Who Decided Which Books Would Be in the New Testament?

A previous post discussed the (loose) nature of the Old Testament canon in the Orthodox Church, but what about the New Testament?  Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament as a canon of 27 books is agreed upon by essentially all groups which identify as Christian.  The way in which the New Testament canon came into existence, however, is the subject of an immense amount of disinformation and uninformed opinion.  When asked when these 27 books were ‘canonized’ as the New Testament, many will answer that that happened at the Council of Nicea.  Some will present this event as the bishops involved looking at a vast array of texts, including but not limited to the 27 which would be accepted,…

On Allegorical Interpretation

One of the temptations into which we frequently fall when seeking to understand others in our own time and in the past is that we begin with the assumption that they think and interact with a given set of ideas in the same way that we do.  So, for example, in interfaith discussions, Christians will from time to time refer to groups of Jewish and Muslim leaders holding councils.  Or Muslims will speak of the Torah or the New Testament as if it was viewed in the same way in which they view the Quran.  This immediately generates misunderstandings that then have to be overcome in order to truly interact.  Christians involved in these discussions need to understand how authority…

The New Testament Tradition

In many ways, the content of the New Testament, and even its text, are a much more settled issue than that of the Old Testament, as previously discussed.  That said, there is still a great deal of debate about which text of the New Testament, in its details, holds canonical authority.  This is due to an embarrassment of riches with regard to the New Testament text, for which we have nearly 6,000 manuscripts.  A manuscript, properly speaking, is a hand-written copy of a text.  Our extent manuscripts of the New Testament stretch from the early part of the second century to the beginning of the 20th century, at which point many churches in Greece were still reading the epistles and…

Is the Septuagint the Orthodox Old Testament?

For most Orthodox readers, the answer to the titular question of this piece will be an obvious and immediate ‘Yes’. It is a commonplace of Orthodox Christian catechesis that unlike the West, and here West primarily speaks to Protestant and more recent Roman Catholic Bible translations, which uses the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible as its Old Testament, the Orthodox Church places authority in the Septuagint. Even a casual internet search will reveal lengthy arguments to this effect, citing the evidence of New Testament quotations, of particular readings in the New Testament where a theological point seems to hinge upon a particular Greek rendering, and quotations from the Church Fathers about the value and reliability of the ‘work of…

Christ’s Two Witnesses

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and living in the United States, which has been powerfully shaped in its cultural and religious life by Protestant Christianity, the most common way of thinking about the role of the scriptures in the Church is the principle of Sola Scriptura in its various forms. It is therefore very common to read Orthodox perspectives, written in dialogue or in controversy with Protestantism, speaking against this foundational Protestant principle. Unfortunately, most often these Orthodox commenters pick up and utilize traditional Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura, rather than attempting to formulate Orthodox answers. This is unfortunate because these arguments are well and good as an attempt to get a person to…