Why Was The Authority Of Certain New Testament Books Questioned? (The Antilegomena)
Most of the books of the New Testament were immediately received as authoritative by the church. These accepted books were known as the homolegomena that is, “the books spoken for.” However some of the books that are now in the New Testament canon have been, at times, questioned as being divinely authoritative. They are known as the antilegomena, “the books spoken against.” There were seven books whose authority was doubted by some members of the early church. The reasons vary from book to book.
The Book Of Hebrews
The main problem, that some of members of the early church had with the Book of Hebrews, was that it was written anonymously. While the original recipients knew who the author was, this eventually became forgotten. Although a number of candidates have been suggested, today no one was certain who wrote the book.
There is another issue. The writer makes a distinction between himself and the Apostles.
How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3,4)
However the author does claim authority for his work. At the end of the book the writer says.
Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter (Hebrews 13:22).
From the earliest times, the letter to the Hebrews was accepted everywhere but in Latin Christianity – the western church. The problem was lack of a stated author. However, it was eventually realized that the Book of Hebrews was orthodox in its content and deserved a place in the New Testament.
Some in the early church challenged the authorship of the Book of James, as well as its truth. While James was not one of the originally Twelve Disciples, he was a leader in the early church (Acts 15; Galatians 1). James was most likely the half-brother of Jesus. There were some in the western church that did not realize whom he was. Once his identity was confirmed the problem vanished in the west.
During the time of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther questioned the authority of James. He initially thought it taught salvation by works and called it, “a right strawy Epistle.” Consequently in the first edition of his German translation of the New Testament Luther put James as an appendix.
The main problem that Luther and others have had with James was the content. The issue can be stated as follows: Is James was in conflict with Paul concerning how one could be saved? James does put more emphasis on works than do the other New Testament writings. However there is no contradiction. James is not so much theological as it is practical. It fits a much-needed gap between the doctrine and practice of Christianity. When Paul and James are properly understood there is no contradiction. Paul teaches that faith alone saves while James emphasizes that the faith that saves is not alone.
The most suspect of all the books of the New Testament is Second Peter. There are a number of reasons as to why Peter’s authorship is questioned. They include the following.
1. The Two Books Were Written In A Different Style
First, the style of the two books is remarkable different. It seems obvious that two different writers were involved.
The stylistic differences may be explained by Peter’s use of an amanuensis, or secretary, who did the writing for him. The first letter was written by Silas (Silvanus).
With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it (1 Peter 5:12).
The second letter may have been written by Peter himself or with the use of another scribe. This would explain the differences in style.
2. Second Peter Quotes From Jude
Second Peter quotes from the Book of Jude. It is argued that the genuine Peter would never have done this. However it is just as likely that Jude quoted from Peter rather than Peter from Jude. Even if this is not the case, why should it be a problem for Peter to quote from another part of Scripture to support his argument?
3. Second Peter Is Cited Late
The earliest testimony about Second Peter is relative late in Christian history. It is contended that the earliest testimony is negative. This shows that some had a questions about the authority of this book.
However there are a number of allusions to Second Peter in the writings of some very early church Fathers.
In addition, this book is contained in P72 - a third century Greek manuscript. This shows that it was collected with other New Testament books at an early date.
Finally there is a remote possibility that a fragment from Second Peter was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. If true, this would prove that Second Peter was composed before A.D. 70. However the evidence for Second Peter among the Dead Sea Scrolls is slender.
4. The Writer Tries To Prove He Is Peter
It is also alleged that the author of Second Peter tries too hard to prove that he is actually Simon Peter. For example he cites his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.
For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).
The fact that the writes speaks of being present at the Transfiguration supposedly shows it was not Peter. This argument is too subjective. The fact that he mentions a significant event in Peter’s life may be because he actually was Peter!
5. Peter’s Name Was Frequently Forged In The Early Church
It is also a fact that Peter’s name was frequently used in the early years of the church for writings that were not his. However this proves nothing one way or the other. The forgery has to be proved – not merely assumed.
6. The Content Shows Its Lateness
There is the argument that the content of Second Peter shows that it is a late production. This argument is also suspect. It is based upon the assumption that statements made in the letter reflect a time later than the first century. Yet there is no real evidence of this in Second Peter.
While most non-believers reject the Peter’s authorship of this book there are sufficient reasons for believing that Peter was the actual writer.
