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The Foundation of Christian Orthodoxy and the Canon

The development of Christian orthodox religion and the inclusion of the official
books of the Bible by various religious institutions



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Inspired, then Written

The LORD God is the Divine Author of a group of books, narratives, letters and songs that were written for the use of man to come closer to Him through Jesus Christ. The Word of God is a relevant expression of God's essence, and is equal to the expression of His Son, who was begotten by the breath of the spoken Word of His Father. Today, our Bible is an inspired canon of the 39 commonly received books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament that forms the orthodox belief, founded upon the inspired moving of Him amongst man and His creation.

Human authors were divinely inspired by Him to capture His original intents on expressing His Word, and they wrote the words on the original documents of Scriptures, called autographs. Early churches desired to read the accounts of the Apostles, so copies were made to pass from church to church. All copies were written by hand by scribes, who were careful in creating duplicate copies of the original documents. Sometimes, these copies changed the original writing slightly, which complicated interpretation and required textual criticism1 to determine the most likely meanings of the original authors.

Early Church Fathers The period following the passing of the Apostles is known as the period of the Church Fathers. Many of the Church Fathers had walked with the Apostles and were taught directly by them. They relied upon the Old Testament and the idea of apostolic succession as their doctrinal authority, tracing a direct association to the Apostles which walked with Christ.2

Christianity was a small movement at the time of the Church Fathers. Generally, the early Church Fathers relied upon the authority of the Old Testament, but also often quoted from the books of Hermas, Barnabas, Didache, and 1 and 2 Clement, to support their moralistic and legalistic theology on issues. Although the theology of the Trinity had not yet been developed fully in writing, they clearly believed that Jesus and the Holy Spirit was God.3

Apologists

The Apologists and Theologians era followed the Church Fathers time in the second to fourth centuries,. It is during this time that the Church took the initial steps of establishing a formal rule of faith known as the Canon. This was necessary because of internal and external forces were bringing heresies to bear in the Church and challenged the faith of the Apostles.

Heresies

One major disagreement over Christian doctrine during this time was over the nature of Jesus. The Docetists denied Jesus' true humanity, and were considered by Ignatius and other early Christians to be blasphemers with no hope in partaking of the resurrection; by denying the physical suffering of Christ they were denying the efficacy of the redemptive act.4 The Ebonites regarded Jesus simply as a human being and nothing more; this humanized Jesus and rejected the writings of Paul, resulting in a more Jewish than Christian faith.5

Montanism was also flourishing, through a charismatic leader and followers who focused upon the moving of the Holy Spirit in speaking prophecies to usher in the Last Days. Many Christians were disturbed by this "New Prophecy" movement, because of the ecstatic, wild demonstrations that accompanied the prophesy expression. Traditional orthodox understanding of the gift of prophecy in New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, and was merely a report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone's mind. This belief conflicted greatly with the religious practice of charismatic ecstasy and spiritual abandonment practiced by the Montanists.

The most controversial movement within Christianity in the post-New Testament period was Gnosticism. The Gnostics were different movements that shared the basic conviction of dualism, which magnified the differences between good and evil. They influenced the development of mystery religions that focused on discovering secret knowledge with the Scriptures.6 Gnosticism attempted to blend oriental theosophy, Hellenistic philosophy, and Christianity into a new religion that saw the physical creation as evil and Christ as a celestial being with secret knowledge to teach us."7

The Foundation of Orthodoxy

Both Christians and pagans were shocked by the heretical ideas that were developing by the late second-century. Irenaeus, a Christian author who represented the 'mainstream', non-gnostic Christianity, wrote a book attacking Gnosticism because it denigrated the material world, removing the ability for God's active interest from being expressed, and separated the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New.8

Tertullian agreed with Irenaeus that the Christian faith originated with Jesus and established a standard which belief could be tested. As Tertullian put it in his Prescription against the heretics, "It is clear that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches - those moulds and original sources of the faith - must be considered true, as undoubtedly containing what those churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. And all doctrine must be considered false which contradicts the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God."9 This apostolic principle became extremely important in later centuries as the orthodox standards of faith were established.

The Establishment of Canon

Christians possessed the writings by the apostles and their disciples that they believed expressed the rule of faith in written form by the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian, Most of the local churches within the Roman world agreed to which writings should be included in the NT canon by the second century; however, this agreement was not formalized until the third council of Carthage in 397.10 Most scholars believe that the New Testament canon was completed by A.D. 100, if not earlier.11 They would read these writings in the practice of their faith as they met, and thought of these writings as equal to the writings the Jewish Scripture. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), was in the Canon as the New Testament began to be added over a period of 400 years.12

The basis for including a book in Scripture was apparent within the process of declaring the Christian Canon, and required that each addition be prophetic, authoritative, authentic, life-transforming, widely recognized as the Word of God and reliable.13 Those declared inspired were of two basic categories of both eyewitness accounts of the Messiah (the Gospels), and letters from key witnesses written to various groups of believers (the Epistles).

