Jesus Christ, The Word of God, and Scriptures

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  (John 1:1-4, 14)

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The Evangelist John, known in the Orthodox Church as John the Theologian, proclaimed Jesus to be the incarnate Word of God.  John is very clear WHO the Word of God is: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God to whom the Scriptures bore witness.

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me…”  (John 5:39)

Thus the written revelation of God, the Scriptures bear witness to the Word of God.  As Jesus teaches, Moses inspired by God to write the Torah, was actually writing about the Word of God who was to become incarnate.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46)

 “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.“  (Luke 24:27)

Not only Moses but all the prophets and all the authors of Scripture were inspired to write about the coming Messiah, the Word of God.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45)

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In this blog series I intend to explore the relationship between our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written record of God’s revelation.  As in all my blog series, this is not a scholarly researched paper.  I am simply drawing upon quotes that I tagged from books I read over the past 30 years and am now assembling together into this blog series.  The quotes are  ideas I came across  in my reading over several decades which stood out in my mind when I read the books.  I am now bringing the quotes together to explore the relationship between the Word of God and the Scriptures.  Obviously if Jesus is literally the Word of God, then the Scriptures are the Word of God in some other way.  They are the written record of God’s revelation, but Jesus is the full revelation of God.  The Scriptures bear witness to Him.  It is of Jesus that all the Scriptures speak.   In this blog series we will look at various aspects of how the Scriptures are related to the Word of God.

Even when we think about the Word of God as being a written text, which we call the Bible, we have to realize the Bible is a collection of books written over hundreds of years by different authors.  Some of the books show signs that there were several different authors/editors involved in bringing together the texts of a book.  The Church still considers the texts inspired – whether one author or several had a hand in writing the book, or whether a book was edited by several different people, or even if we don’t know who the author(s) of a book are, we still consider the Scriptures to be inspired by God.  Absolute certainty about the authorship of a text, or total knowledge of the history of a book of the Bible, does not determine its inspiration.   Even when the books of the bible show several different versions of the same story, sometimes placed side by side within one book of the Bible, the Church accepts the received texts and all its variations as being inspired.  The Church in history accepted as inspired the Septuagint translation into Greek of the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, as well as the original texts from which they were translated.

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The first thing I will mention about our Bible, and the books accepted by the Church as being part of our Scriptures, is that not only was the Bible written over many centuries, but the bringing together of all the texts and deciding which texts exactly belong to the canonical Scriptures also took centuries.  We see in the historical documents clear evidence that inspired saints, the Fathers of the Church did have at times slightly different ideas about which books constituted the official scriptures of the Church.  Additionally, there is a great deal of literature which compares and contrasts even the differences in the official texts of the Bible in the various Christian traditions (Latin, Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic, etc) .  Here I will only mention a few quotes that gives us a sense some of the differences in the Church Fathers through the centuries about what is officially in the bible.  In the 2nd Century we find one attempt at establishing what books belong in the Bible (the fact that this has to be established shows us that there was not exact agreement on what books officially belong in the canonical Bible).

Melito  (d. ca 180ad) visited the Holy Land with a view to establishing the list of the canonical books of the Old Testament. According to Eusebius (EH 4.26) (d. 339AD), his list does not contain the book of Esther, which incidentally is also missing from the biblical remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran.”   (Geza Vermes,  Christian Beginnings, Kindle Loc. 3424-26)

Melitio’s Bible agrees with the Qumran community’s “canon”.  That community was a dissident group of Jews outside of mainstream Judaism in Jerusalem.

A 4th Century Document, The Apostolic Constitutions (written ca 375AD), says this about the Canon:   “Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by you, both of the clergy and laity. Of the Old Covenant: the five books of Moses— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; one of Joshua the son of Nun, one of the Judges, one of Ruth, four of the Kings, two of the Chronicles, two of Ezra, one of Esther, one of Judith, three of the Maccabees, one of Job, one hundred and fifty psalms; three books of Solomon— Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; sixteen prophets. And besides these, take care that your young persons learn the Wisdom of the very learned Sirach. But our sacred books, that is, those of the New Covenant, are these: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you the bishops by me Clement, in eight books; which it is not fit to publish before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us the Apostles.”  (The Apostolic Constitutions, Kindle Loc. 4894-4900)