Second And Third John
Second and Third John were questioned for several reasons. For one thing, the author was not specifically stated - he is called merely “the elder.” In addition, early Christians do not often cite these letters. There does not seem to be much evidence that they were considered to be authoritative by those in the early church.
There Are Reasons For The Slow Recognition Of These Letters
The reasons for doubting these two letters of John are not very strong. The lack of their wide circulation is easily explained. Both of these letters were addressed to individuals, both are very brief, and neither have much theological content. Consequently they would not have had very wide circulation. Because of these factors there were not too many early writers who would quote from them. This led to their slow recognition. There are a number of arguments in their favor.
The early church father Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, testified to the genuineness of Second John.
The translation of the New Testament into Old Latin contained these works as did the Muratorian Canon – a second century New Testament list.
The Believers Were Familiar With The Writer
The believers in Asia were so familiar with John that he could use the term “the elder” without any further explanation.
The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth The term “elder” was a special designation for an apostle and his office (2 John 1:1).
The term elder could be used as a special designation for an apostle and his office. In First Peter we read.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed (1 Peter 5:1).
The letters are written in similar style as First John. First John was widely acknowledged as coming from the Apostle John. Therefore there is sufficient evidence to link Second and Third John with John the Apostle.
Jude was questioned for his use of the apocryphal Book of Enoch. He seemingly cites it as an authoritative source. There is also a possible reference to a work called “The Assumption of Moses” (Jude 9). However Jude’s quotations of these works is similar to Paul citing heathen poets (Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:23, Titus 1:12). While the works are not authoritative the statements cited are true.
The Book Of Revelation
It is no surprise that the Book of Revelation would meet some opposition due to the apocalyptic nature of the work. However, it had almost instant recognition almost everywhere. However in the fourth century some questions arose concerning it. This was due in part to some heretical groups misusing the book.
The Author Claims To Be John
The author clearly identifies himself as John the Apostle.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John (Revelation 1:1).
At the end of the Book of Revelation John says.
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:8-9).
This work clearly claims to be from John.
Only Some Of The Writings Were Questioned
It must be stressed that only was only some people in the church, not all of them, that questioned only these seven books. The great majority of the books that make up the New Testament were never questioned. The seven books that were questioned were eventually recognized as Scripture by the entire church. The fact that questions were asked about them only demonstrates the care was taken about this important issue.
There Was No Debate Later In History
Once the church formally recognized the twenty-seven books, there was no later debate to add to them - as was the case with the Old Testament Apocrypha. There has been no real debate to add or subtract to these books since that time. All branches of Christendom – Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, accept these twenty-seven books, and only these twenty-seven books, as New Testament Scripture.
There Is Nothing In Conflict With The Rest Of The New Testament
It must be also emphasized that nothing in these seven books contains any doctrine that conflicts with the other twenty accepted New Testament books. These seven books were not only in continuous use in the church from the beginning, there is nothing in them that contradicts other Scripture. This is what we should expect from writings that were divinely inspired.
The New Testament books that were immediately accepted by all believers were known as the homolegomena. However, there were a few books of the New Testament that had their authority questioned. These were known as the antilegomena – the books spoken against. There was only a minority of church leaders who spoke out against the books. These antilegomena included Hebrews, James, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Jude and Revelation. The reason for questioning their divine authority varied from book to book.
Hebrews was questioned because of its anonymous authorship. James was questioned because it seemed to emphasize works more than grace.
Second Peter was questioned for a number of reasons including differences in style between the two letters, the question that some in the early church had regarding its authority, and the fact that the work quoted from Jude. Add to this the fact that Peter’s name was often forged on many early works. There are also parts within the book that seem to show a late date. It is also contended that the author tries too hard to prove that he is Peter.
However all of these criticisms have satisfying answers. There is no real reason for rejecting Peter’s authorship.
Second and Third John were questioned because the author was not specifically stated. These letters are also brief and do not have much theological content. Jude was questioned for his supposed use of the apocryphal Book of Enoch. The Book of Revelation was questioned due to the apocalyptic nature of the work. Eventually, when more evidence became available, all were accepted as Scripture.
There was only a minority of church leaders who spoke out against these books. Finally, nothing in these books contains any teaching that conflicts with other parts of Holy Scripture.