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No. 56: The Production of the New Testament Canon: A Revisionist Suggestion

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 56
December, 1993
Copyright 1993, Biblical Horizons

My research for Through New Eyes II has led me to the conviction that there are three major periods of Biblical history, which lead to a fourth. These are the Ages of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit.

The First Age, that of the Father, is recorded in the book of Genesis. It focuses on the personal lives and faith of the men we call the patriarchs. It begins with God’s establishment of four environments on the earth: (1) the Throne Land of Eden, accessible only through the (2) Garden-Sanctuary, which is surrounded by (3) homelands, which relate to other spaces as (4) outlying world. Man’s first fall, in the Sanctuary, prevented his going into Eden and resulted in his being put in a Homeland that was not a Throneland. The second fall, of Cain, expelled him from a Homeland into a world of wandering. The third fall, of the Sethites, removed the sinners from the world through the great flood. As I have shown in a previous essay ("Three Falls and Three Heroes," in Biblical Horizons 22), these rebellions constituted stealing the gift of the Father (sacrilege), murder of the brotherhood of the Son (fratricide), and resisting the marital gifts of the Spirit (intermarriage or compromise).

The rest of Genesis shows Abraham, the human father, remaining faithful in his worship of the heavenly Father; Jacob, the human brother, remains faithful in wrestling with the heavenly Brother; and Joseph, the human bridegroom, is a faithful Spirit-led witness before the world. In this period the revelation of the Personhood of God, which is focussed in the Father, has been definitively made (though of course, further revelations will come). The fall of the Hebrews from their witness in Egypt provoked the crisis which led to the second great phase of history: the Age of the Son (or Word).

The Age of the Word, or of Yahweh’s Kingship, has three great phases which lead to a fourth. These are marked by the first four of the Ten Words. The Sinaitic era, extending through the period of the Judges, reveals God as the God of Heaven (for the Tabernacle is a picture of the heaven-cloud). The issue here is the First Word: worship no other gods. The interaction is with the gods of other tribes. The sin is apostasy, and the prophets call people back to the true God. God’s name is Yahweh, the covenant God who receives worship.

The Kingdom era, extending to the exile, reveals God as the center of corporate praise (for the Temple is an architectural image of the praise of the Levitical choir and orchestra). The issue here is the Second Word: worship nothing made by man. The interaction is with the iconic worship patterns of other nations, which may not be incorporated into Yahweh’s praise. Such worship causes men to be cruel, and the prophets call people back to righteous brother-brother relationships as defined by the Law. God’s name is Adonai, the Master who rules.

The Restoration era, extending from the exile to Christ, reveals God as the ruler of the world (for Ezekiel’s Temple is an architectural model of the world mountain). The issue here is the Third Word: carry God’s name in worship and in life faithfully. The interaction is with other peoples in the empires, who must be called to faith but not married unless they convert. John the Baptist calls men back to faithful living. God’s name is Yahweh of Hosts, the God who controls history.

These three eras play out essentially in the sanctuary, in the homeland, and in the world. In a shadowy way, Israel is also permitted to have their homeland as the Throneland, the new Eden where God dwells as King and His people rule with Him.

The fourth era is that of Jesus. Jesus proclaims the sabbath, the acceptable year of the Lord. He repeatedly heals on the sabbath. His ministry discloses what is meant by the Fourth Word. Sabbath means enthronement, and Jesus opens the door into the Throneland by remaining faithful to the Adamic priesthood and becoming Melchizedekal priest-king. The interaction now is with principalities and powers.

The fourth era of the Second Age is also the Third Age, the age of the Spirit. The law as tutor is gone, and now men are called to live by the complete revelation of God in Christ (which includes the content of the law, of course). This is also, as Paul says in Galatians, the age of man-come-of-age. No longer do we approach God through animals, but through a Man. The Edenic dominion for which we were originally designed has come in Christ and is being worked out through all the ages of the Church by the power of the Spirit.

