Thursday, July 10, 2014

Session: 5 Canonization of Scripture (NT)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength  ~Mark 12:30
Writing about Session: 5 Canonization of Scripture (NT), Bryan Carlton shares his thoughts on the canonization of the New Testament.

Growing up, I didn’t put a lot of thought into where the Bible came from. I sure didn’t think that people might disagree on some of the writings or how much went into deciding what should be included.

The Old Testament was easy for the early church to agree on – it was the collected Jewish Holy works that had been around for a long time. It was God’s Word. But then Jesus came to fulfill Old Testament prophecy – to make a final atonement for sin…and guys wrote about it. The early church had to decide which of these writings were from God and which ones weren't.

First came the formulation of the New Testament. Unwritten traditions and oral teaching were being transferred into a written form. This started around 40 A.D. and lasted until about 100 A.D.

The writings themselves show the authority with which the Apostles spoke had the same authority as the Word of God.

1 Corinthians 14:37 – If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

Here, Paul writing to the church at Corinth is acknowledging that what he is writing to them is not his command, but a command of the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 – And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Again, Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica – thankful that what they heard from him was taken as what it was – the Word of God – and not the word of men. Paul knew the words he penned would be “at work in you believers.” He knew the only words that could change people, that could change lives, were the words of God not just the words of Paul. What the Apostles were teaching and writing was not their words, but the Words of the Almighty God!

The writers also confirmed other books (writings) as Scripture.

1 Timothy 5:18 - For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul in this verse equates the Old Testament and the New Testament by quoting from Deuteronomy 25:4 and then quoting Luke 10:7.

2 Peter 3:15-16 - And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

In these verses from 2 Peter, Peter speaks of Paul and “all his letters” – how he wrote them with the wisdom given him. He goes on to mention how some of them are difficult to understand, and how some twist the words “as they do the other Scriptures.” Peter is showing that Paul’s works are Scripture – and that those who twist them do so “to their own destruction.”

Next came the recognition of these writings as canon. This occurred between 100 A.D. and 300 A.D.

This recognition was made by the early church fathers – men like Origen and Polycarp. These men quoted the writings as scripture – they knew it was God’s Holy Word. These men were very careful to draw a clear line between what they wrote and the New Testament writings. They didn’t want anyone mistaking what they had written as Scripture. These men knew when they read these Holy Writings that the voice of God was speaking to them.

Lastly came the declaration – this is when Christians were attentive to establishing a definite canon. The Diocletian persecutions occurred from 302 A.D. to 305 A.D. – during this time people were put to death if they were found to be in possession of any of the New Testament writings. Because of this, Christians – who were willing to die for the Word of God – wanted to make sure the writings they had were in fact the Word of God and not something else. Criteria was used for the canonization process – questions were asked of the writings like:
  • Was it written by an apostle or at least by someone under an apostle's authority?
  • Did it agree with the canon of truth? Did it contradict known Scripture?
  • Did it have a self authenticating nature?
  • Did the church accept it?
It was very interesting to me to learn that a few of the New Testament books were disputed. 2 Peter for instance was disputed because the writing style was different from 1 Peter – so many thought that it was not written by Peter. But back in this time many people wrote through an amanuensis which was sort of like a stenographer. Peter most likely had 2 different amanuensis - one for 1 Peter and a different one for 2 Peter. Thus they were written in different styles.

It is comforting for me to know that the Bible we hold in our hands today was not pieced together haphazardly, but great testing and discernment was given to what was to be included and what wasn’t. Our great God worked through men to write it, and I am confident that He also worked through men to put it together – perfectly – to show us everything we need for life and more importantly the only way we can have life – through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bryan Carlton

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