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That 4th century canon of Scripture has many more books than officially ended up in the Bible of today.  It gives us a sense that there was not one canon accepted by all Christians in the 4th Century.  In the 8th Century, St. John of Damascus (d. 749) wrote a book that many consider authoritative in the Orthodox world for delineating doctrine.   Note in his comments especially what he considers to be the canonical books of the New Testament.  He is writing 400 years after many think the Christian canon had been closed.  St. John says:

 …  The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John: the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist: seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude: fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul: the Revelation of John the Evangelist: the Canons of the holy apostles, by Clement.”  ( Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Kindle Loc.3180-3221)

St. John includes in the Bible as he knows it the letters of Clement but also those canons of the Holy Apostles mentioned from the 4th Century.  He includes as Scripture even more than the 4th Century Apostolic Constitution did.

Finally, in the 12th Century St Peter of Damaskos says this of the Canon of Scripture which he accepted:

 “These books include first of all the Old and the New Testaments, that is, the Pentateuch, the Psalter, the Four Books of Kings, the Six Books of Wisdom, the Prophets, the Chronicles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Gospels and the commentaries on all these…”  (St. Peter of Damaskos – 12th Century, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 25654-56)

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St. Peter seems almost to have an open canon of Scripture for he includes all of the commentaries (supposedly the Patristic ones) on the Scriptures.  The issue of Canon had to do with what writings people believe bore witness to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.  The Scriptures are those writing which bear witness to Christ, and so in different centuries they had differing ideas about what bore authentic witness to the Word of God.  All of these lists would have the common theme that the Scriptures – whatever books are included in the Bible – bear witness to the truth and help us recognize Jesus Christ as Lord.

Next:  Scriptures: The Written Word of God

A Brief History of the Gospels

Papyrus“Nevertheless, our earliest actual fragments of New Testament writing is a small papyrus, dated ca. 125-150, containing John 18:31-33, 37-38.  

Papias (fl. ca. 125-150), an early bishop of Hierapolis, mentions Mark and Matthew in what the church historian Eusebius (ca. 325 CE) says is a reference to the Gospels (Hist. eccl. 3.39.15-16). But Papias also says that he regards the authority of the words of Jesus as transmitted by the elders from the apostles themselves to be greater than that of any information from books (Hist. eccl. 3.39.4).[…]

The earliest direct evidence for a collection of the Gospels comes from Justin Martyr (also the first to mention the Revelation of John, see Dial. 81.15), ca. 160, who makes direct reference to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and possibly John, and says that he permits the reading of ‘memoirs of the apostles or apostolic men’ (1 Apol. 66-67) in worship, one sign that the Gospels too might now be considered Christian scripture. If Justin did in fact have John, this is also the first indication of a collection of the four Gospels.[…]

The first Christian to argue for limiting the number of Gospels to four was Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 180). Irenaeus argues further that certain other accounts may not be read because they are heretical. His implied ‘New Testament’ (a term that he uses, but not clearly referring to texts) includes the four Gospels, Acts of the Apostles (the first evidence of its use), the thirteen epistles attributed to Paul, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, the Revelation of John, and also the Shepherd of Hermas, a work no longer part of the New Testament canon (see. e.g., Adv. Haer. 3.21.3-4).

By the beginning of the third century, the contours of a ‘New Testament’ as we know it begin to emerge. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian in Carthage treat as authoritative a collection of Christian documents similar to that of Irenaeus. Both approve of Hebrews (Eusebius says that Irenaeus also used Hebrews, but that cannot be demonstrated from his surviving work) and both use the epistle of Jude. Tertullian treats as scripture both the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Baranbas, another work no longer part of the New Testament. He is, furthermore, the first to use the term ‘New Testament’ in a clear reference to a collection of texts (Prax. 15).[…]  Origin (ca. 185-254), whose words are preserved by Eusebius, started that there are ‘four Gospels, which alone are unquestionable’ (Hist. eccl. 6.25.4): Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.[…]

