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Lessons From Church History Volume 1

Volume 1. This gives a short history of the Church from the apostles to the Roman War, including Luke’s account of Paul’s journeys in the book of Acts. It includes Paul’s fourth missionary journey to Spain and Britain.

Category - Long Book

Chapter 24

The New Testament Canon

Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus who sold some property and took the money to Jerusalem, giving it to the apostles (Acts 4:36, 37). Years later we find him returning to Cyprus with Paul in their missionary journies. We know that Barnabas was bilingual, fluent in both Hebrew and Greek. He must have been a Scribe, transcribing and translating documents neatly with free-flowing script.

Some of his handiwork was dug up not far from Alexandria, Egypt, in November of 1906. It was found by a man illegally digging in the ruins of Medinet Dimet, a Roman garrison and town that was abandoned by the early 200’s A.D. The digger’s identity was kept anonymous for fear of prosecution, but he sold it to an antiquities dealer named Cheikh Aly Arabi, who sold it to Charles Lang Freer, a Detroit businessman who had retired in 1900.

Freer loved art and was in the process of setting up an art gallery at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. when he decided to take a trip to Egypt in 1906. Thus, on the outskirts of Gizeh, he met Aly Arabi, who showed him an old 372-page manuscript that an unknown digger had discovered nearby.

The artwork on the two painted wooden covers attracted Freer’s attention. The manuscript itself was an old copy of all four New Testament gospels, written in Greek, but having Aramaic Hebrew notations in the margins. He purchased this 372-page manuscript and then donated it to the Smithsonian Institute, where it became known as Codex Washingtonensis, or just Codex W. Experts at the time assumed that it was a manuscript from the fifth or sixth century and did not do proper forensics on it.

It sat there for decades with little further interest, everyone assuming the earlier analysis to be correct. Finally, in 1981 Lee W. Woodard, having no degree in Paleontology, requested and received infrared and ultraviolet photographs of the manuscript from the Smithsonian. He was doing research in an entirely different area of study, wondering if perhaps some of the ornaments on letters might actually be musical notations. But in looking at his photographs more carefully, he began to do what others had not yet done and to see what others had not noticed earlier.

As a result of his studies since 1981, he concluded that Codex W was actually the original (or near-original) handwritten copy of all four New Testament gospels written mostly from 66-74 A.D. They were each dated and signed with a logo (or seal). One main seal combined the names of Barnabas and Mark in a cross shape. It was the equivalent of today’s signature on a certified document.

More than that, each gospel appears to contain the signature-seal of the original gospel writer, often in more than one place to indicate additions to the gospels at later dates. Each of those additions were also dated somewhat cryptically by the use of “data birds”and by the use of gematria. These dates and notations were written in both Hebrew and Greek, often in tiny letters to the side, as if trying to hide the facts from the Roman authorities.

The dates are based upon the Roman calendar, called A.U.C. (Latin for anno urbis conditate). The Roman calendar dated from the founding of Rome in 753 B.C. (Rome’s Year 1).

The Gospel of Matthew

The main part of Matthew’s gospel is dated as 790 A.U.C., which is our 37 A.D. Woodard says on page 205 of First Century Gospels Found (2006),

“The earliest version of Matthew of Codex W probably had no genealogy, and maybe—or at least more abbreviated—infancy narratives (than are currently in our Chapters 1-2 of Matthew). The earliest expression of this manuscript was 790 A.U.C. (37 A.D.), perhaps expaned in 796 A.U.C. (43 A.D.), and certainly expanded somewhat in 820 (67 A.D.). The latter date is when the genealogy and portions of the infancy narratives were spliced into an already existing manuscript that had been without them.”

The first 18 verses that show the genealogy of Christ were added later, and these show that the final names on the list had been erased and replaced. It is likely that the original list was one of Jesus’ near relatives (perhaps John the Baptist), and that only the final names needed altering. The date is given as the equivalent of our 67 A.D., when Matthew’s gospel reached its final form.

Next to the first letter of the first word of the genealogy is written: “in Aun” (or “in On,”), which is the Egyptian city of Hieropolis, near where the manuscript was found. The intent was probably to tell us where that section was written.

