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Theo Donner on New Testament Canon

Donner is an author of a famous article: Theo Donner, "Some Thoughts on the History of the New Testament Canon," Themelios 7.3 (1982): 23-27.

The Biblical Studies website hosts a copy at this link.

Several of his statements are most interesting.

At page 24, Donner states:

c. We should be careful about drawing any firm conclusions from the Didache as long as there is considerable doubt about the exact date (somewhere between AD 70 and 150) and composition of this document, but it is clear (i) that it regards the commandments of the Lord as of the highest authority, (ii) that it uses a written gospel (cf. Did. 8. 2 and 15. 3, 4) and (iii) that it enjoins its readers concerning the commandments of the Lord ‘Not to add to it, and to take nothing away from it’ (Did. 4.13 quoting Dt. 4:2 and 12:32), thus putting these commandments on a level with the law of Moses.

Introduction: the usual approach to the subject Discussions of the history of the New Testament canon tend to concentrate on the question of when for the first time the early church had an accepted list of Christian books that it set alongside the Old Testament Bible. Von Campenhausen puts it like this by the beginning of the canon I do not understand the emergence and dissemination nor even the ecclesiastical use and influence of what were later the canonical writings. One can in my view speak of a canon only where of set purpose such a document is given a special normative position by virtue of which it takes its place alongside the existing Old Testament Scriptures .1 Understood in this sense the first time our New Testament canon can be said to have emerged in complete form is in AD 367 in the Easter letter of Athanasius 2 but it was not until some considerable time after that that this list was generally recognized in the church. Although we can no longer speak with confidence of a communis opinio with regard to the question of how the canon evolved (contrast W. Schneemelcher some twenty years ago) 3 broadly speaking we can sum up the usual understanding as follows. The only Scriptures for the apostolic and early post-apostolic church consisted of the Old Testament. Apostolic writings were obviously known but did not have the peculiar scriptural authority of the Old Testament writings. They existed side by side with an oral tradition which was at least as if not more important for the church. Only gradually did the church become aware of the need to have some agreed list of books a gradual awareness in which the

 

 

Theo Donner, "Some Thoughts on the History of the New Testament Canon," Themelios 7.3 (1982): 23-27.