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Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (Biblical and Theological Studies) Paperback – June 1, 1988
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analysis of biblical passages relating to the theology of revelation, the role of the apostles, the nature of the transmission of the faith in the age of the apostles.
Completely misrepresents the Catholic Church. Also, barely gives an argument for why the written canon (tradition, revelation) had to completely replace the oral canon. The argument that is given is flimsy and does not follow from any evidence, nor does it lead to the conclusion he gives. Misses the continuing role of the church in the transmission of the faith. Quotes a couple of church Fathers regarding the role of written canon, but fails to analyze the many quotes from those same people affirming the role of oral tradition and the authority of the Church.
Ridderbos separates his book into two chapters, the first chapter on the ‘Canon of the New Testament’ comprises approximately 2/3 of the work with the reminder left for a discussion of the ‘Authority of the New Testament’. The chapters are further separated into subsections to be discussed below.
Section ‘A’ of chapter 1 deals with questions of principle. Ridderbos details the critique of Semler that Protestants whimsically accept the 27 New Testament books as canon but do not recognize the authority of the church as infallible in this decision. Zahn critiqued the reformed notion of the inward testimony of the Spirit which bears witness to the Scriptures as such. So are the reformed the only ones with the Holy Spirit? Luther had the view that the canon consists of those texts which preach and urge Christ, which is why he had such a problem with James. This view of Luther led other scholars to base their canonical criteria on other subjective premises, which Ridderbos warns against. Calvin did appeal to the inward testimony of the Spirit which bears witness to the Scriptures, but also asserted the self-attestation of the Scriptures. Though Calvin recognized the historical difficulties with the antilegomena, he thought that they were in agreement with the prolegomena and therefore should be accepted as true apostolic tradition. Bavinck would also assert the the New Testament canon has an authority in and of itself.
Section ‘B’ of chapter 1 discusses canon and redemptive history. Ridderbos considers Christ a unique ‘canon’ who himself appointed apostles who would receive revelation and be the “bearers and organs of revelation, their primary and most important task was to function as the foundation of the church.” (13) The apostles had a unique and exclusive role as part of the revelatory Christ event. Among the early Christian communities there was an oral apostolic tradition which was authoritative and the apostolic writings were also seen as part of the authoritative tradition. As time went on the writings took on greater significance as fixed forms of the authoritative apostolic tradition. The traditions of the apostles were seen as on par with the revelations of the Old Testament prophets, and the phrase ‘apostles and prophets’ incited the foundational authoritative writings for the fledgling church. Ridderbos argues that the “Redemptive-historical ground of the New Testament canon must be sought in that apostolic authority and tradition.” (24)
On pages 24-30 Ridderbos three positive and three negative aspects of a correct view of the New Testament canon. 1P) From the Christ-given apostolic authority the canon was created, not by the church. 2P) Because the canon was created with unique ‘once-for-all’ apostolic authority, the canon is unrepeatable and exclusive [i.e. closed]. 3P) a) The written canonical tradition emerged in contrast to false traditions and b) the line was drawn between foundation and superstructure, apostolic and ecclesiastical authority. 1N) Apostolic-authoritative tradition was the basis for the canon, in contrast to the Spirit led beginnings which some scholars posit. 2N) Luther’s view creates a canon within the canon, is subjective, and should not be employed. 3N) The view which locates the canon in the receptive hearing of the believing community is wrong and subjective and does not square with apostolic-authoritative origins of the New Testament documents.
