Monday, November 29, 2010

The Canonization of the New Testament

This is an essay that I wrote for my English 101 class on how the New Testament- as we have it today- came to be. Studying the origins of the Bible is a vast topic, and this brief research paper is an extremely summed up version of the story. It is a fascinating subject and if you find this interesting, I encourage you to do your own research that is not confined to a 1,375-word-essay.

The Origins of the Bible:
A Brief Study on the Creation, Compilation, and Closing of the Christian Canon

The Christian Bible is the best selling book of all time and more copies of it are sold each year than any other piece of literature.  This is not surprising when one considers that a staggering one third of the world’s population claims to be Christian.  Theoretically, this means that one third of the people on the planet hold the Bible to be the authoritative text for their lives.  These “Holy Scriptures” have shaped people, nations, and history.  Although over two billion people give authority to the Bible, very few actually know where it came from, who wrote it, and who decided how to put it together.  The Christian portion of the Bible is the New Testament and its origins are generally more obscure than the long established Jewish Old Testament.  While the question of the universality of the Old Testament for Christians is an immensely debated topic, most Christians currently believe that, while the Old Testament is still holy, the New Testament is the ultimate authoritative word.  It is curious that so few Christians want to know where their book of authority originated, especially when Jesus, whose word the Church holds as the highest authority, never wrote any books or told his followers to do so (McDonald 70).  What people don’t know is that the New Testament was, in a sense, put together by radicals in the early church, because it was the Church’s reaction to these key figures of the first and second centuries that decided what writings would be canonized as scripture.

As F.F. Bruce points out, one of these early radical thinkers named Marcion is the first known to produce a collection of Christian writings.  Marcion was born around the beginning of the first century and was especially fascinated with the works and teachings of the apostle Paul, whom he studied fanatically.  He interpreted one particular message from Paul to lay the foundation for his entire theology by implying “that not only the Old Testament law, but the Old Testament itself, had been superseded by the gospel” (134-135).  Marcion took this concept of the Old Testament’s authority and usefulness being thrown out, and turned it into a form of anti-Semitism.  For Marcion, the Jewish religion became inferior to his own, and he wanted a form of Christianity that had nothing to do with its Jewish roots.  Bruce illustrates the extremes taken to purge the Christian faith from the Jewish culture and religion by calling to attention Marcion’s assertion that even the God of Israel was a separate entity from the Father God of whom Jesus spoke.  When the Roman church leaders rejected his teachings, Marcion established his own small church that eventually died out after a few generations.  The “bible” that he printed for his followers was comprised of an edited version of the Gospel of Luke and ten letters of Paul.  Any lines of these texts that hinted any kind of support towards Judaism were omitted completely (135-139).  Even though the Church did not accept Marcion’s bible, he was still a crucial influence on what would later become the Christian canon simply by forcing the Church to think about which scriptures reflected its beliefs (McDonald 88-89).

Justin Martyr
The next notable figure of the early Church that had a prominent role in forming the Biblical canon was Justin Martyr.  Justin’s teachings and writings were a direct response to Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament.  Justin preached that the Old Testament was still a Christian book, and he was “the first orthodox writer to set forth a doctrine of holy scripture” (McDonald 89).  It was Justin who set the precedent for viewing the Jewish texts as the precursor for Christianity and began the practice of reading the Old Testament alongside with Christian writings to prove the legitimacy of the origins of the Christian religion (Mack 285).  McDonald observes that after Justin had established this practice, Irenaeus of Lyons made the bold claim that Christian writings were also holy scripture.  Irenaeus reinforced Justin’s defense of the Old Testament, but focused namely on arguing that these Christian writings were scriptural and that they had authority (92-93).  He compiled the texts and declared them to be the norm for the Christian faith and so, by definition, created a scriptural canon (Lienhard 79).  Although Irenaeus did not necessarily intend to create the first canon, his defense of these Christian scriptures had just that effect.  Lienhard discusses the way in which Irenaeus created such a canon and coined the title of New Testament around 180 A.D.:
The New Testament appears for the first time, but in full clarity, in Irenaeus’s work Against the Heresies.  Irenaeus has a closed canon of four Gospels. His canon of Pauline letters is not closed, but he puts Paul’s letters on the same level as the Gospels.  He calls Acts “Scripture,” and has two apocalypses in his canon of Scripture: the Apocalypse of John and the Shepherd of Hermas. He may be the first to use the title “New Testament” of a collection of books. (27)
With his creation of the New Testament and the concept of a Christian canon, Irenaeus radically shaped the thinking of early Christians.  His teachings and declaration of scriptural authority resting in only one book began the transformation of a predominantly oral tradition into the closed canon faith of Christianity that is known today.

