The New Testament "canon" is the set of books Christians regard as divinely-inspired and constituting the New Testament of the Christian Bible. For most, it is an agreed-upon list of twenty-seven books that includes the four gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation. The books of the canon of the New Testament were written mostly in the first century and finished by the year 150 C.E. However, it would be a long and complicated process by church leaders would decide which books were to included in the “official” New Testament we know today. While full-on declarations of “official” canons didn’t happen until the 15th and 16th centuries (and mainly as a result of the Protestant Reformation), church leaders (and heretics alike!) from the very earliest days sought to establish an official “canon” of Christian scripture. Here are some of the people and events who helped turn scattered writings into Holy Scripture.
Early Christianity (30-325 C.E.)
Clement of Rome
By the end of the 1st century, some letters of Paul were known to Bishop Clement of Rome, together with some form of the “words of Jesus.” While Clement valued these highly, he did not regard them as "Scripture" ("graphe"), a term he reserved for the Hebrew Bible. Scholar Bruce Metzger draws the following conclusion about Clement:
“Clement... makes occasional reference to certain words of Jesus; though they are authoritative for him, he does not appear to enquire how their authenticity is ensured. In two of the three instances that he speaks of remembering 'the words' of Christ or of the Lord Jesus, it seems that he has a written record in mind, but he does not call it a 'gospel'. He knows several of Paul's epistles, and values them highly for their content; the same can be said of the Epistle to the Hebrews, with which he is well acquainted. Although these writings obviously possess for Clement considerable significance, he never refers to them as authoritative 'Scripture’.”
|Bishop Clement of Rome|
Marcion of Synope
Marcion of Synope, a bishop of Asia Minor who went to Rome and was later excommunicated for his views, was the first on record to propose a definitive, exclusive, unique canon of Christian scriptures, compiled sometime between 130–40 CE. In his book Origin of the New Testament, scholar Adolf Von Harnack argues that Marcion viewed the church at this time as largely an Old Testament church without a firmly established New Testament canon, and that the church gradually formulated its New Testament canon in response to the challenge posed by Marcion.
Marcion rejected the theology of the Old Testament entirely and regarded the God depicted there as an inferior Being. He claimed that the theology of the Old Testament was incompatible with the teaching of Jesus regarding God and morality. Marcion believed that Jesus had come to liberate mankind from the authority of the God of the Old Testament and to reveal the superior God of goodness and mercy whom he called the Father. Paul and Luke were the only Christian authors to find favor with Marcion, though his versions of these differed from those later accepted by mainstream Christianity.
Marcion created a canon, a definite group of books which he regarded as fully authoritative, displacing all others. These comprised ten of the letters of Paul and Luke's Gospel. It is uncertain whether he edited these books, purging them of what did not accord with his views, or that his versions represented a separate textual tradition. Marcion's gospel, called simply the Gospel of the Lord, differed from the Gospel of Luke by lacking any passages that connected Jesus with the Old Testament. He believed that the god of Israel, who gave the Torah to the Israelites, was an entirely different god from the Supreme God who sent Jesus and inspired the New Testament.
In addition to his Gospel and Epistles, he wrote a text called the Antithesis which contrasted the New Testament view of God and morality with the Old Testament view of God and morality. Marcion's canon and theology were rejected as heretical by the early church; however, he forced other Christians to consider which texts were canonical and why. The compilation of this canon could have been a challenge and incentive to emerging orthodoxy; if they wished to deny that Marcion's canon was the true one, it was incumbent on them to define what the true one was. The expansion phase of the New Testament canon thus could have begun in response to Marcion's proposed limited canon. He spread his beliefs widely; they became known as Marcionism. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 characterized Marcion as "perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known."
|The Apostle John (left) and Marcion (right) -- 11th century|
In the mid-2nd century, Justin Martyr mentions the "memoirs of the apostles", which Christians called "gospels" and which were regarded as on par with the Old Testament. Scholars are divided on whether there is any evidence that Justin included the Gospel of John among the "memoirs of the apostles.” In Justin's works, distinct references are found to Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, and possible ones to Philippians, Titus, and 1 Timothy. In addition, he refers to an account from an unnamed source of the baptism of Jesus which differs from that provided by the gospels: When Jesus went down in the water, fire was kindled in the Jordan; and when he came up from the water, the Holy Spirit came upon him. The apostles of our Christ wrote this. Justin mentions "memoirs of the apostles" as being read on "the day called that of the sun" (Sunday) alongside the "writings of the prophets."
