments: ‘Love God and Love your Neighbor.’ So too, we have one of the basic summaries of the Christian faith straight from the mouth of Jesus: John 13:34 and John 15:12 “A new commandment I give to you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” When the gospel and commandments of Jesus are not the focus, we are going off track.


Telephone. Remember that game? The further you tend to get away from the original voice, the more distorted the meaning has gotten. We know that the New Testament Scriptures are written by the Apostles themselves (Matthew, John, Peter, Paul) or colleagues of the Apostles (Mark, Luke), who often had direct interaction with Jesus.

To say that we now have “new knowledge” on what Jesus and His apostles (to whom Jesus gave authority to spread the gospel) actually meant seems exceedingly disingenuous, like a lot of Protestant denominations on divorce and headship. This is how you get perversion of Scriptures such as egalitarianism and complementarism, which Dalrock has dissected complementarism in All roads lead to Duluth and The root of the problem. The only Biblical marriage is Patriarchal.

This is why I try to read a lot of the writings of the Church fathers as well as the Scriptures themselves. Generally, I think the Orthodox have it right by only affirming Patristic writings and the 7 ecumenical councils which condemned various heresies. They also haven’t changed any of their tradition in the past 1000+ (?) years if I remember correctly. If I have Orthodox commenters, and you know some confirmation would be great.

One of the major failings of the Evangelical Church is to try to make the Scriptures culturally relevant. In reality, the Scriptures are Truth among a relativist culture.

Jesus’ message, as preserved by Church tradition, is fairly straight forward and clear. I don’t see a reason to bring up controversial questions on extraneous things in the Scripture, especially when it’s clear that the Scripture itself and the early Church fathers were not concerned about those things. They were concerned about living a daily life devoted to God, and fulfilling Jesus’ commands to spread the gospel, make disciples, and baptize new believers.

In my humble opinion.

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9 Responses to The Scriptures, Tradition and Canon

  1. feeriker says:

    One of the major failings of the Evangelical Church is to try to make the Scriptures culturally relevant.

    A large number seem to think that the Scriptures are not culturally relevant at all, which is why they neglect their study, or any emphasis on serious aplogetics.

  2. @ feeriker


    That is true.

    For the ones that try, at least, they’re trying to make the Bible/Christianity relevant. You can’t make disciples with watered down Truth. You just make people who don’t know the difference between the two.

  3. Sean says:

    Gospel of Thomas likely historical? Have you read it?

  4. @ Sean

    I may have grouped some under the wrong grouping as I was copying out of the video.

  5. The Gospel of Thomas is clearly heretical, but, if I’m remembering correctly, likely early enough in the timeline to have been around the very early church. So the fact that it’s simply a collection of Quotes means that those types of writings were a “thing”. (It also helps bolster the “4 Source Hypothesis” of the Gospels.)

  6. donalgraeme says:

    @ DS

    Whenever Paul referenced “scripture” or “scriptures”, he meant the Old Testament writings. Not the NT, which was very limited in scope during his life. Also in terms of where it had spread to. There is no evidence Paul was himself familiar with the early gospels. At least, not in his letters.

    2nd Peter is a different matter, of course. But as is pointed out above, there are valid questions as to whether it was really written by Simon Peter.

    I need to find a good resource on Catholic teaching on tradition and the role of scripture within it. The sad thing right now is that most Catholics don’t even understand it and get it wrong.

    They also haven’t changed any of their tradition in the past 1000+ (?) years if I remember correctly.

    Not Orthodox, but I know a fair amount. And you are correct, their tradition re:teachings hasn’t changed. Some small liturgical changes, and not much else in terms of what they consider “set in stone.”

  7. @ donalgraeme

    Whenever Paul referenced “scripture” or “scriptures”, he meant the Old Testament writings. Not the NT, which was very limited in scope during his life. Also in terms of where it had spread to. There is no evidence Paul was himself familiar with the early gospels. At least, not in his letters.

    That is the case. Although in reference to that I also took it to mean what Paul had taught him regarding the Scriptures (which obviously include 1 Timothy as Paul is writing in 2 Timothy).

    Sounds good overall in terms of the Catholic tradition. I am interested in that as well.

  8. donalgraeme says:

    @ Deep Strength

    Although in reference to that I also took it to mean what Paul had taught him regarding the Scriptures (which obviously include 1 Timothy as Paul is writing in 2 Timothy).

    [I might be misunderstanding you here, so if I am wrong sorry about that]

    I am pretty sure that Paul didn’t mean his first letter when he talked about Scripture(s). For him that would have been tradition, that which was handed on. Scripture had a very specific meaning- the OT. Whenever he was referencing something that he had already told Timothy, he always mentions it in the context of a letter or something he told him. It wasn’t until much after his time that “scripture” as a word was also applied to the NT

  9. Pingback: What is the Authority of the Bible, and why is this Important? | Σ Frame

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