The Early Fathers debated the merits of many Christian writings when considering the composition of the Canon, but there was one epistle which (apparently) was not available for them to consider. I’m talking about Zero Corinthians.
In First Corinthians, Paul mentions an *earlier *letter (“I wrote to you in my letter…” – 1Cor 5:9). Apparently, First Corinthians was NOT actually the first epistle that Paul wrote to this community, but (at least) the second. This earlier letter that Paul mentioned is sometimes called “Zero Corinthians.”
To my knowledge, this brief mention in 1Cor is the only reference we have to this earlier letter. The letter apparently was not preserved (as were two subsequent Epistles), and the Early Fathers did not seem to have possession of it. When the Canon of the New Testament was debated, the Fathers had no opportunity to consider this letter.
Now, suppose that some archeologist discovered a scroll, and it was somehow possible to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that this was, indeed, this elusive Zero Corinthians (and I don’t know how you could prove such a thing, as I am neither historian nor archeologist, but suppose for sake of argument that it could be conclusively demonstrated, perhaps by corrobrating evidence at the dig, and/or by the discovery that 0Cor was quoted in other Biblical or early writings).
I pose this question because I think it has some bearing on the question of Sola Scriptura (the protestant belief that all doctrine can be found within Scripture). Catholics rightly ask, How do you know what “Scripture” is? Catholics know what Scripture is because the Church told us so, but protestants cannot use the authority of the Church as their basis for acceptance of the Canon. The alternative explanations they give are, um, interesting (but hardly convincing).
So what if we found Zero Corinthians? What would the protestants do? Suppose it specifically endorsed the idea of infant baptism. The Calvinists (Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc) would be inserting this into their Bibles, but the Assemblies of God and Baptists would condemn it. Such examples could be multiplied.
Regardless of its content, who would have the AUTHORITY to decide if Zero Corinthians was actually a divinely inspired writing (from a protestant perspective)?