Life Lessons of a Christian Blogger

Hi, everyone! This is going to be another one of those personal posts. I hope you have enjoyed the Christmas season and have a prosperous New Year!

As many of you know, my first few posts were about theology. They were my attempt at doing theology for myself and by myself. I quickly realized just how dangerous it was, interpreting Scripture by myself.

I am recanting. Not my faith, but my pride. I was very foolish, and I apologize to you all. You see, I learn by writing. The natural side effect of reading is writing, and I read a lot. I learned so many things in the process, and I would like to share the most important one with you all.

When I began blogging in April, I wanted to make a splash with new exciting theology. I thought that I could somehow find something new in Scripture and share it with the masses. The problem is that “there is nothing new under the sun.” I was continuously frustrated because I could not come up with any new ideas. Some patristic writer already said it, and in searching for evidence for my claims, I found their ancient writings. This is comforting now, but I hated it then. I was torn between two thoughts: I could either find something new and risk being a heretic or I could agree with the Fathers and risk being a bore.

Now, I am a happy bore! A bore that has learned to listen to the interpretations of the earliest Christians instead of warping Scripture to fit my own needs. Lord, have mercy on me if I led anyone astray. I am so thankful that I learned this lesson early in life.

Please be careful when interpreting Scripture. Remember the long history of the Bible, and take into account that the Bible would not be in existence without the people who put it together. The Church didn’t create the Bible, and the Bible didn’t create the Church. “They grew up together.”

You may have heard of Sola Scriptura. It is the product of the Reformation (16th century) along with its partners, sola fide and sola gratia. For the first time in the history of the Church, people started interpreting Scripture for themselves. From looking at “scripture alone” (and of course their own life experiences and bias as a filter), they came up with many many new doctrines, most of them contradictory to one another and the historical interpretations. Sola fide and sola gratia are contradictory. Faith alone and Grace alone. Faith alone leads to a completely works based salvation that doesn’t involve much of God. Grace alone leads to predestination and election, which denies the role of faith. But salvation is “by grace through faith.” Removing one or the other creates serious issues. (A topic for another day.) Scripture alone does the same thing. By removing the trusted (and fought for) interpretation of the past, Holy Scripture is put in jeopardy. There must be a standard. I violated this standard, but now I have learned my place. I would much rather trust the word of the very first interpreters of Scripture, the apostles and church fathers. They knew the culture it was written to and they knew the philosophy it was in conversation with. I don’t need to find some new fantastical interpretation of Scripture! I am content to share the unchanging truths of Scripture.

Once again I caution you. If you are in a Bible study and five different people share five different interpretations of the same verse of Scripture, beware! I certainly don’t care what Scripture “means” to five different people. It MEANS something, and I don’t think true meanings are relative.

If you compromise one, you can compromise all.

Again, I am truly sorry. I pray you can forgive me.

In Christ’s love,

Sara

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The Influence of the Early Church in the Formation of the Canon (History of the Bible, part 10)

Growing up,  I was under the impression that history was some far away place that could only be reached through books and grandfathers’ tales, but history is made every day. What we do may not be preserved in fancy books that will be read to children, copied, preserved through generations, and venerated, but it could be. Two thousand years ago twelve ordinary people doing ordinary everyday average things met a man who changed their lives and the life of the world. They were not spectacular. Most of them weren’t educated. They never set out to change history, and yet, we remember them. These ordinary people took the words of this extraordinary man, Jesus Christ, as gospel, The Gospel. They wrote books recounting their experiences with him. They made copies of these books and passed them around the known world! We know their names, these very ordinary people! Mary, Peter, Paul, James, Matthew, John and so so so many more! They formed a church, The Church. They read these books at every opportunity to celebrate the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They prayed, they lived, they died, most of them for their faith, and most importantly they passed on this history to their children and their neighbors. The Church lived on this way for over three hundred years: reading, praying, and breaking bread. (Acts 2:42)

In 313, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which declared Christianity a legal religion of the state, and the empire converted. Christianity in the Roman Empire went from 15% to 70% of the population in 100 years. This rapid growth was also dangerous for the Church. Heresies began to spring up. In 325, Constantine called the Council of Nicea, the first Ecumenical Council of the Church, to discuss Arianism, the heresy that claimed that Jesus was created by the Father, not begotten. St. Athanasius (one of my personal heroes) combated Arianism in his book, On the Incarnation of the Word. The Council formed the Nicene Creed, which specifically defends against Arianism. “…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made…” The Church was successful. They survived this heresy, but more would come. In 367, St. Athanasius wrote a list of the 27 books of the New Testament as we have them today. This was the first time these books were mentioned all together. There is no clear date for when the canon came together. There were certain requirements for a book to be accepted into the canon: the Vincentian rule for the canon says that they had to be read everywhere always by everyone. Basically, the book in question must be widely circulated among the churches, it had to have been read there for the entire history of the Church, and it had to be accepted by everyone in the Church. Many books did not make the cut, although, they were read kind of like a “devotional book.” There is a common misconception, one that I held for many years, that the Bible was read in completion by the early church, that it came together very quickly after Jesus’ death. This was not the case. The Church did read individual books, but they did not rely on the entirety of the Bible to hold their faith together. They heard from their mothers and fathers and grandparents, who had sat and talked to the apostle John in Ephesus or Peter or Paul in Rome. They had a living memory of the life of Jesus before they had any Scripture. The events in Acts obviously happened before Luke could write them down. Scripture relied on the witness and the tradition of the Church. Dr. Foakes-Jackson says, “The Church assuredly did not make the New Testament; the two grew up together.” You see, the Church did not suddenly sit down and decide to create the Bible one day. It took centuries of passing around Gospel books and Epistles before they had a complete book of Holy Scripture. They did, however, have the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. This is what Paul quotes in his epistles, because that is what the early church was reading.

