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The Christian Canon
A canon refers to a standard or a rule. Concerning New Testament in the Christian bible, canon refers to books accepted as making up the New Testament. The canon consists of twenty-seven authoritative books (Ehrman). The canon implies that no other book can find a place in the New Testament and no book should miss from the New Testament (Ehrman).
The New Testament as currently composed is a product of a historical process involving various individuals and religious groups. Before the year 140AD, there was growing awareness that various individuals were writing scriptures (Ehrman).
Three concepts prove that there was such awareness (Ehrman 34). The first concept, apostle, manifests in the New Testament referring to Christ’s representatives entrusted with spreading the Gospel. They validly attested to salvation and later took a new concept of witnessing (Ehrman).
They witnessed through both oral and recorded documents and such documents make up the New Testament. The third concept, tradition, is very authoritative and refers to what passes from one generation to another in an authoritative way. As such, authority refers to authoritative spreading of the gospel granted to apostles by Christ himself (Ehrman 41).
Despite various opposition and debates on the canonicity of the New Testament from individuals and groups, the New Testament in its current composition came into being in the year 220 during which time the following books received acceptance as inspired and authoritative books (Ehrman).
The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Acts of Apostles, thirteen Pauline epistles, letter of John, Hebrews, James, Jude, letters of Peter and the Revelation of John. Luke authored the Acts of the Apostles (Ehrman 56). Various books never made it to the New Testament canon. Such books include the letters of Clement of Rome, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of Judas among others (Ehrman).
Oral traditions refer to passing of information from one group or generation to another by word of mouth (Seraphim). The New Testament contains evidence of oral traditions and the testament is itself ninety percent oral tradition and ten percent written tradition (Seraphim).
There are various evidences of oral tradition even in the New Testament and an exhortation to Christians to uphold oral tradition. The protestant Christians have held to scriptures alone but the Catholic Church has incorporated traditions in its teachings (Seraphim).
Long before literary forms of the Gospel appeared, preaching of the Gospel took place through oral traditions (Seraphim). St Paul, in his letter to Thessalonians continuously thanks God, because converts received the word spread through the mouth by Paul and his companions as true and authoritative.
Paul did not use any written documents to preach to believers but used what he heard from other Apostles and passed it to believers (Seraphim). The author of the letter to the Hebrews asserts that oral traditions were necessary for the spreading of the salvation message. The message of salvation got to people through word of mouth long before it appeared in written form.
Communication of God’s redemption through oral traditions is an old tradition and has passed from one generation to the next as St Paul writes in his letter to Philippians, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you (Seraphim).”
The Synoptic Problem
The synoptic problem refers to attempts to explain the cause of various differences and similarities arising from reading the first three Gospels namely Matthew, Mark and Luke (Theopedia). The three synoptic gospels have a unique relationship as much as they have glaring disparities.
For instance, the Gospel of Matthew has around 90 percent of Mark’s content while the Gospel of Luke has around 50 percent of Mark’s content (Theopedia). Synoptic problem defines the task of trying to figure out why such features present themselves to scholars (Theopedia). Various theories explain the origin of the synoptic problem.
The first theory, two-source theory, proposes that it is likely that Matthew and Luke adopted Mark’s narrative setting and later on added materials from oral traditions and sayings (Theopedia). The second theory, Farrer theory, implies that Mark’s Gospel is the earliest and that Matthew copied from it and then Luke copied from both Mark and Matthew (Theopedia).
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The Griesbach theory posits that Luke copied from the Gospel of Matthew and that Mark used the two Gospels to author his own version of the Gospel. This theory holds that Matthew is the earliest of the synoptic Gospels.
The fourth theory, Augustinian theory, asserts that Matthew is the earliest Gospel, followed by Mark and Luke in that order (Theopedia). Mark depended on what Matthew had written while Luke depended on what Mark wrote. A closer opinion to this theory suggests that Mark and Luke copied from Matthew and that the Gospel of Matthew was originally in Aramaic before the Greek translation surfaced (Theopedia).
Ehrman, B.D. A Brief Introduction to the New Testament. London: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Seraphim, Benedict. Oral Tradition in the New Testament. 2005. Web. <https://benedictseraphim.wordpress.com/2005/08/25/oral-tradition-in-the-new-testament/>.
Theopedia. Synoptic Problem. 2013.Web. <https://www.theopedia.com/synoptic-problem>.