Concentrated effort was made to establish the authoritative collection of inspired books of the Bible into the Canon during the fourth century; however, there had been earlier attempts to list the acceptable books. The Muratorian Canon had listed all the books of the Bible except for 1 John, 1 and 2 Peter, Hebrews and James around A.D. 180, and the Syriac Version of the Canon lists all of the books except Revelation in the third century. The apocryphal writings were seen as less than inspired by the fourth century, and many of the books previously held in high regard were beginning to disappear, as the formal establishment of Canon began.14

Both the East and the West Churches established their Canons in the fourth century on the criterion of maintaining a connection to the apostles or their immediate disciples in the collection of writings. Athanasius of Alexandria listed the complete 27 books of the New Testament for the Eastern Church, while Jerome listed just 39 Old Testament books with our present-day 27 New Testament ones for the West Church. The resulting Vulgate Bible, translated by Jerome to Latin, was used throughout the Christian world. The Synods of Carthage confirmed the 27 books of the New Testament of our present day Bibles in 397 and 418.15

Reformation

The Roman Catholic Church held the Council of Trent in response to alleged Protestant heresy brought on through Luther's reformation in 1545. The church proposed that Jerome's Vulgate were of equal canonical value, which included the Apocrypha, and established the Vulgate Bible as the official text of the Church, and took the extra step of declaring the Scriptures as equivalent to the authority of tradition.

Instead of giving final authority to the church, Luther and the reformers, as well as John Calvin focused on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. They believed that God assured the transmission of the text down through the ages, rather than the human efforts of the Catholic Church.16 Their view was eloquently expressed by John Calvin in his Institutes,

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God.

It is the focus upon the inspiration of the Word of God that has finally determined the correct books to be included in the Canon. The 66 Books of our Holy Bible, in final measure, speak the inspired Word of God perfectly and without error; the process of canonization worked!

Footnotes

1 In modern day times, the best textual criticism that resolves these differences and is the standard critical text for the Old Testament, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), and for the New Testament, the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (GNT) or Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece (Duvall 2001, 160).
2Don Closson, The Christian Canon, http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225847/k.318/The_Christian_Canon.htm.
3 Ibid.
4 Paul Foster, "The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch. (Part 1)," Expository Times 117, no. 12, (September 2006): 487-495,(ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost).
5 Closson, Canon.
6 Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity, (Oxford: Lion Publishing Plc, 2006).
7 Closson, Canon.
8 Hill, History.
9 Ibid
10 Michael A. Harbin, The Promise and the Blessing (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).
11 Elmer L. Towns, Theology for Today, (Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002).
12 Harbin, Promise.
13 Towns, Theology.
14 Closson, Canon.
15 Hill, History.
16 Closson, Canon.


Citations

Closson, Don. The Christian Canon. 1996.
http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225847/k.318/The_Christian_Canon.htm (accessed November 7, 2008).

Duvall, Scott J and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God's Word. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Farnell, F David. "The Montanist crisis: a key to refuting third-wave concepts of NT prophecy." Master's Seminary Journal 14, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 235-262. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 8, 2008).

Foster, Paul. "The epistles of Ignatius of Antioch. (Part 1)." Expository Times 117, no. 12 (September 2006): 487-495. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 8, 2008).

Harbin, Michael A. The Promise and the Blessing. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Hill, Jonathan. Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity. Oxford: Lion Publishing Plc, 2006.

Towns, Elmer L. Theology for Today. Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002.

Cite Article Source

MLA Style Citation:
McFarland, Kathy. "The Establishment of Christian Orthodoxy and the Canon of the Holy Bible." Becker Bible Studies Library Dec 2008.   <http://guidedbiblestudies.com/library/Canon.html>.

APA Style Citation:
McFarland, Kathy. (2008, December) "The Establishment of Christian Orthodoxy and the Canon of the Holy Bible." Becker Bible Studies Library Retrieved   from http://guidedbiblestudies.com/library/Canon.html

Chicago Style Citation:
McFarland, Kathy. (2008) "The Establishment of Christian Orthodoxy and the Canon of the Holy Bible." Becker Bible Studies Library (December), http://guidedbiblestudies.com/library/Canon.html (accessed )


About the Author

Kathy L. McFarland is a Becker Bible Studies Teacher and Author of Guided Bible Studies for Hungry Christians. She has received her Bachelor of Science degree in Religious Studies from Liberty University, and is currently seeking her Master of Divinity (Professional Ministries Track) degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary & Graduate School. Kathy is a noted expert on Old Testament exegesis, Christian apologetics, and Bible typology and mysteries.



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