Manuscripts of Iranaeus
Despite the impact and influence of the canon that Irenaeus formed had on early Christianity, it was by no means agreed upon by all Christians.  It wasn’t until the reign of Constantine that the Church came under any widespread unification and uniformity (McDonald 110).  The conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 313 A.D. was really the key event that “triggered the creation of the Christian Bible” (Mack 287).  After his conversion, Constantine became extremely involved in the advancement of Christianity as a major religion.  The new Christian emperor ordered the construction of churches and baptisteries, organized councils of Christian bishops, established the regularization of Church doctrine and practices, and called for the standardization of the Bible (Mack 287).  Constantine gave the assignment to a bishop named Eusebius who, as Mack notes, made a list of all the writings he considered putting in this new standard Bible, but did not say which ones he decided would go into the final draft for Constantine.  Another bishop named Asthanasius, however, recorded a list of the books included in this Bible that looks exactly like the Protestant Christian Bible currently in circulation except for the order of a handful of New Testament letters (289).  While there have been some disagreements over the centuries between now and then, the vast majority of Christians do not dispute the contents of the New Testament that was established in the 4th century.

Constantine's Vision
 After three hundred years, Christianity was taken under the wing of the Roman Empire and its scriptures made the leap from being squabbled over to being canonized as the New Testament.  The Christian Bible is an extraordinary work of literature when one considers how many authors penned its pages and how long it took to go through its drafting process.  An important question about this drafting is raised by Meade: why was the canon was ever closed?  As Christianity continues to grow and thousands continue to write when “inspired by God,” why aren’t these new writings considered for scriptural status (216-217)?  To answer these questions one must simply analyze the process by which the New Testament was canonized.  When radical theologians arose, the Church would respond to their teachings.  It is the response of the rest of the early Christian community that decided if the radical ideas reflected their own beliefs and whether or not the Church would follow them.  Once the Church gained power through the Roman government, its leaders were able to settle the dispute over what was scripture once and for all with the official canonization and spread of the New Testament.  After the Church held its supreme authority on the seat of the Roman throne, it became impossible to question the canon with any real hope of it changing.  And so through outspoken radicals, intense debate, and the eventual final say of the early Church, came the canon of the Christian New Testament that is known today.

Works Cited
Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988. Print.

Lienhard, Joseph T. The Bible, the Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1995. Print.

Mack, Burton L. Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995. Print.

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon. Nashville: Abingdon, 1988. Print.

Meade, David G. Pseudonymity and Canon: An Investigation into the Relationship of Authorship and Authority in Jewish and Earliest Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. Print.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
-Psalm 23:1-4
If you live on a college campus, you are probably pretty familiar with "chalking". I assume it is at most colleges, but perhaps not. Regardless, it is a very common practice at the University of Alabama. Students will use sidewalk chalk to advertise various student organizations and events around campus. (Wow, thats awesome, what's your point?) Don't worry, I'm about to tell you something awesome that happened to me. God physically left me a message in chalk.

To make this story make sense however, I must tell another awesome one. I have been called to do mission work in Thailand. I didn't know where Thailand was before two months ago. In my intro to religious studies class, we talked about Buddhism and I read about Thailand in my book. The name was burned in my mind and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I went to my college minister and told him about this odd and random desire to go there. He told me about an organization called Let's Start Talking that sends college students all over the world on summer mission trips and how he had been praying for God to bring people to our ministry with the desire to participate in this program. Coincidence? No. That's God. That's the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and in our ministry.