An insistence upon there being a canon of four gospels, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyons. In his central work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus denounced various early Christian groups that used only one gospel, such as Marcionism, or the Ebionites, which seem to have used an Aramaic version of Matthew, as well as groups that used more than four gospels, such as the Valentinians. Irenaeus declared that the four he espoused were the four "Pillars of the Church": "it is not possible that there can be either more or fewer than four" he stated, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds. Irenaeus was ultimately successful in declaring that the four gospels collectively, and exclusively these four, contained the truth.
Tatian was converted to Christianity by Justin Martyr on a visit to Rome around 150 AD and, after much instruction, returned to Syria in 172 to reform the church there. At some point (it is suggested c. 160 AD) he composed a single harmonized "Gospel" by weaving the contents of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together along with events present in none of these texts. The narrative mainly follows the chronology of John. This is called the “Diatessaron (Harmony Through Four)” and it became the official Gospel text of the Syraic church.
The Muratorian canon is the earliest known example of a canon list of mostly New Testament books. It survives, damaged and thus incomplete, as a bad Latin translation of an original, no longer extant, Greek text that is usually dated in the late 2nd century, although a few scholars have preferred a 4th-century date. This is an excerpt from scholar Bruce Metzger's translation:
The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke... The fourth... is that of John... the acts of all the apostles... As for the Epistles of Paul... To the Corinthians first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans seventh... once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians... one to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy... to the Laodiceans, [and] another to the Alexandrians, [both] forged in Paul's name to [further] the heresy of Marcion... the epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John... and [the book of] Wisdom. We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church. But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently... And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church.
This is evidence that, perhaps as early as 200, there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the 27-book New Testament, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them.
By the early 200s, Christian scholar and theologian Origen may have been using the same twenty-seven books as in the Catholic New Testament canon, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of some books. While there was a good measure of debate in the early church over the New Testament canon, the major writings are claimed to have been accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 3rd century.
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) made use of an open canon. He seemed "practically unconcerned about canonicity. To him, inspiration is what mattered." In addition to books that did not make it into the final 27-book New Testament but which had local canonicity (Barnabas, Didache, I Clement, Revelation of Peter, the Shepherd, the Gospel According to the Hebrews), he also used the Gospel of the Egyptians, Preaching of Peter, Traditions of Matthias, Sibylline Oracles, and the Oral Gospel. He did, however, prefer the four church gospels to all others, although he supplemented them freely with apocryphal gospels. He was the first to treat non-Pauline letters of the apostles (other than II Peter) as scripture—he accepted I Peter, I and II John, and Jude as scripture.
|Clement of Alexandria|
Period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787)
In the history of Christianity, the first seven ecumenical councils, from the First Council of Nicaea (325) to the Second Council of Nicaea (787), represented an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom as the state church of the Roman Empire.
Eusebius in his Church History (c. 330), recorded this New Testament canon: the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles… the epistles of Paul… the epistle of John… the epistle of Peter… After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the …Gospel According to the Hebrews. And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books... such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles ... they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious.
|Eusebius of Caesarea|
The Codex Claromontanus canon (c. 303–67), a page found inserted into a 6th-century copy of the Epistles of Paul and Hebrews, has the Old Testament, plus Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, 1–2, 4 Maccabees, and the New Testament, plus 3 Corinthians, Acts of Paul, Apocalypse of Peter, Barnabas, and Hermas, but missing Philippians, 1–2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews.
Constantine the Great
In 331, Constantine I commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constans. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus may be examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles. There is no evidence among the canons of the First Council of Nicaea of any determination on the canon, however, Jerome (347–420), in his Prologue to Judith, makes the claim that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures".