By the fourth century, the accepted list of books that were treated as the New Testament had not changed much, as we can see from Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius lists those book that everyone recognizes as scripture (homologoumena): four Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, fourteen epistles of Paul (the thirteen ascribed to him as well as Hebrews), 1 John, 1 Peter, and Revelation.[…]  The emperor Constantine asked Eusebius to produce fifty copies of the Christian Bible. Unfortunately, none of these copies have survived, but Eusebius must have made a decision as to which texts to include. Two biblical codices (singular ‘codex’) from the fourth century have survived. One of these, called Sinaiticus because it was discovered in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, is the oldest complete Old (Greek only) and New Testament. Its New Testament contains all the books of the modern New Testament plus the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.[…]

After Eusebius, canon lists, some using the term ‘canon’ are drawn up in various places by various bishops or church synods. These list the books of the New Testament for the express purpose of saying ‘these books and no others.’ One of these, the Thirty-ninth Festal Letter of Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, presents in 367, for the first time, a list of the twenty-seven books that are included in the modern New Testament.[…]Yet through this entire period, the church never adopted a set of criteria by which to determine canonicity. Although unstated, the most significant criterion for inclusion was usage and dissemination.[…]  Also important was the criterion of apostolicity, that is, whether the document emanated from an apostle or was connected to an apostolic authority (e.g. Luke and Acts was associated with Paul, Mark with Peter). On the other hand, many of the now noncanonical documents were written in the names of apostles and yet were not cited as scripture by any church father: usage (or lack of it) thus took priority over ascription to an apostle. A third criterion was conformity to the proper understanding of Christianity (the regula fidea or ‘rule of faith’) as the majority church (and certainly the majority of those in power in the church) saw it.[…]  ’Divine inspiration’ was not a criterion for acknowledging a document as scripture.” (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, pp 557-559)

Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy

I have over the past couple of years written several blog series on various Biblical themes related to interpreting the Scriptures.  The longest of these was God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4-11 (links to all of those blogs available in PDF can be found at https://frted.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/god-questions-his-creation-genesis-11-as-one-pdf-document/ ).   More recently I wrote Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury  and  Reading  the Bible: Hermeneutics and Typology.

In this new series, I will look at three scriptural themes, this time mostly related to the Christian Old Testament, also known as the Jewish Bible or Tanakh: the Old Testament, Prophecy and Torah.

These are not scholarly researched blogs, though they will consist mostly of quoting scriptural scholars or patristic writers on these topics.  My method in writing these various scriptural blog series is not to research the topic, but rather to use quotes that I have tagged in my readings over the past several years.  Basically when I read a book I highlight passages of interest to me.  When I’ve finished reading the book I go back through the book and look at the passages I’ve highlighted and assign a tag (a theme) to each one, and then record the tag, the book and page number in a Microsoft Excel file that I created years ago.  I alphabetize the list by the tags.  I will say this idea occurred to me when I first began using a computer and is probably the only really creative use I’ve made of all the marvelous things a computer can do.  I instantly grasped how the computer made saving these quotes easy, possible and readily accessible.  Being an avid reader, the database has grown rapidly.   When I have the time and like the material, I easily read a book a week.  Of course if I had the time and energy I could type in each quote into a database and have a much more useable database of actual quotes rather than just tags, which would allow me to search for many words rather than limiting a quote to one theme.   However, I find simply having the tags, books & page numbers works for me in compiling and using the quotes (currently I have about 5500 such tags in my Excel Books File).  Originally I tagged the quotes for use in the weekly parish bulletin, but now use them in my blogs and the weekly bulletin.

So I am not doing research as such – picking a theme and then trying to find quotes and information.  Rather, when I see one of my tags/themes has a number of quotes, I can then compose a blog series around it and I pull together the quotes which may have nothing to do with each other, being linked only because I imposed a tag/theme on them.  Sometimes this means discovering quotes around a theme which have very diverse or even conflicting views.  When it comes to reading Scripture, however, because I do accept the Patristic notion that the Scriptures are a treasury whose riches are to be discovered, I find the diversity in ideas about approaching the Bible to be enriching and adding depth to my own understanding of the Word of God.

