Building a Wall Around the New Testament

As with other dogmatic developments in the life of the Church, the canonization of scripture was largely done in response to heresy. For example, prior to Marcion (mid-second century), there was little activity on the part of the Church in establishing a closed ‘canon’ or rule of scripture. It was not until St. Irenaeus that the term ‘New Testament’ was used to describe the apostolic writings. Prior to the latter part of…

The Canon of Christ

For the earliest Christians—the first two generations or more—the ‘Bible’ was what we now call the Old Testament. The ‘memoirs of the apostles’ and four canonical Gospels spread more widely by the middle of the second century, but before this there was no consensus on which scriptures of the New Testament were canonical. This is a debate that would continue until at least the fourth century in the West, and perhaps even…

A Book of the People: Judaism and the Canon of Scripture

As is certainly the case today, Judaism was not a monolithic religion in the first century. Limiting ourselves to even the New Testament witness, there are various, competing sects—such as the Pharisees and Sadducees—who disagreed over everything from the resurrection to the proper interpretation of God’s law. Alongside these doctrinal differences was a debate regarding the boundaries of special revelation, or what we today call the ‘canon of scripture.’ Was Esther an important,…

The Signature of God

Years before Jesus was ever born, the Holy Spirit inspired one of His prophets to tell the future, and to write down some things which had not happened yet. In this prophecy, we hear about someone who claims to be the Son of God, and who is tortured, and is condemned to a shameful death. This prophecy is written from the perspective of those who condemn Christ. Many years before they are…

A Nestorian Canon of Scripture

I have long been interested in the development of the biblical canon. I probably wouldn’t have found my way into the Orthodox Church without such studies. Recently, I found a 13th century canon defined by Nestorian Metropolitan Mar Abd Yeshua (ca. A.D. 1298). He apparently served as the chief bishop of Nisibia and Armenia for the Nestorian church of the east. (Nestorians separated from the Orthodox Church following the ecumenical Council of…

A Christian Hymnal in the Middle of the Old Testament

Did you know that there was once a Christian hymnal in the middle of the Old Testament? And no, I’m not referring to the Psalter of David, or even the later Odes of Solomon. I’m talking about the “Book of Odes” (ᾠδαί), a collection of fourteen Scriptural hymns or canticles, which are still regularly sung in the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church. The earliest known collection of these fourteen Odes is…

What’s Missing from “A New New Testament?”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently published a new take on the Christian new testament, titled A New New Testament (ANNT hereafter). The publisher’s website gives some background on both its purpose and origins: Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work…