'What were the factors that lead to the formation of the New Testament Canon? How valid are they today?'

Topics: Bible, Christianity, New Testament Pages: 5 (1689 words) Published: April 20, 2004
There is said to be over a thousand years of literature in the Christian Bible as it is today. This essay will look at the New Testament of the Bible, what the factors were that lead to its formation and the validity of those factors.

The Bible must be looked at not as a single book, but as a collection of twenty-seven books. These books as we have them today are not originals, they have been translated from copies of copies and as ancient manuscripts were copied by hand, there is much room for error in this sense alone.

As Jesus promised to return, the early Christians thought the perusia (the second coming) would be soon and so didn't see the need in writing anything down. This is known as the oral period. Towards the second century, direct witnesses to Jesus' teaching had died and 'heretical' writings such as Marcion's bible were in circulation. These had began to be classed as 'scripture' by some. Theologian Tertullian first used the term 'New Testament' in order to distinguish these new writings from older scriptures (today what we know as the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible).

The early Church set about establishing a canon of scripture for the New Testament when it became apparent that Jesus still hadn't returned, and may not do as soon as the first Christians had thought. Marcion's bible was already in existence around the end of the first century, as a set of works intended as authoritative. However, it had rather unorthodox theology such as his belief in two gods and it rejected the Old Testament as authoritative scripture. Montanism was another branch of Christianity that held what were considered to be heretical ideas about these new writings. There needed to be a consensus, an 'official canon' if you like. John Macquarrie in his book 'The Principles of Christian Theology' (1971, p367) says "the authentic Christian community had to distinguish itself and its message from the heterodox groups, and sought to do this by establishing its continuity with the apostles". At the beginning of the first century, the Church, worried by 'unorthodox' groups such as Marcion looked for apostolic authorship. In a way, Marcion's bible made the Church look more carefully at the validity of texts within the Bible. As M. James Sawyer (article: 'Evangelicals and the New Testament Canon' www.bible.org/docs/theology/biblio/canon) puts it, "it was in part this heretical threat which impelled the church to come to grips with the extent of its authoritative writings". However, at this time, so many documents would have been in circulation that this was a difficult task. Today, the Church may trace more carefully the author of a text but at this time many documents by different authors probably carried the same names in order to get into circulation, to get attention if you like.

Paul's letters (the first to be accepted as canonical) were easier to be certain about than others. This is probably because of liturgical use. John Riches ('The Bible - A Very Short Introduction' 2000, p42) explains how they were used in church services as "a function in the worship of the communities to which they were addressed". He also goes on to suggest, as is often now thought, that all the gospels were written by around the end of the first century. He explains the many gospels as "different groups promoting their understanding of tradition" and made it difficult to find consistent works. For the body of the Church consistency was extremely important. In 170, Tatian, as Riches explains, tried to harmonise the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke unsuccessfully. Harmonisation would not in my opinion be a valid or rather, used method today. There are problems with harmonisation in that individual texts can become no longer whole but only parts remain in the final 'product'. Also, if a text is of apostolic authorship or inspired then there should be no need for 'editing'.

This brings me to the concept of inspiration. It seems impossible to look...
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