“It will have been noticed that in the preceding discussion concerning criteria used by early Christians in discerning the limits of the canon, nothing was said concerning inspiration. Though this silence may at first sight seem to be strange, the reason for it arises from the circumstance that, while the Fathers certainly agreed that the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments were inspired, they did not seem to have regarded inspiration as the ground of the Bible’s uniqueness. That is, the inspiration they ascribe to the Scriptures was only one facet of the inspiring activity of the Holy Spirit in many aspects of the Church’s life.7 For example, while Clement of Rome
speaks of the sacred Scriptures (here referring to the Old Testament) as ‘true and given through the Holy Spirit’ (lxiii. 2), the author of the Epistle to Diognetus writes for his own part to his correspondent: ‘If you do not offend this grace, you will learn what the Word (λόγος) talks about through those through whom he wishes to talk, when he pleases. For whatever we have been moved painstakingly to utter by the will of the Word that commands us, it is out of love for the things revealed to us that we come to share them with you’ (xi. 7–8). Among the writings of Eusebius there is a sermon attributed to the Emperor Constantine; whether or not this attribution is correct, the preacher clearly does not consider inspiration to be confined only to the Scriptures. He begins his sermon with the prayer, ‘May the mighty inspiration of the Father and of his Son … be with me in speaking these things’ (Orat. Const. 2).
“Not only do early ecclesiastical writers view themselves to be, in some degree at least, inspired, but also others affirm, in a rather broad sense, the inspiration of their predecessors, if not their contemporaries. In a letter that Augustine addressed to Jerome, the bishop of Hippo goes so far as to say (Epist. lxxxii. 2) not only that Jerome has been favoured with the divine grace, but also that he writes under the dictation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritu Sancto)—which may seem to be rather strong hyperbole applied to the often irascible Jerome. That Gregory the Great enjoyed the reputation of being inspired is easier to understand than is the case of Jerome, and Gregory’s biographer, Paul the Deacon, describes how the Holy Spirit, ‘under the form of a dove whiter than snow’, would explain to him the mysteries of Scripture (Vita S. Gregorii, 28)…
The same impression is conveyed when we examine patristic usage of the designation ‘non-inspired’. While the Fathers again and again use the concept of inspiration in reference to the Scriptures, they seldom describe non-Scriptural writings as non-inspired. When, in fact, such a distinction is made, the designation ‘non-inspired’ is found to be applied to false and heretical writings, not to orthodox products of the Church’s life. In other words, the concept of inspiration was not used in the early Church as a basis of designation between canonical and non-canonical orthodox Christian writings.
In short, the Scriptures, according to the early Fathers, are indeed inspired, but that is not the reason they are authoritative. They are authoritative, and hence canonical, because they are the extant literary deposit of the direct and indirect apostolic witness on which the later witness of the Church depends.”
The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance
Bruce M Metzger
The Canon of the New Testament
Religion & Spirituality · 1997
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