Church History 301-D15
The Foundation of Orthodoxy and the Canon
The foundation of Christian orthodoxy and canon are so entwined so that you cannot have one without the other; both drawing support from the other to establish details and outline its parameters. In the years that followed after the death of the apostles, there was a desire by the early Christian movement to consolidate, catalogue, and share the teachings of Jesus among the churches. Before there could be a collection of important writings however, there needed to be an agreement on what was considered worthy of high regard, useful for teaching, and what could be verified as legitimate or apostolic in nature, this would provide for foundation of what was to be considered canonical literature. These early attempts of establishing the canon also required the defining of orthodoxy. Today we recognize the definition of orthodoxy as the “acceptance of the truth, especially about Jesus Christ, that is revealed by the Holy Spirit in the gospel and is passed on through the teaching of sound doctrine.” Since the revelation of truth can result in speculation based on ones perspective, it was of the utmost importance that rules be established and maintained when considering what documents would be affirmed within the body of the church to become what we call canonical literature. To understand the word canon, we must look at the words origin. According to Chadwick, “The Greek word kanon meant a ruler for measuring, and so, as a metaphor, any sort of rule or norm. So ‘the canonical books’ were the books which established a ‘rule of faith’ as distinct from other books which might be good but did not have the same authority.” Similarly, it would be this definition of the word “rule” that the Apostle Paul would imply when using it in his letter to the Galatians, stating “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” The recognition of a set of rules would provide for debate, yet begin the conversation of, what was to be considered worthy of becoming a part of the canon. The primary test of canonicity was determining if the writings contained apostolic or prophetic authority. To be an apostle, one had to be a commissioned messenger of Jesus, from whom an apostle’s authority is given. One way that apostolic authority could be established was by noting the frequency and presumptive authority; the early church Fathers quoted the writings of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. A look at the second letter of Peter illustrates that even he recognized that Paul letters contained scriptural authority. It appears that even in the time of the Apostles that they accepted that what they were witnessing carried the weight of authority as they saw the fulfillment of messianic prophesy in Christ Jesus worth documenting in writing. In regards to prophetic authority, there was the repeated instruction that some writings should be read to other congregations. For example, Paul closes his first letter to Thessalonica with the command, “ I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.” This level of instruction, coupled with letters such as Revelation, which promised a blessing to all who read the words of the prophecy, and kept it, illustrate the importance of prophetic works. “The key to canonicity implicit in those injunctions appears to be authority, or prophecy. If a writing was prophetic, it was to be read with authority to the churches.” It should be noted though that apostolic or prophetic authority was not the final measure by which the early church fathers identified the canon. While developing consistent theology may not have been their intent, letters that were considered useful for teaching were circulated and collected; providing multiple copies, which in later years would support the creation of the canon. Hence, many of the early church fathers, such as Clement of Rome, have referenced these letters and...
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Dunbar, David. Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1986.
Edwards, Ruth. Discovering John. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003.
Moll, Sebastian. The Arch-Heretic Marcion. Tübingen: Mohr Seabeck, 2012.
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[ 2 ]. (Chadwick 1995)
[ 3 ]
[ 6 ]. (Geisler and Nix 1986)
[ 7 ]
[ 8 ]. (Moll 2012)
[ 9 ]
[ 10 ]. (Zinzer 2012)
[ 11 ]
[ 12 ]. (Edwards 2003)
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[ 16 ]. (Cross and Livingstone 2005)
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