I’m going to venture a guess about the development of the canonical Scripture of the Christians and biblical interpretation.  St. Paul mentions in his writings that in the Christian assemblies, several people moved by the Holy Spirit might speak God’s word (prophecy) to those gathered together (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).  St. Paul argues for order in the assemblies: perhaps at first anyone could speak about any topic which they believed the Spirit was inspiring them.  Fairly early on this brought about too much chaos as people spoke whatever came to mind without discerning anything.  So then the Spirit had to be tested, and only those that declared that Jesus Christ was Lord were thought to be truly moved by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). My guess is that over time, to curtail people saying  aloud with no spiritual discernment anything that came to mind, the communities began to insist that those speaking the Word – prophesying  or preaching – must be tested and shown to be saying things that conformed to what the Christian communities already accepted as true.  As the Church became more organized this could be readily done by studying the canonical writings of the Church and using them to evaluate the prophet or preacher.  Thus Scripture was given a prominent role in the Christian assemblies, and those speaking were expected to speak/prophesy things conforming to if not related to those ideas contained in the authoritative Scriptures. 

Eventually as the Church continued its growth and thus the diversity of its membership, the Christian communities further tested those speaking, prophesying, preaching, or teaching and began to allow only recognized teachers to speak in the assemblies.  This corresponded in the Church to the rising historical need to oppose heresies – twisting the truth or narrowly focusing on only certain aspects of the truth at the expense of the fullness of the faith.   The acceptance by the Church as a whole of the canonical Scriptures and also of a recognized leadership – the apostolic succession – was thus part of the organic development of the Church to remain faithful to its core message and apostolic truth.   In each individual community this initially meant expanding the number of writings they could rely on as authoritative (those communities which read only one Gospel, came to accept that the Gospel is authoritatively recorded according to four different evangelists).  This evolving history also helped insure adherence to the core truth of Christianity, a recognized means to determine false or distorted teachings (heresies), and faithfulness to the same message that the Apostles had proclaimed.   By the time of St. John Chrysostom (4th Century), there still were several speakers who spoke/preached at each assembly (as there had been in the more charismatic stage of Pauline Christian communities), but in his day, the speakers were the priests and bishops of the community and their message was based on the readings from the canonical Scriptures.  The prophetic message was now coming through the correct interpretation of the accepted and authoritative texts.   Thus we can see how what Paul describes in his day as several people moved by the Spirit prophesying or preaching in each community’s assembly was changed to combat spiritual abuses by individuals in the communities (moved by spirits that did not claim Jesus is Lord for example) to help the Church remain faithful to the Apostolic proclamation of the Gospel of Truth and to help distinguish between true and false teachings.  The Church continued to rely on the Holy Spirit, but now accepted that the Holy Spirit worked through the laying on of hands and through an ordained clergy to help maintain faithfulness and order in the Christian congregations.

Next: Reading the Scriptures in the Earliest Christian Communities

Scripture and Tradition: Text and Meaning

I’ve been listening to some lectures by Dr. Silviu Bunta, scripture professor at the University of Dayton, which have gotten me thinking about the relationship of Scripture to Tradition, or in other terms, the relationship of text to meaning.

 If we look at the Canon of Scripture of the Jews, we come to realize that pretty much the Jewish Scriptures have come to us not as text carved into stone (as much as some want this to be true), but really as a living and lived Tradition.  We can’t really separate the official, canonical Scriptures from the Tradition which shaped them, interpreted them, and gave them the meaning which then shaped the people of Israel.  (Even the meaning isn’t carved into stone – it was supposed to be written on the hearts of the people – Jeremiah 31:33)

 Of course there is the Hebrew text, the scriptures of the Jews.  However, inasmuch as the original text lacks vowels, punctuation, capitalization or any spaces between words, any attempt to read it is by definition an interpretation.   Additionally, the text is ancient and in a language that fell out of use in history, and so requires interpretation and explanation even if one is able to form words from the stream of consonants which make up the text.  