So take heart in the news that your Bible comes from a long line of devoted Christians who gave their lives to preserve the word for three hundred years until it was legalized! They still obviously didn’t have a printing press, and making copies was difficult. Eventually, each church had a copy to be read in public worship, but the Church had a long journey ahead of them, none of which was smooth sailing.

Before the end of this series, I will revisit the heresies one by one and discuss modern sightings of each of them.  Also! I will be taking a closer look at the Nicene Creed.  Meanwhile, I will go through some basic theology that everyone needs to know. Welcome to apologetics class!

 

 

The Division of the Bible and the Canon (History of the Bible, part 4)

Have you ever wondered how the Bible came to be separated into two testaments? What in the world is a testament anyway? Many people question this, and that is an excellent thing to do! People who don’t ask questions usually aren’t learning anything!

Testament- Latin- testamentum- Greek- diatheke, refers to a covenant, like the Old Testament Covenants God made with the Israelites. Testament refers to a last will and testament. So what is a covenant? It’s a contract. Some are conditional and some aren’t. God’s covenant with Noah to never flood the earth again was unconditional. Salvation is the new covenant. It is conditional on our choosing to believe in Jesus. Old and New Testament refers to the old and new covenant of God with His people (God’s people are not just the Israelites). The New Covenant is previewed in Jeremiah 31.

First, let’s talk about the division of the Old and New Testament. It isn’t really a division. The Old Testament, known as the Hebrew Bible, was and still is the Jewish Scriptures. That is where the Jews stop, except for extra books such as the Talmud and Mishnah. The New Testament came after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is purely a Christian text. The Jews do not give it any authority.

Next, let’s discuss the divisions in the Old Testament. I will not be discussing each book’s content, but I may provide a brief summary of each book later on in this series. The Old Testament is divided into three major categories. The Torah, which is the Hebrew word for Law, is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The 600 plus laws in the Torah are the basis for being a good Jew. The Nevi’im, prophets, is historical and prophetical books. The Ketuvim, writings, is the poetry and wisdom literature.

The New Testament is divided into Gospels, Epistles, History, and Apocalyptic Literature. The Gospels are the account of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. The Epistles are letters written by the apostles to churches or leaders of the churches. The only historical book is Acts, the record of the early church and the apostles. The only apocalyptic book is Revelation. It can be interpreted in a variety of ways, which I may discuss at a later date.

Now, what is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? St. Augustine says it quite beautifully, “The New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament.” The Old covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, which has two parts. If the Israelites will follow God’s commandments, He will give them the land of Canaan and drive out their enemies. It is conditional upon the Israelites obeying God. The New Covenant, first mentioned in Jeremiah 31, is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many.” Unlike what some people think, Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament. He was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the new.

The next question is, who decided what was put in the Bible? It didn’t just fall from the sky, and it wasn’t found in the woods as a complete book. The early church took special care to put the Bible together. The Bible was written by various authors over a period of 1400 years and in several different countries, from Italy and Greece to Mesopotamia and Persia. The authors include kings, herdsmen, soldiers, legislators, fishermen, statesmen, courtiers, priests, prophets, tentmakers, Rabbis, and Greek physicians. The Bible contains a variety of different literature: history, law, religious poetry, didactic treatises, lyric poetry, parable and allegory, biography, personal correspondence, personal memoirs, and prophetic and apocalyptic literature. The Bible is an anthology, but an anthologist did not compile it. Through all of these different authors and styles, there is a continuous theme, Jesus Christ.

When we speak of the Bible, we are only talking about a certain few books. Who decided which books made the list? Well, the “list” is the Canon. Canon means rule or standard, and when applied to the Bible it refers to the list of books that are considered to be inspired by God and authoritative. In AD 70, the Council of Jamnia discussed and decided on the current books of the Hebrew Bible as the authoritative Word of God. This was already the public opinion, but they made it permanent. Jesus also mentions, “The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” in one of the Gospels, which would have taken place between AD 26-33. In AD 367, St. Athanasius wrote his Festal Letter to the churches. This was the first time that the 27 books of the New Testament were listed together. Notice that this was over 300 years after the death of Jesus. That means that the Church was without a “Bible” for that period of time. They didn’t have a complete book, but they did have all of the parts, which they shared amongst the churches. They had a collection called, “The Gospel,” which was divided into different authors, and they had “The Apostle,” which was divided into the different letters of Paul to the Churches. Acts was given the same prestige as Luke’s gospel, and the churches read them all and gave them authority in their lives. The books were not carelessly selected to be put in the Bible. They followed the Vincention Canon. The books had to be read everywhere always by all. If only one church read a certain book, that wasn’t good enough. Or if a new book popped up in the 2nd century, they didn’t accept it as Scripture. Some deuterocanonical books were read in the church, but they were not given any authority. This was kind of like reading a devotional book or a commentary. They could have a lot of truth and instruction for daily living, but they are not Scripture.

It is important to realize that “the Bible” did not precede the Church. The Church was crucial in the formation of the Canon of Scripture. Dr. Foakes-Jackson says it right, “The Church assuredly did not make the New Testament; the two grew up together.” This is a beautiful image. The apostles who wrote scripture formed the church after the command of Jesus to do so. I will talk more about the Early Church later.

I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am! Next week we will discuss the Old Testament, both Hebrew and Greek, in more detail.

My main source is The Books and the Parchments by F. F. Bruce