The city of Aun, or On, is the old Egyptian city of Heliopolis. It was near a Roman outpost called “Babylon in Egypt.” Before I read Woodard’s introductory book, I had never heard that there was a Babylon in Egypt. Peter apparently was there with Mark when he penned his first epistle, saying in 1 Peter 5:13,

13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.

Eusebius tells us that Mark was the reputed founder of the Church in Alexandria (Eccl. Hist. Vol. I, Bk. II, xvi). He mistakenly assumed that “Babylon” was a metaphor for Rome. But Codex W shows that Babylon was the location of a church in Egypt, probably comprising the Roman commander and some of his soldiers.

The title of Matthew’s Gospel appears to be squeezed into the top of the first page, as if it had not been titled earlier. Hence, the size of the letters in the title are actually smaller than the main text. And squeezed between the title and the first line is Matthew’s tiny autograph, shortened to three Hebrew letters (mem-tav-yod), not so different from modern initials validating document pages.

Woodard explains on page 211 of his book,

Only an autographed First Century A.D. Greek original could display such forensically verifiable textual altera-tions and expansions.”

Matthew himself was a Levite and a former employee of Rome as a tax collector and record keeper at the Sea of Galilee. Not only was he highly literate, he was used to keeping records. As a Levite, he also was part of the class of people who were in charge of the Scriptures, seeing that copies were letter-perfect. Thus, it was only natural that he would be the first of the disciples to write a gospel.

The Gospel of Mark

As for the Gospel of Mark, Irenaeus (180-185 A.D.) tells us that it was written after the deaths of Peter and Paul. (Eccl. Hist., Vol. II, Bk. V, viii.) Recall that Paul has sent for Timothy (2 Tim.4:9), and apparently Peter sent for Mark for a similar purpose. No doubt Mark took copious notes from Peter, and then later went to Egypt, armed with an authentic gospel from Peter’s first-hand recollections.

Codex W gospel of Mark is signed and sealed with the Barnabas-Mark logo in the shape of a cross, and contains also the date of 826 (our 73 A.D.), the same year that the Roman war ended at the fall of Masada. The sign says either Antioch or Aun. More forensics are needed to determine the letters more precisely. Mark was the nephew of Barnabas (Col. 4:10).

The Gospel of Luke

Luke’s gospel came the following year, dated 74 A.D. Even his gospel is authenticated with tiny Hebraic Apostolic stamp-seals (Woodard, p. 303). Luke’s gospel begins this way:

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Woodard tells us on page 368 where Luke’s seal is placed in conjuction with these verses:

“Near unto where that Preface coincides with ‘…that you might have more certainty concerning the word,’ Luke’s Hebraic Antioch or Athenian Stamp-Seal is affixed. . . .

“The Gospel Namesakes and their designated scribes risked their necks and lives to clandestinely convey to other ‘In-The-Know’ Bi-Lingual Jewish Christian leaders in other locations that these specific First Century A.D. Gospel manuscripts were being dated and sealed as accurately, rightly, and properly, honorably conveying Gospel Truth.

“That their clandestine methods worked well to veil this Endorsement Stamp-Seal is well witnessed by failures of 1906 analysts, and Henry Sanderrs during 1907-1917, and the Larry Hurtado Edited Panel of Scholars [in 2006] to grasp it.”

The Gospel of John

The first section of John’s gospel is dated from 65-69 A.D., but his “Truth Seal” above the word “truth” in John 21:24 is dated in 67. Even so, it was not put into final form until 97 A.D., and this was done by a different scribe, as one might expect. Woodard comments on page 325,

“I was not very much expecting that 97 A.D. element, yet not entirely surprised by that date which fits many past speculations. On the other hand, I was totally shocked to find the A.D. 65-69 dating elements. . . .

Finalized 97 A.D. manuscript of John does fit well with known church history. The Apostle John had been banished to the Isle of Patmos during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian. Emperor Nerva succeeded the latter on Sept. 18, A.D. 97. John was then freed from captivity on Patmos, and took up residence in Ephesus. Apparently it was there that his finalized Codex W manuscript was compiled?—But I am quite sure Barnabas would not have been in Ephesus in 97 A.D., so there must have been a Barnabas mentored understudy who did whatever re-penning and editing that was done in 97 A.D.”

