Thursday, May 05, 2016

Augustine's Canon List

Image:  Augustine statue, limestone with paint and gilding, French, Burgandy, ca. 1450-1475.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.  April 2016.

I’ve recently been reading Augustine’s “On Christian Doctrine” (a work begun c. A.D. 396 and completed in A.D. 427).  In Book II, chapter VIII Augustine provides a canon list in which he includes the following:

Old Testament

Five books of Moses [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

4 books of Kings [1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings], 2 books of Paralipomenon [1-2 Chronicles]

Job, Tobias, Esther, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, 1-2 Esdras [apparently with Ezra-Nehemiah as “1 Esdras”, and 1 Esdras as “2 Esdras”]

Prophets:  Psalms of David, 3 books of Solomon (Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes), Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Twelve (Hosea—Malachi), 4 Major Prophets [Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel].

OT Notes:

1. Augustine lists forty-four OT books [with Ezra-Nehemiah counting as one book and including seven apocryphal books].  This reflects his use of the Old Latin which followed the LXX.

2. Psalms and Wisdom Literature included among "Prophets"

3.  Daniel included among Major Prophets

New Testament

4 Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John]

14 letters of Paul [Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1-2 Thessalonians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews].

1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John, Jude, James, Acts of the Apostles, Revelation of John

NT Notes:

1.  Augustine lists 27 NT books.

2.  He lists 14 Pauline letters, including Hebrews.

3.  In the order of the Pauline letters, Colossians comes after 1-2 Thessalonians.

4.  In the Catholic Epistles James comes after Jude.

5.  The Acts of the Apostles comes after the Catholic Epistles.

Overall Analysis

Augustine’s list shows the fluidity of the recognition of the Christian canon in the late fourth-early fifth centuries, at least in N. Africa, both with regard to content and order.  He includes the seven apocryphal books in the OT.  Hebrews is counted among the Pauline epistles and Acts with the general epistles.

Though Augustine is to be praised in many regards, not the least of which for the influence his theological writings had upon later Reformers (e. g., Calvin), his views were deficient in others.  Warfield famously quipped, for example, that the Reformation was a triumph of Augustine’s soteriology over his ecclesiology.

His view of canon was not fully developed.  In fact, it might be said that the issue of canon was not firmly settled, recognized, and articulated until the Reformation era.


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