In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the 27-book NT canon, and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them. He also listed a 22-book OT and 7 books not in the canon but to be read: Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, Didache, and the Shepherd. This list is very similar to the modern Protestant canon; the only differences are his exclusion of Esther and his inclusion of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah as part of Jeremiah.
The Cheltenham Canon, c. 365–90, is a Latin list discovered by the German classical scholar Theodor Mommsen (published 1886) in a 10th-century manuscript (chiefly patristic) belonging to the library of Thomas Phillips at Cheltenham, England. The list probably originated in North Africa soon after the middle of the 4th century. It has a 24-book Old Testament and 24-book New Testament which provides syllable and line counts but omits Hebrews, Jude and James, and seems to question the epistles of John and Peter beyond the first.
Synod of Laodicea
The Synod of Laodicea, c. 363, was one of the first synods that set out to judge which books were to be read aloud in churches. The decrees issued by the thirty or so clerics attending were called canons. Canon 59 decreed that only canonical books should be read, but no list was appended in the Latin and Syriac manuscripts recording the decrees. The list of canonical books, Canon 60, sometimes attributed to the Synod of Laodicea is a later addition according to most scholars and has a 22-book OT and 26-book NT (excludes Revelation).
Augustine and the North African canons
Augustine of Hippo declared that one is to "prefer those that are received by all Catholic Churches to those which some of them do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority." (On Christian Doctrines 2.12, chapter 8).
Augustine effectively forced his opinion on the Church by commanding three synods on canonicity: the Synod of Hippo in 393, the Synod of Carthage in 397, and another in Carthage in 419 AD. Each of these reiterated the same Church law: "nothing shall be read in church under the name of the divine scriptures" except the Old Testament and the 27 canonical books of the New Testament. Incidentally, these decrees also declared by fiat that Epistle of the Hebrews was written by Paul, for a time ending all debate on the subject.
The first council that accepted the present canon of the books of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. Revelation was added to the list in 419. These councils were convened under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.
Pope Damasus I
Pope Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West. Pope Damasus I is often considered to be the father of the modern Catholic canon. Purporting to date from a “Council of Rome” under Pope Damasus I in 382, the so-called "Damasian list" gives a list identical to what would be the Canon of Trent and, though the text may in fact not be Damasian, it is at least a valuable 6th century compilation. This list, given below, was purportedly endorsed by Pope Damasus I:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kings, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, Psalter of David, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Esdras, 2 books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 of him to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Jude, and the Apocalypse of John.
The so-called Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis, is traditionally attributed to Gelasius, bishop of Rome 492–496 CE. However, upon the whole it is probably of South Gallic origin (6th century), but several parts can be traced back to Pope Damasus and reflect Roman tradition. The 2nd part is a canon catalogue, and the 5th part is a catalogue of the 'apocrypha' and other writings which are to be rejected. The canon catalogue gives all 27 books of the Catholic New Testament.
|Pope Damasus I|
Pope Innocent I
In c. 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse identical with that of Trent, except for some uncertainty in the manuscript tradition about whether the letters ascribed to Paul were 14 or only 13, in the latter case possibly implying omission of the Letter to the Hebrews.
A consensus emerges
Thus, from the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today), and by the 5th century the East, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon, at least for the New Testament. This period marks the beginning of a more widely recognized canon, although the inclusion of some books was still debated: Epistle to Hebrews, James, 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation. Grounds for debate included the question of authorship of these books (note that the so-called Damasian "Council at Rome" had already rejected John the Apostles authorship of 2 and 3 John, while retaining the books), their suitability for use (Revelation at that time was already being interpreted in a wide variety of "heretical" ways), and how widely they were actually being used (2 Peter being amongst the most weakly attested of all the books in the Christian canon). Christian scholars assert that when these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church".
By the turn of the 5th century, the Catholic Church in the West, under Pope Innocent I, recognized a biblical canon including the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which was previously established at a number of regional Synods, namely the Council of Rome (382), the Synod of Hippo (393), and two Synods of Carthage (397 and 419). This canon, which corresponds to the modern Catholic canon, was used in the Vulgate, an early 5th-century translation of the Bible made by Jerome under the commission of Pope Damasus in 382.
