Why Are There 27 Books In The New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.

One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.

Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.

Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.

The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.

Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.

Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).

 

References

Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

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St. Irenaeus and the Rule of Faith

In the second century Gnosticism threatened to tear the young church apart.  It was a heresy that taught that all matter was evil, Jesus was spirit, and that true salvific doctrine was passed down through a secret oral tradition[1].  To combat this growing problem the early church father Irenaeus wrote a lengthy treatise titled Against Heresies.  One of the methods used by the great church father was the rule of faith.  In describing the rule of faith Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation [2].”  This rule of faith would lay the groundwork for what would become the Apostles’ Creed.  Ireneaus argues that the faith was given by Christ to the Apostles, and then to the bishops to whom the disciples appointed.  This is what we now call Apostolic Succession.

The rule of faith also shows that Christ was truly incarnate, and that matter was created by an eternal God and not evil.  The rule of faith was a vital part in combating gnostic teaching because it showed that they had no historical, scriptural, or apostolic support for the claims that they were making.  It helped expose their schismatic and anti-scriptural view of Christianity.  Irenaeus also appealed to Ephesians 1:10 in his refutation of Gnosticism.  That passage of scripture states, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth [3].”  The church was to be a unified body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head and the gnostic heresy was causing division.  It is linked with the rule of faith in that there was only one faith handed down from Christ.  There was not one faith for one group, and a special secret faith for a select few.  The faith in Christ is available to all people and in that we should be unified.

The rule of faith previously cited is a great tool in confronting false doctrines in our own times, and in our churches.  There is no shortage of false doctrine and some of these groups are outpacing evangelical churches in evangelization even though there number are smaller.  The rule of faith is a great tool because it shows that the faith is not a new invention, but was passed down by Christ himself.  It shows that Christ is God incarnate, and firmly teaching that the Trinity is one being with three distinct persons.  Many of these groups deny the Trinity and showing scriptural support, and that it was taught from the beginning is good place to start.   Whether it be in person, phone, or email dialogue about the truth can mean a lot to someone caught in false doctrine.  It gives them someone to ask questions to and the Holy Spirit can plant a seed.

Image result for irenaeus

 

Works Cited

1.  Olsen, Roger E.  The Story of Christian Theology:  Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform.  (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic, 1999), 29.

2.  Irenaeus.  Against Heresies.  Christian Classics Etherreal Library, retrieved May 19, 2018

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xi.html

3.  Ephesians 1:10, New Revised Standard Version

Deeds of Christ

Every Sunday in the creed we declare that Jesus is our Lord, but what does that mean?  What implications does that have on our lives?  In the Gospels Jesus tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31), love God (Matthew 22:37), and show mercy (John 8:11).  How do his words correlate to his deeds, and what does that mean for us as his followers?  This essay will take a deeper look at the scriptures referenced to illustrate how the words that Christ spoke correspond with his actions.

Jesus often spoke of what we now the call the perfect commandment.  Jesus spoke about loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as yourself.  The first verse mentioned above is Mark 12:31 which states, “The second is this ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (NRSV).  To love your neighbor means so much more than greeting them when they are in their front yard.  Whether they treated him as he deserved or not, Jesus showed compassion to everyone (Collins 51).  He healed the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:13, St. Peter’s mother in law in Matthew 8:14, and healed a multitude in Matthew 14:14.  In healing the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:13, Jesus shows that his salvation is for Jew and Gentile alike.  In addition, this was a member of the occupying government and an enemy of the Jewish people.  He shows us what we must do with those we do not agree with.  We must still them as people as they are created in the image of God.

To go along with loving our neighbor, Jesus tells us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NRSV).  How is loving God a deed of Jesus?  As the Son of God he is the only way to the Father, and Christ said we can only know the Father through him (John 14:6).  To love God with all your heart is to go where he leads and to do what he is telling us to do.  In short, we must follow his will if we love him with our whole being.  Jesus demonstrated this is many ways, with the most notable being his Passion.

In the garden of Gethsemane, we see the human will of Jesus manifesting itself.  He is so terrified about what he must endure that he begins to sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  This is a medical condition known as Hematidrosis, and occurs when an individual in experiencing extreme stress.  He prayed that he may not have to endure, and this shows he is human.  He was scared, and above all it means he can relate to what we go through.  Though he was terrified, Christ knew his mission and because of his overwhelming love we are redeemed.

In John chapter 8 Jesus encounters a group of Pharisees who are circling a woman and looking to stone her for the sin of adultery.  According to Leviticus 20:10 this was the consequence for such an action, but adultery takes two people.  The woman was about to get stoned, but where was the man?  It is speculated that the man was in the crowd that was wanting to stone the woman, and this was a way to trap Jesus.  He knew what was going on, and said if someone present has never sinned then he could throw the stone (John 8:7).  Jesus told her to stop sinning, and did not condemn her.  He forgave her for the sin by saying “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11 NRSV).  Jesus showed mercy and did not just talk about it.  We see this several times in the Gospels, but this example is significant as the penalty was death for such a sin.  He gave the woman a new life and hope, and he does the same for us.

 

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