After having shared thoughts about the Gospel of St. Mark, I’ve decided that I would share just some general thoughts about the NEW TESTAMENT (NT) which is our Sacred Book. The book known as the NT is a collection of twenty-seven writings differing in style and content. While some of them adopt the historical narrative form (Gospels and Acts of the Apostles), others are letters or epistles, and the last one (the Book of Revelation) utilizes the prophetic style. Within the epistles differing styles and contents can be distinguished: some respond to very concrete problems (e.g., 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians), Romans is made up of practically an entire treatise and Hebrews, a sermon, while James has more of the aspects of a sapiential work.
This collection makes up the CANON of the writings of the NT. The word “canon” in Greek means “rule,” “norm” or “standard.”. We find ourselves before a group of writings that the Christian Church has considered to be normative or authoritative for knowing the new relation of man and mankind with God, which was inaugurated with Jesus Christ and which we can the NT in contrast with the Old.
In the NT, Sacred Scripture is frequently cited or alluded to by referring to the Old Testament (OT) (Mk 12,24). Often it is designated by the titles of the two great collections that constitute it – “Law” and “Prophets:” (Mt 5:17;11:13); the collection of Psalms is also mentioned three times (Lk 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20).
However, the canon of the OT was not yet defined in all its details at the beginning of Christianity. Only at the end of the 1st century was the Hebrew canon fixed at 39 writings; the Greek-speaking Jews accepted into their canon other works composed in their language, and it was this canon that Christians adopted. In spite of all this, the canon was not fully determined, as is shown by the fact that in the NT some works are cited as Scriptures which were afterward not made part of the definitive canon (James 4:5; Jude 14:15).
In adopting the ancient Scriptures, Christians recognized their authority by their relation to the Lord Jesus and to the Spirit. Indeed, there was no thought of a new canon of writings; the word of the Lord Jesus in his earthly life or in his risen life was cited in the same way as the old Scriptures. Living authority was also owed to the guidance of the Spirit and, in virtue of it, St. Paul could characterize as illegitimate every Gospel that differed from his own.
The writings of the apostles or disciples – even the most occasional ones – circulated and were read as a whole in Christian assemblies, as is shown by the concluding formulas of the liturgy. In this way their authority was increasing, even though they were not yet regarded as Scripture on a part with the OT. I shall continue information about the canon.
It is important, I think, that all should understand how the NT was formed.