I went home and looked at the Let's Start Talking website and prayed earnestly about it. I asked God if this was something He wanted me to do and, more specifically, if it was a direction He wanted me to go with the rest of my life. I got out my Bible and prayed this simple prayer to God: "Lord, tell me if You want me to go do mission work in Thailand. Is this Your will for my life? Just answer me 'Yes' or 'No', please." And I did the random flip. It landed on the index. Sigh. Flip. The introduction to Acts (I have a study Bible with a few pages of introdution to each book with no scripture on them). Ugh. Flip. The introduction to Romans. With an exasperated moan I flipped once more, prepared to give up. My eyes landed on this:

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes."
-2 Corinthians 1:18-19

So ya, I'm going to Thailand. I'm not one to tell God "No" when He speaks to me like that. That occured on the night of September 9th, 2010. Now we started meeting within our college group with those interested in doing the LST trips. Nobody really seemed to agree upon where to go, and since you need teams of at least three, we didn't have any teams forming. So I made some compromise and decided that maybe this was God leading me other places before the final destination of Thailand, like He did with Paul. I started praying about other places and was in this contemplative and prayerful state of mind while I was walking to class five weeks ago (October 14th, 2010). I was staring at the sidewalk infront of me while walking and praying when suddenly I got stopped in my tracks. On the sidewalk was a simple message in chalk: the word "THAILAND" and an arrow above it pointing straight ahead. Now the problem with this was that, in the direction I was walking, I was walking the exact opposite direction of the arrow. (The message was upside down in this way when I stepped onto the square of sidewalk in which the message was written.) It hit me hard. I was praying about these other places and asking God where he wanted me to go this summer. He answered. Again, this is NOT coincidence. If you know the Holy Spirit, you recognize His handiwork.

I was walking the WRONG WAY! This frightened me! I don't want to be walking on any other path except the one that leads to God. Especially not one that is going in the exact opposite way of His will! Any path that does not lead to God leads to death! 

Now, I don't think the message was that if I went to do work in the Phillipines, or Malaysia, or Singapore, that I would be doing wrong. The message was that I was taking a different path from the one that God had already laid out for me. Now, just five weeks later, God has brought together a team of at least four that want to go to Thailand this summer. My prayers have been answered. He has provided. If I had just trusted in Him all along, I would never of had to worry about it. He had everything under control. God is good. God provides. His paths are in place, and His will is going to be accomplished in me. Of that I am certain.

Are YOU on God's path? The one He laid out for your life? He made one just for you. It leads to eternal life with him. If you aren't on His path, He will leave signs. Just like my chalk message.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
-Proverbs 3:5-6

If you trust in God and sincerely seek His path for your life, He WILL make the way clear. Maybe you have to make some changes, maybe you have to give some things up, maybe you have to give YOURSELF up. God will tell you if you ask Him. He will light the way if you trust in Him. Walk His path and the blessings will overflow in your life, and the reward will be an eternity with Him.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Behind the Scenes

So I just surprised my girlfriend this morning for her birthday with two of our friends. I just wanted to take a minute to jot down a thought that occured to me after our scheming was through.

A plan to surprise someone can become very complicated very quickly. Especially when you start adding multiple people in the mix. While it is a relatively simple idea to go and wait for someone to walk out their door, it becomes a very delicate situation in order for the surprise to be effective. Its all about timing and being prepared for that one instant in time where you shout "SURPRISE!"

First of all, you have to get all of the people involved organized and informed. The plan was for my two friends to meet me at our building's door so I could let them in. Then we would go up to her room and wait outside her door until she walked out to go to class. Then we would scream and "make her poop her pants." (Quote of the day.) Even though there were only three of us, we still managed to miscommunicate and were waiting for eachother in two seperate places. As the minutes ticked by and the time we were supposed to be in position approached we began to get very anxious and frantic texts ensued.
(Yes texts.. who calls people anymore?)

Then there was the matter of my race to the grocery store to buy flowers for her. I had set my alarm to wake up early and have plenty of time to ride the bus over, get the flowers, and ride back. Of course I ended up sleeping for another 30 minutes after my alarm went off. That left me with exactly a 30 minute window from then until the time in which we needed to be in place for the surprise. It was an anxious bus ride, but with the luck of getting a maniac bus driver on the way back, I ended up arriving right on time. I wasn't even a minute late!

Then after I had found my two co-conspirators (after about 7 minutes of waiting in the wrong place) we hurried up the stairs to the third floor, hoping that she hadn't left for class already. As we rounded the corner of the lobby into the hall, we ran straight into her! We were taken a little off guard, but she was more surprised than us. It turned out to be a success. The look on her face was priceless.

She was completely flattered and what she said stuck in my head: "Aw, guys. I feel so special!"

