A group of scholars is publishing a book called the New New Testament (that’s right, that extra New is meant to be there). The work consists of the typical 27 New Testament books plus another 13 works selected by the committee.
Dan Wallace has a thorough response to the recent project here. He points out the blatant historical and theological problems with the project, along with the arbitrary nature of the results. In particular, the 13 new works would have failed the classic criteria used to identify New Testament Scripture: apostolicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity.
We could look at these criteria in the form of questions that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century churches would have asked about any religious work circulating in the name of Jesus or another well-known Christian figure:
1) Who wrote it? The question is who really wrote it, not just what name was attached to it. Obviously, if a respected eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry (or an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrected glory – see Paul) wrote the work, it would stand to be valued as a credible and authoritative representation of Jesus’ ministry.
2) When was it written? Was it written during a time when eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry were still alive, so that the testimony could be affirmed by those who knew Jesus? These first two questions touch on the criteria of apostolicity.
3) Who else is using it? This question reflects the standard of catholicity. The early churches communicated with one another and were able to help each other evaluate the trustworthiness of the different religious writings they encountered. Some of these churches had Christian leaders who were known to have been disciples of the original disciples, or at least disciples of the disciples of those disciples. (OK, that was a mouthful!)
4) What does it teach? This question gets at the idea of orthodoxy. The memory of Jesus was well-preserved in the early Christian communities. The early believers proclaimed Jesus to both “insiders” and “outsiders,” and they exalted him in regular gatherings for worship. Aberrant pictures of Jesus in later writings were easily recognized and dismissed by those who knew Jesus in spirit and in truth.
5) How did it originate – publicly, or secretly? As seen in the book of Acts, the early Christians spoke about Jesus in public. Their message about Jesus (the “gospel”) became widely known. Later writers who wanted to enlist the name of Jesus or his disciples for their religious agendas were forced to get creative by presenting their doctrines as secret teachings from Jesus (when these texts “surfaced” generations after the life of Jesus, Christian truth was widely known to be something other than what these documents were promoting).
Why would people both in ancient times and today want to embrace and advance ideologies that are so clearly non-Christian and yet still use the name of Jesus for these doctrines? Perhaps there is something about the power and beauty of Jesus and all that he represents that makes it difficult to discard him altogether, even when he is redefined beyond recognition.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).