Here’s how the Bible came to be…
Emperor Constantine established his capital in Byzantium (later named Constantinople) which lies in modern day Istanbul today, and he followed policies that were favorable to Christianity (although he himself was not baptized until he was on his deathbed). Constantinople was also responsible for sponsoring an important council which would forever alter the face of Christianity – but more about that later. In this post we’ll look at how the New Testament came to be.
During this period (under Constantine), and largely in reaction to doctrinal disputes, the canon of authoritative New Testament scriptures was established, although it was not finalized until the council of bishops at Carthage in 419. Thus, the final codification of scripture came fairly late in the history of Christianity, and only after the development of much Christian teaching, worship, and social organization.
In 302 the persecution of Diocletian had people asking what writings were sacred. His persecutors demanded that his holy scriptures should be burned. No one really knew that those ones would be. So Bishops started defining what they were. I think they might have been helped by Jewish Scholars codifying the Hebrew Scriptures to keep out all these new Christian Writings. The contents of the Tanakh were complied by the Men of the Great Assembly in 450 BC, but they weren’t cannonized until possibly the end of 200 AD, when Christians started claiming them as their own. We just accepted the work the Jewish scholars did on the Old Testament. The New Testament we needed to take responsibility for.
What we have is letters from different bishops stating which apostolic teaching they considered “canonical”. “Canon” means rule. It’s the standard to which all else is held. These bishops would write down the writings they thought were written by an apostle or told to the writer by an apostle.
At the time of the formation of the New Testament canon twenty out of the twenty-seven books were readily and universally accepted by virtually all Bishops as genuine, and therefore called “Homologoumena” (i.e. acknowledged). These twenty books were the four Gospels, the Acts, the epistles of Paul and the first epistles of John and Peter.
The other seven books–Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, Revelation–were disputed for a time by particular churches, and were therefore styled “Antilegomena” (or disputed). We find Martin Luther questioning if James should really be in the Bible in the 1500’s, so really is the New Testament ever “closed”?
The question at issue with regard to the books called “Antilegomena,” was not so much that of the canonicity of the writings, as whether they were really written by the men who were called their authors. Hebrews bore no name of its author, and differed in style from the acknowledged Pauline epistles; 2 Peter differed in style from 1 Peter; James and Jude styled themselves “servants,” and not “apostles”; the write of 2 and 3 John called himself an “elder” or “presbyter,” and not an “apostle”; Jude recorded apocryphal stories.
For these reasons these books were not at once allowed their place in the canon. After a deliberate examination, however, they were at last received as genuine, the very delay proving the close scrutiny which their claims had undergone. At the beginning of the fourth century they were received by most of the churches, and at the end of that century they were received by all.
Apocryphal books derive their name from a Greek word, apokruphos, which means “hidden.” They are so called because they are,–(1) hidden; (2) of unknown authority; (3) spurious.
They were not recognized as inspired books by the Jews, who regarded them, however as having high authority, and held them in high esteem as being a valuable history of their nation. Although they were carefully distinguished from the canonical Scriptures, their use was not only allowed, but many of them are quoted in Talmudical writings.
They were given a place by themselves in the sacred volume, but with the distinct statement that they were not to be regarded as of equal authority with the books of the canon, their position being between the Old and New Testaments. We find them in some Bibles to-day–especially in Roman Catholic Bibles, since they are regarded by the roman church as inspired books.
The Apocrypha contains fourteen books, namely, 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the rest of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Song of the Three Children, the Story of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. it is true that by some of the fathers of the Christian church a few of these books have been quoted as canonical, but they were not looked on in this light; nor were their titles included in any list of canonical writings during the first four centuries after the birth of the Church.
And that’s how the Bible came to be. Does it bring any questions to your mind? Remember, I’m doing an overview of Church history and thought, so I’d appreciate answering any other questions you have in the comments.
Aside from the scriptures, other important factors led to a change in the form of religious expression in Christianity. We’ll look at Ecumenical councils next.
Do you have questions about church history I can help you with? Contact me or leave them in the comments.