In section ‘C’ of chapter 1 Ridderbos deals with the recognition of the canon. After Ridderbos established that the basis of the canon is the Christ-given, Spirit-led, apostolic authority, he asks a further question; how do we know that this canonical authority extends to the exact 27 books of our present New Testament canon? First of all, Ridderbos points out that it is hard to say what is exactly apostolic. For example, after the twelve Paul and James are also considered apostles, etc. Also, some works are connected with apostolic authority while not directly from an apostle. Therefore, Ridderbos argues for whether a writing’s content “embodies the foundational apostolic tradition, not whether it was written by the hand of an apostle.” (32)
Ridderbos discusses the foolishness of Protestants to say that the church was infallibly guided by God in canon selection, but not in other matters. Further, we cannot appeal to the consensus of the church throughout history because different books were antilegomena in various times and places. Ridderbos also (with Calvin) says that the Holy Spirit does bear witness to the canon, but not infallibly. He considers the canon itself as preeminent, preceding faith, the church, and canonical history. He further states that Christ will cause the church to accept the canon, but ecclesiastical acceptance of the canon cannot be considered infallible. (37)
Ridderbos says that early on the majority of the New Testament writings were already considered to be foundational. While the earliest church lived by both oral and written apostolic tradition, as traditions grew and varied and time went on, the church began to rest more upon the fixed apostolic writings. He mentions by way of example the high amount of citations by the fathers in the period A.D. 90-140 to the four gospels and not other non canonical gospels (which were mostly unwritten at this point anyhow). This demonstrates the fact that the four gospels were prominent tradition already at a very early date. The majority of the New Testament works were recognized as foundational early on. The majority of the New Testament works were considered as stemming from the Lord and his apostles and therefore accepted as authoritative. The church did not simply form its canon in response to Marcion, as some suggest. This simply does not add up because the canonical decisions were not officially recognized until much later.
In this section Ridderbos also touches in the issue of the prolegomena vs. the antilegomena. As the church grew and communication increased between different regions, much of what was considered antilegomena in one place had been considered accepted and authoritative for another area. The prolegomena were essentially undisputed and recognized from earliest times as authoritative by the church everywhere. The antilegomena were ultimately accepted because the content was seen to be agreeable with the prolegomena.
The second chapter discusses the authority of the New Testament, touching on three areas in particular; kerygma, marturia, and didache. Ridderbos equates the kerygma with the preaching and proclamation of the gospel. The gospels as kerygma means that they are not primarily historical documents. Ridderbos does however affirm that the kerygma is a proclamation of a historical event and cannot be separated from it. Ridderbos discussed marturia as a juridicial testimony of witness to Christ. Peter and John especially appeal to their eyewitness testimony and the apostolic witness is a witness that is also the witness of the Holy Spirit as well. The New Testamament witness is not only to historical facts but also to the interpretation of those facts. The didache further elaborated and expanded upon the initial proclamations of the kerygma and marturia.
The book overall was a good read. It is definitely a conservatively reformed and somewhat dated work. His main connections and thesis appear solid. I remained somewhat unconvinced of the ability of the apostolic-authoritative tradition being extended to all the antilegomena as well. I also thought that some of his smaller points were faulty or that he simply did not develop them in this book. Otherwise his main line of argument is rather solid.
As a reading layman accustomed to theology and biblical studies, it still took me a while to work through this little book. Though it is thin, it is dense, and it is a translation from Dutch with many end notes (footnotes would have made it significantly easier to read, IMHO). In short, expect to do some work, not fly through an easy read.
Ridderbos makes some complicated arguments and interacts with mostly continental, liberal scholars in some detail. While I could see professionals or researchers might find this interaction to be welcome, for my purposes it was too much detail, though I did appreciate the general points made therein (e.g., his reasons for rejecting the subjectivism of an implicit or explicit "canon within a canon" approach).
Sometimes I wished he would expand on some particular claim, and I would often (but not always) find such later in the text. In these cases, a footnote like "see pp. nn-mm" would have been a helpful reading aid so I didn't labor over understanding a terse statement of what would be developed in a more explicit fashion later.
Not all of his arguments are equally convincing to me (e.g., his argument for the closing of the canon -- revelation always accompanies the big events in redemptive history; the coming of Christ was the consummation of redemptive history; therefore, the canon is also consummated by this once-for-all event), but all in all, it's a useful book for someone studying the issues of NT introduction, particularly canon and authority.