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Boundaries of New Testament Theology; the Big Five

  • November 12, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
Boundaries of New Testament Theology; the Big Five

Boundaries of New Testament Theology; the Big Five

The “Big Five” are the great animals of Africa: Lion, Buffalo, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Leopard. They constitute the richness of the fauna of the continent.


The Big Five of the New Testament
It is not unusual to speak of the term “Big Five” to understand the leading settings of a certain case or circumstance. For long time the traditional big five of New Testament theology were:

  • Fixed Canon. The fixed number of 27 books.
  • Transmission by inspiration. Narratives and spoken word are delivered by the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (inspiration).
  • Language of Jesus. Greek, as the Gospels are delivered in Greek. Some Semitic sayings of Jesus referred to the Jewish native language: Hebrew.
  • Differences in the Gospels, solved by harmonization.
  • Text type. As Erasmus used a Byzantine text for the NT, the leading text form was for a long period the Byzantine text.


Foundation of the Church
These five standards of New Testament theology had for a long time provided a foundation, the basic security in the Church for personal belief and even for use in national matters. The Bible as the source of inspiration remained for a long period the standard of a stable culture in western countries, despite conflicts and wars. 

The Big Five after the Enlightenment
Through the Enlightenment (ca. 1750) a big change occurred concerning the traditional big five of the NT. They were subjected to great changes through the Age of Reason that was introduced in theology in the form of Criticism, in which German theology took the lead. And today, all pillars of the Christian faith have been abandoned and the results for the New Testament are:

  • A Flexible Canon. E.g. the pastoral letters of Paul are by many theologians rejected as real Pauline works.
  • Transmission by oral tradition. Many changes in the gospels would be the results of changes by the inaccurate oral preaching of the apostles that became the ultimate source for the writers of the gospels.
  • Aramaic would be the language of Jesus.
  • Differences in the gospels are insolvable. Harmonization is insufficient as even conservative theologians have no explanations in many occasions. A history of changing forms would be visible in the gospel books (Form History).
  • The Alexandrian text type has set aside the Byzantine text form. It all happened with the single argument, that the oldest manuscripts of the NT must be the best, and so the family of the Alexandrian text type should contain the best readings. However, the result is that a respectable number of NT passages (sentences) would not belong to the NT anymore, e.g. the longer ending in the book of Mark (16:9-16), the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), and others as well.


Doubt versus Faith
The results of these changes for Christian faith are many and disastrous. Doubt replaced faith:

  • If some Letters of Paul are uncertain, which books will remain certain?
  • The sayings of Jesus cannot be his, if there was an oral tradition prior to the Gospels.
  • If Aramaic was Jesus’s language, we do not possess his words anymore, as they would be translated into Greek, in the Gospels.
  • If Harmonization is not sufficient, what are then the answers unto all the differences in the gospels?
  • The Alexandrian text form is old, but has a lot of variant readings, inaccuracies to brute corruptions, from the time before the canon decision by Athanasius in 367 (in Alexandria).

Results of Criticism
What did Criticism with the big five of the New Testament? They are crippled, blind, their teeth and claws are extracted, their horns are cut off, and the ivory of the elephants is stolen for money. The big five of the New Testament are not only not put in a zoo where people could admire them, no they are maltreated and what has been left over are skins and bones. 

Unfortunately, theology doesn’t have a Protection of Animals Act. And so the maltreatment of biblical texts is an ongoing terror against the Christians and it is happening actively or passively through ignorance of those who are supposed to lead them. 

Documentation, the Winning Approach 
The approach of Documentation can make a difference in the current theological atmosphere for those who want to remain close to the text of the New Testament:  

  • A fixed Canon. All books are written by the man whose name is above the book.
  • Transmission by (inspired) Documentation. Jesus’s writers followed him to write down what he did and said. Their reports became the sources for the Gospels.
  • The language of Jesus was Greek. Jesus’s writers did not translate, neither did the gospel writers. They delivered the reports in their books, just as they had received them.
  • Differences between the Gospels. Jesus’s writers provided several types of reports about the same occasions, for several types of groups. Therefore they had to distribute Jesus’s sayings over two or three reports. And so we regularly read different sayings of Jesus in identical events in the Gospels. The sayings are all his.
  • Text type. The Byzantine text represented the 27 books long before the year 367 when Athanasius decided for the Byzantine canon of the NT. The churches in Asia and Greece received the gospels from Paul, and also his letters. Indeed we should seek the apostolic text form in the Byzantine region, the area of Paul’s missionary work. 

Documentation has the faculty to bring the big five in line with (1) the good things of the past and in line with (2) the content of the NT itself. There is no better alternative. This is the Winning Gospel Approach, that makes the big five of New Testament Theology again the Big Five.

Take Note
Since I have bought (in 2019) The New Testament in the Original Greek, Byzantine Text form, by Robinson and Pierpont (2018), I got a new insight into the importance of the Byzantine text form instead of the Alexandrian, and I am very happy with it.

For the review I wrote, go to: “Removing a Thick Dust Layer of Christian Thinking”


By Ben van Noort, November 12, 2019