Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tertullian's Division of the Canon into Various 'Instrumenta'

In two of his treatises Tertullian appears to give a general summary of the contents of the Latin New Testament of his time.1  In one (De Resurrect. 33, 38, 39, 40) after quoting passages from the Old Testament he continues: "This is enough from the Prophetic Instrument : I appeal now to the Gospels!" Passages from St Matthew, St Luke, and St John, follow in order. Afterwards comes a reference to the Apocalypse as contained in the Instrument of John ; and then a general reference to the Apostolic Instrument:

De Resurrect. c39 : Resurrectionem Apostolica quoqtie Instrumenta testantur... Tune et Apostolus [Paulus] per totum pene Instrumentum fidem hujus spei corroborare curavit. c. 40: Nihil autem mirum si et ex ipsius [Pauli] Instrumento captentur argumenta...

The first quotations under this head are from the Acts, and then from most of the Epistles in the Instrument [of Paul]. The omission of St Mark's Gospel shews that the enumeration is not complete; but the broad distinction of the different Instruments points to the existence of distinct groups of books, which may have been separately circulated. 

In another treatise, probably of a somewhat earlier date (De Pudicitia, cc. 6, 12, 19) Tertullian observes a similar arrangement. First he quotes the Gospels, or rather as he calls it the Gospel; and then appeals to the Apostolic Instrument in which again he includes the Acts and the Epistles of St Paul. After wards - not to dwell always on Paul he notices the Apocalypse and first Epistle of St John, and speaks of a passage from the last chapter as the close of his writing. And then it is, when he has noticed the dis- cipline of the Apostles/ that he adds as it were over and above a testimony of a companion of the Apostles taken from the Epistle of Barnabas to the Hebrews. The absence of all mention of the first Epistle of St Peter is remarkable; and it has been supposed with some probability that he was not acquainted with it till the close of his life, and then only from the Greek. [Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament p. 238]

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