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
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for his entire theology by implying “that not only the Old Testament law, but the Old Testament itself, had been superseded by the gospel” (134-135).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).
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|
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.