Outside the Empire (Eastern Canons)
Some believe that Acts was also used in Syrian churches alongside the Diatessaron (Tatian's harmony of the four gospels), however, Eusebius states: "They, indeed, use the Law and Prophets and Gospels, but interpret in their own way the utterances of the Sacred Scriptures. And they abuse Paul the apostle and reject his epistles, and do not accept even the Acts of the Apostles." In the 4th century, the Doctrine of Addai lists a 17-book NT canon using the Diatessaron and Acts and 15 Pauline epistles (including 3 Corinthians). The Syriac Doctrine of Addai (c. 400 AD) claims to record the oldest traditions of the Syrian church, and among these is the establishment of a canon: members of the church are to read only the Gospel (meaning the Diatessaron of Tatian), the Epistles of Paul (which are said to have been sent by Peter, from Rome), and the Book of Acts (which is said to have been sent by John the son of Zebedee, from Ephesus), and nothing else.
For centuries the Diatessaron, along with Acts and the Pauline Epistles (except Philemon), comprised the only accepted books in the Syrian churches, meaning that Tatian's stricter views, resulting in the rejection in 1 Timothy, did not win out. Moreover, after the pronouncements of the 4th century on the proper content of the Bible, Tatian was declared a heretic and in the early 4th century Bishop Theodoretus of Cyrrhus and Bishop Rabbula of Edessa (both in Syria) rooted out all copies they could find of the Diatessaron and replaced them with the four canonical Gospels (M 215). As a result, no early copies of the Diatessaron survive—although a very early fragment suggests it would have been crucial evidence for the true state of the early Gospels (see IX).
By the 5th century the Syrian Bible, called the Peshitta, was formalized, accepting Philemon, along with James, 1 Peter and 1 John, but excluding 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. After the Council of Ephesus, the Church of the East became separated, and retained this canon of only 22-books (the Peshitta) up to the present day. The Syriac Orthodox Church uses this text as well, but with the addition of the other books normally present in the New Testament canon.
The late-5th or early-6th century Peshitta of the Syrian Orthodox Church includes a 22-book NT, excluding II Peter, II John, III John, Jude, and Revelation. The Syriac Peshitta, used by all the various Syrian Churches, originally did not include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation (and this canon of 22-books is the one cited by John Chrysostom (~347–407) and Theodoret (393–466) from the School of Antioch). It also includes Psalm 151 and Psalm 152-155 and 2 Baruch. Western Syrians have added the remaining 5 books to their NT canons in modern times. Today, the official lectionaries followed by the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, with headquarters at Kottayam (India), and the Chaldean Syrian Church, also known as the Church of the East (Nestorian), with headquarters at Trichur (India), still present lessons from only the 22-books of the original Peshitta.
|Syriac Peshitta New Testament|
The Armenian Bible introduces one addition: a third letter to the Corinthians, also found in the Acts of Paul, which became canonized in the Armenian Church, but is not part of the Armenian Bible today. Revelation, however, was not accepted into the Armenian Bible until c. 1200 AD. when Archbishop Nerses arranged an Armenian Synod at Constantinople to introduce the text. Still, there were unsuccessful attempts even as late as 1290 AD. to include in the Armenian canon several apocryphal books: Advice of the Mother of God to the Apostles, the Books of Criapos, and the ever-popular Epistle of Barnabas. The Armenian Apostolic church at times has included the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in its Old Testament and the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, but does not always list it with the other 27 canonical New Testament books.
East African Canons
The Coptic Bible (adopted by the Egyptian Church) includes the two Epistles of Clement, and the Ethiopic Bible includes books nowhere else found: the Sinodos (a collection of prayers and instructions supposedly written by Clement of Rome), the Octateuch (a book supposedly written by Peter to Clement of Rome), the Book of the Covenant (in two parts, the first details rules of church order, the second relates instructions from Jesus to the disciples given between the resurrection and the ascension), and the Didascalia (with more rules of church order, similar to the Apostolic Constitutions).
The New Testament of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, includes the two Epistles of Clement. The canon of the Tewahedo Churches is somewhat looser than for other traditional Christian groups, and the order, naming, and chapter/verse division of some of the books is also slightly different.