Woodard also suggests that the reason the first “quire” (section) of John was retained, though it had employed an earlier scribe, was not to save time or scarce sheepskin, but to retain John’s actual signature found under the title of the gospel itself. The title reads, “Gospel of John,” and beneath “of John” in tiny Hebrew letters reads “John’s words.” It was his seal of authentication. As Woodard points out on page 364, “Who would want to throw away John’s Autograph?”

All of this is but a summary of Woodard’s findings in regard to Codex W. Even his ponderous 400-page book itself is but an introduction to stimulate further forensic study of the Codex. He has much to say also about the gospel writers pictured on the wooden paintings on the front and back covers of the Codex. These may actually be the portraits of those original gospel writers.

The significance of Codex W is not yet sufficiently appreciated for what it is. But I believe it dates the original gospels and shows that the canon of the New Testament was largely concluded by 74 A.D. and finished in 97 just before the death of John.

Paul and Matthew’s Gospel

It appears that Matthew’s gospel came first (37 A.D.) and was circulated widely in the earliest days of the Church, particularly among the Hebrew Christians (since there was a Hebrew-language edition). In the early 50’s Paul began to write epistles, as did James and Peter. Woodard believes Paul had Matthew’s gospel in mind when writing to the Galatians (1:6, 7),

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different [or another] gospel, 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the [Matthew’s] gospel of Christ.

There is little doubt that Matthew’s gospel was the primary one in use during the early years of the Church, and that it was used exclusively by the Judean Christians. Irenaeus writes in the late first century,

“Now Matthew published among the Hebrews a written Gospel, which was also in their own tongue . . .”

This would have been used also by the Judaizers who opposed Paul’s “one new man” teaching that sought to eliminate the dividing wall of partition in their thinking.

It appears that the Judaizers tried to use Matthew’s gospel to refute Paul. Paul says that they were distorting the gospel, and that Matthew’s gospel is not really “a different gospel” at all. When Paul refuted the Judaizers in his letter to the Galatians, he said that this other gospel was being distorted and misused and was “really not another” (gospel) at all. In Gal. 6:11 Paul continues,

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Woodard paraphrases this as follows on page 37:

11 See with what large alphabetic letters that I sign my own epistles.

Paul says again in 1 Thess. 4:18, “I, Paul, sign this salutation with my own hand” as a matter of authentication. In each case, it appears that he signed the letters in full-sized letters at the end of the text. In other words, Paul was less concerned about his own safety than he was in authenticating his epistles. Paul’s signature was not covert, nor was it in tiny letters as in Codex W of the gospels. Thus, when we view Gal. 6:11 in the light of these tiny signature seals in Codex W, the contrast adds a whole new light to Paul’s statement. Woodard tells us on page 35,

“On the other hand, these Jewish Christian Scribes, by usage of the clandestinely conveyed data to which I am directing attention, obviously did not want that vital data to fall into the wrong hands. In an Era of horrendous persecutions for Christians, vital data could have been used to track down and persecute manuscript authors and scribes, supporting Christian communities, dear Christian friends, and family members.—And perhaps lead to the destruction of exceedingly prized sacred writings, like unto what I call ‘Codex (or, Kodex) W: Old and Holy’.”

Unfortunately, their clandestine method worked a little too well, and it fooled even modern scholars. In the early 1900’s scholars did not have infrared or ultraviolet technology, so they were already at a disadvantage from a modern perspective. But worse than that, they mistakenly assumed that the Codex was from a later century, and this mistake was perpetuated by scholars quoting each other, rather than by doing their own forensic study.

The Roman outpost where Codex W was unearthed was abandoned by the year 200 when the nearby lake receded. In a very short time, this outpost was completely forgotten, so it is highly unlikely that the Codex could have been buried at that location in the fourth or fifth century.

Furthermore, Woodard shows that Codex W was quoted by Clement of Alexandria just before the year 200.

“Clement cited literally from Gospel of John three verses in which he has the precise unusual and distinctive word order that Codex W has.” (Woodard, p. 391)

There is still more forensic work to be done on this. Much time has already been wasted, and modern scholars are reluctant to admit their mistakes. But I believe that the day will come when Codex W will be recognized as the earliest authentic canon of the New Testament in existence, having the personal signature-seals of the apostles, and perhaps even presenting their portraits on the covers.