Are we sure that Hebrews, James and 1 John are inspired?
I have a question about your website article on the NT canon. You said
that the Muratorian Fragment is the earliest list of NT letters, but that
it did not contain Hebrews, James or 1 John. Since Origen was also
skeptical about these, should we be? Is there any proof to believe that
these are inspired also?
A certain level of skepticism is called for in everything, of course.
However, with sufficient evidence, one is advised to let down their guard
somewhat when it becomes clear that something is true beyond a reasonable
doubt. I believe this applies to the New Testament canon. You mention that
Origen was skeptical about some of the books. The current meaning of the
English word skeptical implies leaning toward not believing in something.
Perhaps better wording would be to say that Origen conceded that certain
books were debated by some. In other words, Origin did not necessarily
doubt the inspired nature of these books, but rather he admitted that some
still debated their place in the officially accepted list of canonical
If one understands the process by which the New Testament canon was
created, the fact that certain books were accepted into the final list
later than others is only natural. Although we do not have a recorded
snapshot at these times, it might be useful to mentally speculate about
what the list of universally accepted inspired writings were in 65, in 85,
in 105 and in 125 AD. In AD 65, not all the books were even written, never
mind all accepted as part of what we now call the New Testament. By AD 85,
most likely the last books were either recently written or perhaps would
very soon be written (possible “last” books include Revelation, 1,2 or 3
John or even the gospel of John). By AD 105, all the books had certainly
been written, but insufficient time had passed for every book to have been
passed around the churches and carefully read in order to allow all of
them to be clearly understood as inspired and belonging to the official
list. By AD 125, sufficient time had passed, that one can imagine official
lists already being generated, although we do not have an extant copy from
that time. By 150 AD, this process was almost completed. Only a very few
books were still debated, and books such as the Didache and the gospel of
Barnabus had already been recognized for what they were–useful for
additional reading and study, but not inspired books with apostolic
authority. More on this subject is available in my book Reasons for
Belief: A Handbook of Christian Evidences, which is available at
www.greatcommission.com. In the final analysis, there is solid evidence
for the apostolic authority for most if not all the New Testament books.
Having said this, a Christian has further reason for faith in the final
list of books. We have faith that God had a hand in causing the early
church to bring together the books that he wanted to be included in his
Holy Bible. Even if, for some reason, the early church had erred in this
natural process of collecting those letters with apostolic authority, it
seems reasonable to believe in the end God would have stepped in and made
sure that the books he wanted included made it in there one way or another!
John Oakes, PhD