Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170709

In this article I have currently been presenting information about the Canon – collection of books – that are included in the New Testament (NT). In the last issue I started sharing information about ACTS, a history of the works of Jesus’ disciples. A work such as Acts, which gives prominence to the Twelve, holds them up as a standard of apostleship and shows a continuity from them to Paul.

We are uncertain when ACTS was put on a plane with the Gospels, an account of Jesus himself; but such an evaluation shows a mature under-standing of the role of the church in continuing the role of Christ. There is every evidence that Acts was accepted as canonical from 200 CE on; but from 150 there were also in circulation various apocryphal acts of individual apostles (i.e., John, Paul, Thomas and others). Generally, they were writings of heretical tendency and highly romantic. Tertullian tells how sometime before 190 the priest who fabricated the Acts of Paul was caught and punished. The Lat list (ca 300) in the Codex Claromontanus includes the Acts of Paul, but seemingly puts it on a questionable basis along with Hermas and Barnabas. Eusebius lists it as spurious.

The Apocalypse or Revelation is a species of prophecy and was familiar to the early Christians as part of their Jewish heritage. Yet it is interesting that Revelation is prefaced by the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor – an innovation in apocalyptic literature, and perhaps an indication that Christians were more accustomed to epistolary writings. Presumably, Revelation was written in the 90’s; it belongs to the Johannine school of writing.

The Muratorian Fragment (Rome, before 200) mentions two apocalypses one of John and one of Peter, with a notation that some do not wish to read the latter in church. This Apocalypse of Peter, written ca 125-150, seems to have been accepted as canonical by Clement of Alexandria. It appears in the Lat list, seemingly marked as questionable; and ca 325 Eusebius places it among the spurious books, stating that neither in the earlier days nor in his time had any orthodox writer made use of it. Jerome also rejected it, but in the 5th century it was still being used in the Good Friday liturgy in Palestine.

As you may or may not know, there is a vast amount of religious writing from the early Church which has not been recognized as “canonical” or as excepted as authentic or inspired. Many of these writings are just being translated into modern languages and made available to people.


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