Today, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants all accept the same canon of 27 New Testament (NT) books. The theory that these books were accepted from the first days of Christianity and that doubts arose only subsequently is untenable; once again it is related to the idea, no longer accepted, that the specific contents of the canon were know in the apostolic era. The early followers of Jesus had Scriptures that they considered sacred, but these were writings that had come down to them from their Jewish heritage. For about the first one hundred years of Christianity (CE 30-130), the term Old Testament (OT) is an anachronism. The collection of sacred writings of Jewish origin would not have been designated as “Old” until there was a “New” collection from which to distinguish it. It should be remembered that modern Judaism does not speak of the OT, since the Jews reject that NT, there is for them only one sacred collection. When did Christians begin writing their own compositions and why? How soon were these put on a part with the ancient Jewish Scriptures? What determined which Christians works were to be preserved and accepted? When did acceptance come? These are the important questions I would now like to address.
Christianity, much more than Judaism, is a religion with its origin in a person. What God has done for man is centered in Jesus, so that the early Christians could say that God was in Christ Jesus. The Jews would not have thought of Moses in these terms. Jesus commissioned apostles to preach to men the Kingdom of God, which had made its presence felt in Jesus’ ministry. The apostles therefore became the living link between the Christian believer and the Jesus in whom he believed, so that in the early days when Christians were close to the apostles – both geographically and chronologically – there was no pressing need for Christian writings. In fact, we have no clear proof of major Christian writings from the period CE 30-50. During this time the Christian faith was always communicated, preserved and nourished by word of mouth. Distance was probably the most influential fact in changing the situation.
With the decision at Jerusalem in CE 49 to permit the acceptance of Gentiles into the Jesus WAY without circumcision, the far-flung Gentile world, already invaded by Paul, became a wide-open missionary field. The founding of various Christian communities at great distances from one another and the continual traveling of the apostles made written communication a necessity. A church, whose confines were within traveling distance of Jerusalem, was a thing of the past and apostolic instruction now often had to come from afar. This need was first met with letters and epistles, and the Pauline letters are the earliest major Christian writings of which we know with certainty.
More to follow!