The "broader" Ethiopian New Testament canon includes four books of "Sinodos" (church practices), two "Books of Covenant", "Ethiopic Clement", and "Ethiopic Didascalia" (Apostolic Church-Ordinances). However, these books have never been printed or widely studied. This "broader" canon is also sometimes said to include, with the Old Testament, an eight-part history of the Jews based on the writings of Flavius Josephus, and known as "Pseudo-Josephus" or "Joseph ben Gurion" (Yosēf walda Koryon).
|Ethiopic Gospel of Matthew|
Until the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had never officially drawn the boundaries of the biblical canon. Doing so had not been considered necessary because the authority of the Scriptures was not considered to be much higher than that of Sacred Tradition, papal bulls, and ecumenical councils. Rejecting these, Luther and other reformers focused on the Protestant doctrine of the Five Solas. It was not until the Protestant Reformers began to insist upon the supreme authority of Scripture alone (the doctrine of sola scriptura) that it became necessary to establish a definitive canon which would include a decision on the 'disputed books'.
Martin Luther was troubled by four books: Jude, James, Hebrews, and Revelation; and though he placed them in a secondary position relative to the rest, he did not exclude them. He did propose removing them from the canon, echoing the consensus of several Catholics, also labeled Christian Humanists — such as Cardinal Ximenez, Cardinal Cajetan, and Erasmus — and partially because they were perceived to go against certain Protestant doctrines such as sola gratia and sola fide, but this was not generally accepted among his followers. However, these books are ordered last in the German-language Luther Bible to this day. Luther did remove the deuterocanonical books from the Old Testament of his translation of the Bible, placing them in the “Apocrypha,” that are books which are not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read". Luther also struggled with the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, so did the rabbis at various times. To this writing he applied the test: "Does it urge Christ? Yes, because it tells the story of the survival of the people from whom Christ came."
Among confessions of faith drawn up by Protestants, several identify by name the 27-books of the New Testament canon, including the French Confession of Faith (1559), the Belgic Confession (1561), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) during the English Civil War. The Thirty-Nine Articles, issued by the Church of England in 1563, names the books of the Old Testament, but not the New Testament. None of the Confessional statements issued by any Lutheran church includes an explicit list of canonical books.
Catholic Developments from 1546
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, by vote (24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain) approved the present Roman Catholic Bible Canon including the Deuterocanonical books. This is said to be the same list as produced at the Council of Florence in 1451, this list was defined as canonical in the profession of faith proposed for the Syriac Orthodox Church. Because of its placement, the list was not considered binding for the Catholic Church, and in light of Martin Luther’s behest, the Catholic Church examined the question of the Canon again at the Council of Trent, which reaffirmed the Canon of the Council of Florence. The Old Testament books that had been in doubt were termed deuterocanonical, not indicating a lesser degree of inspiration, but a later time of final approval. Beyond these books, some editions of the Latin Vulgate include Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, and the Epistle to the Laodiceans in an appendix, styled "Apogryphi".
In support of the inclusion of the 12 Deuterocanonical books in the canon, the Council of Trent pointed to the two regional councils which met under Augustine's leadership in Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 and 419 AD). The bishops of Trent claimed these councils formally defined the canon as including these books.
|Pope Paul III, Convenor of the Council of Trent|
Vatican I on April 24, 1870 approved the additions to Mark (v. 16:9–20), Luke (22:19b–20, 43-44), and John (7:53–8:11), which are not present in early manuscripts but are contained in the Vulgate edition. Pope Pius XI on June 2, 1927 decreed the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute. Pope Pius XII on 3 September 1943 decreed the Divino Afflante Spiritu which allowed translations based on other versions than just the Latin Vulgate, notably in English the New American Bible.
Orthodox Developments from 1672
Synod of Jerusalem
The Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 decreed the Greek Orthodox Canon which is the same as the one decided by the Council of Trent for the New Testament but different for the Old Testament.
There is, of course, a lot more to the story than what I've presented here. But hopefully this broad outline clarifies some things, and also raises new questions.