20 April 2011

Easter and Holy Week 2011- Part 1A

A connected supplemental discussion.....

A few points on Apostolic Authority, Canon, and Text

What if indeed John the Apostle went along with the growing practice of Easter? Let's say for argument's sake that it began in the first century.

Irenaeus in the 2nd Century relates that Polycarp his teacher kept Easter on the 14th of Nisan as he learned from the John the Apostle.

Does that mean then that we should also celebrate Easter?

I suppose if it did, then we should be celebrating it on 14 Nisan instead of Easter Sunday.

But were the Apostles authoritative in everything they did? Could they err? Was everything they were doing meant to be applied to the Church? Can we answer 'no' and yet still claim the New Testament as authoritative?

As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit brought to remembrance the events of Christ's earthly ministry and at certain times inspired the Apostles when they were composing letters to congregations or individuals.

They were not mechanical scribes, robot like note-takers. Here once again we find a dynamic at work. The writings are personal, we see the personalities and thoughts of the authors appearing in the letters…they are human writings.

But they are also Inspired by the Holy Spirit, with the stamp of Apostolicity and…this is very important, Providentially Preserved for the Church. I know more than a few conservative Bible-believing scholars who seem to scoff at that last point, which frankly scares me.

Some examples…..Peter was an Apostle but on more than one occasion he made some fairly serious mistakes. The Apostles were still sinners and not everything they did is meant for us to emulate.

Paul shaved his head taking a vow and for the sake of his Jewish associates AT TIMES outwardly kept certain aspects of the law. This of course was during that 40 year (+ or -) period between the Ascension and the Destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. During this time of Covenant Transition, a certain amount of remaining Judaism was tolerated within the Church, but after the Jewish Revolt, the destruction of the Temple and the historical end of what was already Redemptive-Historically ended…the Jewish Transition was complete.

Evidently some of the Apostles were (during this time) keeping the dietary laws. Paul and Barnabas had their terrible falling out over John Mark. They were fallible…except when speaking under Inspiration.

What if archaeologists tomorrow found the lost letter to the Laodiceans, or some other lost letter of Paul or Peter? Would we add to the Bible? Assuming we're all convinced of the authorship of course…..would we expand the New Testament? Some would answer yes. Charismatics should answer 'yes' if they're consistent.

But those of us who believe we have a completed Canon, the answer is an emphatic…NO.

Even if it was by Paul?

At that point we'd have a great letter, a great piece of history and we could bind it with the other writings of the early Church…but it wouldn't be Scripture.

My point is that the Apostles probably wrote dozens if not hundreds of letters that were not Scripture. How can I say that?

Because the Holy Spirit only preserved the 27 books that make up the New Testament. That's our New Covenant Canon. If we can change it, then we have no Canon…

And at that point we must seriously revise our concept of authority.

This is also why I and many others disapprove of most modern Bible translations. I'm not in any way arguing a King James only position or any of the variants of that position. I am arguing that the sudden discovery of texts on the Sinai Peninsula and the Vatican archive in the 19th century is highly problematic. These texts and the subsequent papyri that are employed in the modern New Testament Critical Text (the basis for the NIV, NASB, ESV, and most modern translations) have significant differences from the families of texts the Church has been using since antiquity. I personally don't believe they're older, but even if they were, to now turn to these texts essentially argues the position that we've had the wrong text or at least family of texts for over a thousand years.

I believe it was the Puritan John Owen who called this Atheism. He of course was writing in the 17th century, long before these texts were discovered. But he understood the problem of questioning the existing text and canon. It meant that God had not preserved the right text…in other words we have no Bible at all, at least not one that's worth the paper it's printed on.

I'm not sure why so many of his spiritual descendants in the Reformed community discount the idea of Providential Preservation. Without it we have no Bible at all.

'It doesn’t matter' they say. 'There are no significant changes in doctrine.'

I'll admit that there are no significant changes. Nevertheless when you start taking out words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages….we have a problem. How can you preach text buried under questions of variants and conflicting papyri? You can't with any kind of authority or confidence that it is indeed the Word of God.

So in the end with regard to John keeping Easter. Maybe he did.

Maybe Sola Scriptura is wrong?…in which case I should press the delete button and I would probably head for the nearest Eastern Orthodox congregation. More on that in a day or so.


John may have kept Easter for reasons we don't know, or he may have even been wrong.

All I know is…God didn't seem to think it something that should be put down in Scripture for us to do. And in fact He gives quite a bit of data to suggest our practice should be different.

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