The Discovery and Preservation of the Canon Part II

Last week, we discussed how one of the criteria for discovering the canon was use by the early church. Did the early church read and use the letter? If those who were eye witnesses and had personal relationships with Jesus reread these letters, that is significant.

While early Christians may have been content to keep much of their doctrine undefined, heresy required that both doctrine and the canon become more developed. Marcion (144 C.E.) is credited more than any other for pressuring the Church to formalize its canon. While this was not his intention, by creating his own   (heretical) canon consisting of ¾ of Luke, and edited versions of Galatians, Corinthians, Romans, Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon, he forced the Church to respond. The Edict of Diocletian in 303 C.E. declared the destruction of the sacred books of Christianity and declared penalties for owning them.[1] This put further pressure on the Church to define what those books were so that people were not risking death for a book that was merely devotional.

The Church Fathers (bishops) as well as laity (Tertullian, Muratorian Fragment, Justin Martyr, Scillitan martyrs) made lists of recognized books. We have their lists. These lists show what the whole Church and not just the person accepted these books.  This is derived from the fact that they are passing down tradition and not coming up with their own innovations.[1]

Although the churches were dispersed across the Roman Empire, they agreed easily and universally on twenty of the twenty-seven New Testament books.[2] We begin to see their thought processes and what was important to them in identifying the canon.   They appear to have asked five questions when debating the canonicity of books.   1) Was the book written by an apostle or a close companion of an apostle?[3] (Did it have apostolic authority?) 2) Was it authentic? Is there evidence showing that the person it is attributed to actually wrote it? Was it true? Origin rejected the book the Preaching of Peter because it was not written by Peter. The Apocrypha was rejected by Church Fathers because of their historical inaccuracies and moral incongruities. In short, they were not true as Scripture must be. 3) Did it follow the rule of faith? Did it agree with already recognized Scripture? 4) Was it dynamic? Heretical and non-canonical literature was rejected because it did not have the power to transform lives. Finally, was it received, collected, read and used by the people of God?[4]

In the Eastern Roman Empire, Clement of Alexandria quotes all the New Testament books as authoritative except Philemon, James, 2 Peter, and 2nd and 3rd John.[5] We do not know why he did not quote these. It may be simply because they are short and he had no reason to quote them.   Origin (185-250 C.E.) was the first to use the name “New Testament.” He recognized the Gospels and the works of the Apostles as divine Scripture.[7] He did not recognize James or Jude, but he did accept the Shepherd of Hermas.

In the Western Roman Empire, Tertullian (195 C.E.) cites every current New Testament book except 2 Peter, James, and 2nd and 3rd John. Esebius’ list shows that 22 New Testament books were universally accepted. Five books were “disputed but familiar to the people of the Church.”  Revelations was rejected with the phrase, “if it seems proper,” following it.  Athanasius of Alexandria (367 C.E.) mad e list that includes all the current books of the New Testament.[12] The Councils at Hippo (393 C.E.) and Carthage (397 C.E.) confirmed this list.[13] Clearly they were confirming an already established list rather than establishing it for the first time. In sum, the accretion of the books forming the canon occurred through a slow deliberate and spiritually grounded process. It was not an arbitrary or dictatorial process, but rather a reflection of the identity of the Church in Christ.

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Audiobook Nook

The New Year is here! Why not start it right by learning the Names of God? Author Chris Adkins explores the many ways by which God identifies Himself through the Old and New Testaments in the Names of God. Over 50 copies of the audio book have already been purchased through Audible.com and you can even obtain this audio book (slightly over five hours in length) entirely for free with a new membership to Audible.

Are you a “radical Christian”? No? Thank goodness! Who even knows what that phrase even means anymore? The way that it is bandied about by amateur theologians, Christ followers rejecting the institutional church, and anyone else who’d like to toss their hat in to sound like they are “radical” or “sold out” for Jesus (there’s another loaded term) is simply out-of-control. The phrase has lost all meaning except that some Christian author will come along to try to sound more “radical” than the last person who used the term in his book on discipleship. Years ago, Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship and Christians have been trying to figure out ever since if he got it right. One thing is indisputable. Regardless of how he interpreted the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer lived out his faith in obedience to King Jesus. Our audio book entitled Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Inspirational Life Story (Peace Activist, Preacher, and WWII War Hero) is available on Audible and, while it does not cover the disputes over Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of discipleship, it does cover some important basics of his life- and faith-journey. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. was a committed Christian, whether or not he was “radical” by some people’s standards. Leaving compromise behind, he knew that cooperation with Nazis and their “state-approved” churches was not even an option.

Public school education has a long tradition in America. But is its very existence now in question? Some are speculating that now that Trump has become president, all hope is lost for the public funding given to the public school system. The short ebook (soon to be audio book), Public School Debate, takes a look at one blogger’s dire warning about the future of American public school funding.

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