Now, these four ages are the ages of ox, lion, eagle, and man, respectively. These are the four faces of the cherubim, who guard God’s throne and form a pattern for human holiness, and these faces are revealed sequentially in the Bible. The ox is the priest (Lev. 4), and priestly worship is the center of the Sinaitic period. The lion is the king, who with the ox guards the Temple and rules the land during the Kingdom period. The eagle is both the world emperor and the prophet, who come into focus in the Restoration period. Finally, the Man-face is revealed in Christ, and the age of True Humanism arrives.

When the priest is anointed, blood and oil are put on his ear, his hand, and his foot (Lev. 8 & 14). These also point to the three periods of priestly hearing, kingly action, and worldly witness.

Now, these are the four gospels. From ancient times it has been known that Matthew wrote first (despite all the nonsense of liberals during the last century). Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, in his out-of-print book The Fruit of Lips, presents some compelling arguments to show that each of the gospel writers was adding to the previous writer, and in fact that each gospel picks up where the preceding one left off in terms of theme.

Matthew presents Christ as Ox/Moses. His book is full of speeches, for the ear is central. Jesus is law-giver. God is the Father and the God of heaven, and "kingdom of heaven" is Matthew’s term (pointing back to the symbolism of the Tabernacle).

Mark presents Jesus as a man of action. Mark presents Jesus as Lion/David, performing great works, swiftly going here and there, for the hand is central. In Mark, Jesus always does things "immediately." Mark is shorter than Matthew not because Mark wrote first (what a silly argument!), but because Mark does not provide the great sermons. The field of action is the land.

Luke presents Jesus as the Eagle/Prophet, interacting with gentiles and women much more than the other two. In Luke, Jesus is always on the move, and half of his book is taken up with the Travel Narrative to Jerusalem, for the foot is central. The Spirit receives the great emphasis in Luke and Acts. The field of action is the world.

Finally, John presents Jesus as Man, the Image of God. The phrase "son of man" used in the other gospels points to Jesus as second Adamic priest, king, and prophet. The phrase "son of God" used in John points to Jesus as the image of God, true humanity as well as true God. John’s Jesus tours the sanctuary, which represents heaven. Thus, John puts us in the Throneland.

Now, when were these books written? I suggest that Matthew wrote in ad 30, as soon as the Church began. Why would he wait? The Jewish Church needed to hear the words of the Greater Moses. Soon after Matthew wrote his gospel, James wrote his epistle, which is full of allusions to Matthew. James writes to the scattered church, so he writes after the scattering of Acts 8:1, which happened in ad 30. The focus is Jerusalem and the scattering from it.

The second period of the Early Church is the Petrine Period. Mark, we are told by the early records, wrote under Peter’s tutelage. Peter’s labors were among the Jews and their relatives, and finally took the Church to the gentiles at the border of the land (Acts 10-11), but Peter passed off the immediate scene in ad 44. Thus, Mark’s gospel and Peter’s first letter, written to Jewish believers, were written before ad 44. (Herod died in 44, Acts 12, which was 14 years after Paul’s conversion, Galatians 2:1; see "The Resurrection of Peter and the Coming of the Kingdom," in Biblical Horizons 34.)

The third period of the Early Church is the Pauline Period. Paul’s missionary journeys begin shortly after ad 44 and run up to just before ad 60. During this period, Luke wrote his gospel and Acts, and Paul wrote his letters. Peter also wrote 2 Peter, which refers to Paul’s writings (probably to Hebrews, since it was addressed to Peter’s Jewish audience). The action here is the world outside of the land.

The fourth period is the Johannine Period, ad 60-66 or so. During this period John wrote his gospel, the book of Revelation, and his three letters; and Jude also wrote that what Peter had predicted in 2 Peter 2 was now coming to pass. The action in John is in heaven, symbolically in the gospel and really in Revelation, which gets us to the throneland.