Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Who wrote the New Testament? - Part 4
As I said at the beginning of this article, the history of the New Testament canon and its development is crucial to a proper understanding of both the Bible and the Church. The implications are indeed profound, and they call for some serious heart-searching on the part of all Christians. I would like to conclude on a personal note by showing you exactly how profound these implications can be. For they brought about some radical changes in my life—not only in how I came to approach Scripture and its interpretation, but in how I now relate to Christ’s holy Church in its historical expression.
Soon after my own conversion to Christianity I found myself getting swept up in the tide of Christian sectarianism which is so pervasive in the Protestant world. In fact, I eventually became so sectarian that I came to believe that all Churches were non-biblical. To become a member of any Church was to compromise the Faith. A close friend of mine even wrote a book called The Bible Versus the Churches, in which he argued that the Bible was true, and in conflict with Churches, all of which were false.
For me, Church became “the Bible, God, and me.” My attitude towards others was, “Tell me what you believe and I’ll tell you where you’re wrong!” Even my Christian friends became suspect. And my friend who wrote The Bible Versus the Churches came to believe that the Bible was in conflict with me as well! We parted ways.
This hostility towards Churches fit in well with my being a Jew. I naturally distrusted Churches because I felt they had betrayed the teachings of Christ in having persecuted or passively ignored the persecution of the Jews throughout history. As I became increasingly sectarian, indeed even obnoxious and anti-social, I slowly began to realize that something was seriously wrong with my approach to Christianity. I also realized that many of my Jewish-Christian brethren had also fallen into an elitist and sectarian “super-Christian” mold, believing that they were on a mission to clean up “Gentile Christianity.”
This realization led me to a sincere study of the history of the early Church, where I discovered four centuries of discussion and debate over which books should be included and excluded from the New Testament canon. It soon became clear to me that I was dealing with a larger issue— the issue of Church authority.
Biblical scholarship had given me four criteria to determine if a book was to be included as canonical.
1. It must be written by Apostles or disciples of the Apostles.
2. It must be considered inspired of God.
3. It must be accepted by the Church.
4. It must conform to the oral tradition and rule of faith taught by the Church.
I had no difficulty accepting the first two criteria. I wrestled mightily, however, with the thought that the Church had been given the authority to judge what books composed Scripture. Ultimately, it came down to a single issue. I already believed that God spoke authoritatively through His written Word. Could I now accept the fact that He spoke authoritatively through His Church as well—the very Church which had protected, preserved, and actively produced the Scriptures I held so dear?