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July 4, 2007 / Daniel

The Word and the Church

Bryan brought up an interesting problem.  How do we know which books should even be in the canon in the first place?  Didn’t the early church make the Bible anyway? After all, they decided what would be in the New Testament.  (Bryan, sorry that I’m paraphrasing your comment). 

In other words, did the church make the Bible or did the Bible make the church?   From my reading of the NT, I would have to say that the Bible made the church.  The Bible is God revealing Himself to a community.   That revelation of Himself gave birth to the early church.   As it says in James 1:18, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfirsts of all He created.”

The word of truth here is the apostles’ message about Jesus that we have preserved for us in the NT.  By revealing God to us, this message brought into being a new community. 

So how did the early church decide which books would be in the canon? The church used certain criteria to mark out the canon.  They considered a book Scripture if it was written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle.  Books like the gospel of Thomas were rejected because they  were obviously not written by an apostle.

It’s important to notice that the church was only officially recognizing that these books were Scripture.  The Council of Nicea didn’t make the books Scripture.  They were God’s Word before the Council even happened.  Just after the Council, they had an official stamp on them. 

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6 Comments

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  1. Dennis / Jul 5 2007 2:04 am

    “did the church make the Bible or did the Bible make the church? ”

    Daniel, I have to disagree with you on this. Christ established the Church. Before anything was written, Christ lived, died, resurrected and ascended. In the meantime, He taught the Apostles all they needed to know and after He ascended, He sent His Holy Spirit to them so that they could proclaim the word.

    Long before the Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke, 3000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost. The Church started before the New Testament Scriptures were written.

    For the Sacred Scriptures, the early Church used the Old Testament (specifically the Greek Septuagint) as their Canon for in Luke, we learn that “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) For me, this tells me that the Apostles fully understood how the Old Testament related to Jesus Christ and were able to share it with their Jewish brethren and later on their Gentile counterparts as well.

    As far as determining what was Canon, there were four criteria that were used:

    1. Either written (or dictated) by an Apostle
    2. Acknowledged/Universally accepted by the Christian communities
    3. Used in the Christian Liturgies
    4. Consistent with the Theological ideas

  2. Dennis / Jul 5 2007 2:08 am

    Sorry…I hit submit by accident…

    I just wanted to also add that when the Good News was spread, it was spread orally at first as Jewish Tradition is an oral tradition. The letters were only used as a supplement to what the early Christians learned orally through their bishops.

  3. fiester25 / Jul 5 2007 1:00 pm

    “Christ established the Church. ”

    Agreed. The Word is the revealed story of Christ.

    The Word is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to bring folks to saving faith.

    Good job on the other criteria.

  4. Levi Michael / Jul 5 2007 2:49 pm

    Dennis,
    I agree with your four criteria.
    Daniel,
    In James 1:18 I would say that it is oversimplifying things to imply a 1:1 relationship between “word of truth” and “Word of God,” “Bible,” or “Holy Scriptures.”
    Yes, the encounter with Christ and the message of Christ gave birth to the Church.
    In the same way, our encounters with the Gospel (as in the life-changing truths and as recorded by Ss. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the Divine Liturgy give us new birth again each week.

  5. Levi Michael / Jul 5 2007 3:10 pm

    An interesting quote from St. Paul’s first letter to his spiritual son, Timothy:

    “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.”
    1 Timothy 3:14-15

    And, although it probably bothers you guys that I link to other thinkers/writers’ thoughts rather than write my own. read this:
    “How to Read the Bible”
    by Bishop KALLISTOS (Ware) of Diokleia (Oxford, England)

    This verse and the article especially that Scripture reading should be ecclesial in character. Of course, this wasn’t a matter of debate until the gutenberg press, since most people had no private access to Holy Scripture, much less owning 10 copies in various languages and translations.

  6. Levi Michael / Jul 5 2007 5:24 pm

    An interesting patristic reference to public/liturgical reading of Holy Scripture:
    “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. ” [italics mine]
    From St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology

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