Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Who gave us the New Testament? - Part 1
"The history of early Christianity clearly reveals that God used His Church, composed of flesh-and-blood Christians, as active participants in the process of selecting and establishing the New Testament canon, just as He used real people —with feelings, emotions, unique backgrounds and perspectives—to write the twenty-seven separate books."
Sometimes it is easy to overlook the obvious. Take, for instance, the New Testament. Even though every Christian really knows better, it is easy to forget that the New Testament was not written as one continuous book. Rather, it is a collection of twenty-seven shorter writings which were penned by a variety of authors at differing times and geographical locations and compiled much later. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a list of what books belong in the New Testament. The “canon” of Scripture is, of course, not “scriptural.”
This brings up anther important question which may not be so obvious. Who, then, decided which books should be included in the New Testament canon and which ones left out?
As a Jewish convert to Christianity via evangelical Protestantism, I once refused to acknowledge that the Church had anything to do with compiling the New Testament. I wanted to believe God chose and collected these books without human involvement. The books, I assumed, somehow validated themselves beyond all reasonable doubt, and early Christians merely recognized their obvious scriptural status.
Though there is some degree of truth in this position, it is by itself naive and unbalanced. The history of early Christianity clearly reveals that God used His Church, composed of flesh-and-blood Christians, as active participants in the process of selecting and establishing the New Testament canon, just as He used real people—with feelings, emotions, unique backgrounds and perspectives—to write the twenty-seven separate books.
WHAT BIBLE DID THE APOSTLES USE?
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16). I had always assumed that the “Scripture” spoken of in this passage included both the Old and New Testament. In reality, there was no official “New” Testament when this statement was made. Even the Old Testament was still in the process of formulation, for the Jews did not decide upon a definitive list or canon of Old Testament books until after the rise of Christianity.
As I studied further I discovered that early Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. * This translation, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century B.C., contained an expanded canon which included a number of the so-called “deutero-canonical” books. Although there was some initial debate over these books, they were eventually received by Christians into the Old Testament canon.
In reaction to the rise of Christianity the Jews narrowed their canons and eventually excluded the deutero-canonical books—although they still regarded them as sacred. The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D. Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, which is followed by most of the Protestant Church today.