For example imagine trying to read and understand Genesis 2:7 if it appeared as:

thnthlrdgdfrmdmnfdstfrm

thgrndndbrthdnthsnstrlst

hbrthflfndmnbcmlvngbng

This text in the Revised Standard Version reads:  “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

How would anyone be able to figure that out?  Because we don’t just have the text, we also have the Tradition which preserved the text and interpreted it through history giving it both context and meaning.   Thus the received text, is received within a context – both a community and a rich body of literature which endeavored to interpret the text (and even  preserved debates about the meaning of the text).

The ancients looked at the text for its meaning, which in turn determined which texts became part of the Scriptures of the Jews.    To put it another way, it is because of the meaning found in the text that the text came to be considered as Scripture.   Thus the process by which this happened – the context, community and Tradition – are as important as the text itself for interpreting, understanding and deriving meaning from the text. 

For the ancients the text cannot be separated from its meaning, and so the context, the community and the Tradition must be preserved in order to keep both the text and its meaning together.  Thus Scripture and Tradition are inseparable. 

I want to take these ideas one step further and use them to help us understand Matthew 5:43-48, where Christ says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Some Christians might be surprised to learn that Jesus did not make up his teachings on love, but actually brings forth commandments given to Israel in the Torah, in this case Leviticus 19:18 which reads: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

What is more interesting is that the words of Jesus that people would have heard “to hate their enemies” occur nowhere in the Old Testament.  What Jesus appears to be quoting is a Tradition which has Scripture in it, but with additional interpretation.  Jesus does not parse the statement and say you will find in Scriptures “love your neighbor” and you will hear in Tradition “hate your enemies.”  Christ does not separate Scripture from Tradition even though He disagrees with the Tradition; He still treats Tradition and Scripture, text and meaning, as one reality.    He then rejects this stated Tradition, and offers a new understanding of the Torah, calling us to love not just neighbors and brothers, but even our enemies!   This too is not a teaching of the Old Testament, but is something new which Christ is offering.   Christ takes the teaching of Leviticus 19:18, and expands it and offers a new rational for keeping it in a new way:  we are to be children of God which means we are to be like God who gives both rain and sunshine to the evil people as well as the good ones.  God does not limit His love and goodness only to those who love and obey Him.  Christ does not in the end separate Tradition and Scripture, but He does give it a new meaning.

Christ is moving away from the meaning which some Jews had derived from Scriptures; He offers the values of God’s “upside down” Kingdom which are quite different from human ideas of justice.  The Torah teaches us to love neighbor and brother, but Jesus says even sinners do that, so that can hardly be a value of God’s kingdom for it is nothing more than a sinful human value.  We are to love as God loves, which is in a most amazing, unconstrained, unlimited, unconditional and graceful way.

Christ challenges not the divine Scriptures but the human tradition which had evolved around them and which limited their meaning and purpose so that they no longer transformed Israel, but rather kept the Jews being like any sinners.    The Scriptures which were to deify us had been reduced to preserving our fallen humanity, to a human affirmation of the values which sinful humanity endorses.

Tradition though humanly essential for preserving Scripture and its meaning is challenged by the Kingdom of God.   We need Tradition in order to preserve and understand the Scriptures (to give context to the text), but we also need the Holy Spirit to make God’s Word be that living and active sword which discerns our thoughts and intentions (Hebrews 4:12).

Though the Scriptures by themselves are not sufficient for our understanding God’s revelation (the Scriptures must be interpreted, given meaning and lived), there are limits to the Tradition which interprets them.  Not all interpretations are correct, nor is all tradition helpful for our sojourn to God’s Kingdom.

And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  (Revelation 21:5)

The Canon of Scriptures

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Scriptures and Tradition.

The Apostles

The Scriptures clearly belong to the life of the people of God.  In the case of Christianity, this means the Scriptures emerged within a pre-existing community.  Certainly scriptures existed before there was a Christianity – the Torah of the Jews which were the basis of the Old Testament of the Christians.   However, the Church as the community of disciples existed before there was a New Testament.  It was the spread of Christianity and the existence of new Christian communities that created the need for written, particularly Christian scriptures.   It was this same community of believers spread throughout the Roman Empire and even beyond it, which circulated these writings and eventually gave recognition to which writings were considered authentic for all Christians to read, study, interpret, proclaim and live by.