Heres my thought..

We are special in God's eyes. He wants us to feel that way. We talk about His love for us almost every Sunday, but I don't think we get it. His love is UNIMAGINABLE. I understand that the very definition of that statement means we can't really comprehend His love for us, but why aren't we floored by the thought? He loves every single one of us on this planet enough to come down to us and bail us out. He came in flesh as Jesus Christ to give us all an eternity with Him! Its so easy to get! Don't you realize that He pretty much gave us a get out of jail free card? We don't have to, and can't do anything to deserve it. Just love Him back. Seek Him out. He will bless you because you are His child and He loves you enough to be beaten, cursed, mocked, spit on, and crucified. And let you do those things to Him. Isn't that profound? Our sins were on Jesus' shoulders when He was nailed to that cross. That means we contributed to each blow to the head, each whip ripping His flesh, each strike of the hammer as it drove nails into His hands. And He let us crucify Him because He loves us. That doesn't make sense to me. That's why its unimaginable love. It blows my mind.

Think about the ways in which God works behind the scenes to come through for us. My girlfriend didn't know all of the things that went on while she got ready for class this morning. She didn't know that I was running across campus getting her flowers or that her friends who love her were going out of their way to come see her. And despite our plan not falling into place exactly how we pictured it, it made no difference to her. She was still surprised, still loved, still happy, still excited, and still blessed.

Think about all of the things God is working out for you behind the scenes in your life. The intricacy of His plan for you brings joy to my heart. Thank Him for your blessings and for loving us in such an unimaginable way.



To be quite honest, I am in a spiritual slump. I have been for about two weeks. Before this I was soaring, and my relationship with God was probably at the strongest point it has ever been. I will talk about the awesome things happening in my life in posts to come, but for now, I'm reflecting on the past. I don't like who I was, and right now when I look in the mirror I don't like who I am. I feel weak and helpless. My sins seem to conquer me everytime. I win for two days and then fail again. The energy involved in picking myself up and preparing for the next battle is mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.

I don't feel in control of myself right now. It feels like the Holy Spirit has left the building for me, and since He was driving, I don't know where I'm going. Before it was excitement and fantasizing about what is to come. Right now it is like I am living each day just to sleep it away. I watch as each day slips by. Slowly but surely. I feel like so many opportunities are being wasted, and yet I have no idea what these opportunities looked like or where they were.

I am so sick of being so selfish. I know what God wants from me and how I live my life, and yet I just flat out ignore Him. It pains me terribly to write those words, but its the truth. Why do we live according to our flesh instead of the spirit? Why do I love to rebel against my Father and Creator? I want to live the life that I want instead of just wanting it.

A friend brought up the following scripture while we were talking about this annoying human habit of opposition to our Lord in our weekly bible study. I just had a small epiphany.. Wow.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13:
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

So what is the disconnect? Why can we never seem to be able to tackle those pesky recurring sins? Why do we say, "I want to stop this! God, please help me. I pray to conquer this sin that is bothering me so much," but then ignore the way out? We end up on our knees the very next night pleading with God to have mercy on us and give us the strength to overcome. Maybe we should be praying for open eyes instead of strength. If God does not let temptation fall on you that is beyond your strength, do we need strength from Him? He isn't going to do the work for us. If He did then we wouldn't be real followers. We have to consciously choose the way out that God has already provided. We have to consciously choose God. The next time you face that dark hallway of your sin, pray for God to open your eyes to the daylight pouring through the door behind you.

In need of Christ,
the perfect lamb,
my refuge strong,
the great I am.
This is my song,
my humble plea.
I am your child,
I am in need.

I read a friend's blog tonight. I felt the Holy Spirit leap inside my chest. It inspired me to start a blog of my own. I know He is with me all the time, even when I can't feel Him.


Thanks be to God for my friends. He has blessed me beyond measuring with the people I have come into contact with. I was so unsure of what the future had in store for me here in college at the University of Alabama. But God provided me with a family. A family that is on fire for God. Its insane. It gives me joy!

I'm starting to feel the skies open up above me, I can see the daylight. Just in the hour that it took me to jot down these thoughts my spirits have lifted so much! My dreary time of feeling distant from God will soon be over, I can feel it in my heart and soul. I can't wait to see what God has in store for all of us!

In Christ,