The Foundation of Orthodoxy and the Canon
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The orthodoxy is the belief about the true doctrine of Scripture. However, how can Christians, including Orthodox, be quite certain that they have the true Bible after almost 2000 years of the church history? How can one be sure about the proper amount of books in the Bible? Furthermore, how can one know which books are the canonical standards? Nowadays, the issue of paramount importance is the list of the books that draw up the canon of Scripture as a collection of the authoritative writings. This paper explores the key figures and movements that became powerful in recognition of the canonical books, as well as its methodology.
The English word "canon" is derived from the Latin language, while the Latin term is the loanword from the Greek language, in particular from the word “kanon”. The Greek “kanon” was more referred to the standard or the rule than to the canon in the New Testament. The forward movement in this course took place when the word “kanon” had become the rule of faith in the Christian church during the second century. Nevertheless, the church began to consider the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the canon only in the fourth century.
The Latin term had a similar historical development. It meant "a catalogue of the sacred writings" in the ecclesiastical Latin. These days, the term “canon”, as the canon of Scripture, is rather classified as the ecclesiastical usage from the fourth century than the biblical sense.
Thus, the Greek word “kanon” had not been found in the texts of the New Testament books before the middle of the fourth century. Though, the idea of the canon existed in the earlier period. The terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament" came into being around 200 AD. However, only from the beginning of the fourth century, the church is characterized by the growing consciousness about the canonicity of the sacred New Testament texts.
The New Testament is the authoritative declaration of the apostles as the witnesses of Jesus Christ. The historical tradition of the apostolicity creates the foundation of its doubts or an acceptance. The Church was making progress in the acceptance of the authoritative Christian books at the early stage. The primary years of this period, between 140 and 220, are characterized by the rise of the following heretical movements: Marcionism, Gnosticism and Montanism. All of them reflect the canon issue.
Marcion utterly rejected the Old Testament. At the same time, he regarded a certain group of books, including Luke's Gospel and ten of the Pauline epistles without the Pastorals, as the fully authoritative, substituting all others. Moreover, he even edited them, according to his views. His vision was the first position that had the obviously defined canon. This canon became both a challenge and a motivation for churches in order to show the real standard.
The movement of Gnosticism prospered in the middle of the second century. The Gospel of Thomas was the main finding, which contained 114 sayings of Jesus. They were proposed as a basis of the trustworthy notes about the past of Jesus. The Gospel of Truth is one more significant Gnostic work that uses almost the same writings as the present New Testament canon. The attitude of the author proves their authority for him. Nevertheless, the true gnosis for the Gnostics was far away from the Scripture. They sometimes depicted the apostles as the deficient mediums of knowledge. Though, the Gnostics credited their apocryphal writings to many apostles.
The Gnostics also fulfilled a catalytic function in the establishment of the canon, but they did not delimit it. The concentration of the attention on the teachings of the apostles became the Gnosticism’s result for the Church. The need of the real canon forced the Orthodox Fathers to be focused more deliberately on the Scripture as the written evidence of the apostolic tradition.
Afterwards, montanism became one more direction that challenged the orthodoxy in the second century. Montanus, the leader of the movement, believed that Christ's promise of the Holy Spirit had been fulfilled at those times. He supposed himself to be the Paraclete's representative, emphasizing the renewal of the prophetic gift. According to his views, the Holy Spirit was demonstrating himself through the prophetesses and entranced prophets, particularly Montanus. Thus, there had been a long debate on the issue of the canon, as the result of the Montanist challenge. Conversely, the impact on the canon was indirect. He did not attack the validity or the authority of the Biblical writings nor set up the counterparts to the Scripture.
The written apostolic evidence of Christ reveals to the primitiveness of his life description by the church. The Muratorian, Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian canons give witness to the church's reaction. Marcion initiated the first noteworthy move toward the formation of the new Christian canon. His document lists the canonical books; there are all writings of the New Testament with the exception of 2 Peter, James and Hebrews. The Irenaeus Canon presents the same picture. He did not include the Shepherd of Hermas in the apostolic writings, but denoted it as "the scripture". The Tertullian Canon counts twenty two books, such as Jude and Revelation, the thirteen epistles of Paul, 1 John, Peter, the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The Origen standard recognized the same writings as the “undisputed” books.
The canon had been formed during the course of Christendom, by the end of the second century. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven books indisputably became the authoritative writings. The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, 1 Clement, Revelation, 2 Peter, James and Hebrews aroused doubts. The catalytic activity of the heretical groups precipitated the canonization process during the second century. Hence, the church had been conscious of the canon between 170 and 220.
A milestone, in the history of the canon, was reached with Eusebius, who explained the position of the Church to a great extent. He made a vital division between antilegomena (“disputed books”) and homologoumena (“recognized books”). The disputed books are divided into two subclasses: the writings that must be comprised in the canon and those that should not be involved. The first category consists of 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and James. The Barnabas, the Didache, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Acts of Paul, perhaps Revelation and other not apostolic texts are in the second group. The recognized books are represented by 1 John, 1 Peter, the epistles of Paul (containing Hebrews), Acts, the Gospels and perhaps Revelation; in case it was written by the apostle. Eusebius’s doubts about Revelation in the New Testament are similar to ours.
The 39 Festal Letter of Athanasius is the first identical list of the New Testament to ours. Athanasius made a sharp difference between the writings that were only worthy of reading and the 27 canonical books.
Thus, the consensus between different churcheswas not absolute, but the New Testament canon was ecclesiastically determined and commonly accepted. It happened by the end of the fourth century. Their agreement can be observed in the light of the providence of God and His peculiar guidance. It is the Canon that controls the Church, not the other way round. As a consequence, both the Western and the Eastern Churches set up their Canons in the fourth century on the norm of keeping in touch with the apostles or their direct followers in the collection of books. Jerome registered only 39 Old Testament books with the present-day 27 New Testament writings for the Western Church, while Athanasius of Alexandria recorded all 27 books of the New Testament for the Eastern Church. The Christian world uses the subsequent Vulgate Bible that was translated by Jerome to the Latin language.
The book must enclose some methodology in order to be accepted as the canonical. Firstly, it should prove the authority of God together with the power and proclamation. Secondly, it must come from the community of God’s representatives for the purpose of the revelation. Thus, the canonical book tells the truth about a man, God, etc. The Word of God comes with the witness and the power of the Holy Spirit; the one who applies it had to feel the spiritual change.
It also must be accepted by the people of God. For instance, the scriptures of both the New Testament and the Old Testament were believed by God’s people straightaway after their creation. Then, the factual canon must be written by the eyewitness of the events or some founder of the church. Only they can be the preachers of God’s Word. Lastly, the events should be testable. That is why, they must happen within the lifetime of those, who are arbitrating their truthfulness.
In conclusion, the book in Scripture should be reliable, authentic, authoritative, prophetic and have a life-transforming power. The 27 books of the New Testament were confirmed by the Synods of Carthage to the present day Bible in 397 AD as well as in 418 AD.
Modern Bible is the canon of the 27 books of the New Testament and the 39 books of the Old Testament. Their combination forms the orthodox belief that was created upon the inspired movement of God among men. These books are accepted as the canonical and holy writings that find, establish, and regulate the faith. The church decided to except and approve them. However, it remains an expectation that the canon of the New Testament entirely reflects the Christ's canon.