“The story of the formation of what is known as the New Testament ‘canon’ is a story of the demand for authority.  The Christian Church set out with a preposterously unlikely tale: that a person who had recently been executed by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish religious authorities had been restored to life and was the very corner-stone of the entire building called ‘Israel’.  Where was their evidence for this, and what was their authority?  Probably the most immediately cogent evidence was the very existence of this group of ‘Nazerenes’…  the Twelve evidently constituted the earliest Christian ‘canon’ or measuring-rod — the standard by which the authenticity of the Church’s message was to be gauged, for the duration of their lifetime.” (CFD Moule, THE BIRTH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 178-179)

Indeed the original ‘canon’ which determined the authenticity and authority of what was taught in the name of Christ was the Apostles.  They in turn bestowed the same authority to the bishops whom they appointed in every local community.

“The determination of a canon was, at least initially, not about separating inspired books from non-inspired books, but a matter of determining which books were reliable witnesses to the ancient faith.  What distinguishes the canon from other works, in other words, is not inspiration, but the Church’s Spirit-assisted judgment regarding the reliable testimony of these works.  As Robert Gnuse put it: ‘The ancient church did not bestow authority on the various works incorporated into the canon, it merely recognized the authority which already lay therein.’  … ‘Thus, in forming the canon, the church acknowledged and established the Bible as the measure or standard of inspiration in the church, not as the totality of it.  What concurs with canon is of like inspiration; what does not is not of God.’”  (Richard Gaillardetz, BY WHAT AUTHORITY?, p 35)

 “If we ask what criteria the Church consciously applied to test the authenticity of its writings, we shall find that they are criteria dictated by controversy with heretics or disbelievers.  The most obvious is ‘apostolicity’.  If not actually written by one of the Twelve, a Gospel…must at least have some kind of apostolic imprimatur: it must be shown to come from some close associate of an apostle and, if possible, with the apostle’s express commission.  Consequently, it must necessarily belong to an early period, and would be expected…to show signs of at least derivation from the primitive Aramaic-speaking Church.  A corollary of this…was that no genuinely apostolic Gospel could contain an interpretation of the incarnation contrary to that orthodoxy…  by the time the last of the Twelve had died, there was a sufficiently powerful uniformity, so far as the basic convictions of the Church’s leaders go, running through the Christian centers all over the empire, to detect and extrude ‘heresy’—that is, any opinion incompatible with the apostolic witness.”  (CFD Moule,  THE BIRTH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 189)

Those first Christians who committed the Christian message and proclamation to writing, were actively engaged in forming the Church.  They were not consciously formulating the Scriptures for the Church.  That would be the work of those who received the writings and had to determine their authenticity and their authority before proclaiming them publicly and distributing them to other communities to read.  The Christian authors of what would become the New Testament had the task of teaching believers how to be disciples of Christ, and of defending their flocks from false teachings which were always also trying to work their way into the Christian communities.

Christ Teaching

“Neither the apostles nor the evangelists ever decided at one or another time to ‘sit down and write a Bible,’ nor did any one of them claim that he had been given a special ‘call’ or ‘commission’ to take up pen and write some ‘holy scripture.’  Indeed, the apostles and evangelists were never in any great hurry to write anything.  When they did write, it was primarily in the form of letters addressed to specific problems or questions which had arisen.  In other words, they did not write for the purpose of establishing a ‘Bible,’ but rather to preserve the unity of the faith in sound doctrine and defending the unity and uniqueness of the Holy Church.”   (Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, FREEDOM TO BELIEVE, p 63)

The writing of the Scriptures, and then the closing of the canon, was done precisely to maintain the purity and authenticity of the Christian message.  As Christianity was gaining more and varied members, there was a constant (and quite natural) temptation to re-interpret Christ and the Gospel in new and varied ways.  The Apostles and the leadership they appointed to succeed them, took seriously establising accepted norms and boundaries for the Christian message.  [For example in Acts 15, the Apostolic Council decides it is not necessary to become a Jew in order to be a Christian.  The Apostles decide that the consequence of the Resurrection proving Jesus is the Messiah is that the keeping of Torah is not mandatory any longer for the people of God.]

Next:  Interpreting Scriptures